A Traveler’s Guide to Transportation in Colombia

WIllys, aka Jeeps, are the only form of public transit in Salento, Colombia... which means they're the only way to get to the famous Valle de Cocora hike!

Before travelling to Colombia, we did a lot of research. But transportation in Colombia wasn’t something we found much information on. We looked up how to get from each city that we wanted to visit to the next destination on our list, and most information was vague: “just take a colectivo,” it said, or “there’s usually a bus going that direction.” Um, what’s a colectivo? How do I actually find the bus?! This was the kind of information I knew we’d need about transportation in Colombia, and I wasn’t finding it.

It made me a little nervous, since I’m the kind of person who likes to know what to expect. But how bad could it be, really?

Of course, true to accident-prone form, in our first week of backpacking in Colombia we ended up stranded in the rain on the side of the road after our bus broke down. Shortly afterwards, Jeremy got a nasty burn on his leg as he attempted to climb onto a mototaxi. Needless to say, it took us just about the whole month that we had in Colombia to finally figure out the transportation system.

So, we set out to write the post that we wish we would have seen before we arrived in Colombia! Read on to find out everything you need to know about getting around Colombia.

Psst: We’ve got a ton of other resources for Colombia that you’ll want to look at before your trip:

Guane on the Camino Real hike from Barichara in the Santander region near San Gil, Colombia. To get there, just take a bus from San Gil! Read all about transportation in Colombia in our guide.
Stunning Guane, next to Barichara, the so-called most beautiful town in Colombia. In the Santander Region, a short bus ride away from San Gil, Colombia.

Colectivos in Colombia

What is a Colectivo?

A “colectivo” is a shared van or small bus, usually for about 6-12 people.  In other South American countries, they’re called combis. Typically they are privately owned by an enterprising individual who has purchased the vehicle themselves and uses it to shuttle people around, pocketing the proceeds. Although they seemed sketch at first, colectivos are a totally legitimate form of public transportation in Colombia and usually very cheap. You can find them anywhere that tourists are common. Typically their drivers will call out the destinations as they pass by on the streets or approach you asking if you’re going to their destination (they can usually tell. You’re a gringo, remember?). They round up passengers going to the same place until they fill up their vehicle , which takes roughly a zillion years. Always allow about an hour of extra time if you’re taking a colectivo anywhere in Colombia.

Pros for Taking Colectivos in Colombia:

  • Cheap: a great form of transportation in Colombia for budget travelers.
  • Super authentic. This is how locals get around. You will meet locals, and quite a few of them will want to talk to you, because everyone in Colombia is super friendly and excited to finally be recieving foreign visitors again.
  • Because they are not on a set route, drivers are usually flexible and will drop you nearby their destinations or wherever you ask (like a hostel, an ATM, a certain intersection, a tree you really like, etc) which saves you time and money getting to your ultimate destination versus being dropped at a bus station.
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Cons for taking Colectivos in Colombia:

  • Not always air-conditioned… or comfortable. Expect to get real  cozy with your new local friends.
  • Drop-off location and fee is at the driver’s discretion – so always negotiate BEFORE getting into the colectivo.
  • Unreliable leave times. You will be waiting for a while for the driver to find other passengers. Allow yourself extra time.
  • Colectivos are privately owned, so you can’t exactly call lost and found or complain to customer service if anything happens. We never had any issues, though!
Sprawling metropolitan Medellin, Colombia. Medellin offers loads of options for transportation in Colombia, from a subway to hilltop gondola rides! Read more about transportation in Colombia in our traveler's guide.
Sprawling metropolitan Medellin, Colombia. Medellin offers loads of options for transportation in Colombia, from a subway to hilltop gondola rides!

Public Buses in Colombia

Public buses in Colombia are best for short term travel, like getting around town or somewhere relatively nearby. The public buses in Colombia can be a bit confusing, but they are by far the cheapest option for getting around town. Each bus looks totally unique: they’re all very colorful and most of them have giant pictures of Jesus absolutely everywhere, both inside and outside.  There is no singular bus system operating public buses in Colombia anywhere that we have been except for Bogota. We also haven’t been able to figure out how bus stops work. From what we can tell, buses drive a set route, and you’re welcome to be dropped off anywhere along that route if you ask the driver. Your fee will be calculated by the driver or other bus employee based on how far along the route you are travelling – negotiate this in advance of entering the bus.

