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How To Get Around Colombia Like A Pro: An Expert Transportation Guide

Metro and graffiti mural Medellin

Updated on 03/19/2024

Dear reader,
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!

Getting around in Colombia

You have decided to visit Colombia, a stunning country with diverse landscapes and abundant wildlife. You can’t wait to explore its different regions, from the majestic Andes mountains to the lush Amazon rainforest to the sunny Caribbean coast. But you wonder: how will you travel across this vast and varied country?

You’re not the only one. Traveling in Colombia can be challenging, as it is a vast country with high mountain peaks and different climates. That’s why we created this expert guide on transportation in Colombia, based on our journey of over 25,000 miles (40,000 km) on Colombian roads.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about getting around Colombia, from the best routes to take to the most convenient modes of transport. Whether you prefer to fly, drive, take a bus, or even a boat, we have you covered.

So don’t let transportation issues stop you from enjoying your Colombian adventure. Read on and discover how to navigate this beautiful country smoothly and safely.

Metro in Medellin Colombia

Air Travel in Colombia: The Ultimate Guide

No matter where you want to go in Colombia, you can find an airport nearby. These airports link the major cities and tourist spots with remote and exotic places. Whether you want to explore the Andean region, the Pacific coast, the Amazon rainforest, or the Caribbean islands, you can find a flight that suits your needs and budget.

Why Fly in Colombia?

Colombia is a large and diverse country with a land area of 1.14 million square kilometers (440,000 square miles). That’s roughly the size of France and Spain combined.

Traveling by road can be time-consuming and exhausting, especially if you want to visit multiple destinations. For example, driving from Bogotá to Medellín takes about 9 hours, while flying takes only 1 hour.

Flying in Colombia has many advantages, such as:

•  Saving time and energy: You can reach your destination faster and more comfortably, avoiding traffic jams, road accidents, and bad weather conditions.

•  Enjoying scenic views: You can admire the stunning landscapes of Colombia from above, such as the snow-capped mountains, the green valleys, and the blue oceans.

•  Accessing remote areas: You can visit places that are difficult or impossible to reach by road, such as Leticia (the gateway to the Amazon), Nuquí (a paradise for whale-watching), or Providencia (a Caribbean island with a coral reef).

•  Finding affordable prices: You can take advantage of the competition among domestic airlines and find cheap flights for almost any route.

What are the Main Domestic Airlines in Colombia?

Colombia has several domestic airlines that cover different routes and offer various services. Here are some of the most popular ones:

•  Avianca: Colombia’s oldest and largest airline, founded in 1919. It has a fleet of over 100 aircraft that fly to more than 20 domestic destinations.

•  Latam Colombia: This is a subsidiary of Latam Airlines Group, the largest airline group in Latin America. It operates flights to more than ten domestic destinations.

•  Satena: This is a state-owned airline that specializes in serving remote and isolated regions of Colombia. It operates flights to more than 30 domestic destinations. Satena frequently flies to areas near the Pacific coast, the Amazon, and Los Llanos. This airline connects remote villages and towns that were hard to reach before.

•  Copa Airlines: This Panamanian airline flies between Bogotá and Panama City. It also offers connections to other destinations in Central America and the Caribbean.

•  Clic: This low-cost airline flies to over 20 domestic destinations.

• Wingo: This is a low-cost airline that operates flights to more than five domestic destinations, including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Cartagena, and San Andrés.

Find in our separate blog the main flying connections in Colombia.

How Much Does it Cost to Fly in Colombia?

Prices vary between COP $80,000 and COP $500,000 for flights between major cities. The cost of flying in Colombia depends on several factors, such as:

The route: Some routes are more popular and competitive than others, which affects the supply and demand of flights. For example, flights between Bogotá and Medellín are usually cheaper than flights between Bogotá and Leticia.

•  The season: Some seasons are busier and more expensive than others, especially during national holidays and festivals. For example, flights during Christmas, New Year, Easter, and Carnival are usually more expensive than flights during the low season.

