Colombia’s generally reliable and numerous buses are your best bet for intercity travel, though increased competition between domestic airlines means that air travel is frequently only slightly more expensive than travel by bus and far faster and more comfortable.
With buses, the wide range of options in comfort and quality is compounded by the size and diversity of the country; it’s a good idea to shop around at different companies’ kiosks within larger stations. Generally, the larger, long-distance buses have reclining seats, toilets, loud cheesy music and videos; wear warm clothing as air conditioning is guaranteed to be arctic. Some recommended companies are: Expreso Bolívariano (bolivariano.com.co), Expreso Brasilia (expresobrasilia.com), Expreso Palmira (w expresopalmira.com.co), Berlinas (www.berlinasdelfonce.com), Copetran (copetran.com.co) and Flota Magdalena (flotamagdalena.com), though different companies cover different parts of the country. Long-distance buses tend to stop at requisas (military checkpoints), sometimes at night; the soldiers sometimes search everyone’s possessions and make everyone disembark and show their ID. Each city has a terminal de buses (bus terminal) where the intercity buses arrive; Bogotá has more than one.
For shorter trips, you’re better off sacrificing comfort and price for speed by buying a ticket on a buseta, colectivo or any similarly sized minibus or minivan that departs when full. If you don’t want to be waiting around for ages, don’t hand over your luggage or pay unless you can see that a bus is nearly full and ready to depart.
In the coffee-growing areas in particular, the most common mode of transport is the hardy Willy jeeps, with two rows of seats in the covered interior and more passengers clinging to the back. These tend to be inexpensive, but the ride can be bumpy and you are squeezed in with mounds of luggage.
There are more than half a dozen domestic airlines. Avianca (avianca.com) serves the greatest number of domestic destinations. Copa (copaair.com), the second-largest airline, covers largely the same destinations and flies to San Andres. Satena (satena.com) offers flights to the Amazon, the Pacific coast and between San Andrés and Providencia.
Budget carrier EasyFly (easyfly.com.co) serves Bogotá, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Medellín and Santa Marta; Lan (lan.com) flies to all the major cities as well as smaller regional destinations, while new VivaColombia (vivacolombia.co) is the only one to connect Medellín directly to Santa Marta.
Booking in advance doesn’t necessarily guarantee a low fare (except during Semana Santa). A one-way fare between Santa Marta and Bogotá purchased a day – or a month – in advance costs about COP$120,000–155,000 (in high season).