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Top Colombia

Getting Around Colombia

By Air

If you have only a short holiday, it would be worth flying from destination and destination. At times, domestic Colombian flights can be cheaper (or slightly more expensive) than bus fares. Competition between the carriers is great, causing fare wars. Check their websites for super-saver rates. Taxes on ticket sales are high, accounting for about 30 percent of the price. The major domestic carriers are:

Ada — (specializing in flights within Antioquia):

AeroRepública (now owned by Copa) —

Aires —

Avianca —

Satena —

By Bus

Colombian buses are some of the best in South America. Often, companies will have several levels of service, from corriente (average) to lujo (luxury). Bus terminals often display the safety record of all carriers, with the monthly and yearly accident, injury and death figures. Many companies issue baggage claim tickets. By law, bus outfits have a maximum fare they can charge during the high season. In the low season there are substantial reductions, particularly with buses to or from Caribbean coast destinations. The trick is to arrive some 10 or 15 minutes before the bus leaves, and when told the price of the fare, ask (ever so sweetly) for a discount. Colombians also recommend talking directly with the driver about a cheaper rate.

During holidays, you may have to reserve your ticket at least several days in advance; some companies have online reservations, requiring a credit card. Websites for the major lines are:

Berlinas —

Bolivariano —

Brasilia —

Coomotor —

Copetrán —

As far as traveling at night, in the past Colombians would either advise against it or at least say it’s a risk. These days highways are heavily patrolled by the Colombia military and the only persons likely to be stopping your bus in the middle of the night are young regimented soldiers. Colombians now feel more confident traveling after dark. Still, in some parts of the country, buses do not run at night.

By Train

Most trains in Colombia are now tourist oriented and run only on weekends and holidays. The La Sabana steam train chugs from Bogotá to Zipaquirá. Cali has a variety of tourist trains: the Tren Turístico Azúcar y Café and the Tren Rumbero. The Tren

EcoturĂ­stico de las Flores rattles and sways from Barranquilla to Las Bocas de Cenizas at the mouth of the Magdalena River. See the principal cities for more information on schedules and fares. The Ruta de Maconda ,from Santa Marta to Aracataca, is still on hold.

The only normal passenger service still in operation is the Barrancabermeja-Puerto BerrĂ­o train. Residents of San Cipriano near Cali are running a small operation to maintain contact with the outside world.

By Taxi

Not all cities enforce the use of taxi meters, so whether you catch a cab with or without it, check fares with your hostel concierge before going out. If the cab has no meter, negotiate a price with the driver before boarding the cab. Although it is more expensive, ask your hotel to phone for a taxi to the station or airport instead of trying to hail one on the street. Use licensed taxis. The license plate number should be painted on the sides of the vehicle, as well as on its roof. Do not enter one if someone else is in it. Keep your baggage with you. To borders, collective taxis (colectivos, or por puesto in cities bordering Venezuela) are the norm. For short jaunts around town, mototaxis (motorcycle taxis) are cheaper.

By Car or Motorcycle

In Colombia gas prices are on average $4.50 per gallon. For both car and motorcycle travelers, an international driver’s license and insurance are obligatory, as is vehicle registration. Highways in general are in excellent condition. Invías ( publishes road reports on its website. Motorcycles do not pay tolls. Night driving and riding are not recommended. Check with DIAN (the customs office) for the latest procedures for entering and exiting Colombia with your own vehicle. Cars pay a tax, motorcycles do not. When you leave the country, turn in the permit document. Although DIAN might not ask motorcyclists for proof of insurance, if you are stopped by police you could be asked to show it.

A recommended website for those traveling in their own vehicle is, which has information on vehicle shipping between South and Central America. Motorcyclists recommend

Motorcyclists can get their bikes from Central America to Colombia in several ways:

· Stahlretter is the only sailboat-ferry that presently takes motorcycles and their riders from Cartagena to Portobello, Panama. Check the Caribbean Coast and Islands chapter for details.

· Some bikers join together to share shipping by private sailboat from Portobello,

Panama to Cartagena, but there is no insurance or warranty. The sea can be rough with big waves. The cost for both you and your bike is $900.

· Cargo ship is another option, but captains don’t like to take passengers along.

· You can ship your motorcycle by cargo airlines to Bogotá (drain gasoline and disconnect battery; $550) and travel yourself by passenger plane ($350-500). With this option, your bike is insured.

Motorcyclists must purchase a reflective vest with their license plate number emblazoned on it, as well as have the number put on the back of their helmets (cost for both comes to about $10 in any given shop). Helmet use is mandatory by law for both rider and passenger.

If you have to order parts from overseas, it can take 45 days or more. Most foreigners take off-road bikes because parts are easier to find. Bogotá has several small part shops where you can get just about anything you might need. Accommodations that accept motorcycles are common (free parking), especially in small towns. A few, like Casa Kiwi in Medellín, give a discount to motorcyclists.

By Boat

More remote areas of Colombia can only be reached by boat. From Turbo, chalupas (launches) depart for Capurganá and other villages along the North Coast. Other launches run along the Pacific coast between Nuquí, Buenaventura and Tumaco, though this is a less-taken route due to the nation’s civil war. River travel is the norm in the Amazon, whether heading to other Colombian villages or traveling downstream to Manaus, Brazil, or upstream to Iquitos, Peru.

By Bike

Bicycling is quite common in Colombia. Even small villages have repair shops. Most cyclists advise to stay on the main roads, avoid going into jungle areas and do not travel at night. All admit the biggest security issue is not with factions of the country’s civil war, but with ordinary theft. Remember Colombia has three mountain ranges with passes of up to 4,000 meters (13,129 feet).

Many cyclists have their own websites detailing their adventures:,,, and Although it is a bit dated, Iris en Tore op reis ( has excellent travelogues and maps in English. Panamericana on a Recumbent Bike ( lists reports and altitudes for all points between Alaska and Ushuaia.

Casa de Ciclistas is a network of local bicycle enthusiasts providing home stays and logistics for bikers. They don’t have a central website, though. Just search the term and city, and you’ll find contacts’ information.

By Hitchhiking

As always, hitchhiking is an iffy proposition in terms of success and safety. Male-female couples say they encounter few problems in traversing Colombia this way. Solo males report poor luck. Lone females should probably forget this option for travel. Always trust your gut instinct about a prospective ride; another vehicle will eventually come along. Truck drivers are likely to be looking for a passenger (illegally) to help keep them awake with conversation.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Getting Around San Gil, Getting Around Barranquilla, Getting around, Getting around, Getting around Villavicencio, Getting Around, Taxi, Getting around Leticia, Getting Around and Getting around.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

27 Sep 2011

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