Readers, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Paige Poole, a fellow Barranquilla transplant. Paige’s own blog, Transatlantic Adventure, includes fun and useful regular features like “Word Wednesday”—a must-read for people looking to bone up on Costeño (Coastal) Spanish. Paige also writes regularly for Uncover Colombia, a great source of destination-related info.
After my family and I scored cheap plane tickets to Medellín based on Paige’s insights, I realized that she would be the perfect person to demystify what can be a challenging prospect for newcomers: figuring out how to get around. Believe me, if you’re moving here or even if you already live here, I know you’ll join me in thanking Paige for her incredibly helpful post, which follows below.
Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla
When first arriving to Barranquilla, public transportation can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. While at its core you can find similarities between public transportation in Barranquilla and public transportation in other big cities around the world, you’ll also find there are many differences and peculiarities that can cause chaos if you are not aware of them!
First of all, you need to know that the main methods of transportation within the city of Barranquilla include: taxis, buses, “busetas,” and Transmetro.
In relation to taxis, as in other cities in Colombia, you should try to always use radio taxis, also known as taxis de confianza or taxis registrados. These are taxis that you get by calling one of the many taxi companies located all over the city. When you call, your details are stored in a system, and the taxi that picks you up is also registered in the system. Some of these companies include: 322.2222 and 385.5555. These two companies also have apps you can download to your smartphone and/or tablet as well as special codes for calling from cellphones for free to request taxis. If you are unable to call or use an app, check to see if there is a taxi stand nearby—many shopping centers, hotels, and high-traffic locations have them. At taxi stands, someone will record where you are going and the taxi that is taking you, again giving you just a little more safety. You can hail taxis on the street, if need be, although it’s considered safer to use radio taxis or taxis registrados.
With taxis, it’s also important to note that they do not use taximeters here in Barranquilla; rather, you have to establish a price before you get in the taxi. Some drivers will try to quickly usher you in before establishing a price, but I would advise you to get a price before you get in, otherwise the driver may charge you more than what you are willing to or should pay. The minimum rate is 5.000 COP, and for most places you shouldn’t pay more than 7.000-8.000 COP, unless you are going a fairly long distance. Here are some example rates:
- Buenavista Shopping Center ↔ Universidad del Norte: 6.000 COP
- Villa Country Shopping Mall or El Prado neighborhood ↔ Buenavista/surrounding area: 7.000 COP, maximum 8.000 COP
- From almost anywhere in the northern part of the city ↔ Barranquilla’s Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport: 25.000 COP (if you are further south in the city it may be a tad bit less)
- Northern part of Barranquilla ↔ beaches in Salgar/Puerto Colombia: 15.000-20.000 COP
- Northern part of Barranquilla ↔ historic center of Barranquilla (including Museo de Caribe): 9.000-10.000 COP
Buses in Barranquilla are a little crazy, but once you figure out which ones you actually need to use and are useful for the things you do frequently, you’ll be fine. Each bus has a specific route, and that route is posted in the front window of the bus, normally painted or written on a small wooden or plastic square. These squares, though, will only have the well-known places that the buses pass; they do not actually show or tell you exactly what streets the bus will go down. If the place you are trying to get to is not listed on the “square,” it may be best to ask before jumping on. To catch one of these buses, you’ll need to stick your arm in the air and “wave” one or two fingers to flag it down. You can flag down these buses anywhere you may be standing on the street where the bus passes, and you can also get off the bus at any point. To get off, you will most likely need to press a button that will be close to the exit door of the bus—the exit door is at the back of the bus and the entrance door at the front. Monday-Saturday these buses currently cost 1.600 COP (about USD 80 cents), and on Sundays and holidays they cost 1.700 COP (about USD 90 cents). It’s also important to know that these buses do not have air conditioning—picture old school buses with more rows of seats crazily decorated and brightly colored. So, if you want to stay “pretty” or want to avoid the heat at all costs, this may not be the right transportation for you. If you do choose these buses as your transportation, try to find a seat beside a window that opens, preferably on the side away from direct sunlight.
Some of these larger, antiquated school buses also travel between Barranquilla and smaller towns outside the city such as Salgar, Puerto Colombia, Soledad, Santo Tomás, and Malambo among others. These buses will cost a bit more—anywhere from 2.000 COP to 5.000 COP (about 1.00-3.00 USD), depending which town you are going to. Salgar and Puerto Colombia are popular spots for days at the beach, while Soledad and Malambo can be great places to explore small-town Caribbean cultures. Santo Tomás is famous for its pre-Carnaval celebrations.
