How to get around Colombia

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Colombia is a beautiful country with some of the world’s most diverse terrain, from bustling cities and mountain villages to […]

Colombia is a beautiful country with some of the world’s most diverse terrain, from bustling cities and mountain villages to Caribbean beaches, cowboy plains and tropical rainforest. Most travellers want to visit as many of these regions as possible while on vacation and, fortunately, Colombia is as diverse when it comes to internal transport as it is with everything else.

Traveling by plane

Most visitors start with the air options, given the huge distances between some of Colombia’s most popular destinations. The country has several airlines operating internally, including Avianca, LAN, Copa and VivaColombia, with Satena focusing on flights to the smaller cities. Remember to always book ahead and, where possible, avoid the national holidays when hard-working Colombians rush to escape the cities for a spot of sun.

Bogota’s new international airport, El Dorado, boasts two busy domestic terminals and Terminal 2,  formerly known as Puente Aereo, is dedicated solely to Avianca. It usually operates flights to the smaller cities, although it’s important to check your tickets carefully because the journey between the two terminals involves a short drive, usually made in a bus or taxi. Most cities and large towns in Colombia have airports, although the flights can be less frequent to the more obscure destinations.

Traveling by bus

If you prefer to see the countryside closer at hand, it can take up to a day to travel between the coasts and some of the larger Andean cities. Still, plenty of visitors make the pilgrimage, if only to enjoy the variation in climate and terrain. Travel by road in Colombia and you’ll find yourself passing waterfalls and plunging mountain valleys one moment and palm trees and banana plantations the next. Most big cities boast car rental companies and Colombia is on a constant mission to update its infrastructure. New, wider roads and tunnels straight through the mountains are continually improving the comfort of travelling by car.

But it is often just as easy to take one of country’s roomy, air-conditioned, overnight buses. The most luxurious options offer comfortable, near-flat beds, snack services and entertainment and operate from busy bus terminals in all the major cities. Those planning to take the overnight option should wear warm clothes or take blankets because air-conditioning rules, particularly in Colombia’s warmest climates, are rigorously enforced. Well-known bus companies include Bolivariano, Berlinas and Rapido Ochoa. It is best to book ahead and avoid national holidays.

Exploring the cities

Many of Colombia’s biggest cities boast modern, overland bus metro systems, which operate in their own dedicated lanes. The most famous is Bogota’s transmilenio, which covers some 90 kilometres and is the world’s largest bus rapid transport system. Journeys are made using pre-paid cards, available in shops and stations. Although transmilenio becomes crowded at peak hours, it is thought to have cut travel times across the capital by half and has been copied by several major Latin American cities. Routes can be viewed online. Traditional buses also operate across the country. The oldest buses can often be hailed as they pass in the street and it is not unusual to find a conductor on board, who shouts destinations to potential passengers. Bogota’s new SITP system is a lot more organised though, with a pre-paid travel card and online route finder.

Colombia’s major towns and cities bustle with taxis and, in some cases, motorbike-taxis, although these are slowly going out of fashion. The most secure way to take a taxi, particularly in the larger cities, is to pre-book and Bogota, in particular, has several smartphone applications for this service, including Tappsi and EasyTaxi. Private drivers can also be hired for larger groups and day trips.

Better by bicycle

Bogota has one of the world’s most extensive cycle route networks and it is thought the city’s citizens take up to 400,000 bicycle trips each day. Bicycles are available for hire in designated sites around the capital, usually close to parks and are accompanied by numerous bike rental shops. Bogota is also credited with inventing the ciclovia, with hundreds of city roads closed each Sunday morning so cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and rollerbladers can enjoy the freedom of the streets.

To find out more about Colombia’s biggest cities, read these articles:

An express guide to Bogota for half a day, one day or a weekend

3 tour guides to explore Cartagena with limited time

Discover Medellin! 4 tourist routes with something for everyone 

What should I visit in Cali? Basic guide to the salsa capital