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GETTING AROUND COLOMBIA - A Guide to Public Transport
Traveling from point A to B can present a couple of issues when attempting to take on a new country. Colombia is exceptionally big and can thus present difficulties for those wishing to traverse every corner. Each region has its own systems and own way of doing things. In this week’s blog, we’re going to map out the best ways to get around when traveling in Colombia, along with a few tips on how to make sure we are still traveling responsibly and sustainably.
Although there exist flights throughout the nation, it’s good to plan your trips so that you don’t unnecessarily take these flights so as to ensure we are reducing our effect on the nation when traveling.
For those using flights, the most popular Colombian domestic operating airlines are Avianca, Latam and Wingo. Clic (Previously Easy Fly) and Satena (State owned) connect emerging destinations. Vivaair was alow cost and went out of business in 2023. If booking yourself, it is important to try booking incognito or from Colombia using a price in pesos, as this can significantly discount the final prices that you pay.
Some of the most popular flight paths are those between Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena. You’ll never be short on options for direct flights connecting between these cities, and they’re sure to be cheap is you book well enough in advance. Although you can often find flights just as cheap last minute due to the abundance of flights passing through these hubs.
If you are worried about getting the best prices and unsure how to work out the most efficient and economic route for your itinerary, you can alwayscontact our group of travel consultantswho are experts in tailoring custom vacation plans to your needs and budget.
In Colombia, buses are king and they cover virtually every area of the country.
Chiva buses are enormous, brightly-colored buses that make rural journeys, often being used in the regions of Antioquia. There are also many of them now serving as tourist sightseeing buses in many regions of the country. They even sometimes double as a party bus by night, covering all the options.
Although airplanes can occasionally make for a quicker journey when covering long distances, most of your itinerary in Colombia can be covered by other means, so long as you plan well. Planes are equally problematic with respect to responsible tourism. Giving back to local land transports ensures that you are giving money back into the community, as well as reducing your carbon footprint on Colombia, and the world when embarking on travels around the country.
"Flotas" are long distance buses (usually Overnight). They are often a great way to bridge long distances between destinations, so as to economize your time to spend enjoying the hottest spots by day.
In respect of buses, you can get larger autobuses or "flotas", equipped at times with internet and semi-camas (half bed seats) that make for a more comfortable long-distance journey. You can also find Busetas, essentially mini-buses that often take you at a slower (with many stops along the way), but cheaper, pace.
The hours of the buses can at times be complicated, as they are not always to schedule and the minibuses tend not to leave until full. However, this usually will only cause a delay of a couple of minutes, especially on the more popular routes.
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Buses are often available to purchase online for the longer journeys, but it is usually always possible to rock up to the terminal and purchase your tickets there directly. Some of the most important terminals are Salitre Terminal in Bogotá, Terminal Norte and Sur in Medellín and Cartagena’s main bus terminal which is located a couple of kilometers outside the city center. The most popular long-distance operators are Bolivariano and Expreso Brasilia.Busbud, Redbus, and Colombia Bus Info are also great options to view all bus options available online and make planning your trip that little bit easier.
Also remember to bring along a good neck pillow, some headphones/earbuds, and an eye mask to ensure you get some good sleep, especially when other passengers make a little too much noise. Additionally, for those suffering from pesky motion sickness, one over the counter solution is Mareol, which you can find in virtually all pharmacies to help ease your many bus trips.
Private Transport is an option in many areas, with the advantage being that you can organize your personal experience to your liking, which is occasionally worth the cost.
Taxis are everywhere in Colombia’s larger cities, but negotiation of the price and ensuring that the meter is used, are important factors to consider so as to ensure that you are getting a fair price. Easy Taxi is a version of cabify that is highly popular and efficient in the major Colombian cities. You can go check out their app to prepare yourself for intra city transport.
Uber, Cabify and Didi are available in major Colombian cities, however it is controversial. As a result of backlash from taxi drivers, car sharing platforms hve been ruled illegal in Colombia. However, in the major cities, for now, it is still readily available and very common, albeit complicated at times.
Another option is bicycles. Although not practical for longer distances, bicycles are popular in many of the cities and can be a great way to get around a city for the day. Just be warned with the cities situated in the Andes that it may get hilly! Check out our city bike tours if you’d like some guidance while maneuvering through the cities.
Although the national home of Salsa, dance moves make for a slow way of traveling, especially in a big city such as Cali.
Like all of Colombia’s large cities, Cali is served by an extensive public bus system. The Masivo Integrado de Occidente, known by the abbreviation of Mio, is the transit system that covers the majority of the city in a segregated lanes, operating like a form of metro system. A trip on the Mio will put you out 2,000 pesos, making it extremely economical for jumping around the city’s hottest spots. Also apart of the system is the Mio Cable, a Teleférico (cable car), that helps mount the higher altitudes of some parts of the city.
