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Driving in Colombia

Hi,

What do you think of the way people drive in Colombia? How different is it from your home country?

Respecting the road safety rules, driving etiquette such as general courtesy, speed excess… what are the characteristics of the driving style in Colombia?

Share with us the difficulties one may face when driving in Colombia: peak hours, road conditions, accident, etc. and your advice to drive safely in the country.

Thank you in advance for participating,

Maximilien

hi, I lived overseas for quiet while and coming back to Colombia seen the road safety and the courtesy of other road users while driving is quiet funny, Australia driving etiquete is awesome with few cases of road rage  while in Colombia is an everyday thing, people won't respect the market lines, using horn every 2 seconds for no reason is annoying, motorbikes are everywhere so don't need to worry only for pedestrians but motorbikes as well.. road rage is a dangerous thing because people usually won't stop it until they get revenge or destroy something from your car,
wouldn't feel safe to drive in Colombia..

We lived in Memphis, Tennessee in the United States before living in Puerto Rico, in San Juan. Memphis drivers are flat-out horrible, some of the worst in the US.  But I always joked that Memphis was only a training ground for Puerto Rico, where the drivers block intersections, do not obey traffic lights and tailgate on the highways just a few feet behind.  There are three types of drivers there:  total novices driving as if they have only an hour's experience, some drivers who are more or less normal, and some who drive like crazy - and any driver can switch from one type to another in just seconds.

Well, it's a little better in Bogotá and Cali than in Puerto Rico but not by much ... and on the streets you will have not only cars but motorbikes, bicycles, buses, tractor-trailers and other trucks, horse or donkey carts, street vendors, all on the same street, and you can not expect any to follow the rules - it is a challenge and an adventure driving in Colombia!

In the country away from the big cities it's not so bad, with less traffic, but you must always be alert for road hazards.  In the cities there are many potholes, and too much traffic for the roads.  Even though "Pico y Placa" is enforced in larger cities where some vehicles are prohibited from being on the road one week day depending on their license plate number, there's often still too much traffic and delays every working day.

But one thing I've noticed - drivers in Cali are for the most part alert, compared to many US drivers.  I am always astonished that there are not more crashes in Colombia.  In Memphis and in many US cities there are too many who are guilty of "driving while sleeping", talking on the phone or texting, reading the newspaper, putting on makeup, shaving, it's incredible (and frightening) what you can see!

When I first came to Medellin twenty five years ago, it was a pleasure to drive throughout the city. Now it is a nightmare with what I call the plague of the motorcycles. Peak times are the worst, with cars and motorcyles competing for the driving lanes. One has to be on their toes constanly while driving  a car or motorcycle. The ¨Paisas¨are very agressive drivers, not courteous at all. I have a pet peeve about how Colombians drive since in the states, I was a commercial driver. The bus drivers are the worse ,not waiting til someone takes their seat. Unfortunately, it is the survival of the fittest when it comes to driving in Colombia.

OsageArcher :

I am always astonished that there are not more crashes in Colombia.

Same in Medellin ... I'm likewise amazed. I'd describe city drivers here as extremely "accurate" in knowing exactly where their own vehicle ends and another begins -- allowing precious little distance between the two.

bh2 :
OsageArcher :

I am always astonished that there are not more crashes in Colombia.

Same in Medellin ... I'm likewise amazed. I'd describe city drivers here as extremely "accurate" in knowing exactly where their own vehicle ends and another begins -- allowing precious little distance between the two.

They're not always that accurate LOL - one of my in-laws works as a sort of insurance adjuster in Cali and is often on-call to investigate vehicle crashes.  When he's on-call he's usually plenty busy!

The drivers are very agressive and are subject to road rage... I have a car but use it on weekend especially Sunday when there is less traffic. Really there is no need to have a car... Medellin has ecellent public transportation unlike Bogota.

A short pictorial of what you may see on the streets in Cali:

http://www.elpais.com.co/elpais/fotos/i … os-volante

Driving there is challenging!  If you are not alert you may pay with your life, and it happens all too often even though on average traffic speeds are much lower than in the US.

Your photo tells it all...I have seen a huge increase in motorcycles which I call a plague since their drivers are imprudent and  savage ...not respecting the laws of the road. I have even seen five persons from a family on a motorcycle. Medellin is trying to allay the problem with a lane just for motorcycles let´s hope it works.

