Public Transportation in Boyacá
Which could also be titled: I’m not sure I’m ever getting home.
Public transportation in Colombia is an interesting thing. I would say that in general it is more effective and affordable than public transportation in the Southeastern USA, but that’s not to say it isn’t nerve-wracking or chaotic at times.
I have traveled to a lot of nearby towns without mishap using mostly public transportation including: Samacá, Villa de Leyva, Tibasosa, Paipa, Sogamoso and Bogotá. However, sometimes things just really don’t go as expected. Today was one of those days.
I wanted to go to Ráquira, which is a nearby town famous for its artesian goods. It’s supposed to be THE place to buy gifts to bring home to my family. So, I flagged down a city bus in front of the university that would take me to the terminal ($1.300 COP, 11:30AM). Once I arrive at the terminal, one of the bus guys approached me and asked if I was going to Villa de Leyva. They do this every time, because almost every foreigner who passes through Tunja is on their way to Villa de Leyva. I told him I was going to Ráquira, and he pointed me in the right direction.
I got on a bus labeled Chiquinquira ($6,500). The bus driver assured me that the bus would take me near Ráquira and that it was my best route. We then slowly made our way through Tunja – I think the bus driver was looking for somebody in specific or just hoping for more passengers in general. Eventually, we left Tunja and were on our way. This was the hottest bus I have ever been in (none of the windows near me opened) and I began to experience some serious carsickness. Then, we got stuck at a construction site. Our bus driver got pushy and tried to cut in line while we were waiting. Then, the police came and pulled him off the side of the road and gave him a ticket. I was really surprised by this, because drivers here are really aggressive and I’ve never seen someone get a ticket before. He definitely deserved it, but it delayed our trip by quite a bit.
I was feeling really sick so I wasn’t really paying attention to the road. Finally (2:15PM), we stopped at a bus terminal…in Chiquinquira. I was very confused. I went into the terminal to ask for a bus to Ráquira. I was informed that there were none, but the guy I talked to told me he was going to see if he could work something out. A few minutes later he called me over and explained to me that I could ride with his friend, who was driving a bus to Villa de Leyva. The guy would drop me off at the entrance to Ráquira and I could get a taxi from there to actually get in to the town. I agreed.
We got on the bus (2:45PM) and drove BACK the way I had come. We got stuck in the construction – again. Then, we arrived at an intersection that had a faded sign that said “Ráquira 4km”. Apparently, this is where I was supposed to be dropped off previously, but the last bus driver didn’t think to stop because I didn’t ask him to. The bus driver pulled over and instructed me to wait at the intersection until a taxi drove by. I thanked him and paid my fare ($5,000 COP). I then stood at this intersection and watched the people across the street start a large bonfire. I also contemplated whether or not I was crazy. A bus came along that had a sign that said Ráquira, so I flagged it down. After a 15 minute ride, I finally arrived to Ráquira (3:50PM). I verified with this bus driver where I was supposed to wait for the bus that would take me back to Tunja. He told me that the last bus left at 5:30PM and showed me which corner I should go to in order to buy my ticket.
I wandered around, bargaining and buying Christmas gifts. I also made a mental list of the things I’m going to buy for myself when I return. Around 5, I headed to the corner I had been shown and figured out where I was supposed to buy my ticket ($8,000 COP). Due to how small Ráquira is, it was in the Colombian version of a convenience store. I waited there for the bus, because my faith in public transportation was failing at that point and I really didn’t want to spend the night in Ráquira. A bit after 5:30PM, we headed out, “we” being me, the bus driver and a teenager who was obviously a local due to the way he was flicking off his friends as we left.
This bus driver was chatty and started asking me about myself. When I tell him I’m living in Tunja, he tells me he lives there too, but he wasn’t driving there tonight because of how few passengers there were. Instead, we were going to go to Villa de Leyva and on the way there we were going to meet up with his bus driver buddy who would take me to Tunja. The teenager got off the bus in a nearby town and then a bit later, the bus driver pulled over and stopped. He exchanged numbers with me, telling me that whenever I needed help or transportation, I should just call him. We waited until the bus he was waiting for arrived. I got in the other bus, and my bus driver gave his friend some money.
This bus was actually going to Tunja. Once we got to Tunja, I had the bus driver drop me off at a roundabout near the university, on his way to the terminal. I then flagged down a city bus ($1,300 COP) and went back to the university, relieved to be home again. I got home around 7:15PM, tired and very happy to be home.
On a more practical note, here are some tips for using public transportation here, because it can be rather confusing at times.
- Most buses are $1,300 COP. Occasionally, they are $1,400 COP.
- There is no website that I know of. There are also no maps that I know of that describe routes.
- Each bus has a sign that lists major landmarks that it passes by. These landmarks may or may not be listed by their current names. For example, Jumbo used to be Carrefour and not all buses have changed their signs accordingly. If you aren’t sure, just ask as you are getting on.
- There are no set bus stops. You get on where you want and you get off when you feel like it. The bus also doesn’t always come to a complete stop for you.
- You pay the bus driver in cash whenever you want to during your ride.
- Bus drivers are not known to be the most cautious drivers in the city.
- Really little kids (like five years old) are allowed to ride the buses unsupervised.
- Taxis can be taken off the street without concern. This does not apply to all cities in Colombia. In some cities, you risk being robbed at gun point by doing this.
- Always ask for the taxi metro (the meter). It should start at $2,000 COP and slowly count up from there.
- You pay the taxi driver as you get out. He may or may not have change, depending on the day. He will find change if he needs it.
- I’ve never paid more than $6,000 COP in Tunja for a taxi.
- The same bus stop rules apply. You can go to the terminal, but if you see the bus with a sign that says where you want to go passing by you, you can go ahead and hop on then. For example, due to where UPTC is, I don’t actually have to go to the terminal to go to Bogotá. I just wait in front of the university. You can also get off where you want.
- There is only one bus terminal in Tunja that I know of. It is called “the terminal” by taxi drivers and “terminal” by bus route signs.
- Some bus prices are negotiable. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Make sure you know where you want to stop. If you don’t, make it clear to the bus driver that you need help.
- When you pay, you typically pay someone in uniform that isn’t the bus driver. This may be right as you get on or it may be later. You may or may not get a receipt.
- On holidays, there are fewer buses and services typically end earlier.
- If you look foreign and are in Tunja, you must want to go to Bogotá or Villa de Leyva. These are the easiest places to get to. There’s a bus leaving Tunja for these destinations every 15 minutes or so.
- Libertador buses are definitely the most comfortable I’ve traveled in. Busetas (the little buses that are really just vans) are really hit or miss as to comfort level.