Tulcán - not just a border town

Border towns have a notorious reputation in many countries I’ve travelled through. At times they appear to be nothing more than unsafe trading posts with dubious characters trading in virtually any commodity you can think of. The reputation is surely deserved in many cases, although Tulcán in the north of Ecuador, near the border of Colombia, has surprised me in being very different.

This post is just an introduction to what I found and experienced just in Tulcán, there’s a lot more to see and do in the Carchi region - if you need more information, feel free to e-mail me and I’ll help with more information where I can. 

Parque Central

This difference is largely due to a lot of investment by municipal and regional government investment in infra-structure and visitor-friendly sites around the city. My first time I passed here, I changed from the bus (arriving from the capital, Quito - Dec 2014) to a taxi and on to the border of Colombia. I was then hardly in a position to comment about the city, but the 2nd time (June 2015) I stayed 2 days and saw a bit of the inner city but not much. 

Now in December 2015, I stayed here for 10 days with my girlfriend and another 7 days alone over Christmas and New Year. There's something for everybody and certainly deserves more marketing to international travellers - in addition to mostly Ecuadorians and Colombians passing back and forth. Make no mistake, Tulcán can get very cold due to its altitude but for me that serves to enhance the food and drink experience to say the least.

Eating and Drinking
If you like trying out local traditional foods, Tulcán has the Plaza Central (mercado - open 7am to 5pm daily) where local meals are sold at US$2-3pp and usually includes a large soup, main course (plate packed with food) and a juice. Trust me there’s not space for much food after this. In the same Plaza, there’s also a section serving a colourful variety fresh juices (vegetables and fruit) where you can also get a cake/tart if the sweet tooth is bugging.

Plaza Central (mercado)

Restaurants and cafeterias (with some great coffee) abound and the range of food and snacks are salivating. The range of foods is way too big for me to list here but for anybody from the most ardent carnivores to the strict vegans; you’ll be catered for. The obligatory food carts are also along the streets albeit with a smaller variety of food but with equally, and at time more, mouth-watering food.

Rabbit roasting at a Fiesta Gastronomía

Music and Art(s)

Teatro Lemarie

Tulcán now has a stunning theatre “Teatro Municipal Lemarie”, a building that has been purchased from private owners and refurbished to its former glory as a theatre (dated 1936). During our visit some dances, monologues etc. were presented although during “off-season” this theatre also serves as a cinema. Entrance was free. 

On both nights we went to the theatre, there was some ‘pre-theatre’ music by the Tulcán Municipal Band outside the theatre. The theatre is located in a street that becomes a pedestrian-only street at night with some restaurants and coffee bars - I have to mention here that the restaurant “Ou lala” makes a fantastic post-theatre spot for drinks (they have simply amazing hot chocolate). 

Christmas lights in the avenue where Teatro Lemarie is.

The Plaza Central also had performances of dancing and singing on their stage during our visit. I’m not sure how these particular shows are promoted as we just seemed to encounter these performances without seeing any posters. This wasn’t really a problem as we were passing through here at least once every day.

Admittedly I don’t usually have a problem finding subjects for photography wherever I am but in Tulcán I didn’t have to look hard. The one where I spent a lot of time with the camera was the city Tulcán Cemetery where the gardeners sculpt cypress trees and hedges into incredible traditional figures and designs as part of their daily job. This is apparently an art-form that goes way back. The gardens are extensive and well kept, well within walking distance from the town centre - if you don’t feel like walking, a taxi will cost you US$1.00 (one way).

Hedge sculpture at Tulcán Cemetery

Colourful vehicles

There seems to always be something going on that one can photograph so keep the camera handy - keep in mind that although generally safe, being sensible i.r.o. security is essential as in any other place in the world.

Street art

There are so many things to talk about here but I’ll let the photos talk for themselves. 


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