In the states, I drove school buses and have a comercial license...in the states a comercial  license is coveted  and is an indication that the driver is professional. Here in Colombia, the bus drivers  are the worst drivers  and are always involved in accidents because of their ineptness at driving and agressiveness. It is time Colombia redress this problem and only hire drivers with clean licenses.

hi,

living here in Bogota for five years now...the driving practices are much different than the USA with motorcycles, scooters and bicycles riding all over the place with no attention to lanes.  The cars are much of the same, lots of people cut you off then wave their intention to do so.  So watch out. 

If there is an accident they will NOT move their vehicles until the police arrive to photograph and take statements.  So you will have to find a way around. 

Traffic lights and signals are there, and most of the time they are followed but be super cautious at night, going through a green light without looking to make sure someone is not running a red light is a good way to get in a serious crash.

You need to be a little. Crazy and daring jjajaja
Jonathan

Since Colombia has No traffic laws or rules that I know of,  it's best in my opinion to use public transportation..  Let the bus co or taxi driver pay for the repairs.when they crash into someone (or someone crashes into them)..  I actually bought a car when I moved to Medellin 7 years ago..  What a mistake..  I didn't know that a large majority of the drivers didn't even have a legal drivers license..  I sold the car 6 months after buying it  and was once again STRESS FREE in Colombia...

Remember that in Colombia it doesn't matter whose fault the accident is..  ONLY  who has the most cash on them to bribe the police officer..

And if you are a pedestrian you are not safe..   Pedestrians have NO rights at all..

Markcol :

Since Colombia has No traffic laws or rules that I know of,  it's best in my opinion to use public transportation..  Let the bus co or taxi driver pay for the repairs.when they crash into someone (or someone crashes into them)..  I actually bought a car when I moved to Medellin 7 years ago..  What a mistake..  I didn't know that a large majority of the drivers didn't even have a legal drivers license..  I sold the car 6 months after buying it  and was once again STRESS FREE in Colombia...

Remember that in Colombia it doesn't matter whose fault the accident is..  ONLY  who has the most cash on them to bribe the police officer..

And if you are a pedestrian you are not safe..   Pedestrians have NO rights at all..

There are indeed traffic laws and rules in Colombia.  Here, for instance, is part of the Código de Tránsito de Colombia dealing with vehicle licenses, and fines and punishment:

http://www.colombia.com/noticias/codigo … o/t2c2.asp

http://www.conducircolombia.com/conduci … o/c13.html

I've driven in Cali, and it is incumbent upon any driver to know the traffic laws and rules, no matter where one drives.  The second link lists penalties and fines for many infractions.  For driving without a license one can receive a fine of 8 daily minimum salaries, or about 171,000 pesos.  For exceeding the speed limit the fine can be up to 15 daily minimum salaries. 

What you say may be true in Bucaramanga, but it is not necessarily true in Cali.  My brother-in-law works as an insurance adjuster there and is present at many vehicle collisions and crashes, along with the police, to figure out what happened.  There probably are police who get bribed but I know that attempted bribery is something taken seriously and it can be punished very severely.  I have a cousin by marriage there who is in the police force and have first-hand knowledge as to the professionalism and training of the police - of course there are always exceptions but there are not as many as one might think.  The police and the army are doing great work in cleaning up the drug trade and "bacrim" (bandas criminales) and there are traffic stops and checks all the time.

I am surprised to see so many bad reports here. I was in Cali for 2 months in 2013 and was out and about (walking, taxis, buses) every day and never once saw an accident or people raging against another. Of course if I was driving I would of had more opportunity to see more. There are too many motorcycles but that's the gov'ts fault for letting the gas prices be too high. Yes they are like bees buzzing all around the cars but they weren't mean to the car drivers. They don't want to be involved in an accident any more than the car drivers do. If you use a car you just need to signal your turns and not change lanes immediately, and never without turning your head to see if a motorcycle is occupying the space you want. As far as South America goes I thought Cali was very orderly. (I've lived in Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Ecuador.)

Here in cartagena, the motos are the worst.fewer than expected accidents and fender benders. Still is dangerous if u r not aware

Those special lanes for motos appear to be working.

Today we were in a taxi and three motos passed us on the right -- using the sidewalk!

I think the big difference  between the U.S. and Colomkbia in reference to motorcycles is that here in Colombia motorcycles are revered as an alternate means of transportation. Whereas in the states they are considered more recreational.

Yeah at night nobody respects traffic lights, always be careful and be ready for anything.

Also in the states the police are also the transit police...I have never seen anybody stopped for a traffic violation by the police. Maybe Colombia should consider using both.

