For many international visitors Bogotá is purely a means to an end, a portal to the rest of Colombia or wider South America. Many people change flights immediately and don’t ever leave the walls of the airport, or they spend a night to recover from jet lag before continuing their travel to ‘more exciting’ destinations such as Medellín, Cartagena, or Cali.

As I’ve written about in previous posts, we were based in Bogotá while I had some unforeseen dental work done and spent almost two weeks in the city. Because of this, and our choice to stay in a hostel outside of La Candalaria, the historical heart of the city and major tourist spot, we saw a different side to the city.

We’d strongly encourage you to stay in Bogotá and explore this vibrant city. It’s certainly not the easiest of cities to understand,  especially not in just two short weeks, but here’s a list of our top things to know before you go.

Transport around Bogotá

The roads are crazy, not just in the capital but across the country. It’s more noticeable in Bogotá however because there’s a higher concentration of people and so you have more vehicles vying for the small amount of tarmac available. This makes for an entertaining, but utterly terrifying experience.

In advance of arriving in the country, we’d noticed that taxis were very affordable, and as a safety precaution we downloaded the Uber app to allow us to call a cab on demand. We had been warned that a very small number of taxi drivers in the city were scammers who took advantage of foreigners, and were told not to hail a cab off the street. It’s such a shame that a small number of individuals cast doubt over all the unbooked cars on the road, but personal safety has to come first.

As it happens, we only had two taxi journeys whilst in the city and both were booked through our hostel. They used the same driver, Herman, a lovely older gentleman… who drove like a madman. One journey brought us from the airport to our hostel, and the other was to the main bus station, Terminal de Transporte, when we were ready to move on with our travel.

It’s crazy to think that in a city with an estimated 10 million people there is no subway system, but somehow everyone seems to get to where they need to be. For moving around the city Google Transit (you can use Maps too) is ‘fairly’ reliable for the formal bus network (although we did have some frustrating moments where the bus just didn’t seem to exist!). Here’s a very quick and simplified overview of the bus system as we understood it.

Transmilenio
This service has red buses and on many of the roads it uses designated lanes with special stations for boarding, which allows you to move between areas of the city quite quickly. When Transmilenio was introduced in 2000 it revolutionised the city, and I believe it is the largest Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system in the world.
Avoid the service at peak hours, we accidently got caught up in the rush, and despite living in London for years, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Over 2 million people use the service daily, far beyond what was envisioned. People would literally root themselves in the doorways of the bus terminal so they were well located for their next service. This is all well and good, but different buses use the same doors, which meant that people were unable to get on or off the bus due to an impenetrable human wall of people. If you have no choice but to travel at peak time, sharpen your elbows, you will need them!

You cannot pay for these buses with cash, see Tullave notes below.

SITP Urbano 
These buses are blue and run a formal service across the city (along with the orange bus company we didn’t catch the name of). Unlike the Transmilenio, they call at a lot more stops but they are slower, using the usual traffic lanes. These buses weren’t quite as scary to use at rush hour and we usually managed to get on without a problem.

You cannot pay for these buses with cash, see Tullave notes below.

Colectivos
This was the main transport for most Bogotanos before the Transmilenio was introduced. I honestly can’t tell you how it works, because we were too afraid and confused to use it. You seem to be able to flag a bus down without standing at a bus stop – just be brave and wave a lot (shouting helps) and you can’t use the Tullave card, you need cash.

The prepaid Tullave card is green and white and you need to put money on it before you can travel on the formal bus system. More than one person can use the same card, you just tap through and pass it back. You can purchase the cards at the airport, or at Transmilenio stations, and top up at any shop where you see the Tullave logo displayed outside. A single journey costs 2000-2200 COP. depending on the bus service. We found that quite a few people would ask to use another passenger’s Tullave if it turned out they didn’t have enough money and then they would pay them immediately in cash. 

Areas of Bogotá

In a city like Bogota you need to do your research before taking off walking. There is a lot of poverty in the city, and several unsafe areas where locals will advise you not to go. In safer areas there is still a lot of opportunistic crime so be careful not to make yourself a target. The Colombian phrase ‘no dar papaya’ sums it up. The term literally means ‘don’t give papaya’ and is used as a warning to not leave yourself exposed and vulnerable. For instance, if you flash that expensive camera or shiny jewellery, don’t be surprised when someone takes it. Be street smart and aware and you will find that Bogotá is a fantastic time to spend time in.

These are the areas we managed to visit. We’ll be writing about them individually to give you lots more information so please be patient as we activate the links.

  • Chapinero
  • La Candalaria & Centro
  • Usaquen
  • Zona T
  • Monserrate

Day trips and short stays from Bogotá

The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá, just to the north of Bogotá, is well worth a visit. Check out our blog, which has full travel directions.

Villa de Leyva makes a great little get away from the big city smog, it gets really busy with Bogotanos at the weekends. Check out our account to make the most of a mid-week stay.

Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to do any more exploring outside of the city limits but there are lots of other places to go which your accommodation will be able to advise on. In our experience we found that we could easily do-it-ourselves and didn’t need to pay the overinflated tour guide prices so always ask if it’s possible to get to independently.

As usual, if you have any questions at all, just give us a shout!


Vicky

Hola! Vicky here :)

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.