•  The booking date: Some airlines adjust their prices according to the availability of seats and the proximity of the departure date. For example, flights booked in advance are usually cheaper than flights booked at the last minute.

•  The airline: Some airlines offer different services and amenities that affect the fare. For example, low-cost airlines usually charge extra fees for baggage, seat selection, and onboard snacks.

How to Find the Best Deals for Domestic Flights in Colombia?

If you want to save money on your domestic flights in Colombia, here are some tips and tricks that might help you:

•  Book in advance: Booking your flights at least a month before you leave can help you find lower prices and more options. But don’t book too early either, because some airlines may drop their prices closer to the departure date to sell more seats.

•  Be flexible: To save money, be flexible with your travel dates and times. For instance, weekday or early morning flights may be cheaper than weekend or peak-hour flights.

•  Use incognito mode: To avoid price hikes from website tracking, use incognito mode or VPN, or delete your cookies before looking for flights.

•  Google Flights: Find and compare flights from various airlines and platforms. You can filter by price, duration, stops, and baggage to suit your needs.

•  Skyscanner: Search and compare flights from various airlines and platforms. You can filter by price, duration, stops, and baggage to find your ideal trip.

What are the Taxes and Fees for Domestic Flights in Colombia?

The ticket price for domestic flights in Colombia does not include some taxes and fees. They depend on the route and the airline.

Some of the most common taxes and fees for domestic flights in Colombia are:

•  Departure tax: If you stay more than 90 days, you pay a tax for internal flights.

Tourism tax: All passengers to San Andrés island pay COP 115,000 per person. Pay this tax at the airport before your flight.

•  Baggage fee: This is a fee that some airlines charge for checking in your baggage. The amount varies depending on the airline and the weight and size of your baggage.

•  Seat selection fee: This is a fee that some airlines charge for choosing your seat on the plane. The amount varies depending on the airline and the seat location.

•  Snack fee: This is a fee that some airlines charge for buying snacks or drinks on board. The amount varies depending on the airline and the snack or drink.

If you are looking for connections, you will find national and international connections with the relevant airline in our travel guides from several destinations.

Driving in Colombia

Here’s an honest advice – don’t drive in Colombia! Yes, even if you’re a self-proclaimed pro driver.

As mentioned earlier, Colombia is home to different topographical features and the infrastructure is not exactly fully developed as of yet. Expect to face head-on collisions with speedy drivers and huge trucks and buses whirring past you on single-lane roads curved atop mountains.

Did we mention that the occasional livestock casually passing through will also be a normal occurrence in this wild country? Traveling inter-city to the main cities in the central region might still be easier but the wild-drivers still make it extremely difficult on the roads. Ironically, Colombians are known as some of the friendliest people in the world and yet the worst drivers.

Road rage is real here! You will get blocked, side-tracked, cursed, honked at and even forced to face near-death experiences as vehicles overtake precariously. Car accidents are responsible for an alarmingly high number of deaths here. Underage drivers on motorbikes driving in congested and not always well-maintained roads are often among the unfortunate.

After driving over 25,000 miles (40.000 km) around the whole country I calculated my average speed, which was around 25 mph (40 km/h), so I literally spent 42 days driving in the last 2 years. If time is something you can waste, there is at least one argument less to not drive in Colombia.

In the video below, I show you some of my crazy recordings from my driving journeys in Colombia, if you want to film your road trips, you can check this good quality dashcam provider in the US.

Car Rental in Colombia

Your best bet would be resorting to car rental services but make no mistakes; they will cost you quite a lot! You can find rental car services that can set you back at least COL $200,000 per day!  Gas is also really costly in this part of the world; expect to pay up to COP$9,990 a gallon as you hit the road.

We suggest doing your research and opting for the most reasonable car rental companies during your travels. Some good options are Avis, Hertz, and Budget. Also, at Rentcars you can compare car rental services and book at the best prices.

