Popayan, a beautiful colonial city in southern Colombia, is a great place to stop off in if you’re heading to Ecuador. It’s got some fantastic restaurants and a truly stunning main square with palm trees and lovingly preserved white colonial buildings. The main bus terminal is a 15min walk from the square.
There are direct buses from Popayan to the border town of Ipiales. You can either take an overnight bus or a day bus. The ride takes about 8 hours in both cases, usually with a quick stop in Pasto. In Ipiales, be sure to check out the Las Lajas Sanctuary, a beautiful church built into the side of a river valley.
If you take the day bus, there are a couple of very cheap hotels/hostels across the street from the bus terminal in Ipiales. We stayed the night, went to the Las Lajas Sanctuary in the morning, then carried on to the border. If you take the overnight bus, you can store your bags in the terminal (somewhere), check out the church, then go to the border. From the bus terminal to the border, simply take a collectivo.
Both border offices are very easy to cross. On the Colombia side, they stamp you out quickly. Then you walk across to the Ecuador side, fill out some immigration forms, get a stamp, then you’re on your way. There are collectivos waiting to take people to the bus terminal in the border town of Tulcan. In Tulcan, there are frequent buses to Quito (4-5 hours, $5).
In Quito, the bus terminal is quite far away from the centre of town so you’ll need to take a taxi to wherever you’re staying. Too easy!