Taxis and paisas – my time in Colombia

When my friend and I arrived in Bogotá, one of the first things we noticed is the increase in elevation, and the resulting decrease in oxygen! Bogotá is high – a whopping 2640 meters above sea level and much higher than even Norway, the mountainous country I’m used to – and we knew our lungs would have a good bit of change to get used to as soon as we stepped off the plane and breathed in. But of course, my friend (no, not me, my friend!) underestimated the effect it’d have before we got there. ;P

We wandered through the airport toward the exit, and as soon as we withdrew Colombian pesos at the airport ATM, a man walked to us and asked if we needed a taxi. We said yes and followed him, thinking he was taking us to the government-condoned Servicio Publico taxis we had heard about from our online research. Instead, he directed us to a big-boned white taxi that wasn’t in the “Authorized Taxis” section of the airport outside and tried to charge us 60,000 COP (~$23 USD) to take us to La Candelaria, a trip that we ended up only spending 25,000 COP (~$10 USD) for with a yellow Servicio Publico taxi after we rid ourselves of the pushy white taxi guy. Be sure to get the yellow taxis, not the white! Of course, not all the white taxis are scammers or will overcharge, but I definitely recommend the public taxis to be on the safer side.

That said, the taxi culture in Bogotá (and in Medellín, too) is insane! The drivers are fast, reckless, impatient…and very inexpensive, at about $3-5 per your average ride. They’re also extremely easy to get a hold of via the TAPPSI app on your phone; we literally had to wait no more than five minutes for a taxi to arrive to pick us up in most cases. The app grabs the most recent government rate for taxis and lets you calculate what the fare should be based on the distance – you can then show this number to the driver, which is not a bad way to avoid getting scammed! The fare is always a bit higher if you’re being picked up from or dropped off at the airport, if you’re using the taxi at night, or if it’s Sunday.

We also found a key bit of information out before coming that was incredibly handy to know: Colombia uses the same type of plugs as the US, so you don’t have to buy an adapter. Here’s a map of the countries of the world and the plugs they use, in case you’re traveling  yourself (source):

Colombia and the US both use types A and B!
Colombia and the US both use types A and B!

Bogotá definitely has its own personality. By La Candelaria, we noticed that most everything was a little worn down, and the area was fairly poor – we saw a lot of homeless people as well as stray dogs littering the streets, where many were trying to sell their wares, such as food, jewelry, or other miscellaneous items. The first three nights, we stayed with a couple of French exchange students in Colombia we found via Airbnb. They were nice people, though we mostly did our own thing while staying there. Though the toilet leaked, we had a good time regardless!

Our room in La Candelaria, Bogotá.
Our room in La Candelaria, Bogotá.

We definitely had two new experiences, though: one is that a lot of places in Colombia, you cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet as the pipes are not wide enough to handle it. You instead throw it away in a trash can next to the toilet! People just get used to it. The second thing is that in some places, you have to go to a separate room to heat the water via a panel (ours was in the kitchen) before using it to shower. The heat didn’t last for very long, though!

The kitchen in La Candelaria.
The kitchen in La Candelaria.

Our hosts were fairly helpful, but very loud on Saturday, our last night there. While we expected a little noise on the weekend, there were approximately ten female Colombians over and huddled around the small dining table practically shouting at each other before they presumably went to the club. This lasted until very late into the night, which was annoying. Considering the place was paid for and was not just CouchSurfing, the last night was thus a little bit ridiculous, but my friend and I had fun anyway and laughed about it.

Imagine ten people crowded around this table!
Imagine ten people crowded around this table!

Medellín is also pretty high at 1495 meters above sea level. One stark difference from Bogotá easily noticeable as soon as we got off the plane, though, was the heat! Settled next to the Gulf, Medellín was sweat-inducing and humid, where Bogotá was comfortable but slightly chilly. Where Bogotá required a jacket, Medellín required you not to wear one for pretty much anything. It was interesting to me to see such a large change in climate over such a relatively small amount of land, but Bogotá’s elevation definitely had a hand in how cold it was there.

Our hosts in Medellín were exquisite. We found them on Airbnb, and it was the best place we had in Colombia by far; I was even able to have a decent desk and reliable wifi connection!

I look forward to seeing South America again sometime. For now, this was a nice introduction!