Cali is also the gateway to the pacific coast, which itself is home to various forms of unique public transport. One such unique form is the railway tracks known as the Brujitas of San Cipriano. These tracks are no longer in service for typical passenger trains and as such the local communities have taken advantage of the existing infrastructure to create a new tourist type attraction which takes participants along a 7km stretch of railway through the lush jungles of the region near Buenaventura. The track is equipped with wooden platforms on the metal wheels, letting you zip through the greenery of the Pacific coast.
Around the region of Chocó you can also find various boat paths to get you from point A to point B.
Medellín is the only Colombian city with a metro system, and by far the best served city in terms of public transportation. The system is comprised of two lines with 27 stations. With a loaded Cívica card, you can take yourself all over the city so long as you have topped up. Fares are fairly cheap, for less than a USD and easy to work out. In addition, the city also has a large system of buses and a single tramcar line, meaning every part of the growing city is easily accessible.
Medellín is home to an intricate system of cable cars with four cable car public transport lines, that may be awe-inspiring to those not accustomed to a city with such a diverse range of altitudes. See the city from a different view, all whilst getting transported over the hills of the Andean region.
Planning on visiting Comuna 13? Take away the physical toll of mounting the slopes of the city by taking a ride on their set of modern escalators. Although unconventional for a list of public transport options, this form of transport is a unique way to get up the slope leading up to the famed Comuna 13. Read our blog on Comuna 13 to discover more about the rapid transformation and modernization of this region of the city.
Medellín is the perfect point of call to venture out to the surrounding coffee region, and well served with buses running out to all the hotspots. Check out one such coffee farm experience over here.
In Bogotá the main form of transport is the Transmilenio. The bus network, with its own lanes, covers the breadth and width of Colombia’s enormous capital. The system may be a little difficult to navigate at first, but with the help of the application Sitp, the navigation can be that little bit easier. Find more information on their website or go download the app now! In any case, the system is great for traversing all sides of the city, with direct routes covering the main roads like a metro system.
To catch the transmilenio you first need to purchase a card known as tullave (your key), which truly is your key to the city. The trips are very cheap at 2,400 pesos and you can take as many changes as you need to arrive at your destination with just one tap on.
Bogotá is very likely going to be your point of entry into Colombia. One of the first hurdles to overcome when entering a foreign country is the journey from the airport to your first port of call. Getting from the airport is doable with the Transmilenio public bus system, but can be a lengthy trip with a couple of different stops. Luckily, we offer your airport transfers not only when entering to and departing from Bogotá, but many of the other larger national airports, such as Cartagena and Medellín.
When getting around the city, if you wish to do it alone by cars, beat is a cheaper, more efficient local version of Uber that is reliable and offers the opportunity to pay either in cash (efectivo) or card.
If you’re wishing to head to the top of Monserrate, Bogotá’s lookout point perched in the mountains surrounding the city, and don’t want to go by foot. Well, the funicular and cable cars make for a smooth ride to the top but cost you around 15,000 pesos each way.
Like every other city, Cartagena is well served by Uber, taxis and even Mototaxis. The system of buses is known as Transcaribe. As the system is fairly new (opened in 2016), it is not yet as expansive as the system in Bogotá, but in case covers much of the city as a cheaper and easier rate. Like the other cities, you must have a card with money on it to use this system. Although the rides are fairly cheap at 2,300 pesos a pop.
There are also smaller buses as part of the system that aim to stretch other areas of the city in smaller streets, as is the case with the expanded TransMilenio system in Bogotá.
There are also offers of private transfers if you’re wanting a more personalized Caribbean coastal experience.
Boats leaving from the port of Cartagena to reach various surrounding islands and beach areas are many. A trip to the Rosario Island makes for a nice break from the rush of the cities and can be done with a simple private boat transfer. The islands are the perfect place for snorkeling and scuba diving, with opportunities galore. Go discover more about these islands and how to get there over on our Baru Brash getaway experience.
One place that requires flights is the Amazon region of Colombia. Getting to Leticia, the base of the Amazonas region, means taking a plane unless you want to subject yourself to a ridiculously long bus journey through Ecuador and Peru.
Once in the Amazonas, you can take various boating trips throughout the Amazon river and the surrounding region, even passing leisurely through the Peruvian and Brazilian borders with ease.
For a closer trip to the Colombian Amazon you can always discover El Guaviare, which is located a few hours from Bogotá and offers a chance to discover the pure nature of the Colombian jungle.
We hope that this guide has been helpful in planning for your next trip, make sure to check out all our transportation services or leave the logistical planning of your trip to our team of experts with our vacation planning service, who work to your every need to ensure your Colombian experience is authentic and personal. Any other tips for getting around Colombia? Leave them in the comments below.
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