Still something of a hidden gem in Colombia, the laid-back mountain town of San Gil is paradoxically home to the country’s greatest assortment of extreme sports and adventure activities, from white water rafting and abseiling to bungy jumping and caving. Most travellers to San Gil arrive via bus from Bogotá, Colombia’s bustling capital, but it’s also possible to fly to nearby Bucaramanga and then take a mini-bus out to San Gil. Unfortunately, there’s hardly any information about these options online, so my own trip between cities involved quite a bit of guesswork— here’s all the information I wish I’d had!
This Colombia transport guide will cover absolutely everything you need to know about travelling from Bogotá to San Gil on a bus or plane(via Bucaramanga), including how to get to the bus terminal or airport in Bogotá, how to buy your tickets, useful tips for the journey, and how to get to your hostel in San Gil.
Travelling between other popular destinations in Colombia? Check out all of my Colombia transport guides:
Buses in Colombia are incredibly nice, very inexpensive, and perfectly safe, which makes them the best transport option about 99% of the time (and this absolutely includes the journey between Bogotá and San Gil, which is not enormously quicker by plane and costs about 8x as much).
At a glance: bus from Bogotá to San Gil * 40,000COP / $15AUD * 8-10hrs travel time (+ 1hr getting to & from bus terminal) * Book directly at the bus terminal or online with BusBud
Step 1: Get to the bus terminal in Bogotá
Public transport to the bus terminalin Bogotá
From Bogotá’s popular La Candelaria district (where most of the tourist hostels are), you can take the Transmilenio bus Route 1 to El Tiempo-Maloka and then walk about 10min to reach the city’s main bus terminal, called Terminal de Transporte Salitre.
This option will cost just 7,200COP (fare + Tu Llave transport card) and take about 1hr, all said and done. It’s very inexpensive and reasonably easy to figure out, but do be aware that pickpocketing is a known issue on these buses, so you need to be on high alert when you’re travelling.
Uber to the bus terminal in Bogotá
If you’re willing to pay a little more for the safety and convenience of private transport, Uber is the best option for getting around Bogotá (and it’s actually quite inexpensive).
Pick up a local Colombian SIM card in Bogotá so you can use your phone for Uber, Google Maps, and WhatsApp throughout your trip.
There’s an absolutely enormous Claro shop within 15-20min walking distance of La Candelaria (search in Google Maps: Claro Carrera 8 – Centro de Atención y Ventas, Cra. 8 ## 19-41, Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Colombia). Bring your passport and your phone, and the staff can get you completely set up (just know that they likely won’t speak a single word of English). Including the SIM itself, you can get 2GB of data to use within 15 days for 20,000COP ($7.50AUD), and then subsequent top-ups can be done at basically any convenience or telecommunications shop around the country, including in San Gil.
An Uber from La Candelaria to Terminal de Transporte Salitre (also called Peatonal Terminal Bogotá) costs around 23,000COP, which is less than $9AUD. In terms of overall safety, I think it’s definitely worth it, especially if you can find a fellow traveller to share with! It took me about 30min to get to the station in an Uber, but it can vary depending on time of day and traffic.
Step 2: Buy bus tickets to San Gil
Bogotá’s main bus terminal is divided into sections that service different areas, so you need to navigate towards the red Módulo 3 (also called Módulo Rojo) for buses to San Gil. Don’t worry, everything is really well signed and it’s very obvious once you arrive— your Uber driver might even ask which module you want before he drops you off!
There’s no need to buy bus tickets in advance, but it can be helpful to have an idea of the schedule and the available options before rocking up at the station. The best way to check bus routes, current timetables, and prices before you travel on Colombia’s public buses is the super-handy comparison site BusBud.
There are a few bus companies operating routes out to San Gil, including Berlinas, Copetran, and Brasilia, but because San Gil is pretty tiny, most of the buses through this area continue onwards to Bucaramanga, so that’s what will be written on the ticket windows and the front of the bus.
Cost of bus tickets from Bogotá to San Gil
Just approach any window advertising buses to “Bucaramanga” and ask to purchase tickets to San Gil. Tickets should be around 40,000COP ($15AUD) and you’ll be required to show your passport, so be sure to have it handy.
Essential Spanish for buying a bus ticket
Me gustaría comprar un boleto a San Gil, por favor. | I would like to buy a bus ticket to San Gil, please.
A qué hora es el próximo bus? | What time is the next bus?
A qué hora el bus llegas en San Gil? | What time does the bus arrive in San Gil?
Cuánto cuesta este boleto? | How much does this ticket cost?
Es posible pagar con una tarjeta? | Is it possible to pay with a credit card?
De donde sale el bus? | Where does the bus depart from?
Before you get on the bus
Just before you get on the bus, staff will sight your ticket, tag your large bag (you get a copy of this tag to reclaim your bag later), and then place it under the bus. This is totally safe, but it’s always a good idea to keep your valuables in a carry-on just so they don’t get too knocked around on the journey.
If you have a bit of time before getting on the bus, stock up on snacks and drinks at the bus terminal! I’d also recommend putting a jacket or a scarf in your carry-on, if you haven’t already— expect the bus to be freezing (and as much as that sucks, it’s actually helpful if you get car sick, so I can’t completely fault the logic).
