A Refrigerator With 40 Passengers And No Toilet Paper: The Bus Ride From Bogotá to Medellín

A few weeks ago I traveled in an overnight bus from Bogotá to Medellín. Here’s some of what happened.

A Qué Hora: Night or Day?

In planning my route, I made sure to ask Colombians about whether it was safe to travel by bus between the two cities. The opinions varied, though the vast majority said it was safe. Some said the night bus was dangerous and I should definitely not do it, but others said that you could sleep on the bus, and thus they always traveled at night without any problems.

The travel time by bus from Bogotá to Medellín is between 8 and 9 hours, depending on traffic, weather, and any stops the bus makes. So I figured it was an all-day or an all-night trip.

Eventually I concluded that if I could sleep through the night, it would be better to take the bus at night. I could then arrive to the hostel in Medellín mid-morning and get everything squared away. I wanted to avoid arriving at night as Medellín would be a totally new city where I knew a grand total of zero people.

Bus Station At Night: As Usual, Spanish Helps

Night it was… And cold it was. If you haven’t heard yet, it can get cold in Bogotá among other things, and the night I left it was very chilly. After arriving, securing my ticket (bus line Bolivariano, about $25 USD) and finding my way to the gate, I had to sit and wait for about an hour inside the station which seemed even colder than outside.

The bus station in Bogotá is rather large, and so the best bet is to make sure you ask the ticket agent where your specific gate is. Mine wasn’t too hard to find, but the buses pull up right next to each other, and you don’t want to make a mistake. [If you are in doubt, you can just show them your ticket and say “Disculpeme… a Medellín?” (Excuse me… to Medellín?) or “a” + wherever you need to go.]

Double check that you get on the right bus by repeating your destination to the baggage attendant who puts the larger bags in the cargo hold. Keep valuables in your carry-on; don’t put them in the cargo hold. I have heard many stories of small bags disappearing from the cargo holds of these buses.

The 9 Hour, Stop-and-Go Nevera

Once I had my luggage stowed and successfully found my assigned seat, I was immediately aware of how cold the ride was going to be. It was colder inside the bus than it was outside… and outside was very chilly! My trip in the mobile nevera was about to begin.

Luckily, I had been informed about this benumbing possibility by some friends, so I was already dressed in layers. I wore 1 long sleeve shirt, 1 fleece, and 1 jacket– what I normally wear to go snow-skiing in the spring time. It turned out to be sufficient, just not totally comfortable. I wish I were as prescient as the girl sitting next to me: she brought a full winter blanket to keep warm.

It really is ridiculous how cold it was in the bus. I have no clue what these drivers are thinking.

As for other features, it turns out the seats were reclinable (a plus), but I could not stretch my legs out in front of me because I was too tall. And, the bus ride itself is a constant speed-up and slow-down ride through mountains and small roads, something very different from the interstate highway system in the US.

So, all told, I was not able to sleep the entire way. Planning fail.

Oh, and the bathroom on the bus? Yes, there was one. No there wasn’t toilet paper. Or running water. And this bus had no intentions of stopping at a 7-11.

Let’s Get Off This Igloo

At the end of the day I made it; I finally arrived to the Medellín bus station around 8 am. The weather in Medellín was great, much better than Bogotá, and it was great to stretch my legs and grab a little empanada de pollo for breakfast.

The metro station is connected to the northern bus station in Medellín. So the rest of my route to the hostel was easy (except navigating the “Transversals” of Patio Bonito, streets that go diagonally and mess with your mind if you aren’t familiar with them). I arrived happily to the hostel and an English speaking attendant welcomed me to the city.

For the rest of the day, I basically caught up on all the sleep I didn’t get on the bus. It wasn’t too bad of an experience– just a very long day.

Are You Going This Route Also?

If you find yourself traveling this route from Bogotá to Medellín or vice versa, the biggest thing I will tell you is that IT WILL BE COLD. Dress in layers (including pants) and bring extra layers onto the bus with you. (Also try to use the restroom before you get on the bus!)

