Two airlines have flights from Cali to San Andrés, Copa and Avianca. Most of the flights have a connection in Bogotá, and there is usually one direct flight daily with Copa (operated by Aerorepublica). I booked the direct flight. It was a night flight, with the departure from Cali at 10:30pm and arrival to San Andrés at 12:25am. It was US$ 205 one way. Since it was the high season, only a few days before the New Year, I booked three months in advance.
The owner of the homestay in the village of San Luis where I was going to stay, she was supposed to wait for me at the airport with her taxi driver friend. But she did not come. Later she explained that she confused the dates. It was in fact very tricky as the date of my departure differed from the date of my arrival.
While I was waiting for my transportation to San Luis a local tourist agent offered me to join another passenger in a shuttle van which was COP 20.000 (December 2008). She knew the place and they delivered me right to the door (we had to wake up the owner). I was really happy not to be alone in the middle of the night.
It was late in the evening so I asked in Café Tostaky about the best way to get there. The airport of Cali is situated 16 km northeast of the city, off the road to Palmira. To save money, they recommended me to take a taxi only to the bus terminal. From there minibuses run every ten minutes to the airport.
My flight to San Andres was at 10:30pm so I asked for the taxi to pick me up at 08:00pm. It took about 15 minutes to the bus terminal and costed 7.000 COP (December 2008). The taxi driver offered he could drive me to the airport for 40.000 COP and even 35.000 COP at the end, but I refused.
At the bus terminal I intended to take a minibus to the airport (which was 3.500 COP) but they told me it did not run at that hour anymore, and besides, it was Sunday. So I joined a long line of people waiting for the taxi. It took more than 15 minutes until it was my turn. The taxi driver wanted 40.000 COP to the airport but I negotiated for 35.000. So at the end I payed all together 42.000 COP from San Antonio neighbourhoood to the airport, which was a little more than the offer from the first driver and much more tiresome :( But I arrived to the airport on time, and then it was the most important :)
To get from Salento to Cali you take a minibus to Armenia first. Buses depart from the main square. They also stop by the fire station at the end of the town if you find this more convenient. The journey takes about 50 minutes and you buy the ticket in the bus.
In Armenia I had to change for another bus to Cali. I went to Expreso Palmira office to buy the ticket. It was 20.000 COP (December 2008). They told me the mini bus was going to leave immediately but this was not completely true. It seemed like we were waiting for some more passengers. In the meantime the driver took a good care for the new bus that we were going to travel with. The journey took four hours.
From the bus terminal in Cali a taxi takes about 15 minutes (and costs 6.000 COP) to San Antonio, the colonial neighbourhood where Tostaky guesthouse was located.
From Hostel Trail Guesthouse I walked to the terminal in about 10 minutes. Take Carrera 11 until a roundabout where you take right and there is the terminal.
There are frequent buses going between Popayán and Cali. I was met outside the terminal by someone from a bus that was leaving within 5 minutes. The price for the ticket was 12 000 pesos (July 2008). It took 2,5 hours to Cali and there the bus stopped next to the taxi queue outside the terminal. I took a taxi from the terminal to Iguana and it was 5200 pesos.
I arrived to the terminal with a bus from the airport. The terminal in Cali is huge with shops and restaurants on the first floor, the bus companies ticket offices on the second floor and from the third floor the buses are leaving.
I bought a ticket for Armenia for 20 000 pesos (July 2008). It was 12.40 and the bus was leaving at 13.00. I asked for an ATM, but was told I didn’t have time to go there as it was on the first floor and I had to be at the gate on the third floor well in time before the bus was leaving. At 13.10 we left Cali and 3,5 hours later we arrived in Armenia. Here I was lucky as there was an ATM just outside the terminal. After withdrawing money I went and looked for the bus to Salento. These buses are smaller and local and you buy the ticket on the bus. It was 3000 pesos. The bus left at 17.00 and it took 50 minutes to Salento. I asked to be dropped by the fire station in the beginning of the town, as it is closer to Mountain House. The end stop is the main square.
