The most cost-effective way of travelling in Colombia is by bus. The country has a large number of bus companies which connect even the most remote parts of the country. I travelled across Colombia by bus from the coast to Medellin, Cali and Bogota. This was my experience of travelling by bus in Colombia as a solo female traveller. Hopefully, you will find this guide useful when planning your bus rides in Colombia.
In this blog post, I share my experience of travelling by bus in Colombia. I will also discuss safety while travelling by bus in Colombia as a solo female traveller. Plus, I will share some other useful things about Colombian buses I picked up during my time in the country.
Travelling by bus in Colombia is pretty straightforward. You will have an advantage if you also speak Spanish (but you can manage it without speaking the language too). There are a few particularities I picked up while touring Colombia by bus which I find helpful to share.
Top things you need to know about inter-city buses in Colombia (Based on my experience)
Safety is still a concern when using bus transport in Colombia
Although the country is not in the turmoil it was in the 80s and the 90s, everyone still seems worried about their safety when they arrive in Colombia. Perhaps we’ve all binged too much on the Narcos series before setting foot in the country.
While I was not in Colombia in the 80s and 90s, I can only imagine what the country went through judging by how locals still regard safety nowadays. It’s safe to say that my tour guide in Medellin said the following: If we were in the 80s we would have not met up today because it was not safe to be in the street. But in 2023 when I visited Colombia, it was safe to gather in downtown Medellin for a free walking tour.
It is common in today’s Colombia to be stopped on the street (at least I was) and be made aware that where you are is not safe and you better leave. I was surprised to witness how much safety is part of the daily conversation in Colombia the same way the British talk about weather and tea back in the UK.
Yet, I try to understand where this comes from. The same fear that something bad might happen is brought up when using public transport. Many times I read in travel groups people asking about how safe public transport is in Colombia. If one leaves prejudices aside, I found bus journeys in Colombia very safe. Although journey times can be long (I’ve explained why further down in this blog post), buses in Colombia offer an unexpectedly high level of comfort compared to how affordable bus tickets are.
After travelling with more than 6 different bus companies in Colombia, I can confirm that all of the trips were safe and trouble-free.
Bus company websites are not always updated
One thing I noticed in Colombia about bus companies is that they don’t always keep their websites updated. Yes, the majority of Colombian bus companies have a website, but this doesn’t mean you will find all the information you need online. Or that the information you will find online is also the most accurate/updated one.
The best way to make sure you have the most updated information is to talk to the staff. Therefore, the bus terminal (El Terminal de Autobuses) is where you will find the most accurate information related to bus departure times, destinations covered, prices etc.
You can easily buy bus tickets in advance.
You can always use an online platform to buy it. Whenever I could not make it to the bus terminal in time, I used Busbud to purchase my bus ticket in advance. Based on my experience though, I was always able to buy a last-minute bus ticket. They never seem to run out of seats, even for the in-demand destinations like Medellin, Bogota because they have so many bus companies covering the same route.
Some bus companies are responsive on social media
If for some reason you need to speak to a bus company representative, but you cannot call them, your best bet is social media. From what I experienced, Facebook seems to be the preferred social media channel. I was able to get in touch with a few bus company representatives via Facebook. This way, I was able to confirm most of the details I could not find either online or on the company’s website.
Most Colombian cities have several bus terminals
This is something you will have to get used to as it seems to be common in Latin America to have several bus terminals. I saw this in Costa Rica, Panama and all over Colombia. Big cities like Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena have several bus terminals. Therefore, before you head to the bus terminal, make sure you know which one you have to go to. I always double-checked the bus terminal I had to go to with the Uber driver and the hostel staff.
Buses stop for meals and toilet breaks regularly
Although most buses provide onboard toilet services, they also have regular toilet and meal stops throughout the journey. I was surprised by the places they chose to stop at. Usually, it’s a traditional restaurant where warm food is cooked and has decent toilet facilities. Bus stops are always welcomed after a few hours of sitting in a bus chair.
Colombian buses are affordable and modernly equipped
If you have misconceptions about Colombian buses, forget everything. I know I had the same. However, I was surprised to discover that especially long-distance buses were equipped with working wifi, USB chargers and toilets, and AC.
Plus, bus seats are comfortable (for an average height and weight person like me) and you can recline them to an acceptable level. Some buses also provide TV streaming services which are a good way to improve your Spanish skills.
One thing I would like to mention is the AC can be strong sometimes. Make sure you always have with you a long-sleeved shirt in case it is way too cold.
Bus journeys are long
One of the few downsides of travelling by bus in Colombia is the travel time. Expect long hours and do not plan much when you have a bus trip coming up because most probably you won’t make it in time to do much.
