Transportation in Colombia: By Bus, Taxi, Air and Sea

Transport in Colombia is surprisingly efficient. Despite having no national train system, all major cities have at least two public transit options. Our local insider Erin shows you how to get around town.


Photo © iStock/Joel Carillet

Bus travel around Colombia

Travel by bus in Colombia is probably the most widely used form of transport, from large, long-haul buses to smaller regional buses. While bus travel is reasonably safe, it's best to go with one of the more established (and expensive) services for long-distance travel. These buses can be quite comfortable, with reclining seats, bathrooms, and air contditionaing. 

Bring earplugs, as the music played on the buses is often deafeningly loud, and if you're prone to motion sickness, consider medication for travel on curvy mountain roads.

Keep a close eye on your belongings, especially at the bus stations. Certain bus routes and stations in the large cities can be very dangerous for theft/robbery.

Female travelers should try to sit on aisle seats to prevent getting “cornered” and harassed. This doesn’t commonly happen, but can help put you in front of more witnesses in case someone tries to bother you.

Larger cities often have dedicated bus lanes on the major routes (such as Bogota's TransMilenio) as well as "trunk" routes that service the outer neighborhoods.

Local tip: For shorter regional trips, keep an eye out for colectivos (shared minivans). These small vehicles tend to arrive faster than larger buses and are quite inexpensive, though it may take a while for the driver to fill the van up with passengers before departing. Fares are usually paid to the driver directly.

Taxis in Colombia

You’ll find taxis in all cities and small towns in Colombia. Some places, like Tolu, may even offer bicycle taxis.

Rural regions might have motorcycle taxis and boat taxies, but try to avoid the moto-taxi. These can be quite dangerous with high motorcycle accident and mortality rates.

Always try to be observant of the taxi number in case you leave anything behind. Some of the larger cities, like Bogota, have had fake taxis pick travelers up and then leave them without their belongings.  

Never get in a taxi with license plates that don’t coincide with the city you're in. For example, in Bogota, all license plates will say “Bogota” on the bottom. Rather than hailing a taxi on the street, it's advised to have your hotel or restaurant call one for you, or use a taxi app such as Cabify.

Local tip: In Medellin, check with local hotels for shuttle options from the airport, as taxis tend to be quite pricey, even for Colombia. Smart travelers can save big with a hotel shuttle, even if you're staying somewhere else.

Air travel in Colombia

One of the most cost-effective ways to travel in Colombia is by plane. There are currently six carriers offering domestic flights (including Avianca. LATAM Colombia, and Wingo) and you can often find very low rates if you book ahead of time.

A round trip, like the one from Pereira to Bogota, can cost around US $50 if planned at least two weeks to a month ahead of the planned arrival date. You'll likely pay more if you want to check a bag or carry more than just a backpack.

However, this doesn’t come without risk as some airlines have ceased operations apruptly in recent years.

For domestic flights, plan to arrive at the airport at least 45 min to an hour before your departure time. For international flights, you must be there two hours prior.

Rules have become stricter over the last couple years, along with lower weight limits for baggage. Check with your airline prior to travel to ensure there are no surprises waiting for you.

Boat travel in Colombia

Some locations in Colombia, such as the Rosario Islands, can only be reached by boat. Others, such as Providencia Island, can be reached by boat or plane. The boat trip is obviously longer and not a great option for those prone to seasickness, but being on the water is an adventure and very scenic.

Be sure to book your accommodation two weeks ahead of time for Providencia Island, as lodging availability is limited. Check the schedule for boats and planes to ensure you have a way to get there which also coincides with your accommodation dates.

Talk to your hotel about shuttle options when you make your reservation. While many businesses don't yet have an online presence, don’t hesitate to ask around a bit to ensure the boat company is reputable.

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