Pros for taking Public Buses in Colombia:

  • The cheapest transportation option by far: perfect for budget travelers.
  • A good way to see parts of town and people that you probably wouldn’t otherwise interact with.
  • You can get picked up anywhere along the route by flagging down the bus, and dropped off anywhere along the route by asking the driver.
  • There is always someone hopping onto the bus offering to sell you snacks. These are always the best snacks. Bus snacks are our favorite. Don’t even bother bringing your own snacks: just buy bus snacks. #bussnacks

Cons for taking Public Buses in Colombia:

  • A/C is unlikely, which can be unbearable in a hot place like Cartagena.
  • Storage space for your bags can be a little sketch and not close to where you’re seated. Pack your valuables in a smaller bag that never leaves your hands, and put locks on your suitcase/backpack.
  • People are constantly getting on and off the bus and trying to sell you things, which is somewhat entertaining but can also be confusing. If someone hands you something, it’s safe to assume they want money from you. Just hand it back and say no, gracias.
  • As is always the case with buses making multiple stops along the route, a public bus is typically the slowest way to reach your destination.
A picturesque coffee farm in Salento, deep within Colombia's scenic coffee region. To get to Salento, we took a 12-hour bus ride from Medellin. Read more about transportation in Colombia in our traveler's guide.
A picturesque coffee farm in Salento, deep within Colombia’s scenic coffee region. To get to Salento, we took a 12-hour bus ride from Medellin.

Coach Buses in Colombia

Coach buses are best for long term travel, such as from one city to another. Private coach bus companies like Berlinas or Flota Occidental operate set routes running on a timely schedule from a bus station in one destination to another station in another town or city. They don’t take many unscheduled stops, which means they are typically faster than a public bus. They are usually air conditioned and often have Wi-Fi on board. For these conveniences you will pay a higher fee.

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It’s easy to figure out how to take a private bus once you find your way to the town’s bus terminal: just walk around looking for signs for your destination and ask what time the bus leaves and how much it costs. There are usually multiple options all leaving at different times, usually costing similar prices. You’ll find buses like these throughout South America! Read more about bus travel throughout South America  in this post by Travel Outlandish. 

Pros for Coach Buses in Colombia

  • Generally reliable timetable (give or take an hour for your arrival, because Colombia time does not run like normal time)
  • Usually air conditioned.
  • Sometimes have Wi-Fi onboard, and sometimes it’s even free! Fancy.
  • Easy to find – just ask for the bus terminal. Ask anyone – your taxi driver, hostel staff, people on the street. They’ll all know where to direct you.
  • There are loads of routes going all over Colombia. Just walk through the bus terminal and look for signs for the town you’re headed to. If you need to take multiple buses and transfer, someone usually will explain it to you.
  • Typically a long coach bus ride will make a half-hour stop for lunch in some random location in the middle of nowhere. This is great for a toilet break and stretching your legs, but the quality of the available food is a complete tossup. Honestly, we had some of the best Colombian food at bus rest stops; we’ve also had some terrible options! Bring a snack (and plenty of water!) just in case.

Cons for Coach Buses in Colombia:

  •  It’s not always easy or cheap to get to the station – they’re not usually in the center of town. You will likely have to take a taxi to get there. Watch out for cities like Medellin and Bogota that have two terminals for different destinations  (north and south) – make sure you ask for the right one! Also, note which one you’ll be arriving at. We definitely went to the wrong bus terminal in Bogota and had to take the world’s longest taxi ride across town in rush hour traffic – luckily, there was no meter, so at least it wasn’t terribly expensive.
  • Coach buses are relatively expensive, but the price is universal (usually … we have gotten up-charged without realizing it until later. Make sure you’re being charged the same as a non-Gringo.)
  • Little to no flexibility. You can ask the driver to drop you off somewhere along the route, but they may or may not do so (depending on the bus company). Typically you will be dropped off at a bus station in your destination town and then will need to transport yourself to your actual destination.
Cartagena de las Indias is an old colonial town in Colombia. Despite its dark history, today it's a thriving, colorful city to visit! We recommend visiting Cartagena as the very last stop on our backpacking Colombia itinerary.
Cartagena de las Indias is an old colonial town in Colombia. Despite its dark history, today it’s a thriving, colorful city to visit! We recommend visiting Cartagena as the very last stop on our backpacking Colombia itinerary.

