I’ve been on my fair share of long distance bus journeys in Colombia and beyond, over the past couple of months, but only recently on a trip to Pasto, in the south of Colombia, did I really feel like I was in some sort of battle for my safety! This article could easily have been titled How NOT To Survive A Long Distance Bus Journey In Colombia, but we’re gonna assume you learn from our mistakes.
Not Off To A Great Start…
To be honest, we were just unlucky with the whole journey. We were heading to the popular and insane Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Blacks and Whites’ Carnival) in Pasto but by the time we got to the bus station, all of the buses were sold out…with one exception. We were so relieved to have found some available seats on the last bus going to Pasto, so we booked it immediately. When we returned to the bus terminal that night, we waited and waited for the bus to show up. About an hour later, we were told that the bus ‘wasn’t showing up’ (yeah, apparently they can just do that!) so the police were called in to try and help get all the stranded passengers onto another bus.
The replacement bus was so crappy. Every seat was broken and reclined so far back, that you could almost taste the smelly seat in front of you. On top of that, we were also sitting opposite the bus toilet and we were going to be there for the next 9 hours. Last but not least, a bus station official climbed into the bus to make an important announcement to the passengers: “Just make sure the driver doesn’t break the speed limit.” Literally.
As if we were not already off to a great start, within five minutes of leaving the terminal, the driver almost crashed into another car. We were not going to be getting much sleep during this journey!
Colombian Roads – Horizontal Roller Coasters
If you’re unfamiliar with what it’s like to drive through the Andes Mountains, then basically imagine a horizontal roller coaster. Colombian roads are the bendiest roads ever, where you are driving in a straight line for no more than 3-5 seconds before the next 90-180 degree turn comes along.
I don’t know whether driving in the pitch black of nightfall was a good or bad thing. For one thing, I was glad that I couldn’t see the extremely sharp drops into river gorges, a few centimeters from the bus wheels. On the other hand, I couldn’t see the extremely sharp drops into river gorges, a few centimeters from the bus wheels!! I really hoped our speed-loving driver could!
For the next 9 hours we dozed in and out of sleep, constantly awoken by a sharp turns and the feeling that the bus was about to topple over. I will admit, at times I was very scared for our lives. Not only did the bus driver not slow down at all, at the sharp bends, but he also consistently overtook other large buses and trucks at these bends and he rarely kept on his side of the road! It’s not surprising then, that we almost crashed into an oncoming pick-up truck when our driver, once again, tried to cut corners (literally). I was awake to see the oncoming truck brake within an inch of my window seat.
We Survived! With Our Help, You Can Too!
We had one too many dodgy moments on that bus journey but it taught us a few valuable lessons (that we already knew). Most importantly, don’t leave it to the last minute to book bus tickets, especially if you are traveling to a popular event or during a festival. We have been on countless other bus journeys through Colombia and the rest of them were fine, even enjoyable.
How To Survive A Long-Distance Bus Journey In Colombia
A lot of what happened to us was out of our hands (especially the possibly-drunk bus driver situation), but if you do find yourself on a terrible bus journey, there are still some simple tips you can follow to make it less nightmarish:
Tip #1: Go with a reputable bus company like Bolivariano. At least they’ll show up.
Tip #2: Bring warm clothes and earplugs. The air-conditioning and bad TV on these buses are extreme. If you hate the cold like me, then even a great bus will be unenjoyable when you’re freezing.
Tip #3: Bring water and snacks, especially if you will be on the bus for 6-12 hours.
Tip #4: Try to get a night bus, if it is going to be a really long journey. That way you can sleep through most of the journey.
Tip #5: Consider taking travel sickness tablets, if you have a weak stomach/hangover.
Tip #6: Keep your valuable items on your body while you sleep and tie/lock your bag to the storage racks overhead. If you have any large bags in the bus compartments underneath, make sure you have a lock to secure them closed. Keep an eye on the boot when people get down and take their bags…as they may ‘accidentally’ take yours.
Tip #7: It is normal to pass through several police checkpoints, while on a long-distance bus journey. Have your passport near at hand in case they ask to see it.
Tip #8: Most buses will have toilets on board, but others won’t. Make the most of bathroom pit stops along the way, as often, there may be just one.