Step 3: Travel by bus from Bogotá to San Gil
The route from Bogotá to San Gil is always advertised by bus companies as 6hrs, but I haven’t spoken to a single person whose bus journey took less than 8hrs— mine took closer to 9hrs and it’s not unheard of to spend 10hrs on the bus if traffic or road conditions are bad. Do not expect to arrive on time (and that pretty much goes for all buses in Colombia).
Tardiness aside, Colombian buses are incredibly nice, and you can expect comfortable seats and even seat-back TVs (playing Spanish films) with most companies. There wasn’t a toilet on board my bus, but we did make a 15min stop at a roadside restaurant to use their baños and have a quick lunch (although I was too fragile from a recent food poisoning incident in Bogotá to actually indulge).
Step 4: Get to your hostel in San Gil
When you do finally arrive into San Gil, reclaim your bag using the ticket the staff previously gave you and then find a taxi out the front.
The bus station is only 2km out of town along a large main road, so it’s possible to walk (I actually made this walk on a later day, and it’s very straightforward), but considering that you can get a taxi all the way to your hostel for only 4,000COP ($1.50AUD), I don’t much see the point of carrying your luggage along the road. Finally, you’re here!!
Flying from Bogotá to Bucaramanga (& onwards to San Gil)
There aren’t a lot of reasons why you’d elect to take the Bucaramanga flight route over simply taking a bus directly from Bogotá to San Gil— this option is nearly 10x as expensive and only saves you a few hours. I can’t really think of a situation where I’d recommend this over the bus…
BUT in the interest of completeness (and for those travelling from more remote parts of Colombia who have no choice but to transit through Bucaramanga), here is everything you need to know about getting to San Gil and onwards to Barichara.
At a glance: flight from Bogotá to Bucaramanga * 300,000COP (+ 45,000COP checked bag + 20,000COP boarding pass + 50,000 taxi and bus to San Gil) / $120AUD total * 1hr flight time (+ 2hrs check-in + 3hrs bus to San Gil) * Book online with Viva Airor compare flights using Skyscanner
Step 1: Get to the airport in Bogotá
Public transport to the airportin Bogotá
There’s a Transmilenio station connected to the Bogotá Airport (officially the El Dorado Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento International Airport), so this is a fairly convenient way to get there from La Candelaria.
Taking the bus into the airport costs 7,200COP (2,200COP fare + Tu Llave transport card) and takes about 1 hour from the Universidades stop, which you can hopefully walk to from your hostel. As I mentioned previously, just be aware that pickpocketing is a known issue on these buses, so you need to be on high alert when you’re travelling on the Transmilenio in Bogotá, particularly with all of your bags.
Uber to the airport in Bogotá
An Uber to the airport in Bogotá is typically around 40,000COP ($16AUD) and only takes 30min, traffic dependent. This can be a great option if you just want to get there quickly and safely for your flight.
Step 2: Fly from Bogotá to Bucaramanga
There are 3 companies that fly from Bogotá to Bucaramanga (officially the Palonegro International Airport)— LATAM, Avianca, and Viva Air. Regardless of carrier, the flight is less than 1 hour.
Although budget airlines like Viva certainly don’t have any fancy trimmings, it’s plenty comfortable on a short journey, so don’t hesitate to choose a bare-bones option for this quick flight! Even so, you’ll be lucky to get a flight and checked bag for less than 300,000COP ($120AUD).
For (almost always) the cheapest flights, purchase tickets online at Viva Air; otherwise, compare all flights from Bogotá to Bucaramangausing Skyscanner.
Step 3: Get to the bus terminal in Bucaramanga
The easiest way to get from the Bucaramanga Airport to the bus station (Terminal de Transportes de Bucaramanga) is just to grab an inexpensive Uber or taxi out the front. You can expect to pay around 30,000COP or $12AUD (with Uber being cheaper) for the 25min drive across town.
Step 4: Travel by bus from Bucaramanga to San Gil
Once at the bus terminal in Bucaramanga, purchase tickets to San Gil from any of half a dozen companies. Cotrasangil has busetas (smaller buses) running every 20min, which will be the cheapest option. Tickets to San Gil cost 12,000COP ($4.80AUD) and the ride will take 2.5-3.5hrs, depending on conditions.
Several other companies also operate the route between Bucaramanga and San Gil, including Copetran, Omega, and Berlinas del Fonce. This particular route isn’t listed on all of the linked websites, but Bucaramanga to San Gil is often a stop on a longer route, so enquire at the ticket counter. These companies usually operate full-sized buses and cost a bit more than a buseta(15-20,000COP).
Step 5: Get to your hostel in San Gil
The bus from Bucaramanga arrives into the main bus terminal in San Gil, about 2km out of town. You can easily walk along the road to your hostel (San Gil is super safe) or you can take a taxi from the front of the bus terminal for a modest 4,000COP ($1.50AUD).
Travelling from Bucaramanga to Barichara
Barichara is considered by many to be the most beautiful pueblo in all of Colombia, its charming cobbled streets lined by colourful flowers and framed by lush green mountains. At the time of writing, there is no direct bus from Bucaramanga to Barichara, so you need to follow these instructions to get to San Gil and then transfer to another busto reach Barichara (at the same terminal).
Cotrasangil operates the route from San Gil to Barichara for just4,800COP ($2AUD), with buses running constantly throughout the day (every 30min from 6am to 8.30pm). The trip takes 45min and you should either be able to walk to your accomodation in little Barichara or grab an extremely inexpensive taxi.