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This is a post from http://undertrail.com, a new service for travellers in Colombia. They can help you buy bus passes and low cost airlines tickets when travelling in Colombia. Importantly, they accept foreign credit cards which is not the case of many airlines and travel agencies in the country.
For many people traveling by bus in Colombia could be a hassle for multiple reasons: outdated travel guide information, erratic bus schedules, which bus/airline companies to choose from, cold and uncomfortable busses, illegal bus companies trying to sell you tickets, etc...
Things are improving though. Major bus companies now have comfy and speed controlled buses, new low cost airlines like Viva Colombia have entered the market offering new affordable flights throughout the country. Keeping this in mind, here are a few handy tips and guidelines to follow before boarding a bus or plane in Colombia.
1. *Choosing the Right Bus Company*
The moment you step in at some terminals you will be approached by hoards of men trying to get your attention to buy tickets for their companies, some of these companies do not comply with standards safety checks for their buses. Prices could be a bit cheaper but the difference with a larger operator will not be that much. Of course, if you are after a more authentic and thrilling ride... The major and established bus companies include: Rapido Ochoa, Expreso Brasilia, Bolivariano, Copetran and Berlinas del Fonce. These bus companies cover most destinations in Colombia.
2. *Freezing Temperatures Inside Buses.*
No matter how hot or cold is the temperature outside, bus drivers seem to keep temperature inside the bus close to freezing. The noise of the air conditioning system pushed to its limits is also a regular memory to any bus trip in Colombia. Bring extra clothes especially at night if you want to sleep. This is not an option even for Northeners...
3. *Low Cost Air Travel in Colombia*
Have you experienced Ryanair or Spirit Airlines? Well, you can now try Viva Colombia or the smaller Easyfly. Even though it sometimes seem like a really cheap option to travel, if you have to register your huge backpack, it could turn out to be similarly expensive as a traditional airlines. Hence, 1. Do the check in online at least four hours before boarding time, otherwise you might pay extra charge. 2. Pay for your backpack online when you do the reservation, at the airport during check-in, you will have to pay double for the same luggage. 3. There are not assigned seats so if you want a specific seat get, try to be in the first to board the plane or pay the ridiculous extra fare to board early.
There is no food provided in buses or low cost airlines unless you pay for it. Buses usually don't stop at all unless it is a very long journey (you can always ask them to stop for toilets). Then you might have the option of a typical Colombian meal or someone selling some street foods out of the window. Typical, but usually with very little nutritional value. Your best option is to bring your own food and drinks to enjoy the journey. Spirit could also be an option to fight the cold of the air conditioning system or improve your chances of sleeping.
5. *On Buses, Board Early to Get a Good Spot. *
Bus companies, especially the smaller ones, usually do not allocate you a seat when purchasing your ticket. So if you want to secure a seat next to someone or avoid some dodgy ones close to the entrance for exemple, it is a good idea to be among the first ones to board the bus. If you are a group, maybe send one person to board and secure seats while someone else deals with luggages (no need to remind you that anything of value should stay with you at all time). Colombians are fully aware of the system so if you don't play the same game, you will end practicing your Spanish with the driver for the next 10 hours.
Do you have any more tips? Please share them with us below. Have a safe journey and Bon Voyage!