26 June 2013
The Basics of Public Transport in Bogota
Bogota, as you probably know is a massive city—it has population of around 8 million people—and, thus has a rather large public transportation system. As a tourist, the public transport system in Bogota can be a bit overwhelming.
First of all, a key part of the public transportation system in Bogota is theTransMilenio system. TransMilenio is a bus rapid transit system (BRT) that runs all over the city. You can take TransMilenio to and from the El Dorado Airport, to the historic city centre of Bogota (Candelaria, Monserrate, Gold Museum, etc…), to the neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city (Suba, Usaquen, etc…), and to most of the tourist attractions zones.
TransMilenio, like most public transport systems, has various lines of service that are all characterized by a combination of different colours, numbers, and letters, all clearly marked at TransMilenio stations and on maps. Most lines of TransMilenio run from around 5am until 11:15pm. However, make sure to check the exact schedules of different service lines using the following official link before making a journey early in the morning or late at night, as some services do not start until 6am and others end well before 11:15pm:http://www.transmilenio.gov.co/WebSite/Default.aspx. Also, be warned that during peak hours, TransMilenio can be very full. If you want a little more space during your journey as well as a cheaper ticket, try to plan travel outside peak hours (5am-9am and 4pm-7pm).
While TransMilenio has several “trunks” (in Spanish, “troncales”) that provide separate lanes specially for TransMilenio buses throughout the better part of the city, there are also “Feeder Buses” for TransMilenio that transport people to areas located away from the main service trunks. These buses can take you to areas not serviced by TransMilenio, such as many residential areas. You can check the website for more information about all the Feeder Buses; however, it may be easier to simply ask once at a TransMilenio station. It will be highly unlikely you’ll need to actually use one of these Feeder Buses. But, just in case…
To use both the main TransMilenio trunk service and Feeder Buses, you’ll need to have purchased either a one-use ticket or purchase and add credit to a Frequent User Card. Unless you are really only going to use TransMilenio one time, it will save you time and money to just get a Frequent User Card and add money as you need it. You can add money to the card in various places around the city, including shopping centres and TransMilenio stations through automatic credit machines—similar to the way you would add credit to your Oyster card.
While it may seem a bit hectic at first, TransMilenio is a very fast and efficient of getting around Bogotá. And, perhaps, one of the greatest benefits you’ll gain by using TransMilenio is that you’ll be able to bypass most of Bogotá´s infamous traffic jams.
For more information about TransMilenio, you can visit their official website here: http://www.transmilenio.gov.co/WebSite/Default.aspx, and make sure to grab a very handy paper copy of a TransMilenio map as you exit the airport at any of the Bogota Humana stands.
Outside of TransMilenio, Bogota has a regular public bus system as well. These buses run all over the city and sometimes go places TransMilenio might not reach. All the buses have a route sign in the front telling you where they go. If you are going to a well-known place—a shopping centre, museum, main street, etc… you shouldn’t have a problem catching a public bus to get there as you’re likely to see one pass by with those types of destinations listed on their route sign. However, if you only know the address of the place you are trying to get to, taking a public bus might be difficult, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. There is no map to show you the different routes of these buses, so if you’ve only got an address for your destination, you will have to ask bus drivers about the routes they follow or take the bus with someone familiar with the bus routes. However, if you are looking to go to Usaquen, these buses are your best option. Head to the Septima/Carrera 7 and look for buses with Usaquen listed on the route signs.
In addition to buses, Bogota is also full of taxis. Taxis can be a good way to get around the city, especially if you are going to travel a longer distance, head to a residential address located off the main transport routes, or head to the airport with lots of luggage. However, make sure you only use radio taxis — that is, phone a taxi company that will give you a code as well as the license plate of the taxi that will pick you up. When the taxi picks you up, the driver should be able to tell you the code that was given to you by the operator. This is to ensure the taxi you are taking is secure. Wherever you stay in Bogota, whether a hotel or a hostel, someone should be able to recommend a reliable taxi company should you decide on this method of transportation. Like in most places, taxis in Bogota run on metres which will tell you how much you should pay. Make sure the driver has the metre on when you get in the taxi in order to receive a fair, metered price.
If you are looking to escape to some of the towns around Bogota, your best bet is to head to the bus station (Terminal de Transporte). Here, you can book a bus to practically anywhere in the country, including towns close to Bogota like Zipaquira, Chia, Cajica, and Facatativa, among others. Most buses to these towns have various services throughout the day. However, it’s best to leave earlier in the day as many buses coming back to Bogota may not have services later at night. Regardless, check the bus schedules, both going from and coming back to Bogota at the Terminal de Transporte when buying your tickets.
For all your transportation in Bogota, make sure you have cash on hand, especially lower bills and coins. It will be hard to get change for a 50.000 peso bill, and sometimes even for a 20.000 depending on the bus or taxi you may catch.
And, don’t forget, you can always walk the city, too! Bogota has just created a large pedestrian zone in the historic city centre that is full of neat places tucked away in nooks and crannies you’ll only find on foot. To best plan your walking, be sure to pick up a free map of Bogota at any of the Bogota Humana stands in the airport or around the city—the same place you’ll find the free TransMilenio map.
The Uncover Colombia Team