Remember, the Colombians drive on the right side of the road and insurance is compulsory. You will need a valid international driver’s license while some companies may accept your national driving license as well.

Car seats for children are mandatory along with seatbelts for all seats. Pay heed to the speed limits. In urban areas, the speed limit is 30-60 km/h (28-37 mph), in rural areas it is 80 km/h (50 mph) while the motorways allow you to speed up to 100 km/h (62 mph). But to be honest, there is always a flood of signage and I personally usually do not know which speed limit is valid.

Also, something from my own experience I would like to share. I had once a cracked windshield, just on the side. At a checkpoint, the police confiscated my car, as after Colombian law it was not secure anymore. I got my car back a few days later after getting the windshield replaced in the parking of the police, paying a huge fine and standing in line for 5 hours.

Also on my journeys, I got stopped by some corrupt police officers and they were looking for whatever reason to generate some additional income. If you will rent a car, just be aware of that risk.

Further, if you as a foreigner have an accident, the risk that somebody wants to take advantage of the situation and make money out of that is very high. Foreigners are all regarded as rich.

Additionally, there is this funny concept called Pico y Placa in Colombia, where you have restrictions in the city depending on your license plate. That might lead to the situation that you cannot leave or enter a city.

Taking a Taxi in Colombia

Resorting to taxis is a far better idea since they are much cheaper than rental cars and safer than taking the wheel by yourself.

However, taxi drivers sometimes charge extra from tourists even though cities like Bogota, Cali and Medellin have taximeters. Be prepared to bargain with the drivers to the best of your abilities. Also in some cities, they don’t have taximeters and in some cities, they have them but only use them sporadically. Just always check your price in advance to reduce the risk of being cheated.

There are also other services available and you will find the links below. Be aware that UBER still is not a legal service in Colombia and if you use it, you need to sit on the front seat. It also happened in the past that taxi drivers identified Uber drivers and beat them up.

Also, an important to know is that taxi drivers, without exception, believe they were Formula 1 drivers in their former lives. So, don’t be surprised if you break the sound barrier within the city limits.

Bus and Public Transportation in Colombia

Transmilenio in Bogotá Colombia

Most important of all, you need to learn the Colombian way of waving your hand so that taxis, buses, etc. will know you want a ride and will stop to pick you up.

Public transport remains the most sought-after option for locals and tourists alike all over the world. Colombia has significantly improved its infrastructure over the years. The improved network of roads and highways makes bus travel in this region easier and safer than ever, especially through the mountains as you make your way to the Andean cities! This mode of travel is reasonably cheap too! An overnight, one-way bus ticket for a 10-hour trip would cost you around 70,000 pesos (about 25 USD).

Buses in Colombia come in wide variety and range depending on comfort level and distance. Tourists have plenty of options to choose from. Starting from the shared mini-bus or ‘colectivo’ to air-conditioned buses covering long distances and overnight buses offering the luxury of business-class seats, entertainment, snacks and even near-flat bunks/beds – Colombia has it all!

Buses that cover long distances make it especially easier for those looking to travel to different cities during their trips and these intercity buses offer seats much more comfortable than your basic coach class with air-conditioning, decent legroom, and even Wi-Fi service.

Tourists opting for overnight trips would be well-advised to wear warm clothing to bear the artic cooling of the air-conditioner and keep earbuds for noise-cancellation to enjoy a peaceful nap. And another important tip, always pay attention to your luggage.

Buses are usually safe and make frequent stops at police and military checkpoints. Don’t be alarmed if some sniffing dogs casually enter the bus and start sniffing you up and down. You can also find the fatality statistics for buses at the ticket counters and make informed decisions.  Most buses have restrooms and long-distance buses usually stop for meal breaks too.

All intercity buses depart from the passenger terminals that are easily accessible by local transport and easy to navigate around. The most popular and well-known bus companies include Bolivariano, Berlinas, Brasilia, and Rapido Ochoa. Tourists would benefit by booking their bus tickets ahead of time and planning their travels before or after national holidays such as Christmas or the long holiday weekends to avoid hassle and rush.

