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…