As your taxi weaves in and out of Bogota’s punishing traffic jams and veers perilously close to buses that are a law unto themselves belching out low grade gasoline fumes, you’ll be thanking one of your nine lives to reach your destination in one piece such is the nature of braving public transportation in the Colombian capital.
Heed advice and use common sense and you will master the chaos!
El Dorado Airport
First and foremost, the majority of all visitors to Colombia arrive into Bogota’s dated El Dorado airport. At the moment everything here resembles a work in progress, and put bluntly it is. El Dorado is currently undergoing a vast renovation that should hopefully completed sometime in 2012. Now, you mustn’t get confused as there are two terminals in the main building, the International and a smaller domestic one as you would expect. However, a short 5 minute drive away there is a further terminal referred to as the Puente Aereo from where Avianca (the Colombian national airline) runs its domestic operations. Check your itineraries well to make sure you know where you have to be.
Getting from El Dorado to downtown Bogota
Bogota is pretty much up on bricks at the moment as the Transmilenio bendy bus system (more on this further on in this post) is undergoing a lengthy but much needed expansion project. Once this is finished this should be a major advantage to solo travellers wishing to get from the colonial Candelaria, where many hotels and hostels are located, to the airport and vice versa in a rapid and economic fashion. However, there is no knowing when this may be opened.
You could opt for a bus but this is going to be a pretty hardcore initiation ritual not short on culture shocks. For security and peace of mind upon arrival into Bogota your best bet is to head out to the official taxi rank and get your print out fee for a licensed and secure vehicle to take you to your destination.
Buses in Bogota
There may be a real absence of order to the way that buses are managed in Bogota, but given time they are going to be the most direct and economical way of getting around the city. Please look after your belongings and don’t use this form of transport at night, but stick to main routes and to decent looking vehicles. We can recommend the blue SIDAUTO firm in order to get from downtown to the north of Bogota along the easily recognizable and easy to negotiate thoroughfare of the Carrera 7. Tickets cost under $1 per person.
The Infamous Transmilenio
Lauded by the international press when they were first unveiled in Bogota, the Transmilenio system was never planned as the mass transit option that it is being used as now. By far and away the fastest way to get from north to south and back in Bogota, you are strongly advised to choose this option well outside of peak hours when there is scarcely breathing room in the vehicle and tourists are often easy prey for pickpockets. Tickets are still under $1 per journey and the security provided in the stations is to be commended but be warned, the journey maps are as close to unintelligible and unfriendly to the tourist as they could possibly be.
Love it or hate you are going to need to take a taxi at some point or another during your stay in Bogota. At night be sure to call ahead for a taxi from a reputable firm or to take one from an official taxi rank, and do be wary of ones on the street. Taxis are not expensive on the whole but remember that there are surcharges for late night (post 8pm) fares, rides to the airport and journeys on Sundays and Public Holidays. What you need to remember is that the digits displayed on the taxi-meter do not represent the actual cost of the fare; you need to check the actual fare sheet that all taxis should have displayed visibly within their vehicle.