Cali is easy to get to from just about anywhere, serviced well by bus and air. We arrived by bus from Armenia in Zona Cafetera. The four hour trip set us back 20,000 COP ($10) each. Once at the bus terminal, we grabbed a taxi to our hostel in the San Antonio area of town for an additional 8,000 COP ($4) which seemed a bit exorbitant for a 2 km trip but walking in Cali's sweltering heat seemed an even worse option.
The taxi back to the terminal was indeed cheaper at 5000 COP ($2.50) but the shorter 2.5 hour bus to Popayan the same 20,000 COP ($10) each. That said, the Boliviano bus was very luxurious!
I had asked for a taxi to come and pick me up outside Iguana at 5am. When it had not arrived at 5.15am I went over to the other house and they made a new telephone call. A taxi came after 5 minutes. The airport is situated 16 km northeast of the city and on the way there was a toll to be paid and the driver wanted 5000 pesos from me. At the airport (where we arrived 5.20) I was going to pay with a 20 000 peso note as the taxi metre said 16 900. The driver told me that that was not the correct price, it was much more expensive to go to the airport. There was no one else around to ask and I was tired, but very happy about going to Isla Gorgona, so in the end I paid 40 000 pesos. Coming back to Cali I asked a guard how much it was to take a taxi to the bus terminal. He thought it was about 35 000 pesos (July 2008).
There are buses running between the airport and the bus terminal every 10 minute during the day, so when I came back to Cali that is what I took. When you have got your luggage and walk out the door that is where the buses leave from. The bus between the airport and terminal took 30 minutes and it was 3500 pesos.
When I arrived early in the morning to the airport in Cali I was told my plane, leaving at 6.45, was cancelled and that the next one left at 9.50. So I had another three hours to spend at the airport. There are some shops and cafes so I sat down at Donkin Dounuts to have breakfast (4000 pesos) and read a book.
The flight to Guapi took about 35 minutes and onboard a small sandwich and something to drink was served. In Guapi we all were registered in a book by a military and we got our luggage. Then the gates were unlooked and we could leave the terminal. As I was on my way to Isla Gorgona I was met by a man from Aviatur (the company that organises the tours to Isla Gorgona) and so were to other persons. We were taken to a counter were we could confirm our return tickets. The other two persons had some trouble confirming their tickets, but Aviatur was going to solve the problem during the day.
It seems to be very common that the departure time for the flights between Cali and Guapi are changed. My plane from Guapi, back to Cali, was first leaving at 10.05, but some time before I heard it was leaving at 10.50. Before you check in your luggage you must open your bags for the military to have a quick look. There is a café in the airport where you can have a coffee while you are waiting. Leaving Guapi I had a very nice view over Guapi, the river and the ocean (with Isla Gorgona in the distance). In Cali we got the luggage quick and just outside the terminal was the bus for the bus terminal.
For the plane ticket Cali - Guapi - Cali I paid 393 564 pesos (July 2008).
In Medellín I took a taxi from Tamarindo hostel in Poblado to Terminal del Sur (buses to the west and south of the country leave from here) where I was supposed to take a 23:00 bus to Cali. I did not buy the ticket in advance so I arrived to the terminal two hours earlier to have enough time to prepare for my trip. To my surprise, all the buses for that night were fully booked. The following day was Christmas Night (I did not think about it before) so many people decided to travel. For Colombians it is very important to spend it with their family.
I was thinking about what to do when I local guy started to talk to me. He told there was a possibility that one of the companies was going to arrange another bus to Cali. He brought me to the counter where many people were already waiting. After almost two hours in a line the bus finally arrived, and fortunately, we all came in. The ticket was 38.000 COP (December 2009).
We left Medellín at midnight and arrived to the bus terminal in Cali at 9:00am. From there I took a taxi to Tostaky guesthouse in the charming colonial neighbourhood San Antonio.
With a population of nearly 2,5 million inhabitants, Cali is the third largest city in Colombia after Bogotá and Medellín. It is also the third city in the country that developed a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. While Bogotá has TransMilenio and Medellín the Metro, Cali has MIO (masivo integrado de Occidente), the city's version of Bogotá's TransMilenio.
