GETTING AROUND IN COLOMBIA
Spontaneous travel in Colombia is pretty much trouble and hassle-free.
Modern buses, each with 2 bus drivers and several breaks en route, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, movies and toilet, can quickly convince you to travel by bus. It’s easy, cheap and uncomplicated. Especially when you arrive in the morning at a bus terminal, there are enough busses heading for your destination. Sellers will ask you where you want to go and lead you to the right place to buy a ticket. In the evening, night buses are leaving the big cities. If you travel during a public holiday, we advise buying your ticket in advance. View first-class options, for some pesos more you’ll travel like king and queen!
Don’t forget your extra sweater or blanket because of the freezing AC, especially at night! And don’t take the cheapest option. Bus drivers who work for cheaper bus companies, generally take fewer breaks and may more easily drive like crazy. They also may stop at more places and even for everybody at the side of the road. They can drive very slowly, screaming the destination in an attempt to fill the bus. What can also be quite charming, it depends what you prefer…
The bigger companies are Expreso Brasilia (www.expresobrasilia.com) in central and northern Colombia, and Expreso Bolivariano(www.bolivariano.com.co) in central and southern areas of the country. Colombia Fácil has had the best experiences with them.
Mostly a place has one bus terminal but check general information of the bigger towns, sometimes there are more. For smaller destinations, it is possible that only cars or vans operate the line. Usually these collectivos leave when they are full. Be aware that you might have to wait for a while! If you’re not sure that the car will leave soon, don’t pay your ticket in advance and keep your luggage with you. Therefore you won’t be obliged to wait for other travellers.
When you travel by small local bus for short distances, you don’t need to pay directly when you get in. The bus drivers’ assistant collects the money during the trip or you pay when you exit. Ask your neighbour what he or she paid for the trip to check the official price…
When you take the bus in Bogota to La Candelaria: there are two different La Candelaria-areas in Bogota. When you want to go where all the hostels are, ask for La Candelaria Centro.
Do Colombians ever slow down? A road trip might be more peaceful for you if you’re seated at the back… not seeing every manoeuvre the driver makes! And travelling by boat… The back is the less bumpy!
The Colombian Metro is not the underground system what you may be used to, but a special speed bus or railway (Medellin) line in the big cities. Generally you can download their map. They all work with their own cards or single trips which you can’t buy in the bus itself. Ask around where to buy, in any case you can at the big metro stations. You also need one if you take a bus which seems ordinary but takes part of the metro system. In case you don’t have the official metro bus card or it’s not enough charged, ask anybody to use his or her card and you can pay with cash. Colombians are usually very nice and will help you!
How it is called?
Bogotá -> Transmilenio
Cali -> Mío
Barranquilla -> Transmetro
Medellin -> Metro and Metroplus
At the airport, it’s best to buy a ticket at the taxi stand office. That gives you certainty about the price and it is safer. To get a cheaper price, look for a taxi outside the terminal but don’t forget this can be riskier. Another option is to share a ride with some of your airplane mates.
In some places every taxi has a meter. Before starting, insist that the driver turns it on. They do not start at 0. When you arrive at your destination in Bogota, a number will show up on the meter. Check this number on the list (yellow laminated document in front of you) and see how much you have to pay. Night rates are more expensive. If you order a taxi to pick you up somewhere, it will cost an extra ±3000 COP/tr.
No meter? Always discuss the price before you set off! After a while, you will certainly become a master in knowing what is correct and what is over the top.
Though Uber is illegal inside Colombia, it does operate. In big cities you can download the App.
HIRING A CAR
Driving by yourself, use service line #767 to get national road information and info about Pico y Placa. This concept tries to reduce traffic in: Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Pereira, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Armenia, Bello, Buenaventura, Cucuta, Envigado, Ibague, Itagui, La Estrella, Manizales, Ocaña, Pamplona, Pasto, Popayan, Quibdo, Sabaneta, Soledad, Tunja, Turbaco y Villavicencio. Pico y Placa obliges reduction of the days you are allowed to drive in that city. The #767 service also provides traffic management and national police transport for emergencies.
The condition of the Pan American Highway is excellent, but from the moment you switch on to more off-the-beaten-track destinations, roads will be rougher or less smooth. Don’t forget that the Andes mountain range contains the majority of the country’s urban life.
Check this site for road conditions: http://www.invias.gov.co. You can find maps of all the roads (Red vial nacional) and reports on closed highways during the rainy season. For weather: www.ideam.gov.co.
