Almost everyone travelling to Colombia, include a visit to Bogota in their itinerary. In this post I am going to give you an overview of how Bogota’s transport system works and what are your options for moving around the city.
Visiting Bogota as part of your holiday to Colombia is a fantastic idea. Not just for practical and logistical reasons, but also because this capital city is one of the top Colombia Vacation Spots.
At first, Bogota might sound like an ugly and boring industrial city. I am sure that when you think about your upcoming trip to Colombia, destinations like Tayrona, the Amazon Jungle or even Cartagena might come to mind. But Bogota is never there.
However, the reality is that most travellers to Colombia end up spending a couple of nights in Bogota.
Some of them do it just for practical reasons. Nowadays, Bogota has the second largest airport in Latin America with plenty of direct flights to several destinations in Europe, USA and Canada.
Some cities like Cali, Medellin and Cartagena have recently started to receive direct international flights too. However, around 90% of all international flights use Bogota as their preferred landing and taking-off location.
So even if Bogota was not part of your initial list of destination to visit in Colombia, but you are anyway going to land there, why not spending a day or two discovering the city?
Bogota is a surprising city with plenty of activities and attractions to offer. Those travellers who decide to include it in their itinerary, end up having a great time.
That being said, it is also true that Bogota is chaotic and its transportation system can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.
If you are staying in La Candelaria, the old colonial town, you could walk to many attractions. But there are other great places to visit in other parts of the city that will require some sort of transportation.
Traffic in Bogota is horrible. That is just a fact. A recent study done by INRIX, an entity that makes analysis in congestion and mobility trends in more than 200 cities, ranked Bogota as the city in which people spend more time in traffic congestions in the entire world!
I am not trying to scare you away from Bogota. It is one of the top Colombia Vacation Spots and its attractions surely overweight the annoyances related to traffic.
Nevertheless, I think it is essential that you know what are the different types of transport that you can use in Bogota, in order to help you choose which one would be the best one for you.
Transmilenio is the closest thing to a metro that you will find in Bogota. At least until 2022 when the first real metro line is supposed to start operations.
Transmilenio is basically an above-ground metro, serviced by buses (instead of trains) that run in fast lanes where no other vehicle can drive. There are stations almost all over the city, and it is a cheap and fast service.
The main drawback of this system is that it gets very crowded. Specially during rush hours (6-9 am and 5-7 pm). Just to give you an idea, Transmilenio moves around 2 million people per day in a city of around 9 million inhabitants. It actually moves more people than any European or American metro.
Another annoyance of this system, are the pickpockets. As you can imagine, over-crowded buses and stations are paradise for thieves, so extra caution should be taken if you decide to take Transmilenio.
For those tourists travelling with light and small luggage, there is a convenient line that takes you straight from La Candelaria to the airport. During rush hour, when traffic is at its worst, Transmilenio is the fastest way to get to the airport. However, it is also when its buses get the most crowded, so get ready for pushing and being pushed.
The system is opened every day from 4:00 am to 11:00 pm. One single ride costs COP 2.200 (around USD 0.70). To be able to go inside any station, you will need to purchase (only in cash) a card in a ticket office and add some credit to it. That same card also works if you need to take an SITP bus.
STIP stands for Sistema Integral de Transporte Público (Integral Public Transportation System). It is actually a network of buses that covers the areas in which there is no Transmilenio.
The buses work on the same card as Transmilenio and you can switch buses without any extra cost.
Unlike Transmilenio, these buses don’t drive through fast lanes so they actually join the traffic jams with all other cars.
The SITP is a great system in a conceptual way, but its implementation has suffered a lot of problems. Nowadays, the schedule of the buses is not very reliable and trying to figure out the routes can be frustrating.
My advice for foreigner travellers, is to try to avoid taking the SITP. All other transportation options will work better as long as you don’t need to go to remote areas of the city.
To plan a ride using either Transmilenio or SITP, check the official website of the system.