MIO is public transportation system of Cali whose phase one opened in February 2009 to public excitement after months of delay. The idea was to take off the road hundreds of buses and ease the traffic problems in the city. It is basically set up like a metro but using high-frequency articulated air-conditioned buses in their own lanes (instead of track). MIO has five basic routes and the buses are supposed to go around the city and only stop in designated bus stops which are half a km to half a mile apart. The station platform is in the same level as the bus floor and the stations have glass doors. MIO buses have a capacity of 80 passengers which is half less than have TransMilenio buses.
Many locals are sceptical about MIO and don't believe it is going to have success in reducing Cali's traffic problem, while others are optimistic. Let's wait until the system is completed and then see if this will be a convenient way of travel in the future.
I left Tostaky guesthouse before 6:00am and walked to Calle 5 to take a bus to the bus terminal. On the way I made a stop for a quick breakfast in my favourite panaderia where I had tinto (coffee) and pandebono (cheese bread balls or rings, quite typical of Cali). From Calle Quinta it took about 20 minutes to get to the terminal. At the counter of Coomoepal I bought a ticket for buseta (minibus) and a few minutes later we left. The ticket was 15.000 COP (December 2009).
To travel to San Cipriano, you take a bus that heads towards Buenaventura and get off in a Córdoba, a small community in the jungle. It takes about 2,5 hours. From there it's a 1km walk downhill to the railway line where the real adventure begins. Locals have created simple platforms with seats, powered by motorcycles that sit on the rails. This extremely unusual and memorable journey takes about 20 minutes through the jungle. The return fare for a rail trolley to San Cipriano was 16.000 COP (December 2009) which is already a ridiculous price. Bargain hard with the trolley operators otherwise they'll try to rip you off. This happened to me but fortunately I was clever enough to ask some locals before I payed.
Going back to Cali, in Córdoba I stopped a buseta coming from Buenaventura. I got a seat on the front, next to the driver, so I could enjoy beautiful landscape with mountains and lush vegetation which changed a lot during the journey. The driver was a friendly guy from Cali who used to live and work in Italy for a long time. We had a nice conversation. In Cali he dropped me off in front of hotel InterContinental on Avenida Colombia, just a short walk to Tostaky. This saved me a lot of time.
Getting to and from Cali is an easy affair. Being a big city, there are plenty of buses to many parts of the country, including direct buses south to Ipiales, via Popayan and Pasto, direct buses to Medellin via the coffee region (Armenia, Pereira & Manizales) and direct buses to Bogota.
The bus terminal is a short distance from the centre. It also runs a services where you tell an attendant where you are going, they give you a printout with the price, which you then give to the taxi driver. This is to prevent you from being ripped off.
As elsewhere in Colombia, there are a lot of them and they are cheap. Most taxis come in unexpectedly small cars, such as Hyundai Atos.
If you need to catch one at night or in an iffy neighborhood, call one in. The operator will give you a number as a code and will take your name. When a taxi appears, typically within 3-5 minutes, give the driver the code number.
Taxis are very cheap. Ride from the airport is quite lengthy however and will set you back about COP 40,000.
Airport is quite far away from the city, it will take you to get here at least 30-40 min. The building is modern and clean, but could benefit from a/c.
If you are a foreigner and have not had to buy a visa (such as a citizen from US), you will have to pay an exit tax at the airport prior to booking, about $25. To do that you will have to go to the second floor into the far corner where there is a sign "Guardia Civil". There you will find a cashier who will take your money and will give you a receipt. Take it to the airline counter when boarding.
Avianca generally has good service, very decent food and perhaps the best airline magazine I have seen (as long as you can read Spanish). Be sure to arrive early, such as at least 2 hours in advance for international flights. The lines are very long and inexplicably move VERY slow.
Popayan also is called the 'white city' because it has got a large number of colonial mansions, all painted in white. You can peer into Colombia' colonial past by simply walking admist the mansions of Popayan.