TULCÁN (2950m), the provincial capital of Carchi, is a skittish frontier town, shifting people with ruthless efficiency across the Ecuadorian–Colombian border, 7km away. The main bus terminal has dozens of services primed for Quito, and every other car seems to be a taxi or camioneta shuttling to and from the frontier. Commerce thrives here, with markets on Thursdays and Sundays, and shops crammed with merchandise crowd the narrow streets. Since dollarization, however, and the resulting rise in domestic prices, business has not been so brisk. Where Colombians used to trawl the town looking for bargains, Ecuadorians are now the ones making the quick trip over the border in search of cheaper goods.
Most travellers don’t linger in Tulcán, but if you’ve got time between buses, make sure you see the splendid topiary gardens in the town cemetery, or for longer layovers, you could visit the isolated thermal springs, set high in beautiful páramo near Tufiño to the west (depending on the security situation). The town’s two spirited fiestas occur on April 11, for the cantonization of Tulcán, and November 19, to mark the day Carchi became a province.Read More
Tulcán’s glorious topiary gardens are its one undeniable highlight, located at the cemetery on Cotopaxi and Avenida del Cementerio, a fifteen-minute walk northeast of the centre, or a short taxi ride from the bus station ($1). Fragrant cypresses have been snipped with meticulous care into more than a hundred different figures and patterns, including Arabian palms, Egyptian columns, Inca trapezoids and formal French lines.
Drug trafficking and Colombian guerrilla activity occasionally destabilize areas around Tulcán. Always make enquiries before travelling through border areas off the Panamericana. In Tulcán itself, you should always carry your passport and documents with you and resist exploring the streets at night. More than in most places in the country, the police here are encouraged to arrest and detain anyone who does not have their papers in order.