April 5, 2014 — It’s been over 40 years since I first stepped into Colombia–Cali and Bogota. Colombia was a strange and scary country to me then — and kinda still is — so naturally I was a bit nervous about this little excursion. Thankfully, we were with friends for a pleasant and relaxing day.
There’s not a whole lot to say about Ipiales, Colombia, except that there sure is an advantage to having this place relatively close by. From Atuntaqui, this Colombian border town is about 2 1/2 to 3 hours away via a car.
Eight of us piled into our friend’s minivan and headed out around 9 in the morning for a day of shopping — Fred, me, and 6 Ecuadorian friends. Was it worth going so far for a day of shopping? Absolutely. Especially if one is shopping for electronics, small appliances, and maybe tools. In fact, the couple from Otavalo that was with us, go once each month, either to shop for themselves or for their business. And everyone, except us, came back with tablets — a Samsung, an Apple, and a Colombian brand called Kalley –and one of our young Ecuardorian friends came back with a few, for his own personal friends and/or family.
Fred and I already have tablets that we purchased from Walmart’s website and then had delivered via some visiting friends coming to Ecuador. Those very same Samsung tablets were at least $50.00 cheaper in Colombia!
The large store, where most of our group’s purchases were made, is called Alkosto HiperAhorro, located downtown right off some plaza. (Direccion: Cra 5a. No 8-26) Alkosto reminded us of Sams Club, selling everything from appliances–large and small, electronics, cloths, food, etc. More brands are sold on Alkosto’s website and in their larger stores that may not be sold at their Ipiales branch, however.
Another large store selling groceries to electronics was Estrellas. This store had a large bar/cafe upstairs.
Then there’s downtown Ipiales, containing a plethora of eateries and shops selling all kinds of items – from cellphones, to their enormous assortment of accessories, to more electronics, to you-name-it.
We made this shopping trip on a Saturday. That was a mistake. We literally can’t ever remember seeing so many people. Not only was Alkosto packed with people, and I mean packed, downtown Ipiales was shoulder to shoulder — and they say that the cities in China have wall to wall people! Well, that’s Ipiales on a Saturday! And people were buying, as the checkout lines, in both the electronic section and the general checkout in front, were horrendous.
When crossing the border into Colombia, we were not stopped nor asked to show any ID. When returning back into Ecuador, we were only asked a a few questions about our purchases by a very pleasant and friendly officer, then sent on our way — again not being asked to show our Cedulars or Passports. The only thing we were stopped for when crossing into Colombia, however, was for store employees to hand us their store’s flyers advertising lots of bargains.
One funny sight on the border crossing though, were these men standing around with wades of cash in their hands. These guys exchange the currency from US dollars to Colombian Pesos, and back again, all while you sit in your car. Supposedly, these men offer a better exchange rate then the exchange places in town. US dollars can be used in Alkosto, but the exchange rate there, as we were informed, is not as good. And some stores and restaurants do take credit cards.
We asked our Ecuadorian friends how these guys protect themselves against robbery, because true, there were border guards here and there, but still? There were no guns visible to us then. They certainly must have them–so you would think?
Other than two young blond women wearing backpacks, Fred and I seemed to be the only foreigners downtown. Everywhere we walked, heads turned when we spoke English within ear shot of a local. So we assume that Ipiales does not get too many foreign visitors aside from their Ecuadorian neighbors. A very friendly city though.
My iPhone took very bad pictures, so there aren’t many to post, but I did post one shot of a little cafe where our group couldn’t seem to get enough of their little empanadas, especially their salsa (their Aji), which is the best we have had in a restaurant since moving to South America.
There is also a picture (at the top) that I stole from the web — a beautiful structure (Santuario de Las Lajas) that we would like to see the next time we go to Ipiales.
So for a television at half the price then what we paid in Ibarra, or for a tablet or computer that’s even cheaper than in the States, it may be worth a day trek to Ipiales, Colombia, or a fun little overnight getaway if one is in need of some bargain shopping. It was a long day for sure, and we did feel like we shopped till we dropped, but at least we made it back home by 8:30 pm safe and sound.