3xD: Don’t Drink and Drive. In Colombia, 1 beer is too much to get behind the wheel! Besides, you need all your attention in crazy Colombian traffic…
Do you have car problems on the road? Don’t worry, the locals will definitely stop to give you a helping hand!
Especially at the Pacific coast and the region of Capurgana/Sapzurro, you may only have one possibility: the boat (lancha). Also at other spots at the coasts like the ferries from Taganga to Parque Tayrona: the sea can be rough and most captains don’t like to go slowly. Have some waterproof/windbreaking clothing and take special care of your electronic equipment. An easy and often used trick is to wrap your luggage in plastic bags. Do not forget to wear dark glasses, since the sun, the wind and the sea water will bathe you during the whole journey and you definitely don’t want to miss the beauty of the landscape! If you have back problems, avoid the front of the boat. Eventually ask for an extra life jacket to use as a seat and backrest for your chair.
Unfortunately, the original train network is no longer operational. Planes however are an attractive alternative for the longer distances. Especially if you’re booking far ahead, sometimes you only have to pay a few extra pesos comparing to the buses. However, some companies don’t accept online payment with foreign credit cards. In that case it can take some communication before the deal is done. In Colombia itself the easiest solution is visiting an airline office.
Tip: Www.Voyhoy.com works with airlines who don’t accept online foreign payment. Well… Voyhoy does!
Reservations or attention through the internet in small cities often doesn’t work. Use the phone or travel spontaneously.
The most important national flight companies are: Avianca, VivaColombia, LATAM, Copa Airlines, Satena, ADA, Easyfly and TAC.
Tip for flights with Viva Colombia: Be aware that you make your web-check-in online and print your boarding pass, otherwise you pay extra!
International airports in Colombia:
- Bogota = El Dorado. Take care: there’s another terminal right from the international one (Puente Aereo) with most domestic flights from Avianca. Taxi to la Candelaria centro historico = 20-40 min, from COP 25.000/tr or take the Transmilenio or another bus 30-50 min. For busses, you’ve to walk some blocks.
- Barranquilla = Ernesto Cortissoz: Taxi to the centre = 35min, COP 27.000/tr.
- Cali = Palmaseca: Taxi to San Antonio = 30min, COP 50.000/tr.
- Cartagena = Rafael Nunez: Taxi to Getsemaní = 10 min, COP 15.000/tr. and taxi to the Old Town = 10min, COP 10.000/tr.
- Medellin = José María Córdova at Rionegro: Taxi to El Poblado = COP 60.000/tr or with the bus to bus terminals South or North. Be aware: some domestic flights depart from city airport Olaya Herrera! This is next to bus terminal South and very near El Poblado.
- Armenia / La Tebaida = El Edén: Taxi = ± COP 15-20.000/tr.
- Bucaramanga / Lebrija = Palonegro: Taxi to the centre = ± 30 min, ± COP 30.000/tr or choose a shared taxi (by going to the ticket booth, located by the exit of luggage recovery).
- Cucuta = Camilo Daza
- Leticia = Alfredo Vásquez Cobo: The airport is in the centre.
- Pereira = Matecaña: Taxi to downtown = ± 15 min, ± COP 10.000/tr.
- San Andres = Gustavo Rojas: Taxi = 10 min, COP 10.000/tr to the centre.
Colombian streets are numbered and divided into calles (cll, streets running east-west) and carreras (cra, north-south). Yeah, to keep it simple we’re NOT talking about transversal, diagonal and avenidas…
So: e.g. ‘cra 98 # 18-49′ means:
1) the place that you are looking for is on the cra 98 between cll 18 and 19.
2) Search for n° ‘49’. The odd numbers are on 1 side and the even on the other side.
Avión = Plane
Barco = Ship
Bicicleta = Bike
Brujita = A wooden cart powered by a motorcycle on top of the train railroads
Bus ejecutivo = Fast city bus
Buseta = Small city bus
Busineta = Small bus
Camioneta = Pickup truck
Campero = Willy Jeep (at Coffee region)
Carro = Car
Carrotaxi or motocarro = Tuktuk, a motorbike with a small cabin (3 persons)
Chiva = Traditional colourful bus from the countryside
Collectivo = Smaller local bus
Lancha = Small boat
Micro = Microbus in rural regions
Motocarro = Tuktuk
Mototaxi = Taxi motorbike
Parada de autobuses = Bus stop
Quatro por quatro = 4×4 Overland truck
A great way to travel: play rock, paper or scissors or throw dices to let destiny choose for you!