In a city where getting from A to B can be stressful, tiring and chaotic, it doesn’t help that the Bogotá TransMilenio bus system (the “quickest” way to travel through the city) is extremely hard to fathom, even for Bogotanos!
Look at a TransMilenio network map at any station, and it might as well be written in ancient Greek for all the sense it makes – don’t expect to be able to look at it to find out which number buses you need to take, or where to change!
So here’s a short guide on how to use the Bogotá TransMilenio!
There are two ways to find out which buses you need.
1) Ask an ‘Auxiliario‘ in a green, military-looking uniform for help, by telling them your destination. This assumes that you will understand the answer they give you (B23 for example, in Spanish).
– Download the Transmilenio y SITP app.
– Choose “Calcule Ruta” and then “Mapa Sistema“.
Once you know which bus you need, start walking along the platform, and look for the doors which have your bus number displayed above it. The stations tend to be pretty long, and you may end up having to walk the entire length of the platform to find the bus you need.
Irritatingly, several buses stop at the same place on each platform, so that people waiting for different buses are waiting at the same doors. This means that if you are at the back of the crowd of people waiting at a particular set of doors, you may need to ruthlessly shove your way through the crowd to get on the bus. If you don’t, you may find that when the bus stops, nobody moves because it’s not their bus, and you are left at the back – by the time you’ve politely squeezed your way to the front, the bus has already gone (this has happened to me more than once). Moral of the story – BE RUTHLESS.
Note that there is no etiquette when it comes to embarking and disembarking the TransMilenio buses. People will push their way onto the bus while people are still trying to get off, and often this results in a gridlock. It can feel quite dangerous sometimes, but just try to keep your footing and hold onto your shoes – I once lost one in the gap between the bus and the platform.
On the TransMilenio, you will see mainly red seats and some blue seats. The blue seats are reserved for pregnant women, old people, and people with young children. You can sit in them if no-one else is sitting there and if none of the above-mentioned are in need of it, but you will be expected to get up as soon as someone gets on the bus who does need it. This includes women who look aged 50+.
There are ticket offices at every station. If you don’t already have one, you will need to buy a plastic TransMilenio card, similar to the London Oyster Card, which costs $2000 pesos. If you don’t present one when requesting a ticket, they will sell you one there and then. A one-way ticket (including changes) costs $1500 pesos off-peak and $1800 pesos during rush-hour (at the time of writing). Just say “uno” for one journey, or just hand over the amount of money you want to put on the card (and check your change if necessary!). When you get to the barrier, touch the card to the reader until it beeps – this acts like the Oyster card – and then go through the turnstile once the light turns green.
Once you’ve got the hang of the TransMilenio system, it is the most convenient way of travelling around in the city. helping you to avoid a lot of traffic (though no way of travelling around in Bogotá is ever quick!).
There are a few new things I need to mention since I wrote this post! There are now TransMilenio buses which go up the Carrera 7, which just stop at bus-stops like all the other public buses. As this is a relatively new thing and new routes are being added all the time, many bus-stops have not yet been updated with the new bus numbers. You can check the stops that buses stop at using the same TransMilenio app mentioned above, and don’t be put off if the bus number isn’t showing at a stop that it should be.
If you don’t have credit on your TransMilenio card, there aren’t machines near bus-stops for top-ups. You either need to find a shop with a ‘Tu Llave’ sign in the window, or you need to go to one of the TransMilenio stations with a ticket office, for example on Caracas/Autopista or Calle 26 to top up.
Another option if you don’t have credit on your card is to ask someone on the bus if they’ll sell you a ticket and let you use their card. Just adopt a mournful look and say “Alguien puede venderme un pasaje?” Usually works!
If you have a green ‘Tu Llave’ TransMilenio card, and you have a balance of between $0 and $1400 (i.e. not quite enough for one journey) these buses will let you go into minus credit for just one journey.