Bogota is Colombia’s capital and one of the biggest cities in Latin America. The most populous city in Columbia with an estimated 9 million inhabitants, it is the most modern city of Columbia… the country’s financial and economic hub. Reputed as South America’s intellectual Mecca with claim to more than 50 museums and 30 internationally recognized universities, it also showcases historical monuments, century-old plazas, a multitude of churches and brightly-painted Colonial houses. Bogota is truly a destination of rich experiences and heritage in culture, arts and business that awaits the savvy traveler.
Bogota has forgone its former reputation as one of the most dangerous cities as it took strides in the social and educational sectors bringing revitalization to the country. Exploring this charming city is safe anytime and anywhere as authorities affirm. However safety for tourists is plain use of common sense and exercising caution in going around the city. With this in mind you’re all set for your unique experience in this mythical land.
For starters, it is crucial to identify specific markers that will assist you with determining direction in your trip around the city. Avenidas and Carreras run North and South and Calles run East and West. Remember that the mountains in Bogotá are at the extreme eastern edge of the city and that the major thoroughfares are Carrera 7 and Carrera 10. Remembering these will make it a lot easier for you to find your way around.
A modern city like Bogota has also a modern transportation system. There are three common forms of getting around the city. The first and most simple is by taxi. Taxicabs are efficient, affordable and can be seen anywhere. If unavoidable, at night you can catch an official taxi to avoid being cheated. There are yellow and white taxicabs, the yellow being the most common. The white taxicabs are used mostly as shuttles between hotels and the El Dorado airport. All taxis run on meters that comply with a set rate chart visible to the passenger.
Each taxi has a meter which increments one tick every 1/10 kilometer or 30 seconds and starts at 25 ticks. A rate chart is printed on a card in the taxi. Nearly all taxi drivers will try to take advantage of you one way or another so its best that the taxi meter is started when you begin your trip. There are special surcharges on nights, on public holidays, to and from the airport, Sundays and nights after 8 p.m. You can report a complaint to the police or call the company the taxi is registered to if you experience any problem in the taxi or with the driver by simply dialing 123.
Another mode of transport is the bus which remains to be the main means of mass transit in Bogota. There are two bus systems: the Traditional and TrasMilenio. The traditional system refers to bus types operated by several companies on normal streets and avenues: Bus (large buses), Buseta (medium size buses) and Colectivo (vans or minivans). Route and final destination is written on a piece of cardboard placed on the windshields of buses while fare cost a standard $0.60. There are no designated bus stops so the buses stop everywhere you wish to get off. Although the safety in riding the buses has improved over the years, tourists should be extra cautious and avoid traveling at night.
Remember not to carry big amounts of cash with you as robberies are known to occur along some routes. Choose to ride ‘upscale’ buses which charge a bit more (a couple of extra dollars) than the ‘regular’ ones. These buses are newer, more comfortable and in better conditions. Bogota has a main bus station, the El Terminal de Transporte de Bogota where you can find multiple bus companies with regular routes to destinations around the country, located at Calle 33 B, No 69-59. Bogotá is a bus for domestic and international bus routes. The Bogotá terminal serves routes to most cities and towns in Colombia and is the largest in the country. There is also international service to Ecuador, Perú and Venezuela.
Another bus system, Bogota’s new TransMilenio offers a bus service that is highly affordable, efficient and clean. TransMilenio is a bus-rapid transit system that offers a network of modern articulated buses that operate on exclusive or dedicated bus roads (busways) and smaller buses (feeders) that operate in residential areas. Although TransMilenio carries commuters to numerous corners of the city, it is more expensive than any public transport (except taxicabs) and expects fare increase correspondingly when petroleum fuel price increases.
Single ticket price is about $0.75 that allows a passenger unlimited transfers until he leaves the system and free travel on feeder routes. However, there are still some main routes that are not yet reached by this system. Also be aware that there are peak hours when the service is burdened with delays, vehicles are overcrowded and there is prevalence of pickpockets. Security on buses and in stations is handled by police officers employed by the city.
Lastly, you can continue your exploration of the city while walking through the pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods like El Nogal, La Cabrera and Chicó Reservado, at the beginning of the north of Bogotá. Revel at a different view of the town as you tread your way around streets 79 or 80 along tree-lined narrow streets, personality-ridden shops and boutiques, and eccentric dining alternatives. Whichever means you go, your discoveries of this exotic and vibrant city will be an experience like no other.
Phil Gabriel is a world travelling engineer, author, and expert at getting the most from life. He has visited more countries than he can keep track of, on all continents except Antarctica (maybe next year). In each of the countries visited, he has always tried to find the best places to eat, drink, and enjoy life. His dedication to the search has resulted in some awesome memories; only some of which can be discussed in public.