When I´m driving I always joke about driving in Colombia is like the wild wild west. a savage world of survivor of the fittest. Eventually the culture will progress like it has with drunk driving.

I was raised in So. California driving fast 'street cars' with big HPs engines since I was 15.

Diving here in Colombia is like driving in a funeral procession, except everyone zig zags in and out without blinkers.
They cut you off as if it's the norm, with no expressions or remorse. Horn honks are common every block of the way. Traffic lights are always above your head when you stop and can't see them. Then cars behind you honk 'madly' at you the second they turn green.  Then we all zoom off to the next red light.

Pedestrians waking through moving traffic and red lights are all part of the cattle culture. They somehow manage to just miss being hit by moving vehicles and motorcycles.

Motorcycles cut in, out, front, back and sometimes under a bus. They all manage to just miss your car by inches.

Transito (traffic cops) are as useless as third leg.
But don't be fooled, they get their share of tickets from parking violations, expired mechanic service, documents misprinted, etc. and of course your donation of 50,000 pesos and up to let you leave.

The city fattens up it's pockets sending you smiling photos of you and your car for pico placa violations, red lights, speeding (even if it's only 5mph more and stopping 6 inches over the limit line.

There are enough speed bumps (mostly unpainted) to keep you at a snails pace all day long.
Free Parking is a as are as a gold nugget, so be prepared to pay up, even if the space is only big enough to fit a VW bug.

Oh yea, if there's minor fender bender in the middle of the boulevard, they won't move it until the transito  shows up and takes a report and that could take up to 2-3 hours of backed up traffic. Ahh, how I miss the 405 freeway on a congested Friday afternoon when Im stuck in traffic here in Colombia.

OsageArcher wrote: "it's a little better in Bogotá and Cali than in Puerto Rico".  I've been to all 3 places and I drove a rental car in Puerto Rico.  I felt it was not much different than driving in the US.  I will never drive in Colombia.  The traffic there is insane, in my opinion.  I'd rather pay to ride in one of their tin-can taxis that deal with the stress of driving there.  And if anyone wants to drive a moto there please let me take out a life insurance policy on you.  I need some easy money.

K1VisaKing :

OsageArcher wrote: "it's a little better in Bogotá and Cali than in Puerto Rico".  I've been to all 3 places and I drove a rental car in Puerto Rico.  I felt it was not much different than driving in the US.

Agreed. I drove both ways from one end of PR to the other on the north route and in the city and it was pretty much vanilla. Unlike, say, Panama, where urban driving can be fast and furious, though easy on the broad and smooth Pan-Am highway and no more challenging on Panama backroads than similar narrow, twisty highways on the Oregon Coast.

I will never drive in Colombia.  The traffic there is insane, in my opinion.  I'd rather pay to ride in one of their tin-can taxis that deal with the stress of driving there.  And if anyone wants to drive a moto there please let me take out a life insurance policy on you.  I need some easy money.

Agreed. :)

By the way, if you ever start paying the (very) modest premium to ride Uber Black, you'll never use those little yellow clown-car taxis again except for very short trips. On steep hills in Medellin, those little yellow mini-cars simply haven't the power to get you there without the driver tearing around corners and up hills to keep the revs up so the engine doesn't die (and it still may sometimes at stop lights).  Somebody in Medellin must be making a fortune on replacement trannies and clutches for those little beasties. Many of these small vehicles are mechanically used up (and typically not driver-owned) and originally came new with only minimum suspension anyhow.  Many of the drivers assume you'll positively love the radio station (at same volume) they do and virtually never will you find either privacy shading (a common security feature widely valued by locals) or air conditioning for creature comfort on hot afternoons. (Do NOT accept online advertised "average high temperatures" for Medellin at face value!) While Colombian taxi drivers are personally courteous to a fault, in my experience, riding with these (sometimes very aggressive) small-car jockeys can be cruel and unusual punishment, especially for passengers in back, where you'll quickly discover the firm grip-bar above your door is a survival feature and therefore your new best friend.  By contrast, far greater courtesy, service, and convenience may be available in your area at virtually the same cost. You get in, ride smoothly and comfortably, then step out. No money changes hands. You get to rate the driver's performance and receive a detailed receipt after each ride. And yes, you can call Uber for airport service to/from Rio Negro. If you have really lousy Spanish, you may even be able to request an English-speaking driver at modest extra charge. Try Uber once and then decide for yourself.

