Bogota Travel Guide

Getting Around

The city of Bogotá is built on a grid system. A rather imperfect one, actually. Chaotic urban sprawl in the second half of the twentieth century, mostly driven by violence in the countryside and the immigration that ensued, made the city develop without any effective long term urban planning (or, in some cases, just plain bad urban planning). This has resulted in a lot of irregular blocks, twisting streets, and diagonals cutting across what is supposed to be a perfect grid. Therefore, the apparently straightforward street address system has historically been more of a guideline as to where things are than a precise way to get to places. A recent update of the street addresses in much of the city was directed towards solving some glaring inconsistencies in getting around. Most places that tourists visit are easy to find nowadays, but you have been warned.

Carreras (streets) are abbreviated as Cr., Kra., and Cra. and run parallel to the mountains from South to North. Carrera numbers increase from East to West, away from the mountains - so Carrera 7 is near the mountains and Carrera 100 is far from them - except for a very few carreras near the mountains that increase in reverse order and that have names like "Carrera 1 E" ('E' standing for East).

Calles (also streets) cross the carreras and run from East to West. Calles are abbreviated as Cll. and Cl. For half of the city (the northern half tourists are most likely to visit) calle numbers increase from South to North - so Calle 13 is near the center of the city, whereas Calle 200 is one the last streets before exiting Bogota on the northern side. Calles in the southern half work similarly to 'East' carreras near the mountains: the southern calle numbers increase from North to South, mirroring streets in the northern half. These are called things like "Calle 85 S" ('S' standing for South).

Aside from calles and carreras, there are 'diagonales' and 'transversales'. As their names suggest, they are not perfectly parallel to calles and carreras. However, the same numbering system applies to them. Diagonales are supposed to be deviations from calles, whereas transversales are supposed to be deviations from carreras. So, for example, Diagonal 107 runs sort of East-West and is somewhere around Calle 106 or 108.

Avenidas, abbreviated as Av. or Avda., are usually larger, main streets. Geographically speaking, most avenidas somehow fit into one the four categories mentioned above, although some avenidas twist around. They usually have a classification and number as described above, but they also have a distinct name, like "Avenida Suba", "Avenida Boyacá" and whatnot. So, for example, Avenida Jiménez is a main street and, in the number system, is also called Calle 13.

Each address consists of a street and a series of numbers. For example, Cl. 45 24-15 (sometimes written as Cl. 45 # 24-15 or Cl. 45 No. 24-15), means (1) the location is on Calle 45, (2) of the two insecting carreras nearby, the one with the lower number is Carrera 24 (since in this case we are talking about carreras, it means the nearest carrera to the East of the location; if we were talking about calles, it would be the nearest calle to the South of the location), and (3) the location is roughly 15 meters from the intersection of Calle 45 and Carrera 24. Furthermore, since the last number, 15, is odd, the location is on the North side of Calle 24 (if the location were on a carrera, it would be on the East side of it). Even numbers at the end have the opposite meaning.

By taxi

While ubiquitous and affordable, taxis are arguably the most visible representative to the world of Bogotá's worst side. Travelers used to being cheated by taxi drivers probably aren't yet acquainted with the paseo millionario, or "Millionaire Ride," where a taxi driver swings by to pick up well-armed accomplices who then rob you, possibly drug you, and almost certainly take you to multiple ATMs to forcibly withdraw a large sums of money. This rather extreme practice is actually pretty common. Taxis should not be hailed off the street—only called through dispatch. Nice restaurants and any place of lodging will be happy to do this for you, and will express genuine concern if they think you are going to try to hail one. Otherwise, call one yourself at 599-9999, 311-1111 or 411-1111. Sometimes it can take a while to get one, though, so it's good to have a back up. If public transit isn't your thing, consider keeping a private car service on hand. They are pretty good deal for the money, when all is considered, and your hotel or business should be able to recommend one.

If calling for a taxi, the driver will want to confirm that it is you who called by asking for a "clave" (key), which is always the last two digits of the phone from which you called to request the taxi. Each taxi has a meter which should increment one tick every 1/10 kilometer or 30 seconds and starts at 25 ticks. The rate chart is printed on a card in the taxi. Nearly all taxi drivers will try to take advantage of you in one way or another; be sure the taxi meter is started when you begin your trip. Tipping is never necessary—be sure to count your change and be on the lookout for both counterfeit coins and notes. There are surcharges for the airport, holidays, and nights (after 8PM). Surcharge details are printed on the fare card. Surcharge for ordering a taxi arriving at your house is currently 600 pesos, surcharge after 8PM is 1.600 pesos, even if you are starting your trip before that time. Holidays and Sundays are also surcharged 1.600 pesos. Lock the doors of the taxi, especially after dark. If you experience a problem in a taxi or with the driver, dial 123 to report a complaint with the police. You should also call the company with which the taxi is registered.

