"Why the hell would you ever take the bus between Bogota and Medellin?"– All our friends
At first glance, it seems crazy to take the Bogota to Medellin bus instead of flying. The bus takes nine hours, the plane is only 45 minutes, and flights are cheap—as little as $30 USD.
Even so, you might want to do it just once.
The bus has its advantages: You save money (the bus is 65,000 COP or $23 USD); better appreciate Colombia's countryside and geography; avoid the stress of airports and a tiny luggage allowances; and have the opportunity to explore Honda, Tolima, one of Colombia's "17 Pueblos de Patrimonio" (Heritage Towns), which is located roughly halfway between Bogota (4.5 hours by bus) and Medellin (5.5 hours).
If you're "crazy" enough to consider a Bogota to Medellin bus ride with a stopover in Honda, here are some tips and things to do.
Stopover Guide to Honda, Tolima Between Bogota and Medellin
Don't Get Your Hopes Up
Honda had less charm, more crumble, and too much heat. But if you don't get your hopes up, you can enjoy a few hours there stretching your legs and your stomach and getting a glimpse of a different part of Colombia.
Prepare for the Heat
When we asked our Colombian friends about things to do in Honda, they ignored our question and warned us that, "It's the hottest town in Colombia."
They weren't exaggerating.
The daily high is around 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) and, at least when we were there, there was no breeze.
To prepare for the heat, change into shorts and sandals at the bus station. Unlike in Medellin or Bogota, many locals dress the same way.
Getting off the bus from Bogota to Honda felt similar to getting off the plane after a flight from Canada to Mexico. A whoosh of hot, muggy air shocked our bodies and within minutes we were dripping with sweat.
To chill out and get somewhat accustomed to the heat, you might want to stop by these places:
Brisas del Magdalena Restaurant
On the bank of the raging Magdalena river, Brisas del Magdalena offers cold drinks but not much of the breeze the restaurant's named after. Fortunately, the feeble natural puffs are reinforced by man-made gusts generated by fans.
Las Brisas del Magdalena is as good a place as any to try one of Tolima's typical dishes, viudo de pescado (widowed fish). Viudo is your choice fish plucked from the river served with plantains, yuca, and potato and covered in a special sauce.
Icy Refreshments at Parque Jose Leon Amero
In Honda's old town's main square, there are a couple pushcarts offering a variety of icy refreshments: raspado, scraped ice covered with syrup; granizado, which is a fruit, chocolate, vanilla, or coffee flavored smoothie; and colao, the super sundae deluxe combination of the two that's decorated with fruit and syrups.
Kim had a 4,000 COP (1.40 USD) guanabana, Milo (hot chocolate powder) mix granizado. Her never-before-ordered combo earned some sideways glances from the regulars, but those glances soon became envious as they saw how much she enjoyed it.
The Honda TripAdvisor Highlights
According to travel guides and TripAdvisor, these are Honda's top attractions. None were super attractive in our opinion, but they're quick and (mostly) free to visit:
Calle de las Trampas
Calle de las Trampas is a narrow cobblestone street. It's a couple of blocks long and pretty enough, but not any different from the other cobblestone streets in Honda's old town.
Plaza de Mercado
"The Parthenon of Honda" is the town's 148-columned covered market, la Plaza de Mercado. It doesn't quite have the Parthenon's historical significance, seeing as it's about 2,400 years younger, built in the first third of the 20th century
The outside architecture is unique. Inside it's the same as any other small town market in Latin America. If you're in Honda in the morning it's worth wandering around; if you arrive later on everything will be closed up.
Catedral Nuestra Señora del Rosario
La Catedral Nuestra Señora del Rosario is in the square where the aforementioned iced refreshment vendors are located.
Maybe it's because we aren't religious, but we don't understand the fuss about churches and cathedrals in small towns. Sure, they serve as aesthetic centerpieces to the squares they are on, but as standalone tourist attractions, they're pretty much all the same to us.
We thought Honda's Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen was prettier anyway.
Museo del Rio Magdalena
The Magdalena River is Colombia's principal river. It slices straight north through the country, starting from the Andes and emptying into the Caribbean at Barranquilla.
The small Magdalena River museum explains the river's cultural and historical significance and tells the stories of the people and cultures who have lived along it.
Honda is known as "the City of Bridges," and Puente Navarro is its most famous one. Built between 1894 and 1899, it is Latin America's oldest metal bridge. It was once a key crossing point between the departments of Tolima and Cundinamarca that are on either side of the Magdalena river.
Now it's… an old metal bridge you can walk along if you feel like it.
The Best Restaurant in Honda
The one thing to do in Honda we most heartily recommend is Restaurante El Tizon. It has everything you can ask for in a small town restaurant:
- Delicious food: Kim's vegetarian stuffed arepa filled her with satisfaction and food for only 7,000 COP and my Pollo al Tizón, was marvelously marinaded and so juicy I thought wrongly it was cooked by sous vide, not simply grilled.
- Relaxing atmosphere: The dining area's quiet, shaded courtyard is a refuge from the heat and dust of the rest of the town.
- Friendly staff: The owner was keen to chat with us, and helped us get a taxi back to Honda's bus station after our meal.
Tip: Take your taxi directly here from Honda's bus station, drop off your bags and tell them you'll be back for a meal later.
If you're still undecided about taking the Bogota to Medellin bus and making a stopover at Honda, here's a quick Honda highlight video that might sway you one way or the other.
Bogota to Medellin (via Honda) Logistics
Bogota Bus Station
Buses leave from Bogota's main bus terminal, which is west of the city. Our Sunday morning Uber to the station from downtown took about twenty minutes and cost 10,000 COP. Expect the duration and cost to be higher during busier hours.
Go to the southern end of the station and ask around at the counters for the next departure to Honda. Bolivariano, Magdalena, and Rapido Tolima are a few of the companies that offer a Bogota to Medellin bus.
Be careful with Rapido Tolima. They cost us an hour and a half and an extra 10,000 COP by lying to us (and others) to sell their most expensive tickets on their double-decker bus. Rapido Tolima is such a scam company that even their website, rapidotolima.com.co, redirects to a spam website. Take another bus line if you can.
Honda Bus Station
Honda's bus station is a kilometer outside of town. Don't waste your time and put unnecessary stress on your sweat glans by walking it. Take a taxi. They are abundant and cost a fixed 4,000 COP each way.
Medellin Bus Station
The Bogota to Medellin bus ends at Medellin's northern bus terminal, which is connected to Caribe metro station. If you arrive during the metro's opening hours (between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Sundays and 4:30 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. otherwise) you can take it home. Alternatively, take one of the millipede-long line of taxis that are waiting. It cost us 15,000 COP to get to Poblado.
Don't risk taking an Uber. It's illegal in Medellin and the taxi drivers will not make it easy or comfortable for you or your driver if you dare try.
More Tips for Your Colombian Adventure
For more tips on unconventional Colombian adventures in Bogota, Medellin, and other smaller towns around Colombia, check out our Colombia adventure travel page.