Taxis in Colombia

Taxis are the most convenient form of transportation in Colombia. However, the easiest way to get around is always the most expensive. Taxis are easy to use and universal – yes, they’re all yellow! The main thing to know is to always negotiate fare or ask for an estimate before getting into the taxi, as they do not necessarily have a meter like you’re probably used to. Some cities, like Medellin, have working meters. Others, like Cartagena, do not. On the plus side, a negotiated fare stays the same no matter the traffic, route, or amount of effort required to find your location. Note: Uber is illegal in Colombia, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (your driver will ask you to lie if you get pulled over, though). However, taxis are common enough that we haven’t really needed to use Uber.

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Pros for taking Taxis in Colombia:

  • Easy to pick up anywhere – there is always a taxi around, or you can ask someone to call one for you.
  • Comfortable and private.
  • Fastest way to reach your destination because there won’t be any other stops to make.
  • Taxis are fantastic for practicing your Spanish. We realized this unintentionally, but we grew to love it after a while! If your Spanish isn’t quite up to the task, have your destination written down so you can show the driver.

Cons for taking Taxis in Colombia:

  •  Do not expect working seat belts in the back seat. They do not exist. Like, there are physical seat belts, but they’re just there to give you the illusion of seat belts. Sort of like a mental security blanket. They don’t actually work.
  • A/C is not guaranteed.
  • Typically the most expensive form of transportation in Colombia.
  • Fee is decided at the driver’s leisure and you may be quietly paying a “gringo tax” without realizing it.
  • Driver may or may not know your destination. Have a map and the address handy and be prepared to help them locate it if necessary.
"Downtown" Minca Colombia... aka the most crowded street! Look for the mototaxis, which are our absolute favorite form of transportation in Colombia!
“Downtown” Minca Colombia… aka the most crowded street! Look for the mototaxis, which are our absolute favorite form of transportation in Colombia. Photo credit: “Colombia: Downtown Minca” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by eliduke

Mototaxis in Colombia

A mototaxi is exactly what they sound like: a motorcycle taxi. Go ahead – channel your inner Che Guevara! Mototaxis are probably the most fun form of transportation in Colombia! You will be riding on the back of someone’s motorcycle or scooter. It’s much cheaper than a taxi, and a bit of a thrill for the adventure seeker. But it can also be more dangerous, especially in inclement weather. We saw a bad mototaxi accident happen in a rainstorm. Don’t risk it! Always, ALWAYS wear a helmet. Mototaxis are best when you don’t have a lot of baggage with you, and ideal for short distances. Always negotiate pricing before climbing on. Oh, and be careful when climbing on – that’s how Jeremy burned himself. But we’re like, really clumsy, so your mileage may vary. 

Pros for taking Mototaxis in Colombia:

  • Mototaxis are so much fun!
  • Cheaper than a taxi.
  • No stops needed for other passengers.
  • Can generally find one anywhere. We once took one back from a waterfall in a forest in Minca.
  • Mototaxis can also go places where cars can’t, like unpaved paths or forests!

Cons for taking Mototaxis in Colombia:

  • Can be dangerous – don’t ride if they don’t offer you a helmet to wear.
  • You’ll be holding onto a complete stranger, which can be uncomfortable and also sweaty.
  • Only one person can ride at a time, so you’ll need multiple mototaxis if you’re travelling with others.
  • Mototaxis don’t offer much in the way of storage space. Not great if you’re carrying a lot of baggage, but a  small backpack will be fine.
The Valle de Cocora hike is as beautiful as it is treacherous. Know what to expect before you hike the Valle de Cocora hike in Salento, Colombia.
Beautiful Valle de Cocora Salento, Colombia in is home to the tallest palm trees in the world.  Willys, aka Jeeps, are the only form of public transit in Salento, Colombia… which means they’re the only way to get to the famous Valle de Cocora hike! Photo Credit: “Valle de Cocora” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by descubriendoelmundo

Willys: Jeep Transportation in Colombia

Willys are like a cross between a taxi and a colectivo.  Willys consist of a Jeep with a modified backseat suitable to fit up to 15 people: 8 people seated in the back, 2 + a driver in the front, and 5 people standing!  Yep, standing – literally standing on the back of the Jeep and holding onto the rack on top. It’s SO MUCH FUN. We’ve actually only seen Willys in Salento, but I bet they exist elsewhere in Colombia (anyone know where?) They were actually the ONLY form of public transit in Salento – there weren’t any taxis at all! Honestly, we recommend taking a Willy if you can just because it’s REALLY fun. This is what you’ll take to get to the famous Valle de Cocora hike!

