A few hours across the border from Colombia to Ecuador for a cemetery. It sounds a little strange, but trust me: it’s worth it. In fact, the Cementerio de Tulcán is one of those cemeteries you must have seen. Thereby, this visit can be perfectly combined during a day trip from Pasto to the famous cathedral Las Lajas in Ipiales. And are you traveling from Ecuador to Colombia or vice versa? Even then, you can easily make a stop at these places. Wondering why Tulcán Cemetery is worth the stopover? Read on quickly.
Cementerio de Tulcán in Ecuador
The border town of Tulcán
Tulcán is the first town you encounter when crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador. Located on a hill at an altitude of nearly 3,000 meters, Tulcán has a population of about 55,000. By travelers, Tulcán is primarily used as a transportation hub, but if you have the time, it is worth spending a few hours in this town. In fact, Tulcán is known for the extraordinary Cementerio de Tulcán .
Cementerio de Tulcán
Or José María Azael Franco Guerrero, as this cemetery is actually called. The cemetery was founded in the year 1932 as a replacement for a pantheon destroyed during an earthquake in 1923. In an area of 8 hectares, you will find about 12,400 niches, burial mounds and mausoleums.
The most special feature of this cemetery is its gardens, which occupy over 4 acres. Indeed, here you will find some 300 figures carved from cypress trees, in various shapes that show something about Ecuador’s flora and fauna and Roman, Greek, Inca, Aztec and Egyptian cultures. And that’s a pretty interesting sight.
Wander at an impressive cemetery
It’s a little strange to say that wandering through this cemetery is a true delight, but I do it anyway. Often it’s the graves that stand out first because of something special, but at the Cementerio de Tulcán it’s the beautiful trees in all sorts of figures and the narrow passageways that look something like a maze. The trees are kept and trimmed to perfection and special to see.
There are several sections in the cemetery that you can visit, such as the Parque de los Recuerdos and the Altar of God. In these gardens you will also find beautiful structures and wooden signs with texts in Spanish by a famous writer.
From the cemetery you also have beautiful views. Not only over the surroundings, but also over the cemetery itself. To do so, go up one of the steps to the top on the sides of the cemetery. There you come to the small graves in the walls where you can walk on a narrow path on the wall. To enjoy the views.
Practical | Visit the Tulcán cemetery in Ecuador
How to get to Tulcán from Colombia?
From where you are in Colombia, first go to the bus terminal in Ipiales. From Pasto this is about 2 to 3 hours by bus, from Las Lajas 15 minutes by colectivo. In Ipiales, take a colectivo to the border with Ecuador: Puente Internacional de Rumichaca. Duration: 15 minutes, 3,500 pesos. There you transfer to an Ecuadorian cab or colectivo to Tulcán (15 to 20 minutes, 3,500 pesos).
Please note that at the border you do not have to show your passport or wait anywhere.
In Tulcán, get off at Parque Ayora (here’s the cemetery around the corner) or at the terminal (20-minute walk, tricky if you’re not used to the altitude). If you can’t find the cemetery, ask someone.
The way back to Colombia is the same: take the colectivo from Parque Ayora (the white and blue vans) to Puente Internacional de Rumichaca, change there to the colectivo to Ipiales. And continue your journey there.
Do you need dollars if you want to go to the cemetery alone from Colombia?
If you take the colectivo to Tulcán from the border and return directly to the border with Colombia after your visit, you won’t need dollars. You can pay for the colectivo with Colombian pesos. If you want to eat in Tulcán or do other things that cost money, it is helpful to buy some dollars while you are at the border. I myself did the visit without dollars.
Opening hours & costs
The cemetery is open from 6AM to 8PM; admission is free. In the evening it seems to be beautifully lit.
How much time do you need?
I stayed in the cemetery for about 2.5 hours. Also because I wanted to film some Instagram stories. A visit can also be half an hour faster.
Where to stay.
I visited Tulcán in Ecuador on a day trip to Las Lajas from Pasto, Colombia. In Pasto, I stayed at the fantastic hostel La Bohemia. Highly recommended: clean, well located, the place to meet other travelers, cheap and great owners.
The border between Colombia and Ecuador is red area and the rest of the Nariño department is orange. You can visit the tourist destination of Las Lajas without any problems. Cross the border with Ecuador preferably only during the day.
How do you combine the Tulcán cemetery with your itinerary through Colombia?
In transit from Ecuador to Colombia or from Colombia to Ecuador
The Colombian department of Nariño is located in a remote corner of Colombia and therefore most of the travelers in this area are travelers leaving Colombia for Ecuador or after traveling through Ecuador are now continuing in Colombia. In this case, both Tulcán in Ecuador and Las Lajas in Colombia easily fit in. From Ecuador, stop in Tulcán, visit the cemetery and then travel on to Las Lajas or directly deeper into Colombia. From Colombia the same: stop in Tulcán (and Las Lajas, of course) and then travel on.
During your round trip Colombia
Most travelers in Colombia skip Pasto and the surrounding area. You also have to make quite a detour for it. If you have the time, I can absolutely recommend this region. To visit the cemetery AND Las Lajas in one day from Pasto, leave Pasto early (6 to 7AM). First, cross the border into Ecuador to Cementerio de Tulcán and then visit Las Lajas. In the evening you will then be back in Pasto.
Pasto can be combined with Popayán. Or, if you really like traveling off the beaten path, from San Agustín via Pitalito to Mocoa, then to Pasto and then up north again to Popayán. For this you do need time. Travel that stretch only during the day and ask locals just beforehand if it is safe to travel at that time.
Spending part of your trip in the Colombian department of Nariño even takes you into Ecuador. What particular cemetery did you like to visit?
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