Usually, the long travel hours are caused by traffic jams (big cities like Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla are notoriously known for their traffic jams), road works (I saw road works everywhere I travelled in Colombia) and car accidents. On top, most buses tend to have frequent stops to pick up passengers which adds up more hours to the already long travel time.
I found Colombian bus drivers to be very professional. I did not find any of the bus drivers I travelled with reckless. For safety measures, there are usually 2 drivers on the bus. This is what I noticed they did when the bus journey was a few hours long. Bus companies also deploy 2 members of staff for overnight bus rides. Overall, I was happy with the safety measures bus companies take in Colombia and how they seem to treat their personnel as well as the interaction passengers have with the bus drivers throughout the journey.
Do I recommend taking the bus in Colombia?
Despite the bad reviews you read online about bus companies in Colombia, I do recommend travelling by bus in this country. I travelled by bus all over Colombia, including the coastal cities of Santa Marta, Cartagena and even Barranquilla to Medellin, Cali, Bogota, Salento and Villavieja. In 7 weeks of travelling around Colombia, I used the bus at least 8 times.
I found public transport in Colombia of good quality, in fact, much higher than expected, judging by the reviews I read online. Nevertheless, I did not have bad experiences with the staff or other passengers.
As I already mentioned above, one of the few downsides of bus journeys in Colombia is the travel time which is always longer than stated. Other than that, I found travelling by bus in Colombia problem-free and safe for solo female travellers.
Bus companies I travelled with in Colombia and found safe as a solo female traveller
Below, I provided a table with the bus companies I travelled with and the destinations I travelled to in Colombia.
You don’t have to use the same companies I travelled with, but at least you will get an idea of my experience travelling with them.
|Bus Company Name||Route I travelled||My feedback|
|Berlinas del Fonce||Barranquilla-Santa Marta||The best customer support provided by a bus company in Colombia. Very active on Facebook. They can be your go-to option if you travel the Caribbean coast.|
|Berlinas del Fonce||Santa Marta-Aracataca|
|Berlinas del Fonce||Aracataca-Cartagena (via Barranquilla)|
|Expreso Brasilia||Cartagena-Medellin||Friendly staff. The journey went smooth and I experienced no delays (most probably because we travelled during the night).|
|Flota Occidental||Medellin-Salento||Very friendly staff. The driver was always cheerful even when we got stuck in traffic due to a car accident.|
|Expreso Palmira||Salento-Cali (via Armenia)|
|Cootranshuila||Cali-Villa Vieja (via Neiva)||*We got a taxi from Neiva because we got there late and there were no buses running. We paid 150,000 Colombian pesos for a 1h car ride.
The bus driver was so helpful. He found us a driver and even took us to a restaurant to have dinner.
|Cootranshuila||Villa Vieja-Bogota (via Neiva)||*We got a ride to Neiva Bus Terminal which was much cheaper because we travelled during the day.|
How to purchase bus tickets in Colombia?
It is very simple to purchase bus tickets in Colombia. You can either purchase the tickets at the bus terminal or online through a specialized platform such as Busbud or via the bus company’s website (most bus companies in Colombia offer this option).
Purchase the bus ticket at the bus terminal
Can be a quick way to purchase your ticket as you can choose between various bus companies. Yet, some bus terminals do not accept card payments, so if you prefer to pay by card, then buying the ticket in advance, online, is recommended.
Purchase the bus ticket online
It is also a quick way to purchase any bus tickets in Colombia. Since you purchase the ticket in advance, you don’t risk being left on the side of the road because there are no bus tickets left, although I never experienced that and travelled quite a lot by bus in Colombia.
I purchased tickets at the bus terminal and through Busbud. I did not purchase bus tickets directly through the bus company’s website because I did not know whether their websites could be trusted* with my bank details, so I preferred to be backed up by an international platform like Busbud. There are other platforms out there like Checkmybus. I only used Busbud to buy bus tickets in Colombia and worked fine for me.
*Of course, you can go ahead and purchase bus tickets through the company’s website. It was a personal preference to use something I knew worked fine for me and was genuine. Apart from the security issue, oftentimes bus company websites tend to crush or record errors especially when detecting foreign cards. That’s another reason why I chose to buy my bus tickets through intermediary platforms.
More on card payments when buying bus tickets in Colombia
As I already mentioned, card payments are usually accepted although Colombia is still a cash-at-hand country.
There were instances when I was told card payments were available, but when I turned up at the bus terminal I was told otherwise. If you are in a big bus terminal, you should always have the option to take out money. If you know you’re heading to a smaller place, make sure you have enough cash on you. The smaller the place, the smaller the probability of accepting card payments.
