HERE IS A QUICK BREAKDOWN ON ALL THINGS BUS TRAVEL WITHIN COLOMBIA, INCLUDING SOME HELPFUL, ROAD-PROVEN TIPS TO MAKE IT MORE ENJOYABLE - NO MATTER THE DISTANCE.
Buses are by far the most common transportation method throughout Colombia. From the luxury overnight buses that crisscross the country, to the smaller, rough and rowdy chiva buses that trundle down mountain backroads, you can pretty much find a bus heading to every possible destination - no matter the size.
If you are planning to spend some time in Colombia, it is likely you will have your own (memorable) bus experience. So if you are looking to explore the country like the locals (how very slow traveler of you) then keep reading for everything you need to know about using the highly efficient, highly affordable buses in Colombia.
➳ If you are looking to purchase bus tickets in Colombia, then we definitely suggest checking out BusBud for the best rates and up-to-date routes. Do it here.
BUS TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA
\\ Buying Tickets
It is luckily super easy to purchase bus tickets in Colombia. In most cases, you can simply show up at the bus station and buy your ticket in person, either for that day or for an upcoming trip. When we decided to leave Cartagena and head to Armenia, we just went down to the bus station, asked around for which companies had routes to Armenia, and then bought the tickets. Super easy.
\\ Route Availability
One of the best parts about Colombia’s bus system is that you can practically reach any city, no matter how small or remote it is.
For example, you can take a bus from Cartagena to Armenia (which is located in the center of the country) and get off at any of the small towns (or random 4-ways) along the way. Plus, because bus travel is so common, you can usually just talk to your driver beforehand and let him know exactly where you need to get off and he will make sure to stop for you. Or, in some cases, you can simply just stand up and ask the driver to let you out, no matter if there is a stop there or not.
Also, buses run quite frequently, especially if you are looking to visit towns nearby. For example, in the town of Armenia you can catch a bus about every 20 minutes to the nearby towns of Filandia, Salento and Circasia. Similarly, you can usually catch a bus within half an hour to towns a bit farther away (like Pereira or Manizales).
And because bus travel is so common, especially for locals, there are often a plethora of bus companies and routes available. If you want to figure out exactly how to reach a specific town, we recommend just heading down to the local bus station and asking around.
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\\ Efficiency & Road Conditions in Colombia
One of the most common questions when it comes to bus travel in Colombia is about the road conditions themselves. In truth, because of Colombia’s relatively rough topography (the Andean Cordillera mountain range stretches along almost the whole length of the country), the roads can be quite rough. Not to mention curvy (we haven’t ridden a bus on a straight road yet).
Plus, because it rains quite a bit, the chance of landslides and flooding is also relatively high. Therefore we suggest taking the quoted travel times more as a possibility, and not as a hard expectation if that makes sense.
Similarly, travel times can change daily even on the same routes. For example, when we took a bus from Armenia to Medellin, it took us 8 hours for the first trip (to Medellin) and 10 hours on the way back. This change in time was largely due to a 2.5 hour hold-up at a construction site working on clearing a landslide.
So in the end, it is better to err on the side of a trip taking longer than expected instead of the quoted time. So if making plans, make sure to give yourself plenty of buffer time just in case the bus hits some issue (like construction or a landslide).
INSIDER TIP: because the roads are quite curvy and rough, we recommend bringing some motion sickness medicine if you are someone who gets car sick easily.
\\ What Does it Cost to Take a Bus in Colombia
Bus travel is often one of the most affordable ways to get around the country, especially if you are only looking to go a short distance. Below are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning a bus trip around Colombia.
BUS PRICES DEPEND ON 3 THINGS
DISTANCE: the closer the destination, the cheaper the fare.
For example: from Armenia to Pereira (30 kilometers) it costs 9900 COP per person. But from Armenia to Medellin (286 kilometers) it cost 70000 COP per person. This is also especially true when taking buses between small towns nearby or within a town itself (the bus in Armenia costs 2100 COP no matter where you are going).
DEPARTURE & ARRIVAL TIMES: more often than not, the cheaper fares occur when either the arrival or departure times are “sub-optimal.” This usually means you either are departing at a super early time (say 3 AM) or arriving at a really early time (say 2 AM).
For example, take a bus ride from Medellin to Cali. The cheapest fares (60000 COP) are connected with buses that leave either at 3 AM or arrive at midnight.
THE STYLE OF BUS: as you might expect, the total cost of a fare also depends on what type of bus you are taking. If you are looking to take a night bus and want to be comfortable, then expect to pay more for a more luxurious bus with seats that almost lay flat and that offer TVs and electrical outlets.
Here are some basic fares to give you an idea on bus prices in Colombia:
MEDELLIN → BOGOTA: 85000 COP ($22.31 USD // €18.97 Euros)
MEDELLIN → CALI: 75000 COP ($19.69 USD // €16.70 Euros)
BOGOTA → CARTAGENA: 105000 COP ($27.56 USD // €23.43 Euros)
BOGOTA → BUCARAMANGA: 70000 COP ($18.37 USD // €15.62 Euros)
CARTAGENA → SANTA MARTA/TAYRONA NP: 48000 COP ($12.60 USD // €10.71 Euros)
CARTAGENA → BARRANQUILLA: 15000-24000 COP (~ $4.50 USD // €4.15 Euros)
CALI → POPAYAN: 30000 COP ($7.87 USD // €6.69 Euros)
While bus travel is definitely more time-consuming than plane travel, more often than not it is going to be cheaper. In the end, the only time plane travel might make more sense is when you are on a tight schedule and need to arrive quickly, or if you simply don’t want to spend hours on a bus.
\\ Common Colombia Bus Companies
There are a ton of bus companies throughout Colombia. From the very local buses that usually only cover a specific area (like a district or "state") to national level companies that often have routes to all the major cities, and even some routes to major cities in other countries (Lima, Peru; Quito, Ecuador).
Here are four of the largest companies that offer tons of routes throughout Colombia.
Expreso Brasilia, founded in 1961, covers almost every part of Colombia (they have over 1000 destinations). Plus, their prices are quite reasonable and definitely on par with other companies.
When booking a bus ticket you also often have the option to choose either an express bus or a premium bus. The express bus is more basic and includes a TV (with a USB outlet), reclining chairs and a bathroom. While the premium buses come with TVs, Wi-Fi, refreshments and movies.
We personally took Expreso Brasilia from Cartagena to Armenia and really enjoyed the ride. The whole trip took around 26 hours and included about a 45-minute break at a nice restaurant for dinner. The seats were relatively comfortable (as comfortable as bus seats can be), and the USB chargers worked on the TVs (though the Wi-Fi didn’t really). Even the bathroom was pretty clean.
MEDELLIN → BOGOTA: 85000 COP, ~11 hours on a Premium bus
BOGOTA → CARTAGENA: 108000 COP, ~22-25 hours on a Premium bus
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