How to take a bus from Bogota to San Gil Colombia: A step-by-step guide

Many of the hotels in Barichara has spectacular views of the mountains.

San Gil is the adventure capital of Colombia. This friendly little town is the gateway to paragliding over the world’s second-largest canyon, rafting down class IV white water, caving, canyoning, bungee jumping, trekking and more. But it’s also out on a limb in the northeast of the country — far from the other destinations on the Colombia backpacking circuit. So in this post, I’ll walk you through how to get from Bogota to San Gil by bus, step-by-step.

I cover the route in this direction because that’s what most backpackers do. However, you could easily reverse the directions to go from San Gil to Bogota. And if you’re heading onward to Medellin, stay tuned — I’ll have another post on that soon.

Also note that rumors have been swirling for years that San Gil is getting an airport. At this point, it’s unlikely to happen before 2020. So for the time being, the only way from Bogota to San Gil is by bus.

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How long does it take to get from Bogota to San Gil by bus?

The Bogota San Gil bus passes through narrow mountain roads.
The bus from Bogota to San Gil takes forever because it has to go along these narrow, steep mountain roads.

As a rule, buses in Colombia are an efficient and pleasant way to get around. The only problem? This is a huge country, with lots of mountains, narrow roads, and plenty of traffic. So even though Bogota and San Gil are only 300 km apart, those 300 km will take you a full day to travel.

Plan to spend about 9 hours on the bus from Bogota to San Gil. If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive after about 8. If traffic is bad, you may take 10 hours or more. In short, when the bus company, guidebook, or your hostel tells you it’ll only take six hours, don’t believe them.

You can do this trip overnight, which would get you closer to the 8-hour range. The road is pretty curvy though so you probably won’t get much sleep!

Now that you know what to expect, let’s dive into the steps you’ll need to take for this journey.

Step one: Getting to the bus terminal in Bogota

The bus terminal in Bogota is semi-conveniently located near the main road to the airport. You can take the Transmilenio public bus station to within walking distance, or you can take a taxi all the way there.

How to use the Transmilenio to reach the Bogota bus terminal


You can reach the Bogota bus terminal by Transmilenio, followed by a 15-minute walk.
To reach the Bogota bus terminal by Transmilenio, get off at the stop El Tiempo-Maloka.

The Transmilenio is the best option if you’re trying to save money, don’t want to sit in traffic, and don’t have a lot of luggage. To do this, head to the nearest Transmilenio stop for your neighborhood in Bogota. If you’re staying in La Candelaria, take Route 1 from Universidades. If you’re staying in Chapinero or elsewhere in the north, bus K86 will get you there. The ride takes about 30 minutes.

You need a frequent-rider pass (5000 COP) to use the system, so if you don’t have one yet, buy one at the ticket counter along with your fare. The ride to the bus station costs an additional 2,500 COP. (One great thing about the Transmilenio is real human beings sell you tickets — no frustrating vending machines with language barriers!)

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Get off the bus at the stop El Tiempo-Maloka — it’ll be announced on the speaker system. From here, you’ll need to walk six long blocks through a completely safe neighborhood to reach the bus terminal. Lonely Planet has great directions — Google Maps is less clear. It takes about 15 minutes.

I would not recommend attempting the Transmilenio/walking option if you have a lot of luggage. Pickpockets are rife on the Transmilenio system. It can also get extremely crowded at rush hour. If you do attempt it, keep all valuables in front of you and don’t put your phone in your pocket.

Additionally, this may not be a good option if you speak very little Spanish or aren’t comfortable navigating public transportation in general. The Transmilenio can be confusing the first few times you use it and language skills help a lot.

Finally, the walk from El Tiempo-Maloka involves crossing a couple pedestrian overpasses, so those with mobility issues (or even heavy rolling suitcases) should consider a taxi instead.

Alternative: Taking a taxi

A taxi to the bus terminal in Bogota costs about 20,000 COP.
Taxis in Bogota are affordable, even to the bus terminal — but be sure to call one using a secure app.

