4 Lessons About Transportation In Bogota
You have 14 million people crammed into a valley surrounded by the Andes, anything could happen. That being said, it is a wonderful city. Tons of history, amazing sights, and Colombians are fantastic people, but you do have a lot of traffic to deal with. The city is slowly making attempts to lessen the traffic clog, doing things like only letting people with even or odd numbered license at a certain time, but that only goes so far.
If you’re trying to get around Bogota things can be a little overwhelming. Here is a little bit more info for getting around so that you don’t accidentally get on the wrong Flota and end up in the South part of the city.
1. North vs. South parts of the city
The first thing every person in Bogota needs to understand is the extreme divide in the city. There is a clear North and a clear South. As a tourist, traveler or expat in the city, you will be told to stay in the North.
Although there are certain areas in the South that are beginning to be developed, there are also a lot of problems there. The safest place as a gringo or gringa (and even for locals actually) is the Northern part of the city.
Some of the more popular neighbourhoods that I had the chance to explore were Usaquen, Chapinero and Suba. These neighborhoods are much safer for foreigners, and they have amazing restaurants.
2. There are a lot of numbers on the houses – but there is a system.
When I first got to Bogota, I saw three numbers on the houses. As if there weren’t enough things to confuse me (not speaking the language being the main one), I now had to figure out how to read three different numbers for one location.
Here’s how it works – you know how New York City has 1st Avenue, 5th avenue, etc. with cross streets? Well, Bogota thinks it has the same thing. (Admittedly once it was explained to me I agreed a little bit.)
There are carreras and calles, the carreras are parallel with the mountains, they run north to south. They also have “Diagonales” and “Transversales” but lets focus on the two main ones for now – if you have questions about the other two leave them in the comments!
When you get an address in Bogota, it will say something like Calle 135 #70 36. What this means, is that the place you’re looking for is on Calle 135, and the road that it crosses, the Carerra, is 70, and the number of the building itself is 36, from there you might also have apartment numbers.
In Canada, we would say #36, 135 Street. In Colombia, they just like to give you the crossroad, or intersection. I eventually grew fond of this system. Once you figure this out, getting around becomes less of a math problem and much more fun.
3. Finding a safe taxi
Arriving in Colombia, I was told never to hail a cab from the streets. Of course, that is the first thing my Colombian friends did when they got me, however, I was still warned to do as they say, not as they do.
Instead, I used an app called Tappsi everyday. Tappsi essentially ensures that you’re getting a safe taxi, it even lets you know who your driver is beforehand. Not only foreigners use this apps, a lot of locals have it as well since it is a very efficient service.
If you don’t have a smartphone you can call the taxi service from your phone. Taxis Libres (311 1111), Taxi Express (411 1111), Radio Taxi (288 8888) or Taxi Real (333 3333). The operator will give you the taxi’s license plate number and time of arrival.
4. Getting on Public Transportation
The last and best method of transportation in any city, public transportation. Getting on the metro in London, or the subway in New York tells you a lot about the city. Public transportation can get you anywhere efficiently and cheaply, which is why its an option that most travellers opt for.
In Bogota, they don’t have a metro because of the difficulty that the mountain causes. Instead, there is a public bus system called the Transmilenio. They have their own lanes on the streets to avoid traffic and give it a metro feel.
The cost of the Transmilenio changes depending on if it’s a holiday, or rush hour. You can expect to need about 1,700 COP for a trip though, which is just under $1 CAD. The transmilenio has a card system, you can buy a card at the ticket booth before getting on the bus. From there, you can reload it when you are running out of fare. The Transmilenio has a set route and stops at every station to let people on and off.
I found the Transmilenio very cheap and easy to navigate. Although, remember to hold on to your belongings and get ready to lose all of your personal space as you get shoved into the person next to you. Other than that, it is a fairly quick and cheap way to get around the city.
The other form of transportation is what I like to call ‘rogue buses’ or Flotas. The city is slowly moving all of their public transportation to the Transmilenio. In the meantime, the Flotas still exist.
The entire idea of a Flota had me confused when it was first explained to me. Essentially, these buses will pick you up anywhere and drop you off anywhere, no stops. Sometimes they won’t even stop as you get on, so you end up running towards the bus and jumping. (More exercise while you get around the city.)
I would not recommend going on a Flota alone as a tourist, it is always better to be with a local who knows the route and can go with you. Seeing as this bus system is not operated by the larger transportation company they are not official methods of transportation and they are much cheaper (and as such attract customers who want to pay a smaller fare).
Before you jump onto this non-official method of transportation, make sure to look through the front of the bus. They will have a sign telling you what part of the city they go to.
Supposedly, Flotas do in fact have schedules and routes, but I’ve failed to see that in action. I highly recommend you give them a shot (with a local that knows what they’re doing) because they are quite the unique experience!
Full Name, Age, Sex
Yvonne Marie-Anne Ivanescu. 28 years old. Female
Blog / Publishing Title details?
Under the Yew Tree: Travel Local, Travel Slow, Experience More. My blog is all about going off the beaten-track with a focus on local experiences.
Time spent travelling last year?
I moved from Canada to Belgium. I traveled to Paris, London and China. I currently reside in Brussels.
Planned travel in the next 12-24months, When & Where?
Spain (May / June 2015), Belgium. My plans in Europe are not definite but I plan on traveling to Poland, Romania, Greece and maybe Malta in the coming months. In 2016, I plan on moving to Rio, traveling around Brazil and backpacking through Chile and Peru.
Activities Experience / Preference? (Treking Dry Land, Ice & Snow, Jungle, Animal Safaris, Water sports, Climbing, Aerial Activities)
I have a scuba diving licence, so I tend to dive a lot. I love water sports: kite surfing, surfing etc. I am very interested in sporty activities - trekking dry land, ice & snow, jungle and animal safaris. I have ski dived before and I have done rock climbing numerous times.
Regional Preference? Asia, Africa, South Pacific, Mediterranean, Western Europe, South or Central America, etc
I lived in Panama and Chile, while also traveling to Brazil and Argentina. My preferences would be Central and South America since I plan on traveling there and the Mediterranean since it is close by to Brussels and there are direct flights.