When people move to a new country, they’ll often buy a cheap phone with a local SIM card to use while they’re there. This is fine if you’re just visiting for a short time, but if you’re in Colombia for the long-haul, a smartphone will be a really useful tool. Here are the (Android) smartphone apps that I use regularly, which I really couldn’t do without in Bogotá!
1. Tappsi / EasyTaxi / Taxis Libres / Uber
Use these apps to summon a taxi to come and pick you up from wherever you are. It’s safer than hailing one from the street, and if you have a bad experience (i.e. the driver doesn’t take the route you say, or overcharges you, or drives dangerously) you can use the app to report this. If it’s rush hour and you’re finding it impossible to get a taxi, you can also offer a ‘tip’ via Tappsi and EasyTaxi when you request a cab, which means the cabs are more likely to choose you first! Start with 1000 pesos, and increase this buy 1000 each time as necessary! Or pay about 20% more for an easier ride in an Uber car (personally, I think if you’ve got a credit card, go with Uber every time!).
2. Google Maps
I use Google maps most when I’m in a taxi and I want to either check the route that the driver is taking, or I want to check how bad the traffic is on different streets in order to determine the best route. If the roads appear in red or dark red, it means that the traffic is moving really slowly in those streets, so you can take a route which is amber or green to speed up your journey. Google maps is also useful if you’re feeling a bit lost or disorientated whilst you’re out and about, but just make sure you consult your phone in a safe place (a shop or a cafe), NOT on the street where it can easily be whipped from your hand!
3. Calculadora de Tarifas (Taxi tariff calculator)
Taxi-meters go up in units, not in amounts of money, which means that they’re not exactly transparent. Drivers are supposed to display the tariffs on the back of the front passenger seat, but often, they don’t, and will charge you whatever they feel like. To remedy this, download the above app, which allows you to easily convert the number on the taxi-meter to the amount of money you owe the driver at the end of your journey (and it doesn’t require an internet connection). Remember to also select the ‘puerta a puerta’ (if you’ve requested the cab by phone or app) or ‘aeropuerto’ options if necessary. There’s also a function which allows you to report the number plate of the taxi if you have a bad experience (eg. if you think the taxi-meter has been tampered with to go up faster!).
4. Transmilenio y SITP
Completely befuzzled by the Transmilenio bus network? Can’t make head nor tail of the maps in the stations? Never fear! Download this app and you can select your departure point and destination, and the app will tell you which bus/buses you need to take. Easy! I find the ‘Calcule Ruta’ option the most useful.
5. BBC News
Stuck in traffic? Catch up with the news in the meantime!
6. Word lens
A camera app which you hold up to printed text, and it will automatically translate the text into your chosen language! The text needs to be a clear font (it probably won’t work with handwriting or cursive fonts), but will help you to translate those road signs/menu items when you get stuck! (just remember to use your phone discreetly if you’re in public!)
Much of my work comes in via email (translations, requests for English classes or proof-reading etc), so it’s vital that I be able to easily access my emails. You’ll find the same as you wait for responses to job applications or interviews. Makes having a smartphone really worthwhile!
8. Easy Currency Converter
Still getting used to the exchange rate? Find yourself regularly trying to divide numbers like 35,000 by 3,000 (such is the Colombian currency..)? Download this app to easily convert between currencies as you’re getting used to Colombian pesos!
You’re about half an hour from home and cannot be bothered to cook tonight.. so why not order a takeaway using this app? There are plenty of food options, and with the tap of your screen, your food can be whizzing its way to you (ok, perhaps not quite whizzing in the Bogota traffic!) by the time you get home!
Power-cuts are not uncommon in Bogota. Download this app, and there will be light when you find yourself in the dark!