Local Transportation Options in Colombia
The old Dionne Warwick song (Bacharach and David), ”Trains and Boats and Planes” doesn’t apply to Colombia. It might be better said, mules, horses, bicycles and motos ! These are indeed transportation options still used in Colombia. Most functioning locomotives that you will find here are in amusement parks or are used to haul ore, mainly coal. There is at least one exception. The ”Tren de la Sabana” operates on weekends and makes a trip from Bogota to the municipalities of Cajica and Zipaquira.
As Colombia is an emerging country, horses and mules are still in constant use in many areas. Bicycles also prove an extremely cost effective manner for people to move goods but have been less popular as a means of personal transportation, perhaps because of Colombia’s mountainous terrain. Bicycling however is a very popular sport.
Generally transportation between cities is via bus, unless one has a personal vehicle. Buses provide an economical intercity transport. The road system in Colombia is not well developed and parts are in disrepair because during the time of insecurity, the average person did not drive any great distance. This is changing as the government of Colombia currently has large infrastructure projects underway. It is now possible to drive safely, at least in the daylight hours between the larger centres. Many of the roadways through the mountains are two lanes and the driving style will seem quite erratic to a North American. Vehicles, including large transport trucks will pass over a double line, around a curve and going up a hill so one should be extremely cautious and be prepared to drive defensively and move to the shoulder, when there is one and you have sufficient visibility .
A few of the better know car rental companies have established themselves here but the daily rates are high. Supposedly an international driver’s license is necessary but numerous people have commented that they have rented using their North American state/province license.
If you plan to drive here, make note that Colombia has one of the highest accident rates in the world. Motorcyclists are apparently completely unaware of any rules of the road and will ride and pass on any side of your vehicle. Making lane changes is difficult, either right or left, as they ride between the lanes and will ignore your turn signals.
Most of the major cities are serviced by two large international airlines and in May 2102 a low far airline introduced their services. Booking in advance, this has made travel quite economical. From Medellin, most major cities are no more than 1 1/2 hours by air.
Within the cities, taxis abound everywhere but it is always best to know how the fares are charged. In Bogota, there is a taxi meter. The number on the meter will indicate, according to a chart the driver’s have, what your fare will be. In Cartagena, there are no taxi meters. Be careful here and ask first what your fare will be. In Medellin, the system is well regulated and very fair. Some airports, such as Bogota and Cartagena have a taxi service at the exit. Here you tell the clerk where you are going and they will give you a print out with the cost. The charge might be a few pesos more, but the service is secure and you won’t get overcharged. In some urban areas you can take a shared taxi with other people and the cost will be much lower. As of June 2013 a taxi from the international airport in Rionegro (Jose Maria Cordoba) costs between 57.000 COP and 60.000 COP. A private driver may charge you more. It is about a 35 minute drive into Medellin.
While it is relatively safe to hail a taxi on the street in Medellin (El Poblado) or Cartagena. If you have the option, have someone call a taxi service for you. This is just a much securer way to take a taxi. A word of caution at night. Be careful getting into a taxi, if you are by yourself. Sometimes you can end up with unwanted company.
Taxi drivers in Colombia often prefer to reach back and shut the taxi door. The reason for this is North Americans are use to large cars and tend to utilize more force to close. As a result, to the Colombians, they feel foreigners are forever slamming their doors and some take quite offense to this innocent action.
In some cities, like Cartagena, there are taxi motos – motorcycles, which are inexpensive, but one takes the risk of being robbed or accosted and this is not recommended.
Buses in most areas are privately operated. The fares are generally under $1.00 but transfers between bus companies are not possible. In some cities like Bogota and Cali parts of the city bus routes have been integrated into a publicly operated system called the Transmillenio.
The Metro in Medellin is one of the cleanest, efficient and most secure modes of transportation that you will find anywhere. It runs from the municipality of Sabaneta in the South to the extremes of Bello in the North. There is a short East/West line and cable cars as well. The inhabitants of Medellin are fiercely proud of this system. The access of public transportation even to the poorest areas of the city led Medellin to be nominated and to win the most Innovative City in World. https://www.metrodemedellin.gov.co/
Note – The thumbnail above is a moto chiva taken in Guatape, Antioquia.