Busetas are very similar to the regular public buses, only they are much smaller. Whereas regular buses are basically old full-sized school buses that have been re-made and fitted to be used as more accessible means of transport, busetas are a mini version of the regular buses, with only one door used for entrance and exit. They generally follow transport routes that the bigger buses avoid, but cost the same, maybe 100 COP less (about USD 5 cents less). I, personally, wouldn’t recommend these smaller buses as they can be a bit claustrophobia-inducing and you can normally catch a bigger bus that will eventually get you to where you need to be. If for some reason, though, you find yourself in an area where only a buseta serves you, jump on it and try to get a window seat!
A third way of getting around Barranquilla is via the government-run Transmetro service. Transmetro is a bus rapid transit system similar to the Transmilenio system of Bogotá, but not quite as developed or extensive. It has a central trunk route, which serves three services as well as several feeder buses that serve over 20 different routes. To access these services, you will need to purchase a Transmetro card, which can be done at any of the stops on the trunk routes. A ride on any of the Transmetro buses will cost you 1.700 COP (about USD 90 cents), no matter what day of the week you choose to use the service. There is only one type of card you will be able to buy to use the services, and once you have it, you can recharge at any of the trunk stations or at any Olimpica supermarket in the city. While Transmetro does not go to all parts of the city, it is a wonderful option as it is air-conditioned and nicer than the regular public transport buses. To catch a Transmetro bus, you do not need to do any special waving; you only need to spot a Transmetro sign and bus stop, where the buses along that specific route will stop to pick you up. Likewise, to get off a Transmetro bus, you will need to wait until the bus stops at a designated stop—it will not stop wherever you need it to, but will follow the set stops it has been assigned.
Now, if you are outside of Barranquilla wishing to get to this sun-blessed, Carnaval-celebrating, Caribbean port, there are many ways to get here. The first way is via what is called a puerta-a-puerta (door-to-door) bus. These are special service buses that you catch at a bus office, but that leave you, more or less, at a specific address. For instance, you can catch buses via BerlinasTur or MarSol between Cartagena and Barranquilla as well as between Santa Marta and Barranquilla. Travel with these buses normally costs between 16.000 and 22.000 COP (about 8.00-12.00 USD), depending on whether it is a holiday weekend or not. You can also take direct puerta-a-puerta buses between Barranquilla and Valledupar. In the same way, you can take these same services from Barranquilla to Santa Marta, Cartagena, or Valledupar should you need to travel away from Barranquilla. In general, these services run every 20-30 minutes, and tickets are a first-come first-serve basis, meaning if you need to leave or arrive at a specific time, you need to arrive with plenty of time to buy your tickets and guarantee yourself a seat. These buses are air-conditioned (sometimes to Arctic levels), but lack on-bus bathrooms.
You can also arrive to Barranquilla via airplane from most cities in Colombia. The national airline, Avianca, has frequent flights from bigger Colombian cities and several direct flights from Cali, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, and Medellín daily. A new national airline, Viva Colombia, also has direct flights daily between Barranquilla and Medellín, which can be as cheap as around 47.00 USD if bought with approximately 2 months anticipation. Even if you buy tickets from Medellín to Barranquilla with less anticipation, you will still likely get the best buy through this company. It is worth knowing, though, that to get reserved seating or checked baggage, you will need to pay extra. You can also book flights to Barranquilla through LAN, a Chilean based airline that flies all over Colombia and South America and get direct flights from Panama City, Panama via Copa Airlines once or twice daily, with connections to some major cities in the US and Canada.
You can also take regular intercity public bus services to get to Barranquilla from other cities in Colombia, such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Riohacha, and Valledupar, among others. These types of buses are larger, think tour buses with bus bathrooms and few to no stops between cities, and they go from city bus terminal to city bus terminal. You could pay anywhere from 35.000 COP to 200.000 COP, depending on which city you are traveling from to get to Barranquilla. These buses are much bigger than the door-to-door services, but will require you to catch your own transport to and from the bus terminals where the buses leave you. These buses do, though, operate with reserved seating, and have air conditioning and reclinable seats. The schedules of these buses differ between cities, and may have services that run less frequently than the door-to-door services.
So, as you can see, Barranquilla is well connected to other parts of Colombia as well as other cities in Latin America, and getting around the city, while it can be chaotic, is not as challenging as it may at first seem. Courtenay and I hope that after reading this post you feel more comfortable with the means of transportation in, around, to, and from Barranquilla and that you are ready to dive in! If you have any more specific questions, please, do not hesitate to comment below.