Transportation - Get In
There are regular international flights into major cities including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Pereira and San Andrés Islands as well as to other smaller cities in the borders with Venezuela, Ecuador, Panamá and Brazil.
There are daily direct flights to and from the U.S, Canada, México, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, France, and South America.
Beware that Medellín is the only Colombian city served by 2 airports: International and long-range domestic flights go to José María Córdova International Airport (IATA: MDE) while regional and some other domestic flights arrive in Olaya Herrera airport (IATA: EOH).
Bogotá has two airport terminals: Puente Aéreo and El Dorado. Outside the airport, be aware of enterprising men who will help you lift your bags into a taxi or car, and then expect payment. It is best to politely refuse all offers of help unless from a taxi driver you are about to hire.
Taxis are regulated, reasonably priced and safe from the airports. A taxi ride from the airport to the central business district in Bogotá, takes approximately 20 minutes.
- Enter from Venezuela by the San Cristóbal-Cúcuta or Maracaibo-Maicao pass.
- Enter from Ecuador by the Tulcan-Ipiales (Rumichaca) pass.
- Important: There are no major roads coming from 3 neighboring countries: Panamá, Brazil and Perú. There are no roads at all from Panamá, and there are tiny roads between Colombia and Perú or Brazil, but they do not lead to major cities or regions.
Enter from Panama by the Puerto Obaldia-Capurganá pass. From Capurganá, another boat ride takes you to Turbo, where buses take you to Medellín and Montería. You can take a ferry from Panama City to Cartagena. More info.
If you enter from Brazil, there are weekly boats from Manaus to Tabatinga/Leticia through the Amazon River. It takes around six days to go from Manaus and just three days to come back (the reason of the difference is the current of the river). There are also weekly motorboats which are more expensive, but cover the route in less than two days. Once in Leticia you have dayly domestic flights to several cities, including Bogotá.
A fair number of cruise ships pay day visits (usually at Cartagena), especially during cooler months in North America.
Connections can be made from the Caracas main terminal to most cities in Colombia. From the main terminal, Maracaibo (Venezuela) you can find buses that run to the cities (Cartagena, Baranquilla, Santa Marta) on the coast. The border at Maicao provides a relatively easy, straightforward entry into Colombia from Venezuela.
You can also enter from Venezuela via the busy San Cristóbal to Cúcuta route, which passes through the border town of San Antonio del Táchira.
The border can be a bit of a hassle or even dangerous, especially in the night time. Ask locals.
It is very straightforward to enter Colombia from Ecuador. Travel to Tulcan, where you can get a taxi to the border. Get your exit stamps from the immigration offices and take another taxi to Ipiales. From there you can travel further to Cali, Bogotá, ...
You can't cross from Panama to Colombia by bus—the Darien Gap begins at Yaviza, where the Interamericana runs out. Consider using the boat crossing instead. There are often yachts that will shuttle you between Colombia and Panama and offer a stop in the gorgeous San Blas islands.
Airlines with flights between the two countries are: Avianca, COPA, LAN.
Transportation - Get Around
The most important domestic carriers in Colombia are:
- Avianca (main Colombian national airline)
- VivaColombia (the low-cost, Ryanair-like airline). This airline offers the cheapest airfares, but the worst booking system for foreigner. For 2014 foreign credit cards are not accepted to book a flight. VivaColombia has no offices and hardly any tour operator offers a booking service for this airline. So you can either use the call centre, find somebody with a Colombian credit card (e.g. hotel manager) or choose the payment option with VIA-BALOTO sales points. With the last option you get a code to pay at any VIA-BALOTO shop.
- COPA Colombia (formerly AeroRepublica)
- LATAM Colombia (formerly Lan Colombia and Aires)
- EasyFly (regional airline around Medellín, Bogotá and Bucaramanga)
- Satena (Servicio Aéreo a Territorios Nacionales) (operated by the Colombian Air Force to provide transport to remote regions of Los Llanos, Amazona & the Pacific coast from Bogotá)
- TAC (Transportes Aero Colombiana) charter airline
- ADA (Aerolinea De Antioquia) (new Medellín based carrier offering regional flights in Antioquia and adjoining regions)
- AEXPA (primarily a charter carrier to and along the Pacific coast)
They all have well-kept fleets and regular service to major towns and cities in Colombia. The major Colombian airports have been certified as "Highly Safe" by international organizations. The online payment process of some domestic airlines is complicated. Payments can be done at the airport or official ticket offices. Most airline fares can be compared at the website of despegar.com.co.
The Metro in Medellín and its surroundings is the closest thing to a passenger train in Colombia. There are no additional intercity trains in the country.
Driving is on the right hand side of the road-most cars have standard transmissions. Colombia's fleet is composed mainly of cars with 4-Cylinder engines that are of European and Japanese manufacture. Foreign visitors may drive if they show an international driver's license (a multilingual endorsement card issued by automobile and driver's clubs around the world).
Insurance is cheap and mandatory.
The speed limit in residential areas is 30 km/h (19 mph), and in urban areas it is 60 km/h (37 mph). There is a national speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph).
The country has a well-maintained network of roads that connect all major cities in the Andean areas, as well as the ones in the Caribbean Coast. There may be significant landslides on roads and highways during the rainy season (November to February), by which traffic gets interrupted. This usually is resolved within 6 hours to 4 days. There are many toll crossings; the fee is about US$3.00. There are also plenty of dirt roads of variable quality. International land travel is only possible to Ecuador and Venezuela.
