Navigating the Transmilenio – Bogota’s Rapid Bus Transit

To become a true bogotano, you have to familiarize yourself with the famed bus system, el TransMilenio. While Bogotá may lack an MRT system, it “boasts” an extensive bus system that can take you anywhere in the massive city of over 8 million.

I have the fortune of living within a 10 minutes’ walk of my university in the lovely neighborhood of La Candelaria, so to explore the city I haven’t had to venture far. During my first few weeks in Colombia, I contained my adventures closer to the city center and became accustomed to Ubering when traveling into the north of the city where more shops and restaurants are located. Thus, my first adventure on the TransMilenio came later than most. Determined to join a CrossFit gym while abroad, one of the many things I miss about NOLA, I decided to join a nearby gym but with the knowledge that I would need to make a rather lengthy commute via bus each way.

My first time on the bus went off without a hitch. I bought my bus card and loaded it with money at the nearby station. After waiting just a few minutes, I hopped on my bus and was even lucky enough to get a seat. I may have gotten a bit cocky about my bus navigation skills because my return home did not go as smoothly. Taking the advice from a friend at the gym, I decided to try a different route home. Moments later, I found myself pressed shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of Colombian commuters, clutching my heavy backpack between my legs and hanging on to the rail overhead for dear life. As we approached my stop, I was uncertain how to properly exit and momentarily considered staying aboard until the next stop.

As the bus pulled into the station, I made the last-minute decision to exit. I barely made it onto the platform before being swept away by the masses impatiently awaiting the next bus. I swam against the crowd and reached the exit only to realize that I was not in the best part of town. Attempting to disguise my obvious gringa appearance, I walked home with haste.

Fortunately, since this initial bus experience, I have begun to blend in slightly more. Now, I actually quite enjoy my commute. I have found that using public transit is an incredible opportunity to get to know new parts of the city, and now that I am more comfortable navigating the bus system, I have seen more of Bogotá than ever before. I also enjoy the feeling of being part of life in the city rather than an outsider looking in. Though sometimes Bogotá traffic can be a pain, I am overall grateful for the time I spend on the bus because it gives me the chance to absorb Colombian culture and society in a completely different context than my university classes. I have found that the more I integrate myself into life in Bogota, may that be by visiting new neighborhoods, attending festivals and concerts, or taking the bus, the more enriching and transformative my experience has been.

Alex Duffy (BSM ’21) is a double major in finance and International Development. She is studying abroad at Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia for the fall 2019 semester.