Which cards are best to use in Colombia?
For purchasing bus tickets in Colombia, I always used my multi-currency cards: Revolut & Monzo. In fact, I used both cards across Latin America. As long as you don’t withdraw much cash (for which both will charge you a fee if you go above certain thresholds/withdraw on certain days/use ATMs that charge international cards a fee*), the exchange rate used by both is very competitive.
Visa and Master cards are widely accepted, but Amex seems to be less accepted in Colombia.
*Based on my experience almost all ATMs in Latin America charge foreign cards a fee.
All in all, card payments are available although Colombians still have a preference for cash. You should always be prepared to pay in cash in case you are asked to do so.
How clean are bus terminals in Colombia?
I found bus terminals in Colombia to be quite clean. You will have access to decent toilets (you need to pay for them) and restaurants or shops depending on how big the bus terminal is. Some bus terminals even have free Wi-Fi. But you won’t need it that much because you can always use the Wi-Fi on the bus (almost all bus companies I travelled with had Wi-Fi for passengers).
Some bus terminals might look better looked after than others, but in general, all of them were clean enough, provided the basics like food and toilets, and felt safe for me to wait until I boarded the bus.
Is it safe to ride an overnight bus in Colombia?
My overnight bus experience in Colombia was problem-free. I travelled from Cartagena to Medellin on a night bus and it took a little over 12 hours to get to Medellin.
I was lucky that the bus was almost empty and nobody sat next to me which meant I had plenty of leg room. For an average female traveller (weight and height), I found the seats comfortable and wide enough to rest throughout the night.
The night ride included toilet and meal stops. The bus also provided onboard toilet services as well as USB chargers and Wi-Fi services. This is something almost all Colombian buses provide.
The rest of the passengers were mostly locals, yet I felt perfectly fine travelling with them. The bus had several stops throughout the night to pick up and drop off passengers.
The company I travelled with from Cartagena to Medellin was called Expreso Brasilia and the price I paid for the ticket was £35. I bought the bus ticket on the day I travelled from the bus terminal in Cartagena.
The tagging method
You are allowed to bring one piece of luggage and a day bag. You can store both in the boot of the bus or you can keep the day bag with you. To be able to identify the luggage owner, the bus driver will give you a tag you will need to return when you collect your luggage. Your luggage will be tagged too.
I was surprised they used this method and at the same time somehow relaxed that my luggage would not get mysteriously lost on the way. The driver is the only person handling the luggage. He is also in charge of tagging them and recovering the tag from everyone at the end of the journey.
If you lose the tag, you will need to pay a fee. So make sure you don’t misplace it during the trip.
All in all, my experience riding an overnight bus in Colombia was better than expected. To be honest, I did not fear any road assaults. If you feel anxious about it, it’s perhaps better to look into flying across Colombia. Colombia is quite a big country so many domestic flights operate daily between the most well-known places in the country.
But note that domestic flights can be considerably more expensive because you might need to pay extra for your luggage.
In conclusion, riding a night bus in Colombia can be a stressful experience for some travellers out there. More so if we consider Colombia’s reputation as not being one of the safest countries in Latin America. Yet, based on my experience, I can say that riding a night bus in Colombia was perfectly safe for me.
Do I recommend taking an overnight bus in Colombia as a solo female traveller?
Absolutely! My overnight bus journey was problem-free. Plus, I was surprised by the service and comfort provided. I found the bus ticket extremely affordable, so if you are a budget traveller, travelling by bus will not hurt your wallet at all.
Plus, overnight bus trips in Colombia are safe. Despite the bad reviews bus companies have in Colombia, they provide really good value for money. The drivers are nice, the bus is comfortable and clean, and they have security measures in place so that luggage stored in the bot doesn’t get lost. Bus trips in Colombia are stress-free and cost less than half the price you would pay in Europe for the same service.
Why are bus journeys so in demand in Colombia?
As opposed to Europe which benefits from an extensive railway network, Colombia and indeed most parts of Latin America do not have the infrastructure to facilitate train journeys. The only metro system I came across in Colombia that’s fully functional was in Medellin. All the other big cities (Cali, Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla) relied on buses. Plus, buses are (still) affordable as opposed to domestic flights. And when you need to travel with luggage, this can easily add up to your flight ticket whereas the bus allows you to bring 2 pieces of luggage at no extra cost.
It is safe to ride a bus in Colombia. Obviously, you should always be cautious and keep your most valuable things with you at all times. Having said this though, do not overstress about it. Simply take the necessary measures to enjoy a safe ride and be able to rest during the journey.
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