Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Transportation in Colombia (Part 2)

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In my last blog I talked a bit about transportation within the cities of Colombia.

However, travel in Colombia is about so much more than just staying put in one place, so it’s essential to find the most efficient, cheapest or sometimes quickest ways to travel around the country.

Buses

For most Colombians, buses are the primary means to travel between cities.  Buses are safe, cost-efficient and sometimes can even be taken overnight to save you money on a hotel. Depending on how far you are going and the terrain, you may be in a small buseta, or for longer journeys, a large coach bus.

Unless you are traveling during a busy time like Christmas or Semana Santa (Holy Week) tickets can always be bought the day of travel right at the bus station. At this time you can usually see the bus you will be riding in, so if that is important to you, feel free to ask for a view!

One thing to keep in mind is that the bus terminal can be a bit intimidating and sometimes a welcome spot for crime,  just because there are so many people coming and going.

Make sure to watch your things closely and try to have a plan in place when you arrive at the station.  Most terminals in Colombia, including Bogota, Cali, and Medellin have websites where you can plan out your trip in advance, so that you know which bus company window to go to and about how much the ticket will cost.

If silence (or sleep) is essential to you when traveling on the bus, I definitely recommend an iPod or earplugs for the journey.  There is always the possibility of noisy children around you, and also, most Colombian bus drivers will play movies dubbed in Spanish at extremely high volume.

Planes

Planes are certainly the fastest way to travel, and if you have limited time this is definitely the way to go!

Sometimes you can even find super cheap one-way deals, so if time is a concern, you could even consider riding the bus for one leg of your journey and flying for the other. This is a great way to see some countryside without spending hours upon hours in a bus.

I recently did this on a journey from Cali to Pasto and it worked out perfectly! I saw lots of the countryside on the way there, but after the nine-hour bus ride, I was more than happy to have a two-hour flight home.

For a long time the Colombian airline Avianca held a monopoly on air travel.  However, now both Aero Republica and newcomer Aires are expanding their routes around the country and a very healthy competition is taking place.

Avianca is still the best bet if you are interested in all the amenities of a large airline, such as good service, larger planes, more routes, and a more user-friendly website.

However, that being said, since I am a teacher on a teacher’s salary, the majority of my domestic flights have all been with Aires.  They always have the best prices and with the exception of some minor delays, I have not had any issues with my flights.

National routes on Aires.
National routes on Aires.

One difficult thing about flights in Colombia is that finding the cheapest flight requires some patience. I have found some success using the website Despegar.com. Basically this site is sort of the Expedia of Latin America, as it allows you to compare the times and prices of various airlines in one convenient location.

A word of advice on flying from Colombia to the United States… These flights can often put a dent in your budget, however there are options! All three of the above mentioned airlines fly to the United States, so they are worth exploring, rather than using an American based airline.

Furthermore, Aires has just opened direct routes from Cali and Bogotá to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  When I fly home for a visit this summer I have opted to take the direct flight from Cali to Fort Lauderdale, and then I bought a domestic flight from Fort Lauderdale to Minnesota.

According to what Expedia and other websites quoted me, this will end up saving me about $200 in the long run, so if you have the time and patience to fly two separate airlines, it is definitely worth exploring.

For more information on finding cheap airfare around the country, I recommend following Aires, Avianca, and Aero Republica on Twitter, as they all usually send out tweets with ongoing or upcoming deals and news

 

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Kristin-

    I recall hearing in different blogs, guides, etc. that it was not a good idea to travel at night in Colombia. What do you think?

    jRo

    • jRo –
      Great question. I have also heard this and so I was a bit hesitant at first. I think the main routes of the country are pretty safe, although even on a night bus you may still be stopped in a routine procedure. Usually this just means military men checking everyone’s ID card…sometimes they come on the bus or sometimes they make you all get off. This can be intimidating but is overall not an issue. I would not worry about traveling between the three major cities (Cali, Bogota and Medellin) at night. I have heard of some danger on the main highway from Cali to Pasto (through Popayan) and a friend advised me not to take a night but along this route, so I opted for the day bus.
      Thanks for your comments!
      Kristin

  2. I took an overnight bus from Medellin to Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast without a problem (unless you count subzero air-con), and then flew back on Avianca because it was only about $50 (one way).

  3. Kristin,

    We’re flying home this summer the same way. It’s so much cheaper! Aires also has direct flights to Fort Lauderdale from Cartagena, which is great because the flight originates in Pereira and just stops in Cartagena. It’s a great way for people to reach the Coffee Zone if they are tourists. Also, apparently Spirit Air has flights from Armenia (in the Coffee Zone) to FLL and I think from Bogota, but that airline has a LOT of problems.

    Also, Dave–The A/C on buses in Colombia is freezing! I highly recommend layers of clothing and blankets… I was warned before I tried a long-distance bus, but I still didn’t have enough layers!

    Has anyone ever flown with Satena?

  4. Before I went to Colombia, I had read in the Lonely Planet guide that you couldn’t book a plane ticket from a colombian airline website with a credit card issued in a foreign country.
    Well I found out that was a wrong information and that I had the possibility to book tickets with Aires and Aerorepublica from Europe with my credit card. Which I did.
    But I believe it’s not possible with Avianca.

  5. Melody – I have not yet flown with Satena yet because there are so many other options…but I will let you know if I do!

    ElFred – In my experience you cannot buy tickets from Colombian airlines with DEBIT card from another country, but you can buy them with a CREDIT card. I also noticed that this is inaccurately stated in Lonely Planet. I have bought tickets from both Aires and Avianca with a US credit card…however the Avianca flight was to the US (Bogota – NYC) so I think that is why I was able to do it. I think for domestic flights within Colombia I would not be able to do this…

    Thanks for the updates/comments everyone!

  6. Hochwertiger und lesenswerter Post. Die Theorien würde ich so unterschreiben. Auch Ich habe ebenfalls bereits einiges zu in diesem Bereich in Erfahrung gebracht und überlege ob ich ebenfalls einen Artikel hierzu publizieren soll. Viel Erfolg noch mit deiner Seite.

  7. One thing worth mentioning about the buses is that many drivers crank the AC so the bus is a major deep freeze. Don’t forget to bring a jacket, or it will be quite unpleasant.
    In addition, many drivers play vallanato music at full volume. If you’re not an accordion fan, it can feel like torture. Since Colombian roads for the most part are in extremely rough condition (except leading out of major cities), most trips take a long time. Taking the night bus is an option… with ear plugs and a warm jacket you may be able to catch some zzzzzss.