Of course, if you happen to be sitting next to a cute Colombian girl on the bus, you can probably share her winter blanket to keep warm.

But what you do with that is another story… 🙂

  • great tip. We’ll be doing this run as well. Curious to know what the view is like and whether it’d be worth it doing it during the day for the view. Do you happen to know?

    • Several people told me the views were great. And they probably are, because
      you travel through the mountains. It was a trade off traveling at night
      because I thought I was going to be able to sleep, but alas, I got neither
      sleep nor the views! haha

      • Cristian Ele

        If you’re not used to the colombian roads that go trough the andes it is better to travel at day, and yes, the views are nice and when the bus stop you can eat a good bandeja paisa or anything else at the restaurant (normally there are good restaurants on the road) :). About the bus companies Bolivariano is the best one, good service, good buses and they aren’t as delay as other companies!.

        P.S: Sorry for my english, I’ve lost a lot of practice :/

        • Bolivariano is the one that I took, and yet it was still freezing jeje… I didn’t notice any good restaurants on the road, and even if I did, I’m not sure if eating frijoles, chicharron, and salchicha would be good for a stomach on the road! 🙂

  • I’ve never had any bad bus experiences in SA… maybe I was just lucky? I always had 2 seats to myself and slept like a baby (for the most part, minus one time in Bolivia). Alas, I can’t say the same for any of the bus rides in SE Asia. Was awful!

    • Anonymous

      Haha… I think you were lucky Lindsay! 🙂 And with your report, I might try to minimize my time in SE Asia buses…

  • I heard that the buses are quite frigid! I don’t know what we’re going to do since I’m with a very full 40L pack. 😛

    • Erica – On the plus side, if you wear a whole bunch of clothes to keep warm, your bags are a tad lighter. 🙂

  • quite the adventure my man. As I was reading I was actually wondering about if that blanket may have gotten shared!

  • quite the adventure my man. As I was reading I was actually wondering about if that blanket may have gotten shared!

  • quite the adventure my man. As I was reading I was actually wondering about if that blanket may have gotten shared!

  • HAHA. Dude I have experienced this first hand in Brazil. My friend and I were returning from Rio to Sao Paulo and we had worn shorts. The funniest part was when my friend shouted out in the middle of the night to the bus drive “oi, oi, muito frio aqui” and the bus driver slammed the door shut and didn’t say a word. You’ve inspired me to write a post about Latin American bus travel 🙂

  • HAHA. Dude I have experienced this first hand in Brazil. My friend and I were returning from Rio to Sao Paulo and we had worn shorts. The funniest part was when my friend shouted out in the middle of the night to the bus drive “oi, oi, muito frio aqui” and the bus driver slammed the door shut and didn’t say a word. You’ve inspired me to write a post about Latin American bus travel 🙂

    • haha… So apparently this phenomenon extends to Brazil, and the drivers are just as merciless! I want to hear more about this.

  • HAHA. Dude I have experienced this first hand in Brazil. My friend and I were returning from Rio to Sao Paulo and we had worn shorts. The funniest part was when my friend shouted out in the middle of the night to the bus drive “oi, oi, muito frio aqui” and the bus driver slammed the door shut and didn’t say a word. You’ve inspired me to write a post about Latin American bus travel 🙂

  • HAHA. Dude I have experienced this first hand in Brazil. My friend and I were returning from Rio to Sao Paulo and we had worn shorts. The funniest part was when my friend shouted out in the middle of the night to the bus drive “oi, oi, muito frio aqui” and the bus driver slammed the door shut and didn’t say a word. You’ve inspired me to write a post about Latin American bus travel 🙂

  • Pingback: Lessons Learned After My First 100 Days Abroad | Ryan Goes Abroad()

  • Pingback: Manizales: A Little Strange, A Lot of Rain & Mudslides, and A Volcano | Ryan Goes Abroad()

  • Sure thing Dan! And thanks for the props!