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Getting There

By Plane -- Planes arrive at El Dorado International Airport (airport code: BOG; tel. 1/413-9053), located about 13km (8 miles) from the city center. You can get to the city center by taxi or bus. Buses are parked next to the El Dorado Terminal and are marked AEROPUERTO -- the last one each day leaves at 8pm. They drop you off at the city center, from which you will probably have to take a taxi to your hotel. If you have a lot of luggage and don't feel ready to deal with Colombian mass transit, your best bet is to take a taxi, which costs between COL$18,000 to COL$25,000 from the airport, depending on where you need to be dropped off. Make sure to obtain a computer-printed slip at the airport exit before getting into your taxi. Make a sharp right upon exiting the airport to obtain your computer-printed slip. This slip indicates how much your route will cost and prevents visitors from being ripped off by dishonest taxi drivers. You give this slip to the driver and pay upon arrival at your destination. Do not accept rides from solicitors at the airport exit; these drivers are not associated with the airport and you don't want to be the one to test their honesty. Getting to the city center or northern Bogotá from the airport should take about 20 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic.

By Bus -- Buses arriving in Bogotá drop you off in the main bus terminal, Terminal de Buses, or at El Portal del Norte, depending on the bus company and where you are arriving from. Virtually every city and town has a bus service to Bogotá. From the terminal, you'll need to take a taxi to your hotel. It's important to obtain a computer-printed slip here as well and take a bus-terminal associated taxi.

Orientation

Although Bogotá is a massive, sprawling city covering over 1,555 sq. km (606 sq. miles), almost all tourist attractions are concentrated in the historic center and La Candelaria. Excellent transportation connects La Candelaria and El Centro to the northern section, where most of the city's best restaurants, hotels, and nightspots are located. Laid out in a grid, Bogotá can more or less be divided into three sections: the north, home to the city's top restaurants, hotels, shopping, and nightspots; the center (including La Candelaria), around which most tourist attractions are located; and the south, the poorest and least visited section of the city. Carreras run north to south and calles run east to west. Streets and avenues are almost always referred to by number rather than by proper name. La Carrera Séptima is likely Bogotá's most important avenue, running the entire length of the city. If you're ever confused about whether you're heading east or west, remember the mountains are on the east of the city. Most tourists stick to the northeastern and central-eastern parts of the city.

Getting Around

By Transmilenio -- One of the fastest and cheapest ways to get around is the Transmilenio, Bogotá's decade-old bus system that runs on its own road lane. The Transmilenio runs weekdays and Saturdays between 5am and 11pm and Sundays and holidays 6am to 10pm. A single ticket will cost you COL$1,400. Some 882 buses cover 84km (52 miles) and move, on average, 1,250,000 people a day. You'll probably have to study the maps at each Transmilenio for quite a while to understand how the system works. If you speak some Spanish, you're best off asking one of the many Transmilenio workers, who can tell you what line and bus to take to your destination. Robberies are known to happen on the Transmilenio, so be sure to keep an eye on your personal belongings. Note: Supposedly, there's a metro system in the works, but it's unclear whether that project will be getting off the ground anytime soon.

By Bus -- Hundreds, if not thousands, of buses service Bogotá. You'll pay a flat fare -- usually about COL$1,100 to COL$1,300 -- no matter how far you're traveling. Get off and on buses as quickly as possible, as drivers are unlikely to be courteous enough to come to a complete stop or make sure you get off safely. When going from the north to La Candelaria, take buses marked GERMANIA. Don't take buses marked LA CANDELARIA, which will leave you in a bad part of town. When going to the north, buses that say UNICENTRO will generally drop you off a couple of blocks from where you want to go. Don't expect a bus to stop for you just because you're standing at a bus stop; you'll have to flag it down.

By Taxi -- Perhaps the best way to get around the city, taxis are relatively inexpensive. Many foreigners choose to get around this way to avoid Bogotá's sometimes confusing bus and Transmilenio system. You can get from the north to the city center for about COL$8,000 to COL$14,000. It's wise to call a taxi from your hotel or restaurant, especially at night. Your biggest risk is that a taxi driver will take an out-of-the-way route to your destination and thus charge you an unfairly inflated fee. Make sure the driver turns on his meter. However, there have been cases of robbery, assault, and even rape reported involving taxi drivers, particularly at night. If you call a taxi, your driver is likely to charge COL$1,000 to COL$2,000 in addition to your fare. Recommended taxi companies include Auto Taxi (tel. 1/366-6666), Radio Taxi (tel. 1/288-8888), Taxi Express (tel. 1/411-1111), Taxis Libres (tel. 1/311-1111), and Taxi Ya (tel. 1/411-1112). If you're not used to getting around Latin American cities, I recommend you take taxis to avoid the hassle of the Transmilenio and buses.

By Car -- Driving in Bogotá is not for the faint of heart. Almost 50,000 Colombians a year are killed in traffic-related accidents, meaning your chances of being hurt or even killed in a car accident are far greater than your risk of being kidnapped or killed by guerillas or narco traffickers. Be prepared for honking cars weaving in and out of traffic, reckless drivers, and many near collisions. Pedestrians often cross despite the presence of oncoming traffic, and vendors and beggars often congregate around traffic lights. If, after hearing this, you are still convinced you want to drive in Bogotá, you will need to present an international driver's license when renting your vehicle.

By Foot -- La Candelaria and El Centro can be easily explored on foot. Usaquén, La Zona Rosa, and Parque de la 93 are other easy neighborhoods to explore on foot, though you'll have to get to these places by taxi, Transmilenio, or bus. Because Bogotá is essentially a grid, it's relatively easy to get from place to place on foot. Theoretically, you can get anywhere on Bogotá on foot, but long distances make taking a taxi more convenient.

Visitor Information

Tourist information in Bogotá is mediocre at best. Most of Bogotá's tourists are Colombians, so any brochures you manage to get will probably be in Spanish. The most helpful and informative tourist office is the Instituto Distrital de Turismo y Cultura (tel. 1/327-4916; www.culturayturismo.gov.co), at Carrera 8 no. 9-83, right across from Plaza Bolívar. Unfortunately, they are often out of maps and brochures. The office is supposedly open daily between 8am and 6pm, but hours can be reduced, especially on Sunday. Other tourist offices can be found at El Dorado Airport (at both the national and international decks); the main bus station, Transversal 66 no. 35-11, Local Module 5-27; and the International Center, Carrera 13 no. 26-52. The bilingual Bogotá Turística is a decent city guide sold at Panamericana shops throughout the city. Your hotel should also be able to offer some information, maps, and a few pointers. Personally, I find Panamericana stores to be the best place to find tourist information, as they always have maps and sometimes sell English-language guides. Some popular Panamericanas are located on Carrera 15 no. 72-14; Unicentro mall; Calle 92 no. 15-37; Carrera 13 no. 59-69; and Carrera 7 no. 18-48.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.