Moreover, the biggest cities in Colombia have their dedicated and modern bus metro systems as well. Colombia is home to the infamous and much-raved-about ‘Transmilenio’. This bus service in Bogota is the world’s largest bus rapid transport system covering 56 miles (90 km) with pre-paid cards and an online system for bus route inquiries.

Why should you opt for a bus instead of renting private transport or a car? The answer is pretty obvious! Buses are safer and cheaper. Opting to drive in a capricious country like Colombia on your own is no less than a risk, especially if you’re a tourist who is looking to cover multiple cities such as the major Andean cities that you cannot reach on your own. Lastly, who wouldn’t want to travel in the luxury and comfort of a secure bus without caring about the fatalities that await you on the road if you take the wheel?

Also, try this app, it might be helpful

redBus App

Express point-to-point service in Colombia

Another interesting aspect is, that not all buses leave from the central bus station.

In Santa Marta and Cartagena for example, some bus companies have their own terminals within their business address. True, the vehicles are not real buses but rather minivans but if you are looking for express point-to-point transportation, this might be the service you are looking for.

Bicycles

What better way to explore this diverse region that is a feast to the eyes than by paddling your way around on a charming bicycle? Cycling is very popular in Colombia and there are several routes designed specifically for this very task. Mountain bike routes, cross-country treks, expeditions that span over several days and intercity and local cycling-you name it and Colombia has it!

Bogota boasts one of the most extensive and advanced cycle route networks and the proof lies in the fact that citizens there traverse around the city accounting for over 400,000 bicycle trips every 24 hours! Moreover, this particular city shuts down its roads on Sundays and public holidays for ‘Ciclovia’ where the space is exclusively dedicated to joggers, skaters and cyclists alike.

While buying a bicycle is not cheap they can be hired easily at bike rental shops that are usually located near parks mostly in coastal cities and less so in mountainous regions.

We would advise the tourists to be cautious and to take into account the zealous driving conditions and habits of native drivers before recklessly cycling around the country. Wear your helmet, knee and elbow pads at all times and remember to have fun while you’re at it!

Are you looking for your very own second-hand bike? Try the website Mercado Libre for the best deals.

Traveling by boat in Colombia

Before the advent of railroads, better infrastructure and highways, traveling via the river remained the principal means of travel inside Colombia. Even today, you can only travel to some parts of the Amazon such as Puerto Nariño through river travel.

Traveling by boat inside the only South American country fortunate enough to share coastlines with both the Atlantic (Caribbean) and the Pacific Ocean coastlines is surely a treat! Embark on the greatest adventure of your life as you sail in the brilliant blue waters surrounding this gorgeous region.

The major seaports in Colombia are located in Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Buenaventura (Pacific coast).

Due to this prime location, Colombians witness an influx of ships and cruise lines from Mexico, the USA, Central America, and the Caribbean.

There are several kinds of boats that you can choose to travel around this ruggedly beautiful and mountainous region from:

Speedboats

For the tourists seeking thrill and adrenaline rush can opt for the fast Speedboats that travel from northern Antioquia (Necocli and Turbo) to the Caribean towns of Sapzurro and Capurganá.

Tourists can find plenty of boat services such as ‘Lunas Castle’, especially for a sailing trip from Panama to Colombia for an average rate of $450-$650 for a 5-day trip which will include decent meals too!

From Leticia, you can also drive to Iquitos in Peru or Manaus in Brazil, which I heard is an interesting journey.

Cruise ships

Fancy a delightful cruise under the warm sun? You can easily find cruise ships traveling to Colombia that will usually make a stop at Cartagena.

Cargo Boats

Although a slower way to travel, Cargo boats sailing via the Magdalena River are always an option for passengers who don’t mind constantly traveling for several days. The Buenaventura port is the hub for cargo boats plying on the Pacific coast.

