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Getting There

By Plane: Planes arrive at El Dorado International Airport (airport code: BOG; www.eldorado.aero/en; tel. 571/266-2000), located about 13km (8 miles) from the city center, which has undergone a $1 billion expansion program that has transformed it into one of the busiest airports in Latin America. It accounts for nearly half of all air traffic in Colombia and the demand is so strong that a second airport in the city is under development. Most major North American and Latin American airlines fly here. Primary airlines include Avianca (www.avianca.com; tel. 800/284-2622), which handles a sizable percentage of national, regional, and international air flights, as does LATAM (www.latam.com; tel. 800/435-9526). Both fly to major cities within Colombia, as well as to Lima, Cusco, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Quito, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. Within Colombia, Satena (www.satena.com; tel. 1/605-2222) flies to small, out of the way airports on the Pacific Coast, Amazon, and highlands.

From El Dorado, you can get to the city center by taxi or bus. Alimentador (feeder) buses are parked next to the El Dorado Terminal and connect to Portal El Dorado, where passengers then transfer to the Transmilenio mass transit system that runs all over the city. If you have a lot of luggage and don’t feel ready to deal with crowded Colombian mass transit, your best bet is to take a taxi, which costs between COP$45,000 to COP$55,000 from the airport, depending on where you need to be dropped off. Be 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 you from being ripped off by dishonest taxi drivers. 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. An alternative is to use the airport’s free Wi-Fi and order an Uber, as cars are always there waiting. Getting to the city center or northern Bogotá from the airport should take about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic.

By Bus: Bus travel around Colombia has improved dramatically in the past decade as security concerns have lessened. Virtually every city and town has a bus service to Bogotá. Most buses to Bogotá drop you off in the main bus terminal, Terminal de Transporte, at Calle 22 B no. 69–59, depending on the bus company and where you are arriving from. 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 or request an Uber.

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, while many of the best hotels, restaurants, nightspots, and stores are spread out in northern neighborhoods. There are good mass transit options connecting La Candelaria and El Centro to the north. Gridlock can be frustrating, and you can feel at times as if your entire trip is just sitting in traffic. Try to explore entire neighborhoods at a time and save extra time getting in between. Laid out in a grid, 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 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. The south is the poorest and least visited section of the city.

Getting Around

Navigating Bogotá isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s just time consuming. The city sprawls northward from downtown, essentially one neighborhood after another, but because of persistent heavy traffic it can take a long time to get across the city. While the mass transit Transmilenio was meant to alleviate some of that congestion, your journey time may still only be slightly better than a taxi.

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. Think of it as a subway network on wheels. The Transmilenio runs weekdays and Saturdays between 5am and 11pm and Sundays and holidays 6am to 10pm. A single ticket will cost you COP$2,000. Some 1,500 buses cover 112km (70 miles) and move, on average, 2.2 million 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. Be sure to keep an eye on your personal belongings because robberies do occur, particularly hands diving into bags, purses, and pockets during rush hour.

By Bus: Hundreds, if not thousands, of buses service Bogotá. You’ll pay a flat fare—usually about COP$1,500 to COP$2,000—no matter how far you’re traveling. Get off and on buses as quickly as possible, because 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 COP$8,000 to COP$16,000. It’s wise to call a taxi from your hotel or restaurant, especially at night, or use the Uber app, which tends to be just as secure and cheaper. 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, so just make sure the driver turns on his meter. However, there have been cases of robbery, assault, and even rape reported involving mostly unlicensed taxi drivers, particularly at night, so make sure to call a trusted taxi company. If you call a taxi, your driver is likely to charge COP$1,000 to COP$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 Uber to avoid the hassle of telling your driver where to go, especially if your Spanish is limited.

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 guerrillas 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, I recommend you do so only upon getting in and out of the city or exploring the region.

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 practical.

The World’s Largest Urban Bike Route

Called Ciclorutas de Bogotá in Spanish, the city’s network of bike paths is one of the most extensive on planet Earth, totaling some 300km (186 miles). Bike parking was even added at Transmilenio stations to integrate bikes into the system. Additionally, every Sunday and on public holidays from 7am until 2pm is the cyclovía, where many main streets around the city are closed to cars so more bikes, as well as joggers and skaters, can use them. While there have been rumors of a bike share program coming to Bogotá, for now your best option is to rent a bike or take a bike tour with Bogotá Bike Tours (www.bogotabiketours.com; tel. 1/342-7649).

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 only. The most helpful and informative tourist office is the Instituto Distrital de Turismo y Cultura (www.bogotaturismo.gov.co; tel. 1/327-4916), at Carrera 8 no. 9-83, right across from Plaza Bolívar. The office is 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, such as how to get to Zipaquirá. 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.

A City Under Construction

Everywhere you look in Bogotá there is something being developed. New buildings, from shiny steel skyscrapers to posh brick condo towers, are popping up. There’s money here, lots of it, and more is coming. The government is doing everything it can to handle the growing population and make business development easier.

While the world average air passenger growth is 2% to 4%, the rate in Colombia is growing at around 18%. Currently 27 million passengers fly each year to Colombia, and by 2019, that number is expected to reach 40 million. While El Dorado airport has undergone a major expansion, there are plans to add a second airport in Bogotá, in the west of the city, by 2022 to handle the surging air traffic.

To help alleviate Bogotá’s horrendous traffic, a metro system is in the works.

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.