Everyone's experience can be (and I guess is) different.  I lived in Puerto Rico, and had to drive daily to go to work in San Juan - and it was much worse than my experience driving in Colombia.  Of course I drove an F150 pickup in PR, which I never should have brought down there!

In both Colombia and Puerto Rico it's much better away from the cities and out in the country.  In the cities, both countries can be rather chaotic, frustrating and downright dangerous.

Colombia has approximately 71 motor vehicles per 1000 people.  Puerto Rico has about 635 per 1000!  In PR you have more than 2 million vehicles on a little island only about 100x35 miles!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_c … per_capita

I recently spent 6 months in Armenia, Colombia.  From what I could observe: there are no rules of the road, there are no safety rules, everyone including the bus drivers drive like they're at the Indy 500, hundreds of motorcycles screaming on the roads helter skelter, motorcycles driving on the sidewalks when it's crowded, motorcycles speeding on the right side of the bus when passengers are being let off.  Looking at one of the reviews below, I also would never drive a vehicle in Colombia!  I'm an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer in S. America, have lived in Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Mexico and am not a newbie to driving in S. America but you hit my hot button on this one.

I'm happy that I will be one of the few gringos, then, to drive in Colombia and enjoy it! There's already too many crazy drivers on the road, maybe including me, ja ja, they don't need more!

Exactly.  And the note about bus drivers being the worst is probably true, but it is a close call.  Actually, they mostly are good drivers who do not care one bit about the other drivers or needs of others.  It is all the rule of papaya in everything there.

Glad to see you guys share my feelings on driving in Colombia! I'm out in the suburbs a ways, and as an L.A. girl, I'm having some major car withdrawals...The closest big city to me is Bogota, and although it wouldn't be fun (L.A. Drivers? Pshhh! Lambs compared to Latin American drivers!) I think I would consider driving in Bogota. After all, I did survive an afternoon driving in Tijuana.

Medellin though? Forget it! Like you guys have said, wayyy too many nuts on motorcycles. Plus, there's the Metro. It's fast, it's cheap, and even if you get off at the wrong place, it's free to get back on and go back. Another place I think is worth mentioning is San Andres. That was some pretty crazy driving too, with the motorcycles & mopeds...At one point we saw a family of 3, two parents and an infant sandwiched between them, riding around...!

However, I did take a trip to Paipa, and once we got on the open highway it was smooth sailing. I was actually really disappointed we hadn't just rented a car...(if that's even possible.)
We took a bus on the way back, and THAT was another experience. A friend had warned us, take the bigger ones, the smaller ones drive crazy...shoulda listened.

To me, it is all fun and an experience that should not be missed. Jaja

What is the "rule of papaya"?

I don't have the time or patience for driving a car in South America and so prefer to be one of the "crazies" on a motorcycle. It is a necessary evil for me. Good thing I've been on them almost all my life and have quick reflexes. The privileges we take on the road are our compensation for the car drivers trying their best to nail us, taking up all the space, and our having to breath their exhaust fumes. We make no apologies.

The rule of papaya is eat it when it is yellow, for cars that means caution or don't give a damn

jaguar57 :

What is the "rule of papaya"?

I don't have the time or patience for driving a car in South America and so prefer to be one of the "crazies" on a motorcycle. It is a necessary evil for me. Good thing I've been on them almost all my life and have quick reflexes. The privileges we take on the road are our compensation for the car drivers trying their best to nail us, taking up all the space, and our having to breath their exhaust fumes. We make no apologies.

And here I thought it was you guys trying to nail US, zooming in out of nowhere, lol. No, really, I admire your bravery. May your quick reflexes (and your lungs!) prevail!  :top:

the slightest touch against a car onto our handlebars can cause us to fall immediately so we are very careful not to touch cars. well, my mirror hit a car mirror once so I removed it. I know that us "mosquitos" are a bit annoying but we are the Yin to the Yang of cars. (yin and yang is the natural balance of extremes that exists in everything).
thanks so much for the well wishing, gringalatina. all the best to you as well :-)

I started living in Medellín a week ago but since the beginning of the year I drove in Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, Barraquilla, Cali and Pereira.
Although you need always to be very concentrated on the driving on all the cities, I find where you need most concentration is in Bogotá and Barranquilla.
In Colombia almost everybody drives like they have their father dying and he called the son to tell him the last words.
In my opinion there are several factors that contribute to the difficult driving in Colombia, they are:
- the amount of vehicles (at Barranquilla, besides the crazy buses, crazy taxi drivers and crazy moto drivers, there's an extra bycicle taxy)
- the poor traffic signals
- lack of civism ans respect for each other
This last reason I found also in some other difficult places I drove (Mozambique, R. D. Congo, Brazil). The difference between these countries I refer is that Colombia already has pretty decent infrastructures, so what Colombia needs is to educate.
That means changing the mind of the people and that's way more difficult than getting the roads done, that will take time.
Anyway, I'll be driving around :)