Tourists with sufficient time on their hands can book a bunk to travel to both the north, and south and to Nuquí and Bahía Solano as they take their time to drink in the glorious views that surround them.

Private/Rental boats

Most hotels and hostels can arrange for private boats for tourists too. Some great boat rental companies are at the disposal of tourists that charge either per hour/per day or the number of people on board.

Want to experience the best fishing in Rionegro? You can rent a 4-person center console for the price of USD 600 a day with a minimum booking for three days.

Are you the life of the party? You can Charter the 44ft Lagoon 440 Cruising Catamaran Boat that can host up to 23 people with reasonable rates as you cruise in Cartagena, Bolívar in style and luxury!

Colombia is a rising force in the contemporary world with a massive increase in tourism and hospitality. With several means of traveling inside this magical country, tourists can choose from a number of options according to their budget and itinerary. Happy traveling!

Hitchhiking in Colombia

To be honest, I tried it only a little in Colombia but it depends a lot on the region. In Bogota and the surrounding area, the people are in a constant state of fear, it seems to be part of the city culture. Therefore it will be most unlikely that somebody will take you unless you are a cute blonde girl with blue eyes.

In rural regions, though, it is a different story. Many times I was surprised how lonely girls or elderly ladies were getting into my car without hesitation. Still, for the farming population without the resources to even buy a bicycle, that seems to be normal.

Anyway as a foreign tourist, I am not sure if I would try to tramp the country by hitchhiking. Although Colombia is much safer today, I would not like to take the risk.

Dictionary

  • Bicitaxi: This is the Colombian adaptation of a Rickshaw but with a bike integrated.
  • Chiva: Some might think the time of the Chivas should long have been gone but those big buses did not find a worthy successor yet. Those sometimes huge mostly very colorful buses run all over Colombia. Depending on the region, they have a different function. In Bogota they use them as party buses, driving through the city with loud music, with no windows and poles in the middle, and of course, lots of alcohol.  In more rural areas those resistant tanks get the masses everywhere. You can see them fully packed inside and also on the roof, defeating muddy roads. Those buses are an institution in Colombia and part of the culture.
Party bus in Colombia
  • Colectivo: A colectivo can be every kind of vehicle that transports people but is not an official public transportation. You not only find those in rural areas but also cities. A good indication that you are in a colectivo is that you have to pay the driver in cash. Sometimes there is also a second person collecting the money. In Bogota, you have the old crappy buses that some years ago got included in the official transportation system, but they are still colectivos. In other areas, you can find jeeps, pickup trucks, normal cars, buses or even vehicles you can’t identify. The colectivos usually transport everything from people, goods and animals.
  • Metro: This is the mass transportation system of Medellin. It is modern, clean and very good. But don’t get misled by the name, it is not an underground system.
  • Metrocable: The cable cars in Medellin are called Metrocable and are connected to the Metro system.
  • MotoTaxi: In many areas, mostly with a warm climate, you see many motorcycle drivers driving slowly and with an additional helmet. In some regions, they also honk all the time. You can wave them and they will get you wherever you want. Be careful, this is not the safest way to get around. In some areas, it is prohibited to have 2 people on a motorcycle to prevent robbery.
  • TransMiCable: This is a brand new transportation system in Bogota. Cable cars that bring you up the mountain. So far there is one in the south with the same idea as in Medellin, to integrate the poorer areas into the cities and provide them access to work.
  • TransMilenio (TM): This is the mass transportation system of Bogota. You will see those huge red buses running mostly on their separate lines.
  • TransCaribe (TC): This is the mass transportation system of Cartagena. You will see those huge orange buses running mostly on their separate lines.
  • Willy: The Willy’s are mostly used in the coffee region and are actually Willy Jeeps. Although you will find other brands like Toyota, and Nissan, so it does not depend too much on the brand but the type of vehicle. You will find them in different sizes and shapes, some open, some closed but usually overcrowded. Those vehicles are the workhorses and transport everything around mountainous areas. They also serve as school buses and tourist attractions.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia.I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia.For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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