Bogota has a notoriously poor public transportation system. This is because the city mostly grew along the North-South axis, and because of the explosive population growth in the past decades. As a result, the traffic is chaotic at all times and the capacity of the city's transportation network is well below the real needs.
Bogota is well connected to the rest of the country, with buses and direct flights to all major cities.
Bogota lacks an efficient underground network. All of the transport is overland, through buses organized in three separate systems.
The main pillar of the urban transport network, Transmilenio is a bus rapid transit system that was introduced in 2000. There are 12 lines connecting the main areas of the city through 147 stations, with 117 different bus routes. Buses have their dedicated lane, separated from the rest of the avenue, and passengers board from closed stations with restricted access.
For new users, learning how to use the Transmilenio can be quite confusing. Generally bus routes along a line don't stop in all stations. There are three types of bus routes:
Transmilenio buses (red buses) usually start at 4.30 a.m. and run until 23.00. Not all buses work on Sundays and public holidays. Be prepared for overly crowded buses and long waiting times.
In order to use the Transmilenio system, you should purchase a "Tullave" card at the ticket office in all stations. This will be a one-off purchase as cards are reusable and they can be recharged with the amount you wish.
Individual journeys cost 2.300 COP, and the value of a card is 5.000 COP.
There are no combined weekly, monthly or multiple-journey options.
SITP is the regular bus transit system of Bogota, that connects the entire city through a network of over 7000 bus lines.
Buses are blue, and their stops ("paraderos") are signaled on the pavement with blue signs.
SITP buses must be hailed with a hand wave, otherwise they may not stop to pick you up. When you're inside, you should ring at the station you are getting off.
If you are taking a new route or going to an area of the city you don't know, you should plan your journey beforehand, in order to know what bus lines are best and where you will need to get off. This can be done either on the SITP website or using the Moovit application.
Single journeys cost 2.100 COP, are payable upon boarding on a bus, and are valid for one bus ride. They are payable with the same rechargeable card that is used on the Transmilenio.
Transmilenio and SITP are now an integrated transport system. Passengers benefit from combined Transmilenio and SITP journeys by personalizing the Tullave card with their names and details. With personalized cards, passengers can take up to three routes within 95 minutes, with no additional cost (from Transmilenio to SITP) or with the additional cost of 200 COP (from SITP to Transmilenio). Without the personalized card, full fares apply on each bus.
Contrary to what it may sound, the SITP Provisional network is actually a semi-formal transportation system, operated by small private companies on specific routes, and not integrated with the Transmilenio/SITP official network.
Buses (generally called "busetas" by Colombians) are generally old, crammed, and each line is painted in different colors. They can be hailed from anywhere along their route, depending on the driver's whim, and can also stop anywhere, even in the middle of a busy crossroad.
Journeys cost 1.700 COP and are payable in cash, directly to the driver.
Widely criticized for its informality, the SITP Provisional system nevertheless carries up to 2 million passengers daily, and is an important component of the transportation network, without which the official public transit system would collapse.
Because of its complex geographical conditions with three steep mountain ranges, swampy lands and vast jungle, Colombia never had an efficient train system. The few train lines that existed were terminated in the 1970s due to inefficiencies, and the railways were abandoned.
The only train still in service, "El Tren de la Sabana", is an exclusively touristic route that connects Bogota to the towns of Zipaquirá and Cajicá, some 60 kilometers to the North. It claims to be a replica of the steam-powered train that once connected the capital to the main salt-mining center of the region.
Trains run only in the week-ends and depart from Estación de la Sabana, on Calle 13 #18-24.
The price of a return ticket is 58.000 COP.
For more information, visit the official page of Turistren.
Overland travel in the country is through an extensive network of private buses run by different companies, ensuring transport between destinations. The level of service of each company varies significantly, but nowadays most have modern fleets of vehicles, albeit no always well maintained.
