May 13

Venezuela to Bogota By Bus

by in Boots n All 2012 Indie Travel Challenge, Going Nomadic, South America, Venezuela

For week 14 of the Indie Travel Challenge, we want to hear your best Latin America transportation stories .

Want to know how buses are in South America?  Here.  I’ll tell you.

50 hours on a bus, the last 24 with only half a liter of water for sustenance, no change of clothes, and a steady flow of water dripping onto the seat next to me…

Yes, this is an excerpt from the ridiculously long story I am writing about my 50 hours from hell bus ride between Eastern Venezuela to Bogota, Colombia.   A ride that happened when I found out the cheap, same-day planes to the border; that the horrible tour in the Orinoco I was leaving told me I could easily find,  didn’t actually exist, and I was stranded at the Maturin Airport.

After hours in the airport, asking around, and waiting for travel agencies to open (that never did), I got help from a girl who found buses to Colombia.

“How much time to Bogota?”, I asked.

“About 20 hours”, she replied. So I jumped in the taxi driver’s cab and he raced to the bus station to get me on the bus in time.

After buying my ticket, loading my bag, and setting off for my approximately 20 hour bus ride to Bogota, I relaxed a little, took my blanket, and stretched out across the 2 seats in my row and settled off to sleep for the night.

About an hour or so later I woke up to wetness.

Yes, this is how my bus ride started.  It was all uphill from there (dripping with sarcasm).

Not only did I learn that “How much time are we stopped for?”,  ACTUALLY meant “Yes, I DO want to f&%k you and your giant unibrow”  (sorry for the miscommunication assistant bus driver, my bad.); I learnt that it is NOT 20 hours from Eastern Venezuela to Bogota, Colombia, nor was it ever supposed to be.


After a fit of laughter at the ‘stupid gringa’, I was told…

“It’s about 20 hours or so from Maturin to San Cristobol. Then it’s another couple hours to San Antonio to get the exit stamp (from what I read online it was right down the street), and another hour to cross into Cucuta, Colombia.  Then about 20 more hours from there to Bogota.”

I almost died. I had only the clothes I was wearing. Everything else was filthy from the Orinoco Delta, and in the back of the bottom of under the bus. I had no American cash and not a ton of Bolivars left.

Yes, these are a few excerpts from my rough draft of my 50 HOUR bus ride form hell across trying to get out of Venezuela (after a horrible tour).   I’m only half done writing this story, because I can’t seem to sit, write, and relive the whole story for more than a few minutes at a time.   I’ve been traumatized.  Traumatized to the point, I actually try to fly everywhere now.  I am straight-up afraid of bussing through Peru and Bolivia from the stories I have heard.

The only times I have taken a bus since this nightmare-ride was; when I had no choice and needed to get from Bogota to Medellin in one night to get to the Altavoz Festival (and the hell out of freezing-cold, rainy Bogota) , and a couple times to small towns around Medellin; but I was with my friend slash fixer slash personal translator who is from Medellin.  If I could travel with a friend, I might actually take more buses; but alone…not a chance.

So what is the “best” transportation story?  Well, if you want to laugh at another’s misfortune, I would definitely put mine in the running.

Once I can finally get over the trauma and finish it.


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10 Responses to “Venezuela to Bogota By Bus”

  1. From khan:

    SORRY ABOUT 50 hours nightmare,
    Me and my friend are planning to go to Venezuela to all the way to Chili for a month. Any suggestion, we are thinking about traveling by the bus. we are just looking for adventure, Entire philosophy is to stop somewhere enjoy the town and proceed further, no reservation what do you think?

    Posted on 2013/11/08 at 1:29 PM #
    • From Danib:

      I think being with a friend would have made a huge difference. But me being alone and not speaking Spanish made it worse. I couldn’t ask where we were, how long, or anything. But definitely take warm/winter clothes and blankets. You see everyone doing it, even if they are in the middle of a jungle. Also bring toilet paper, and a book or two. Having electronics is not recommended, and never store a bag with valuables under your bus seat.

      Just because I dont find buses that fun in South America, doesn’t mean you wont. Some people I know love them. And when i travel with Diego (my husband) bus rides are so much better because I have someone to talk with. I think the idea of just stopping in random towns at will is a GREAT idea, and I want to do that around Europe. But in South America,do some research, because not every town will be safe/friendly to foreigners (like know if the area you are going to is known as a guerrilla area that even local’s find dangerous). But with a bit of knowledge it is a totally safe and fun idea!!!!

      I was also coming off of a horrible tour where the guide was trying to, how shall i put this, “get with me” the entire time to the point I piled my bags in front of the doorway so he couldnt enter my room without waking me. So I was trying to hurry up and leave. If I was coming off of a beautiful stay with wonderful people, who had given me correct information about my transportation choices, I probably would have had a totally different outlook. If i enjoyed cold weather, I would have had an entirely different outlook too. But im a heat type of girl and was not expecting any of this.

      In other words: Don’t let my experience disway you from having your own. You have a totally different plan that I did. But make sure you exchange Venezuelan money for Colombian money at the border, or stop and get Colombian pesos (assuming you are going that direction) before leaving the border area, because there aren’t any places that will exchange or accept Venezuelan money or any banks until you reach a major city. Or, have dollars or euros on you. I didn’t have either, but Colombia would have accepted that.
      (PS: Ecuador uses American dollars. Stock up in Ecuador because you can use the dollars as an “emergency fund” for other countries. All countries easily take or exchange dollars.)

