The current importation policy imposed by the Ecuadorian government has made the prices of some products skyrocketing. Anything imported is incredibly expensive.
That is why Ecuadorians that live at the north of the country go to Colombia to do the shopping. The first city just right at the border is Ipiales with its Ecuadorian counterpart – Tulcán.
Ecuador has an agreement with Colombia about frontier traffic. Normally nobody checks your documents and if you are Ecuadorian you don’t need a passport – your cedula will be just fine (if anybody asks in the first place).
In comparison to Ecuador, the prices in Colombia are low. It seems that especially the following goods are worth buying there: food, alcohol, electronics and appliances. Besides that, Colombia produces high quality clothing and shoes. Such nice-looking and comfortable shoes are so much more expensive in Europe or North America!
How do you pay for the shopping there? All the shops in Ipiales accept USD, but the currency in the country is Colombian Peso (COP). The exchange rate at the day of our last visit was 1 USD = 2,945 COP paying with a credit/debit card*. It attracted thousands of Ecuadorians. Here is why:
As you can see in the chart, it was the best exchange rate in the past 2 years. And today is even better! It means that electronics such as phones, tablets and computers typically costs half of what you would paid in Ecuador. The liquors, however, are 3 to 4 times cheaper.
During your first shopping in Ipiales you can get a bit lost. The weather is typically not very nice – frequent rains and low temperature (the elevation is 2,898 m / 9,508 ft.). The town is rather ugly and the number of the shops is overwhelming so you can get easily tired. Fortunately there is a mall (Gran Plaza) with nice clothing shops and a store called Alkosto. Actually, there are two Alkostos – one in the city center (Parque 20 de Julio) and one in the Gran Plaza mall.
What attract Ecuadorians to shopping in Ipiales is not only the daily offer, but also great deals. For instance in Alkosto they give a 50% discount of your bill to every 25th or 50th customer. There are only 2 conditions. First, you can spend a coupon for that 50% on your next visit between 15 and 45 day later. Second, you have to appear in person, as they will ask your ID. That’s how Alkosto keeps their clients coming back.
*with cash it was only 1 USD = 2600 COP. Interesting difference, isn’t it? The bank rate is better than the “street” rate.