Pros for taking Willys in Colombia:

  • Usually cheap – many of our rides around Salento were $1 each
  • Jeeps have no trouble with unpaved roads, so you’ll find these in places cars can’t go
  • Standing on the back is one of the most fun ways to travel ever, up there with Mototaxis. And possibly less dangerous…? But honestly, there’s no better to appreciate the stunning scenery of the Eje Cafetero/Coffee Region than flying through it in the open air.
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Cons for taking Willys in Colombia:

  • Can be expensive – it really just depends on the driver. Most of our rides in Salento were cheap, but once we paid 3x more than we should have coming back from a coffee farm because there was no other option.
  • There are no other options in Salento, so when the Willy drivers aren’t around, that’s it. You’re kind of stuck. We once arrived in town after 8 and had to wait for a long time for a driver to show up.

I hope you found our complete rundown of the transportation in Colombia for travelers useful! Note that we haven’t included easy to navigate transit like the telerifico in Medellin – which is fantastic – or impossible transit like the bus system in Bogota, which we actually couldn’t figure out. Let us know if you manage to get around Bogota by bus. We just took taxis everywhere. No shame. 

Psst: We’ve got a ton of other resources for Colombia that you’ll want to look at before your trip:


Do you have any questions about taking transit in Colombia? Please let us know your questions in the comments!

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A traveler's guide to transportation in Colombia, from colectivos to buses to mototaxis and everything in between! After a month of backpacking, we figured out everything you need to know to get around Colombia.

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Hey, I'm Lia! I'm a Kentucky native living in San Francisco. I'm extremely practical and also entirely addicted to travel, which I'm forever trying to reconcile. If I had a patronus, it would a spreadsheet. Or a llama. Possibly a llama creating a spreadsheet. I'm married to Jeremy and I'm obsessed with him and it's super gross, unless you're us, in which case it's the best.

4 Comment

  1. K says: Reply

    Mi esposo y yo estamos en las mismas. Ya llevamos cinco meses en Colombia y si el medio de transporte ha sido muy interesante. También somos de California. Suerte y sigue disfrutando Colombia.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Gracias! Yo voy a tratar responder en espanol (disculpe porque mi espanol es terible). Pensamos que el transporte todo es una parte de la aventura en Colombia. Esperamos que disfrutan Colombia tambien!

  2. Rianne says: Reply

    Thanks for this summary of transport options! My husband is Colombian, so I’ve been to Colombia several times, but we’ve never taken any public transport. Always taxi’s or we drive a car rental or borrow cars from family and friends. To cover large distances within the country, most Colombians I know fly between the main cities.

    I just wanted to make you aware that perhaps it is good to warn people about the safety of using different types of transportation. My husband doesn’t take public transport because he is afraid of robbery, and as a ‘gringo’ we are the ultimate target. Being a foreinger equals having money… Several of his friends and family members have been robbed of their smartphone while taking a bus.

    But on the other hand, taxis have their risks as well, since there are criminals that collaborate with taxi drivers as well. In this case they will drive you to several cash points around the city so you can empty all your accounts for them. Obviously using force, in which case you are always advised to comply. To prevent this from happening, we always try to make sure we only use registered/official taxis.

    These are all stories I have heard from Colombians, living in Colombia. Although on a side note, I have found Colombians to be extremely cautious and risk averse at times. I believe this might be due to the years of violence they’ve had to endure, and perhaps the country isn’t as dangerous as they still tend to think/fear. Oh and perhaps it also doesn’t help that my husband is from Cali, which is still considered more dangerous and tourist don’t usually go there.

    Would love to hear if you have ever heard about these risks/dangers, and how you feel about it all!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thanks for the insight, Rianne! We actually felt incredible safe in Colombia – far more so than some of the other countries we visited in South America, and certainly more so than most of the cities we visited in Europe and our own home of San Francisco, where getting your phone stolen on public transit is as common as getting your hair cut. We specifically avoided Cali because we heard it was dangerous (though we’ve since regretted our overly cautious attitude, because we hear Cali is awesome). But everywhere that we travel, we always follow basic safety guidelines to keep us, and our stuff safe. You can read about what we do to say safe here: https://practicalwanderlust.com/2016/09/travel-safety-tips.html

      I’ve actually had worse/scarier experiences in taxis similiar to what you described (being at the mercy of a taxi driver, especially late at night, is SO scary) in New Jersey, USA – but we find ourselves so frequently scammed, insulted, and inconvenienced by taxi drivers that we tend to avoid them now! Though we do us Lyft wherever possible. In general, I’d say you’re as safe taking public transit in Colombia as you are in most major cities in the world: keep a firm grip on your phone and a hand or eye on your belongings, and you’ll be fine.

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