Getting between major destinations
Travelling by bus in Colombia has some major advantages: it can be cheap, comfortable and allows you to get a feel for the country’s scenery, some of which is stunning. On the downside, a 12-hour journey over the winding, rolling slopes of the northern Andes can be as nauseating as it is exhausting. That said, Colombia’s roads have improved hugely in the past ten years - although the work is ongoing and this in itself can cause major delays.
There are several classes of bus to choose between, with the most expensive offering fully reclining seats, toilets and films (usually played at full volume, so earplugs are a good idea). Remember to bring a jumper or jacket, as even on cold days their air conditioning is likely to be on full. Cheaper colectivo services use minivans and tend to pack people in. They also make for a bumpier ride.
Each city has its own bus station (terminal de autobuses), though Bogotá has more than one, so check which destinations they serve before going to catch your bus. These are also the best place to book tickets, though generally you’ll only have to reserve seats in advance around public holidays.
The fastest and most convenient mode of transport in Colombia, what you lose in scenery, you make up for in time spent travelling when going by plane. Though quick and efficient, air fares can be steep (up to COL$ 500,000) and there’s little price competition between carriers. Generally, it’s not worth booking too far in advance, as prices tend to stay fairly static. You may even be able to find cheap last minute deals.
The major carrier in Colombia is Avianca, whose service record, like their reputation for customer service, is poor. You’ll also find they offer the most flights to the most destinations. Copa Airlines cover a similar range of destinations, while Sataena fly to the Amazon and the Pacific coast. Others to consider are LAN, as well as budget carriers EasyFly and Viva Colombia.
Driving is considered fairly dangerous in Colombia, and it’s generally not recommended for foreigners. If you decide to risk it, bear in mind that Colombian drivers can be aggressive and erratic, especially in cities. Traffic lights are routinely ignored, as are pedestrians and the country has a high rate of road deaths.
Getting around in big cities, especially Bogotá, is usually a simple affair. Smaller cities like Cartagena are small enough to traverse on foot, while Medellín now has a world class metro network and commuter cable cars strung along its mountainous slopes.
Taxis can be a cheap and efficient way of getting around the capital Bogotá. Look for the yellow cabs which are metered. If your driver is reluctant to switch his metre on, insist. It’s likely you’ll be overcharged if you don’t. The TransMilenio rapid bus transit network is also well worth using. It has its own lanes, and so is immune to traffic, but can get packed at peak times.