International flights in South America are pretty expensive. Flying around Brazil was adding up already, but getting into Colombia was looking like it would set me back over US$600. So, much like my quick venture into Argentina, I looked into alternative border crossing options through domestic flights and land crossings. This is how I got into Colombia:
I flew from Manaus, Brazil to Tabatinga, Brazil. When I landed in the tiny Tabatinga airport, I walked about 10 minutes into town to immigration control and got my exit stamp from Brazil. From there, I walked another 10 minutes to a taxi stand and told the driver I needed to go to immigration control at the Leticia airport in Colombia. So we drove across the border into Leticia, Colombia.
This international border is so understated that I almost missed it. It’s just a sign and a guard, and everyone moves through it easily. There isn’t even a stop sign.
I was dropped off at the Leticia airport to get my entrance stamp for Colombia, which took no time at all. If I thought the Tabatinga airport was tiny, Leticia’s is minuscule. The one building and its one terminal could fit into baggage claim at most US airports.
From there, a helpful Colombian hailed me a mototaxi, aka a guy on a motorbike who will let you ride with him for a small fee. So I jumped on the back of this random person’s motorbike, with my big backpack on, put on his spare helmet, and in just 5 short minutes I was at my hostel.
I made it to Colombia.
All of this happened over a week ago already – I know, I’m a little behind. At this point I have started thinking about how I’m going to leave Colombia next week, and I can tell you to expect another random border crossing story. This might become the theme of my time in South America – how many countries will I enter and exit on land instead of in the air?
There are a few reasons crossings like this make sense for a trip like mine. 1) Cost. It’s just so much cheaper to take domestic flights and buses than it is international flights. 2) Immigration control. It’s so quick and easy to get your passport stamped at land crossings. Many international flights require proof of exit from the country, and I have yet to book any round trip tickets (nor do I think I will this whole trip), so you often have to buy a flight or bus ticket out. Domestic flights don’t care about this since you’re already in the country. And with Colombia, there is an exit fee for international flights but this may be avoidable through a land crossing. I’ll let you know if that’s true when I make it to Ecuador. 3) Airport time. Domestic flights have the quickest security check and you don’t have to get to the airport as early. And in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo that have two airports, the domestic one is usually closer to the center of the city than the larger international airport. 4) A good excuse to see a new place. I had actually cut Ecuador, but I just added it back in because taking a bus to Quito and moving on from there makes more sense than flying from Colombia to Bolivia. This one is tough because it changes how I allocate my time: the added stops mean that I lose a few days from other locations, but I am traveling for 10 months not 10 days, so I have the time if I need it (and if I can do overnight buses then it doesn’t take up sightseeing time and saves me a night paying for accommodation). 5) Fun stories. Who the hell knows what will happen on these buses? As soon as I decided to cross on land into Ecuador I got really excited about this portion of my trip. It’s more like how I expected to travel than the luxury of flights.