By Transmilenio

Bogota's rapid bus service, the Transmilenio is extremely affordable, clean and efficient. It carries commuters to numerous corners of the city in exclusive lanes, bypassing the notorious city traffic. Tickets cost $1.700 COP (rush hour) or $1.400 (off-peak and Sundays). The downside, though, is a result of is own success—it's terribly crowded during rush hour, and even sometimes during the rest of the day.

The vehicles used in that systems are articulated buses; they are fast and safe, but could be full during the afternoon times. The system also uses different kinds of stations: the simples offers bus services at the right and left sides (north-south;east-west) and the intermediates are usually located in middle points and have complete services, such as elevators, station libraries, bikes parks, restrooms. Alimentadores services (buses that reach zones the articulated buses do not) and the portals, the nine arrival and departure places of the buses, are located near the entrances to the city. Service ends 10PM–11PM, depending on the station. Intercity buses from the metropolitan area also arrive at these stations.

The sheer number of bus numbers is quite intimidating, but has a simple logic to it. (If you don't have time, use the trip planner, and still probably ask some people at the station where to go.) There are actually only ten routes, demarcated by letters (and names, but don't worry about that). J and L routes will take you into the historic/political center, with J buses even stopping right at the Gold Museum. A buses will take you up through Chapinorte, with Calle 72 being the stop closest to the popular Zona Rosa. K buses head out towards the airport. B buses take you to Portal del Norte, where you can catch inter-city buses up to Zipaquirá (for the Salt Cathedral).

By bus

Privately owned buses cruise all the main thorough fares and many side streets, and are the principal form of transport for the working class and student class. Though they do follow specific routes, they do not have bus "stops"; you merely call to them like taxis and they will stop for you where you are standing. Placards in the large front windows list destinations, either neighborhoods or main street names. Upon entering you will be asked for the fare; if you are not traveling alone you may be asked "Para ambos?", for example, meaning "For both?", to see if you are paying for just yourself or for your companion. Then you pass through a turnstile to the seating areas. The buses come in three sizes, usually, long (like a school bus), medium and small (called busetas). All have turnstiles. To exit these buses, you go to the back door and either push a button located usually on one of the hand rails or next to the exit, or simply call out "Aqui, por favor!" or "Pare!" (Stop!). Passengers are often expected to embark and disembark even from the middle of the street.

Sometimes vendors are allowed to enter the buses to sell candy or small gift items (occasionally donating one to the driver for the privilege). Or, you may find entertainers such as singers or guitar players, and even the more creative of the street beggars who will regale you with a long, poetic story of their sad situation before asking for donations. Even in the smallest buses, cramped full of people standing and sitting, it is a common sight. Interestingly, a recent Grammy-nominated singer named Ilona got her start performing on buses around Bogotá.

The cost for riding on a private bus normally costs 1450 COP during the day and, most curiously, 1500 COP during the night. (Are you paying extra for powering the headlights?)

By colectivo

Colectivos cover practically every major route of the city, and can generally be flagged down at any point on a main road. Watch these small buses for lists of destinations displayed on their windshields, or ask the driver (in Spanish) if he passes the neighborhood or intersection you are going to. Not very comfortable, but they are faster than a common bus and it's also used as a shuttle for routes that don't have so much affluence, it can take you almost anywhere.

By bicycle

Bogotá has Latin America's largest network of bicycle routes, called 'Ciclorutas.' On Sunday's and public holidays, many main and secondary roads are closed to cars for the Ciclovia from 7AM-2PM, a special feature of Bogotá, where people can run, bicycle, inline skate or just watch from the side. There are refreshment stands along the way and most parks host some type of event such as yoga, dancing, stretching, spinning, etc. To get a bicycle you can rent a bike or going for a guided Bike tour on Bogota's Ciclorutas or participating in the Ciclovia are fun and healthy ways to get to know the city, and to get closer to the people.

source: Wikivoyage

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