Bus travels can be researched on the official website of the Bogota Transport Terminals. However, you should be aware that not all bus routes appear on the website, and to get complete information about prices, departure times and availability on specific days you should contact directly the bus operator.
The biggest bus companies have well designed websites that show all the information you need, but only a few of them have online selling platforms that can save you a prior visit to the terminal to buy the ticket. If you are not traveling too far, the best way is simply to arrive at the terminal and see which company has the next available bus to your destination.
Some reputed bus companies:
There are three bus terminals in Bogota:
Not all buses leave from one of the terminals. Buses to villages and small towns near Bogota may leave from other parts of the city. Make sure you know in advance if your bus leaves from one of the terminals.
Tips for an easy and comfortable bus travel in Colombia:
The El Dorado Airport (BOG) is the country's main point of entrance. Recently modernized and extended, it has excellent facilities.
Located West of Bogota, on the outskirts of the city but inside its limits, it is fast and easy to reach by public transport.
Bus: There are two routes that connect the airport to the rest of the city:
Note that neither of the routes is an airport express service. Both regular stops, pick passengers along the way and don't have special place for luggage. If you are traveling with a lot of luggage, it is recommended to take a taxi.
Drive: Reaching the airport by car is easy. Simply take the Avenida El Dorado, one of the main avenues in the city, and take the exit lane when you have arrived.
The airport has numerous parking spaces next to all terminals. You pay by minute, but there are special daily and monthly prices.
The only taxi company authorized within the airport is Taxi Imperial, and can be arranged directly from one of the desks near the exit. Don't listen to the people who shout "taxi", as they are not authorized and may be a risk to your safety.
The price depends on your destination, and will be computed at the end of your journey. There is a 4.400 COP airport surcharge that will be added to the final amount.
It is not recommended to hail a taxi on the street in Bogota for security reasons, especially if you are alone or at night. The best way is to request them through an application that clearly identifies the name of the driver and the license plate.
Make sure to check that the number on the license plate corresponds to the number on the application, to the number written on the taxi door and to the taxi license that should be clearly displayed (with the driver's photo) inside the taxi. If you encounter any irregularity, get off immediately.
It is not common for taxis to be requested by phone, as waiting times are extremely long and service is very poor.
Rates are standardized and are published yearly in the media. Make sure the taxi meter is on when you get into a taxi. The total price will be computed at the end of your journey.
The price per kilometer is 881 COP, with a 2.100 COP recharge during night hours and Sundays. There is a minimum fare of 4.400 COP.
Tipping is forbidden on taxis, you should make sure you receive back the exact change. In order to avoid scamming, only accept to pay in cash.
Renting a car is an option to consider if you want more flexibility, especially if you are traveling outside Bogota. Within the city perimeter, it is not the best solution due to the heavy traffic and the scarcity of parking spaces.
It is important to be aware of the fact that road safety standards are low in Colombia, both because of the local driving styles and because of the landslides that regularly damage some of the mountain roads.
In Colombia, driving is on the right, and priority is given to the traffic coming from the right. Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers.
The minimum driving age in Colombia is 16 and the minimum age for renting a car 18.
The price will depend on the type of vehicle you will rent but expect to pay between 200.000 COP (60 USD) and 300.000 COP (100 USD) per day. This does not include the gasoline, parking spaces or other costs.
Another aspect you should consider are the road tolls. Colombia is infamous for its extremely high number of tolls, not only on highways but on nearly every road in the country. The cost of these tolls is unregulated and may add up to be a significant share of your total cost.
A valid driving license from your home country is sufficient if you are in Colombia on a tourist visa. However, if you are on a different type of visa, you will need to obtain a special permit from the Colombian Ministry of External Affairs.
If you are planning to reside permanently in the country, you can always apply for a local driving license with the Ministry of Transport.
A Colombian institution, "pico y placa" is one of the most important terms you need to learn if you plan to drive in Bogota or major cities.
In order to control the traffic jams, private cars are restricted in the city on certain days and hours.
Bogota Map: http://mapas.bogota.gov.co