How to Get Around in Colombia

April 2, 2013 by

Local Recommendations, Travel Tips

Terminal Puente Aereo - Bogotá

Terminal Puente Aereo – Bogotá. Photo credit: Joao Medau via Flickr.

Situated atop the Andes Mountains and cloaked in dense forest to the south, vast grasslands to the west, and arid scrub to the north, Colombia is certainly not the world’s most featureless country. These geographic obstacles fostered the development of the distinct regional cultures in the country and, historically, meant interminable travel times via river and mule caravan. Enter air travel. Nowadays, airplanes whisk businesspeople and tourists over the mountains and between Colombia’s principal cities often in less than an hour, and even land travel has become a bit more streamlined, with comfortable “luxury” buses weaving along highways throughout the country.

By air
Bogotá’s Eldorado Airport is the main air travel hub in Colombia. Most international and many domestic flights in Colombia originate or end here.

Colombia’s principal airline is Avianca, one of the world’s oldest, founded in 1919, and recently merged with Central America’s TACA Airlines. Its primary hub in Bogotá offers frequent daily service to virtually every departmental capital in the country: Medellín, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Bucaramanga, Manizales, Quibdó, and Pasto, just to name a few. The airline operates a select few routes between secondary cities, bypassing Bogotá, such as Medellín-Cartagena and Cali-Barranquilla.

Also operating a national network of flights from Bogotá to Colombia’s major cities are Copa Airlines Colombia, the local subsidiary of the Panamanian carrier, with major connectivity from secondary cities to Copa’s international hub in nearby Panama City; and LAN, the Chile-based multinational airline that operates domestic routes as well as international links.

SATENA, Colombia’s government-owned airline, provides service to smaller, more distant communities throughout the country, including within the vast Amazon region and between the tropical isles of San Andrés and Providencia. Meanwhile, “low cost” carriers EasyFly and VivaColombia offer service mainly between the Caribbean coast and the principal cities of the interior.

Flights between principal cities can cost anywhere from $90,000 to $900,000 roundtrip, depending on the route and the time the ticket is purchased. Some airlines charge a premium fare for tickets purchased through airline websites or aggregators from outside of Colombia. Fares are always cheaper when using a credit card issued through a Colombian bank (i.e. find a local friend to purchase your ticket and give her the cash).

By land
Colombia’s bus service is a bit more decentralized, with most large cities having direct routes to one another often without a connection in Bogotá. From the capital, the Terminal de Transporte has service to virtually every corner of the country, with services to Medellín, the Caribbean coast, Bucaramanga, and Villavicencio provided multiple times per day by companies such as Expreso Brasilia, Berlinas del Fonce, Expreso Bolivariano, and Flota la Macarena.

Medellín serves as the gateway to the Eje Cafetero and Chocó regions, with north- and eastbound buses operating out of the Terminal del Norte and south- and westbound buses leaving from Terminal del Sur. Cali and Barranquilla are the bus hubs of the southwest and Caribbean regions, respectively, and have daily services to surrounding towns and tourist attractions.

Bus fares tend to be cheap, anywhere from $12,000 to $138,000 for a one-way journey, but travel times can be lengthy. Trips from Bogotá to Cartagena or vice-versa can take 20 hours or more, without traffic, and even the “short” hop from Bogotá to Medellín, a mere half hour by air, takes 9 hours on Colombia’s serpentine highways.

Between Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Tayrona National Park, an alternative to the bus are puerta-a-puerta (door-to-door) van services, such as Transportes Marsol, which cost a little more but are a lot more convenient.

-Ernest White II

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Colombia tours and things to doColombia attractions, andColombia travel recommendations, or book a private tour guide in Colombia for a customized tour!

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