      AND HAVE FUN!!!!! Let me know how it goes! I want to hear all about it! :D

      Posted on 2013/11/09 at 6:25 PM #
  2. From T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries:

    Ahahah that’s awesome :) Here’s my post from last year on the topic :)

    The ride TO Manizales, on the other hand, was a bit chaotic…the bathroom had no light and no window and the road was washed out every 30 meters on our way through the mountains, swerves, up and down, roller coaster ride. I had to take a leak one time and it was cell-phone-in-the-mouth-with-the-flashlight-on-to-see-where-I’m-peeing and one hand on the wall to brace myself for the inevitable curves or crashing through a pothole…I can’t imagine being a female and having to try to squat in that thing =P

    MOST of my bus rides in Bulgaria while living there for 2.5 years were good. But the bad ones always stand out :)

    Posted on 2012/05/29 at 4:03 PM #
  3. From T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries:

    That’s unfortunate :) I used the buses several times while I was in Colombia and never went through anything close to what you experienced. I actually wrote glowing reviews of several of the bus lines, and praised the system in my “Live Like a Local in Bogota, Colombia” immersion guide. I also didn’t lack for conversation during the trip, as everyone always wanted to talk to the ONLY gringo on the bus, and since I happen to speak Spanish it’s always a fairly conversant time if I want it to be.

    Yeah, border crossings down there are almost always sketchy. Most of the time I’ve never had any issues, but there have been a couple of times when they’ve grilled me with questions for 15-20 minutes, trying to scare me into a bribe, but my Spanish is pretty good and I’m not one for letting them run rough-shod over me just because I’m a white boy from the U.S. I haven’t lived there in 5 years, I’ve been on the road, and I know how the gamut works down here. My favorite was coming back into Mexico (at the airport) I had the guy actually get to the point 10 minutes into the questioning (I was coming back from Colombia; it’s natural for them to be suspicious because there are a lot of drugs being moved) that he was repeating his questions and I just interrupted him and said look, you already asked me that. Let’s move this along, shall we? And he grumpily stamped my passport.

    My favorite part about one of my bus rides in Colombia was at one of the random police checks and I was the *only* one on the bus with a passport, not a residency card. When the cops were checking IDs, one of the guys on the bus turned around to me, ran his finger across his throat, and basically said Man, you are screwed…the cops down here kill Americans. Then about 10 seconds later he breaks out into a big grin and just starts laughing with everyone else on the bus. Good times, good times :)

    The only time we had a hiccup was in Villa de Levya. We had bought tickets for a return bus to Bogota, and when we showed up with our tickets the bus was full and there were no seats and a ton of people left still standing. There was a good 10 minute panic moment, not just for us, but also for a lot of the Colombians, which basically caused a stampede to the ticket counter (I was laughing while watching this go on. I was totally content to stay another night if we had to, so I wasn’t in a hurry) before they told everyone no, it’s not THAT bus, it’s these two buses over here: they had three buses to Bogota that depart at roughly the same time, but only have one bus listed when you buy the tickets, so everyone thought they were on the first bus.

    And, midway back from Manizales into Bogota my bus had a completely un-announced stop for an hour for lunch…and then we had to change buses because the driver switched it out with another bus behind the restaurant. Now here’s the thing: if I didn’t speak Spanish I would have been totally left behind, in the heart of the jungle, at a little gas station town in the middle of nowhere…because the bus driver didn’t say “hey, we’re switching buses here” in English.

    So I guess there were a few little things, but I just shrugged them off as part of the journey. But 50 hours…that’s intense, and I definitely would have been ready to peel some paint off the wall as well. I can do 15 hours pretty good…20 hours uncomfortably, and 30 hours if I absolutely have no other option…but 50 hours? Rock on!

    I had a good time in Colombia while I was staying in Bogota researching for the immersion guide. I wrote about the friendliness of Colombians over at the blog while I was down there. And the photos I linked to you in Twitter from the FB page. And I have a friend of mine who has never been and wants to go, so maybe in September we might be heading back, but to Medellin next time, so I’ll have to pick your brain :)

    Bus rides in South American can be….colorful :) It was the same in Bulgaria. Hit and miss. Had some great experiences there as well, including the bus with the always-grinding-gears no matter when the driver shifted, and the windows that were literally rusting out of the side wall.

    Posted on 2012/05/29 at 2:00 PM #
    • From Danib:

      The Venezuelan part of the bus trip was def the worst. it did start to get better the second i hit the border and met my first Colombians (save for the fact i had no american dollars, no colombian pesos, and no food until i hit Bogota, 24 hours after i crossed into Colombia). But the Colombian people themselves were the reason i got to Bogota in the firstplace. (from offering me a ride across the borser, to a free seat for half the bustrip, to the bus drivers letting me ride the rest of the way without paying until i could get to a bank)

      I have also started to write a piece call “The Niceness of Colombians” based on the help and caring i have gotten from the people of Colombia. Colombians are def some of the nicest people in the world. But yes, the bus trip sucked!

      (ps: I guess i lucked out in Bulgaria and the Balkans. I had pretty nice rides the whole time. Granted, i never rode more than 8 hours overnight.)

      Posted on 2012/05/29 at 2:55 PM #
  4. From murderface:

    hey dani, i was just reading your story here. i found it comical, but sounds like its dangerous in venezuela! even ive heard stories about the bus rides out there! dont ever ride alone! im curious were there people on the roof too? i heard you ride where ever you can fit. i like the pics too its kool to see life in the raw out there at eye-level. i hope everything keeps going well for you keep up the good work! i will see you at gillette? right? peace brian

    Posted on 2012/05/13 at 4:42 PM #
    • From Danib:

      People don’t ride on the roof in South America. And yes, Caracas is dangerous(but there are some amazingly nice, and beautiful places); but so is Detroit. The Venezuela/Colombian border was pretty sketchy too. And I LOVE to travel alone. Though, on this ride, having someone to suffer with me, that i could have talked to, would have been nice.

      Posted on 2012/05/13 at 4:51 PM #


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