If a stressful public transport experience and sweaty walk don’t sound like the ideal way to start your Bogota to San Gil journey, don’t worry. You can take a taxi instead.

The price for a taxi from La Candelaria to the terminal is about 20,000 COP. From the northern neighborhoods, it’s more like 15,000 COP. Remember that you’ll pay a surcharge in the evenings and on Sundays.

One of the cardinal rules of Bogota safety is to never, ever hail a cab on the street. So for your trip to the terminal, ask your hostel to call you a licensed taxi — or use an app like Tappsi to hail one yourself. Remember to give the driver the clave (key) to ensure they register you as a passenger.

Depending on traffic, a taxi to the bus terminal could take as little as 20 minutes or as long as an hour.

Step two: Buying your Bogota-San Gil bus ticket

I went with the company Berlinas Bucaramanga because they were leaving the soonest.
I went with the company Berlinas because they had the most convenient departure time.

Now that you’ve arrived at Bogota’s massive bus terminal, the next step is to locate the companies that serve San Gil.

Bogota’s terminal is divided into different modules, each serving a different region of the country. For San Gil, you’ll need to find Module 3 — also called the Red Module/Modulo Rojo. Clear signs inside and outside the terminal point you in the right direction.

When you find your module, you’ll see a handful of bus company ticket counters with less-than-clear information about destinations, prices and departure times. Because San Gil is not a big city, it’s rarely the final destination for buses from Bogota. So look for companies offering trips to Bucaramanga or Cucuta — most of them stop in San Gil.

Buses from Bogota to San Gil leave every few minutes during the day, so ask a few companies until you find a time that works best for you. I went with Berlinas simply because they were leaving the soonest. I had a good experience with them, but from what I could tell, the other companies are fine too.

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When you choose your company, you’ll pay 40,000 COP for your ticket. The salesperson will need to see your passport. All bus companies use assigned seating for a route this long, so be sure to ask if you prefer a window or aisle seat.

Then make a final trip to the restroom or stock up on any bus snacks you need — you’re ready to start your journey!

Step three: Departure and what to expect on the bus

About ten minutes before your bus leaves, you can head into the waiting area. Staff will call out the name of your destination and the company — keep an ear out. They’ll call out the last stop (so probably Cucuta or Bucaramanaga, not San Gil).

You’ll show your ticket and then hand over your luggage to go in the bottom of the bus. Specify that you’re going to San Gil so the staff loads your bag in the correct compartment. They’ll give you a luggage ticket — hold on to this, as it makes disembarking much faster.

Then, you can get on the bus and take your seat. And you’re in for a real treat — buses in Colombia are extremely nice. And because of the distance covered from Bogota to San Gil and beyond, you’ll get one of the more luxurious ones available.

Expect massive amounts of leg room, fully reclining seats, foot rests, leg rests, plenty of elbow space, cup holders, and possibly even personal TV screens. The amount of space you’ll have is comparable to first-class airplane seats. Most buses also have WiFi (although it often doesn’t work well).

The one downside is bus drivers tend to blast the air conditioning way beyond necessary levels. Definitely bring at least one extra layer. I wore a fleece, a jacket, and a scarf and was still a bit chilly!

Step four: Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery

The scenery in Santander is incredible.
You may even see paragliders sailing above the canyon when you get near San Gil.

Now you can settle in — your nine-hour journey from Bogota to San Gil has begun.

For the first hour, you’ll be stuck in Bogota’s soul-sucking traffic. Then you’ll be on a main highway for a couple hours until you reach Tunja. At this point, you’ll turn off into some pretty remote areas — the bus even drives through a nature reserve.

The road gets curvier and narrower as you go up and down mountains, crawling along at about 40 km/hour. If there is truck traffic here, it can really slow the trip down — there is no room to pass.

After about six hours, you’ll stop at a roadside restaurant for some lunch. You can buy packaged snacks and bottled drinks as well. I’d suggest avoiding the hot food — I got food poisoning after eating a bus stop empanada on this route. On the plus side, the restrooms are very clean.