Travel by bus is widespread and has different levels of quality. Long-distance trips rarely cost over US$55.00 (one way). When acquiring tickets for the bus, the local custom is that the passenger comes to the terminal and buys the next available bus going to the desired destination. Depending on the company or terminal, it may be even not possible to purchase a ticket 1 or several days in advance! Therefore, it is recommendable to know at least when a particular service starts and ends in a day. Long distance bus travel tends to be very slow because main highways are two-lane roads with lots of truck traffic. For any distance more than 5 hours, you may want to check into air travel.
Some of the major companies that offers routes to the north of Bogotá and Medellin to the Caribbean coast and the areas in between the two cities:
- Expreso Brasilia, toll-free: . From Tigo and Movistar phones call #501 or #502
- Copetran, , toll-free: (Bucaramanga). #567 or #568 from Claro cell phones
- Berlinas del Fonce. Travels between Bogotá, Tunja, Barbosa, Socorro, San Gil, Piedecuesta and Bucaramanga
- Rapido Ochoa, . Travels from Bogotá to Barranquilla, Cartagena and Tolu on three separate routes via multiple cities and towns along the way; and from Medellin to Arboletes, Monteria and Tolu on another thre routes via multiple cities and towns along the way.
Other companies that go to multiple cities and towns in the southern part of the country, south of Bogotá and Medellin and the areas between two cities; and down towards the Ecuadorian border:
- Bolivariano, . (Bogotá number)Operates buses from Bogotá to Manziales, Medellin, Pereira on three separate routes; and from Medellin to Neiva and Mocoa on one route and from Medellin to Cali, Popayan and Ipiales on another route. They also offer international service down into Peru.
- Expreso Palmira, , toll-free: (from cell phone).
- Fronteras - Continental Bus.
Note: There are also numerous other bus companies and drivers' unions throughout the country that operate more locally at varying distances of a particular city or town or within a department or between adjacent departments. See or contribute to those articles of particular locality as to what is available. In the Amazonas, Los Llanos and in the remote parts of the southern regions towards Leticia and the Pacific coast the roads are limited to none, so are the bus services. In addition some of these remote areas especially those near the borders with Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador; Amazon rainforest in the southeast and towards the Pacific Coast may still be unsafe to travel to and around due to ongoing guerrilla activity. Inquire locally before going.
By urban bus
Around the turn of this century urban centers in Colombia saw the development of a highly efficient and neat bus transit systems that are spreading to other countries. In Bogotá you can find the Transmilenio, in Medellín el Metroplus [www], in Cali el Mio, in Barranquilla Transmetro, in Bucaramanga Metrolínea, in Pereira the Megabús. It is still recommended that you keep an eye on your belongings and that you do not carry valuables, excess cash (more than $20,000 COP visible) or unnecessary items. Never accept food or drinks from strangers. Avoid talking to strangers at bus stops or terminals. It is possible you may be stopped at police check points. A calm attitude is the best key to avoid inconveniences.
The only metro system of Colombia is in Medellín, in the Department (state) of Antioquia. It connects the outlying suburban towns with the barrios of Medellín - Line A departs from La Estrella to Barrio Niquía, Line B from Barrio San Antonio to Barrio San Javíer. The metro system also has two cable car lines : Metrocable Line K from Barrio Acevedo to Barrio Santo Domingo Savio and Metrocable Line J departing from Barrio San Javier. Riding the cable cars is a unique experience, as passengers travel up the mountains in gondolas. The MetroCable has six stations and an extension to the Parque Arví ecopark. Ride to Parque Arvi costs about 4USD (3500 COP). There, after a 20 minutes trip in the gondola carts you reach an altitude of 2500 meters above sea level.
The taxi networks in big cities such as Bogotá are extensive. The prices vary a lot between cities, Bogotá for example being relatively inexpensive while Cartagena pricey. A (bright yellow) taxi journey across Bogotá, can take up to a day but cost less than US$15.
If you order a taxi by phone the company will then give you the taxi registration number. Then the taxi will be waiting at the given address. You may need to give them a three or four digit code given to you when you book the taxi. During the day some taxi ranks outside hotels, office buildings and government offices will only allow certified drivers and companies and will also take your name and details when you board the taxi. Taxis from city to city are easy to arrange by phoning ahead and agreeing the price, it will still be cheap by western standards and is safe and quite agreeable.
The meter in all taxis starts at 25, and then increases over distance. The number it arrives at corresponds to a tariff that will be on display on the front seat of the cab. Taxi and bus prices increase on Sundays, public holidays, early in the morning and late at night. There are also extra charges for baggage and for booking in advance by telephone.
Unlike many other countries it is not customary to tip the taxi driver. It's up to the individual.
Many taxis are not allowed to travel outside of Bogotá due to boundary restrictions with their licences. You should always make arrangements to travel outside of Bogotá by taxi ahead of time.
In some locations (Las Aguas in the Candelaria district of Bogotá for example) you may find an individual acting as a tout for taxi drivers - they will offer you a taxi and lead you to a particular cab. They then recevie a small tip from the driver.
It's has become very common, in big cities, to use apps to hail cabs. Tappsi and EasyTaxi seem to be quite popular. Uber service is available in Bogotá and Medellín.
By cable car
Since most of the Colombian population lives in the Andes, cable car systems are becoming popular for both commuting and tourist transportation. You can ride the ones in Manizales and Medellín, which are integrated in the Metro system [www], as well as the ones in rural small towns of Antioquia : Jardín, Jericó, Sopetrán and San Andrés de Cuerquia. Also enjoy the magnificent view of the new cable car above the Chicamocha river canyon in Santander.