Chinese-made tuk-tuks are becoming increasingly popular in smaller tourist towns. Moto-taxis seat three and have a covered roof, plus a tarp that can be lowered around the sides in case of rain. You'll see these in Barichara, Mompox, Santa Fe de Antioquia, the Desierto de la Tatacoa and some of the small towns on the Pacific coast.
Taxis are cheap, convenient and ubiquitous in the major cities and most midsized towns. In the interior of the country all taxis have meters; on the Caribbean coast, it's haggle or pay extra, and many drivers are eager (especially in Cartagena) to see just how much they can take advantage of your naïveté. That said, a surprising proportion of taxi drivers are honest individuals; the better you speak Spanish, the more bargaining power you'll have, and the less likely you'll pay hyperinflated prices.
There are occasionally deceptive, untrustworthy individuals masquerading in fake taxis. This is rare, but if you are concerned, it is always safer to call for a taxi, which costs a mere few hundred pesos extra (or use an app). Taxi fares are always per taxi, never per number of passengers. Many taxis have somewhat flimsy doors – be kind, do not slam doors when getting into or out of the vehicle.
Don't use taxis with a driver and somebody else inside. While taxi drivers sometimes have a friend along for company or for security reasons, such a situation may be unsafe for you; this is a common robbery tactic. Taxi apps like Tappsi (www.tappsi.co) and Easy Taxi (www.easytaxi.com) have drastically improved taxi security and should be used by all with a smartphone. They work in most of Colombia's major cities.
A taxi may also be chartered for longer distances. This is convenient if you want to visit places near major cities that are outside local transportation areas but too near to be covered by long-distance bus networks. You can also rent a taxi by the hour in the major cities – a good way to make your own impromptu tour. Expect to pay around COP$25,000 per hour for this service.
Colectivo in Colombia can mean a midsized bus, a shared taxi, an overloaded jeep, and everything in between. They are most popular in short intercity hops of less than four hours. Because they are smaller than regular buses, they can travel quicker, and charge around 30% more as a result. They often depart only when full.
In some cities they depart from and arrive at the bus terminal, but in smaller towns they are usually found in the main square. The frequency of service varies largely from place to place. At some places there may be a colectivo every five minutes, but elsewhere you can wait an hour or longer until the necessary number of passengers has been collected. If you're in a hurry you can pay for all the seats and the driver will depart immediately.
Almost every urban center of more than 100,000 inhabitants has a bus service, as do many smaller towns. The standard, speed and efficiency of local buses vary from place to place, but on the whole they are slow and crowded. City buses have a flat fare, so the distance of the ride makes no difference. You get on by the front door and pay the driver or the assistant. You never get a ticket.
In some cities or on some streets there are bus stops (paraderos or paradas), while in most others you just wave down the bus. To let the driver know that you intend to get off you simply say, or shout, 'por aquí, por favor' (here, please), 'en la esquina, por favor' (at the corner, please) or 'el paradero, por favor' (at the coming bus stop, please).
There are lots of different types of local buses, ranging from old wrecks to modern air-conditioned vehicles. One common type is the buseta (small bus), a dominant means of urban transportation in cities such as Bogotá and Cartagena. The bus fare is somewhere between COP$600 and COP$1650, depending on the city and type of bus.
A bus or buseta trip, particularly in large cities such as Bogotá or Barranquilla, is not a smooth and silent ride but rather a sort of breathtaking adventure with a taste of local folklore thrown in. You'll have an opportunity to be saturated with loud tropical music, learn about the Colombian meaning of road rules, and observe your driver desperately trying to make his way through an ocean of vehicles.
The chiva is a Disneyland-style vehicle that was Colombia's principal means of road transportation several decades ago. Also called bus de escalera (which roughly translated means 'bus of stairs,' referring to the stairs along the side) in some regions, the chiva is a piece of popular art on wheels. The body is made almost entirely of wood and has wooden benches rather than seats, with each bench accessible from the outside. The body of the bus is painted with colorful decorative patterns, each different, with a main painting on the back. There are homebred artists who specialize in painting chivas. Ceramic miniatures of chivas are found in just about every Colombian handicraft shop.
Today, chivas have almost disappeared from main roads, but they still play an important role on back roads between small towns and villages. There are still a few thousand of them and they are most common in Antioquia, Huila, Nariño and on the Caribbean coast. Chivas take both passengers and any kind of cargo, animals included. If the interior is already completely packed, the roof is used for everything and everybody that doesn't fit inside.
Nighttime city tours in chivas are organized by travel agents in most large cities and have become a popular form of entertainment. There is normally a band on board playing local music, and a large stock of aguardiente (anise-flavored liquor) to create the proper atmosphere. The tour usually includes some popular nightspots and can be great fun.