Navigation: Barranquilla Style

Clare DeVeau is a student at Hope College and an ISA Featured Blogger. Clare is currently studying abroad with ISA in Barranquilla, Colombia.

On our first day here in Barranquilla our ISA Resident Director, Katherine, explained to us that the layout of Barranquilla is simple. It’s a grid with Calles running through one way and  Carreras running through the other. Each Calle and Carrera is then numbered and given a letter. I was a little confused by this at first, but it is all starting to make sense now as I navigate the city on my own more and more. I have been trying to figure my way around the city for about a week now and I have come up with a list of tips for the two main ways of traveling around Barranquilla.

Barranquilla Street Sign


Cost: Starts at roughly $3USD and goes up from there.

Taxis are definitely the easiest way to travel around Barranquilla. It’s extremely similar to the States in that all you really need is the address. However, there are some little differences and it is definitely beneficial to know them before you try and take a cab here:

  1. Call your taxi: Rather than hailing one off the street it is usually better to call a company, tell them where you are, and have them pick you up.
  2.  Agree on a price before you get in: Here in Barranquilla the taxis don’t have meters or set prices. This means that before you even set foot in your taxi you need tell your cab driver where you are going and discuss how much it will cost. It sounds complicated, but in the end it results in a pretty cheap ride.
  3. Try to pay with exact change: This is a general rule for all of Colombia, because more often than not they won’t have change. This rule especially applies in cabs because if you are going to agree on a price (particularly a lower one) and then pay with huge bills your taxi drive probably won’t be too happy with you.

Taxis are the simple and easy way to go if you are unsure of where you are going. However, they are not the most economical. If it is money you are concerned about you should definitely consider the other main way to navigate the city: the bus.

 The main street near my house where I can catch the bus or grab a taxi.
The main street near my house where I can catch the bus or grab a taxi.


Cost: $0.85 USD

Most of South America is fairly infamous for their bus systems and let me tell you, Barranquilla ranks right up there. The bus system here is like nothing I have ever seen in the States. First of all there are no official “stops” and rather than having one bus company that runs a lot of different routes it is a lot of different companies that each run their own route. Basically it’s a whole lot of confusion, but in my opinion if you want to “do as the Colombians do” the bus is a great place to start. I could easily write 100 tips for riding the bus, but I’ve narrowed it down to a few for this list.

  1.  Have Small Bills: As a general rule you really should pay with anything more than a $5,000 Colombian Peso bill. It’s possible to get away with a $10,000, but its always best to pay with either a $2,000 or exact change.
  2. Hold on Tight: Like most of South America driving is a little crazy, so as soon as you hop on the bus its best if you find a seat (if there are any) or grab something right away.
  3. Memorize the feel of your stops: I know, that sounds absolutely insane, but humor me. It’s super hot and sunny here in Barranquilla, so on some buses (particularly mine) they have tinted windows. These aren’t your normal tinted windows either because they are literally black. This made me so nervous at first because more often than not I can’t see out the windows. However, after a few nerve-wracking rides I have realized that my “stop” is just after a huge curve followed by a small hill. Now I can confidently hop off the bus without even glancing out the window.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions: Since maps of the bus system here apparently don’t exist you either need to know where you are going or know who to ask. As a whole Colombians are extremely pleasant people and are willing to help. Whether it is asking someone on the street what bus you need or asking a driver to let you know where your stop is; people will make sure you know where you are going!
  5. Be prepared to sweat: This should go without saying considering how hot it is in Barranquilla everyday, but I figure it’s always good to throw in a reminder. The buses are packed in the morning and evening and like the rest of the city they are extremely hot. However it’s nothing a nice cold shower can’t fix!

In my opinion the bus is a great way to get around Barranquilla. Yes, it is absolutely packed and sometimes a little confusing, but it is all about the experience. The buses are a great example of the Latin-Caribbean culture with bright colors, loud music, and tons of people, it is an experience I think everyone should have.

One of the many different buses in Barranquilla.
One of the many different buses in Barranquilla.

4 thoughts

  1. Very informative! It’s great to see the pictures of your neighborhood and you daily ride to and from school. Look forward to the next blog post!!

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