Always difficult to change the mind it wants to be changed but it resists

Danrodrigues,

I'd have to agree on that last part. I wonder if the lack of traffic enforcement and fines has something to do with that too...I know in Los Angeles that probably has a lot to do with it. Those traffic tickets will send one to the poorhouse!

Also, how funny is it that in a country where everyone takes their time, the one place where the citizens of most countries actually have patience is the one place where here they don't?

Oh! Here's another driving-related thing! The weird sound it makes when several drivers get mad at someone holding up traffic and just lean on their horns for a minute? It didn't take me too long to get used to it when I was in Bogota, but one day it happened out where I live now, and I think it was a bunch of those minibuses (the busetas or colectivos?)... I didn't know WHAT was going on! It must've gone on for a full five minutes, and sometimes it sounded like a really bad band playing something off-tune. I didn't know if the world was ending, or what... I recorded it for some friends, who were very worried for me...then a couple of weeks later I realized what it was, and felt really silly...

Gringalatina
thanks for your "like"
Regards
mrgarcia (Jonathan)

It all sounds like rock n roll to me.now here in miami for a while.miss all my spat friends already

gringalatia you hit the nail on the head! Colombian drivers are ignorant and therefore have no respect , Although they do not know this because there culture is bred in ignorance thus no respect
a good example is going to the mall or trying to buy something or at exito every Colombian exists with the thought that nobody is in consideration of there  surroundings
on the road in the mall or on the streets airports or public places like side walks
Ignorance is everywhere in Colombia and my guess is the country is over populated for the services it provides
Colombians with there latin attitude have a desire to get ahead so in traffic it means passing you and like sheep they will congregate to the the gate with motos ahead of the pack  I sit back with my big bike and think of it as my box just like a car and if a moto pulls up beside me i tell them to get out of my space because the offend me and do not know the rules I uae my signals to turn rh and there are motos on my right going strait i have some time asked them derecha o derecho  sometimes i kick there bike when they cut me off  i wish i had a base ball bat other times
i once had a encounter with a latin male once on a shopping mall escalator somone behind me asked permission to get bye  and i moved so he could pass me
so in front of me were a couple holding each other and the guy that passed me did not ask the couple to move
so i asked the the idiot guy for what reason did you want to get 1 meter ahead in life
no REPLY stupid is what stupid does

NWTMAN posted:

Sometimes I kick their bike when they try to cut me off.

--------

Hello, NWTMAN.

You kick moving motos in Colombia? :cool:   

Don't do that.:dumbom:

The Huila heat is evidently getting to you.

Move to higher elevation.

  -- cccmedia in Depto. de Nariño

I always ask my wife after a ride on the moto if she was scared?  Most of the time she says no. 

It's true, that most Colombian's are rude when it comes to driving.  When at a intersection, a Colombian will not slow down to allow other's to flow into the traffic.  It seems, that Colombian's are alway's in a hurry to get to somewhere.

I tell my wife that I have to act Colombian on my moto sometimes to keep my butt from getting run over.  I try to avoid passing on the left, but if you ever get stuck behind a bus bellowing black smoke.  You'll find anyway possible to pass to keep from sucking down fumes.

You never really know a country until you drive in it, but I will say that in 6 weeks of traveling in Colombia and Ecuador and Peru, I only saw 1 accident........and had no power outages anywhere (I know, off topic) and as soon as I got back to David, Panama, and my English buddy picks me up at the airport, were stuck in traffic for awhile cuz of an accident, and about 4 power outages in 2 daze....(two at home, two in the Super) So if that sheds any light.......I thought the infrastructure in Medellin was fabulous.......But I wouldnt want to be driving that hwy from Medellin to Pereira, and then between Popayan to Ipiales for  all the tea in China.......

There is nothing special about the highway from Medellin to Pereira, apart from some ongoing road improvements.
It is typical of most Colombian roads with short flat sections followed by twisty mountain passes.
One obviously has to take ones time as the volume of heavy trucks reduces speeds to almost walking pace at times. 200kms in 5 hours is typical.

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