The last two hours are the slowest — but most scenic. You’ll drive along the rim of Chicamocha Canyon. Sit on the left side of the bus for the best views.

Step five: Arriving in San Gil

San Gil's central plaza is very charming.
A cheap and quick taxi will bring you to the main square in San Gil — the center of life in the evenings.

Finally, after 9+ hours on the road, the bus will pull into the bus terminal in San Gil. It has a few small shops, restrooms, and a couple bus company ticket offices. (Note that San Gil has two bus terminals — you’ll arrive at the intercity one, but if you’re continuing on to Barichara, you’ll need to transfer to the local bus terminal downtown.)

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You can easily find a taxi right outside the terminal. Unlike in Bogota, the taxis in San Gil are completely safe. The fare into town is a flat 4,000 COP — the drivers don’t use the meter for this route. But they won’t try to rip you off either.

The ride into town only takes about five minutes. Unless you request otherwise, your taxi will drop you off on the main plaza — the center of activity. If you’ve booked a room at San Gil’s best hostel, Sam’s VIP, it’s a two-minute walk away.

Whew, you made it through the long journey by bus from Bogota to San Gil! Now, get some food at Gringo Mike’s, have a beer on the plaza, and blow off some steam by playing tejo until late in the evening.

Alternative Bogota-San Gil route: Fly to Bucaramanga

Bucaramanga is the nearest airport to San Gil -- and it's still almost three hours away.
If you don’t want to spend a whole day on a bus, you can fly from Bogota to Bucaramanga and pick up a bus from Bucaramanga to San Gil.

Not a fan of long bus trips? Don’t worry, you can still get to San Gil! While the town doesn’t have its own airport yet, you can fly into a nearby large city and take a much shorter bus ride.

For this alternative Bogota to San Gil route, you’ll need to buy a plane ticket from Bogota to Bucaramanga. There are plenty of flights — Bucaramanga is one of Colombia’s biggest cities. Flights start at $54 USD and take about an hour.

Then, take a city bus or a taxi to the bus terminal. It’s quite a ways — allow an hour, minimum — and the taxi will cost you 32,000 COP. You can save some time by asking to be dropped off at the Papi Quiero Piña bus stop instead of transiting through the city center, although this may be challenging if you don’t speak Spanish.

Next pick up a frequent minibus to San Gil. This costs 15,000 COP. Expect it to take at least 2.5 hours — when I did this trip it took four hours due to traffic. The minivan will drop you at the San Gil terminal, where you can take a taxi to the city center.

This route involves much less time on the bus. But if you factor in getting to the airport, the flight-bus combo takes a minimum of 5 hours, but could take as much as 7+ if traffic is bad. So it doesn’t really save you a ton of time overall. Plus it’s almost 5 times as expensive.

However you decide to travel, the long journey will be well worth it when you finally reach San Gil. It’s one of Colombia’s most pleasant cities. The climate is warm and sunny compared to Bogota. You can take great day trips to nearby towns and natural attractions. San Gil is the perfect place to unwind from the time on the road.

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Do you want to visit San Gil Colombia but aren't sure how to get there? This step-by-step Colombia transportation guide will give you everything you need to know to travel from Bogota to San Gil by bus or plane! #colombia #travel

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ginna luna
ginna luna
3 years ago

I completely love your blog. I am from Colombia and honeslty the way you describe the cities, traffic, times and things to do is amazing. Keep doing this great job. Helps tons of people and thank you for spending time in our country.

Jan Linnemann
Jan Linnemann
3 years ago
Reply to  ginna luna

rome2 rio states that a taxi from bogota to san gil would be only 4.5 hours. Price 100 bugs. Sounds like the best option for me. (2 Person its just 50 doller) but i found no information if the price and the time ist correct and i am not sure about safty reasons and finialy how to find taxis doing long blog is informing about this option. i aks mself why ? may you now more?

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