Flying is the fastest way to get around Colombia. Precipitous two-lane winding roads can make road travel long, tiring, and a bit nauseating. Distances by plane are usually short (between 30 min. and 1 hr.), though prices are relatively steep. Except to pay about COL$150,000 to COL$500,000 for a 30- to 60-minute flight between major cities. Colombian airline prices are generally fixed and unlikely to vary much between airline carriers. Avianca/SAM (tel. 018000/123-434; www.avianca.com) is Colombia's largest and most extensive carrier, covering both domestic and international routes. That said, service is often inefficient and customer service is poor. Aero República (tel. 018000/917-766; www.aerorepublica.com.co) covers much of the same territory as Avianca. AIRES (tel. 018000/524-737; www.aires.com.co) services smaller cities and towns, and SATENA (tel. 01900/331-7100; www.satena.com) flies to difficult locations such as the Amazon, the Pacific coast, and dozens of other small towns and villages.
Tip: It's important to note that if you will be using an international (non-Colombian) credit card to purchase your airline ticket online, you will need to book your flight at least 3 days in advance, or through a non-Colombian search engine such as Expedia. Another choice if you are short on time is to buy your tickets at the airport, where you won't have any problems using your credit card. Unless you're traveling during Christmas, Easter, or a busy holiday weekend, you shouldn't have too much trouble purchasing last-minute Colombian tickets.
Since President Uribe took office in 2002, road travel in Colombia has improved dramatically. Most routes between major cities and towns are safe, though southwest Colombia can still be dangerous. As a woman traveling alone, I have taken buses throughout Colombia without incident, but every traveler's comfort level is different. It's a good idea to check security conditions before you board a long-distance night bus, especially if you'll be traveling through high-risk area. You can find a bus to almost any city or town in the country from the Bogotá bus terminal, Terminal de Buses. Bus routes from Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla also cover much of the country. Road conditions are generally good, but it's important to remember that these are two-lane mountain roads, so if there is a back-up or accident, you're stuck in place for at least a couple of hours. Also during the wet season -- particularly October and November -- the rain can cause mudslides and unpredictable road conditions.
Unless you're taking a route with irregular departures, it's unnecessary to book in advance (the exception being if you are traveling during Christmas or a Puente weekend, both 3-day holiday weekends, when you might want to consider purchasing your ticket a day or two in advance). Bus travel isn't as cheap as in nearby Ecuador or Peru; expect to pay about COL$10,000 per 100km (62 miles), but buses are generally comfortable. Tip: Stick to large buses, since small colectivos are bumpy and uncomfortable. And avoid taking corrientes, which seem to stop every couple of meters. No matter what class of bus, be prepared for onboard entertainment of vallenato and ranchera tunes, as well as ultraviolent movies, at whatever volume your driver chooses.
Renting a car in Colombia is a bad idea. Car accidents are one of the top causes of death in Colombia. In urban areas, Colombians tend to be aggressive and careless behind the wheel, often neither following street signs or traffic lights nor giving pedestrians the right of way. On rural roads and mountain passes, winding roads and near head-on collisions with trucks, as well as the occasional livestock crossing, can be intimidating at best. Also, Colombian car-rental companies examine returned rentals extensively for the slightest dent and scratch. Public transportation options are safer and cheaper. Some upscale hotels offer a chauffeur/car service, which can be rented by the hour or by the day, but don't expect any great deals. If, after hearing all this, you are still determined to drive in Colombia, expect to pay at least COL$200,000 a day. Make sure you and the car are insured, and be aware that gas doesn't come cheap in Colombia -- we're talking COL$7,158 a gallon. Some companies that rent cars in Colombia are: Avis (www.avis.com), Hertz (www.hertz.com), and Budget (www.budget.com).
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.