I am sure you are already familiar with Uber and its services. It is a fantastic transportation platform that allows you to move around in a safe and practical way.
There are 3 different kind of services you can take with Uber in Bogota:
– Uber Pool: in which you share the ride with other passengers. The cheapest option.
– Uber X: a private ride in a standard small car.
– Uber Black: a private ride in a comfortable SUV-type of car. The most expensive option.
With the Uber App, you can request any of these 3 services with just a couple of clicks, get an estimated cost of the service up-front and pay with your credit card.
Fantastic, right? Well, there is a big drawback. Even though many people use it, Uber is technically illegal in Colombia.
I know, there are plenty of “technically illegal” services that are nowadays considered OK, everybody uses and there is no punishment of consequence for using them.
However, the controversy around Uber has been so big, that there are a couple of possible annoying consequences when taking an Uber.
The first one is being stopped by the traffic police. Currently, there are a lot of police checkpoints across the entire city in which they stop every car they suspect to be an Uber. This is especially risky for Uber Blacks as they are easier to identify.
If you get stopped by the police, you won’t get a fine (the driver does), but you will be asked to leave the car right there. This can be very annoying as you will be dropped in the middle of nowhere and will have to start looking for another “legal” transport to get to your destination.
This process can be very lengthy, so if you are short on time, for instance going to the airport, it might be too risky to take an Uber.
The second possible consequence is even more annoying, but happens rarely: being attacked by taxi drivers. There is so much controversy around Uber and the government has been so slow in deciding what to do, that some taxi drivers have decided to take justice on their own and attack Uber cars.
Again, this doesn’t happen often, but it has happened. And believe, you don’t want to be inside a car that is being attacked by a group of crazy people.
If you decide to take an Uber, I would advise you take an Uber X. It is less comfortable than the Uber Black cars and more expensive than Uber Pool, but you will be safer as there is less chances of being stopped by the police or attacked by taxi drivers.
Be aware though, that when you take an Uber X, you will be asked to seat in the front seat to make it look as you know the driver and reduce the chances of being stopped.
Taxis in Bogotá are widely available and cheap. Cheaper than any Uber ride at least. There are so many taxis in Bogota, that nowadays there are restrictions on which days each taxi can and cannot drive.
The range of cars you might get when ordering a taxi is huge. You might be lucky and get a new comfortable car or be unlucky and get an old and shaky one.
Taxis go everywhere inside the city and are available 24 hours. However, there are a couple of annoyances when taking a taxi:
– You need to pay in cash, and you won’t know how much will the ride cost until you have arrived.
– There are some taxi drivers who like to take advantage of tourists by over-charging them.
– You shouldn’t flag them down in the streets, but instead order it via an app or a phone call.
I personally think that taxis are a great way to move around the city. If you are going to take one, just be sure of having enough cash with you (no ride will ever cost more than COP 30.000. Short rides can cost as low as COP5.000) and to order it with an App (try Easy Taxi App) or by asking someone to call one for you.
If all the above-mentioned options seem to be too risky, annoying or uncomfortable for you, then your best option is to ask your agency or hotel to coordinate private transport for you.
Sure, it will be more expensive than the other options, but it won’t cost a leg anyway and it is the safest and most comfortable way to move around the city. Most hotels can get you a private transport in less than 20 minutes.
Bogota is one of the most visited Colombia Vacation Spots. Travellers usually end up spending some time in this capital city because they are interested in discovering it, or for pure practical and logistical reasons.
Bogota offers quite some transportation options for locals and tourists. However, moving around the city can be frustrating and even dangerous.
Depending on where you need to go, and at what time of the day, you could choose to take Transmilenio, an SITP bus, an Uber, a taxi or a private ride coordinated by a hotel or a travel agency.
Agencies like ours, prepare every transfer for our tourists in advance so we make sure the traveller and the driver know exactly where and when they have to meet and where they will go.
If you ask me, I think this is the most cost/efficient way of moving around and will save you all the headache and annoyances of the other transportation options.