A primer on using mass transit in Medellín
Are you confused about navigating Medellín and do you feel intimidated by the possibility of figuring out the transit system here? Well, this guide is for you! Medellín is the capital of the departamento of Antioquia, it is located in the Central Andes mountain range, in the Valle de Aburrá (the Aburrá Valley), and Medellín is located 1.495 meters (4,905 feet) above sea level. It is an enormous city, which is why we have a large integrated transit system which includes: Metrocable (Urban cable cars), Metro rail, Metroplus buses, Tram, and bike sharing. The Metro de Medellín is incredibly clean, but it can be overwhelming at rush hour, especially in the afternoons and evenings. Before I go on, it’s important for you to understand a bit of Medellín’s topography, since this will help you understand why our transit system is so unique.
And since we are in the mountains, Medellín and the surrounding areas are filled with steep hills (lomas). However, many people who live high up in the hills, on the valley walls, are isolated from the rest of the city. Our transit system is unique in that we have Metrocable, urban cable cars/gondolas, which serve the areas where you would not be able to build metro rail or a tram. Our Metrocable system has been internationally acclaimed as a tool for creating equity in our city and connecting those on the margins to those at the center. Those of us who are lucky enough to call Medellín home are incredibly lucky, in that the mayor of Medellín and our City Council has invested and is investing so much in making Medellín a safer and more equitable place for us all to live. For more information on how to get your Cívica, Medellín’s free reloadable transit card, you can read my post on this here.
What is it like to work in a neighborhood where they are building one of the new metrocable lines?
I taught English on the Colombia Bilingüe program at an all-girls school in one of the neighborhoods where they are building one of the new metrocable lines. This is what I did to get to work: I took the metro nine stops, then I got off the metro and got on a bus from the metro. I would then spend approximately 30 minutes on a bus, get off the bus near my school, and then walk about 5 minutes from the bus stop to work. It was probably close to an hour round trip and taking the bus down to the metro station, down these really steep and winding lomas (hills), y’all, it felt like I was an amusement park ride, I had to hold onto the seat in front of me, so I stayed in my seat. I cannot wait until all of the new Metrocable lines are up and running because it will change so many people’s lives and I also cannot wait to try them out.
At the time that I am writing this, there are currently four metrocable lines in service, Líneas K, L, H, and J. However, there are two more metrocable lines under construction, Línea M, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of December 2018 and Línea P, which we are hoping will be completed sometime during July 2019 or August 2019.
Many tourists take metrocable, and if you are not afraid of heights, I recommend that you take Metrocable at least once while you are here. Most tourists take the metro to Acevedo, then take Línea K to Popular, transfer to Línea L which takes them to Parque Arví and Santa Elena. And before you ask; Metrocable is completely safe, it was designed by French engineers. I love taking metrocable, for those who have ridden a ski gondola, our metrocable is similar except there is no snow and no place to store skis or snowboards. Using metrocable will allow you to enjoy amazing views of the city and understand our city. I would not recommend taking Metrocable at rush hour to avoid the lines. However, it's important to note that if it is storming, they shut it down for safety purposes. If you want to learn more about the history of Metrocable here in Medellín, here is a link to some information in English, http://gondolaproject.com/category/installations/medellin-metrocable/. Finally, if you enjoy boomerangs like me, metrocable makes for great content to use for Instagram and Snapchat. Contrary to what my friends and family may believe, no, I am not always riding metrocable, I only love to take videos for Instagram when I have the chance since I LOVE metrocable.
There are two metro rail lines, Línea A and Línea B.
Línea A: travels north-south and has 21 stations. Línea A begins at Niquia, which is the northernmost metro stop in the suburb of Bello, lies to the north of the municipality of Medellín and all the way south to the suburb of La Estrella, a suburb located south of Medellín. There are 13 metro stops on Línea A that are located in Medellín, all of the stations from Acevdeo in the north to Aguacatala in the south.
Línea B has six stations, located all within the municipality of Medellín. Línea B begins at San Antonio and heads west until San Javier, where the metrocable Línea J towards La Aurora begins. You take Línea B if you ever headed to the following neighborhoods, Estadio, Laureles, Floresta, San Javier and Comuna 13.
Tranvía (The Tram)
The tranvía de Ayacucho, which opened in 2016, begins at the San Antonio metro station and heads east towards Oriente. The Línea H Metrocable station is connected to the end of the Tranvía line headed towards Villa Sierra, and Las Torre begins at the final tranvía station, Oriente. You can take the tram from San Antonio to the Parque Bicentenario stop, and Museo Casa de la Memoria is about a five-minute walk from the Parque Bicentenario station. The tram like the rest of the metro system here is amazingly clean, reliable, and safe.
I still do not understand the logic behind the Metroplus buses. They are buses which are similar to Transmilieno buses in Bogotá, in they have their own lane in traffic and connect people in different parts of the city to various metro stations. When I researched Metropolus, I learned that having Metroplus is cheaper than building more metro rail and they are flexible than a tram. There are currently two Metroplus lines, and they are constructing a third Metroplus line between the southern suburbs of Medellín, Itagüí and Envigado, that may be ready sometime during the end of 2018 or 2019?
Unlike, Transmilenio these buses are clean, reliable, and much safer. Riding Transmilenio in Bogotá can be dangerous and nightmare inducing at rush hour but Metroplus is pretty chill, it can get crowded, but it’s much better than Bogotá There are currently two lines for Metroplus in Medellín, Línea 1 and Línea 2. Both the Línea 1 and Línea 2 Metroplus lines stop at the same stops for Metroplus Línea 1 between the Universidad de Medellín and Industriales Metroplus station but Línea 2 for Metroplus goes much farther to the north and east. While the Línea 1 for Metroplus only goes between Universidad de Medellín and Industriales metro station serving much of Belén and some of the western side of Medellín.
In some areas near some metro stations, there is an Encicla bike share you can access with your Cívica card; it's similar to Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. but not as popular or ubiquitous here like it is in Washington. I have not biked yet here in Medellín, because I have not registered my Cívica for this and do not have a helmet. And biking here on the street with all the traffic, cars, trucks, and motorcycles here in Medellín frankly terrifies me. Also since Medellín and Antioquia are filled with hills, biking here is not the same as using Capital Bikeshare or Lime Bike in Washington D.C.
Feeder and Integrated buses
Any bus that does not have a Metro de Medellín logo is technically a bus owned and operated by a private company. Alimentadoras (feeder) and integrados (integrated) buses are private buses that connect people to metro rail stations. The Metro de Medellín is gradually getting these buses, the buses which serve metro stations to accept only a Cívica card, instead of cash. But if you use an alimentadora that accepts Cívica and you do not have a Cívica, you can pay cash and ride it normally. You can also buy integrado tickets for different bus lines at different metro stations and instead of paying two fares–one to ride the metro and another to ride the bus-in total close to $5.000 COP, you would pay a combined fare of $2.500 COP if you were taking the bus to Castilla before they transitioned to only Cívicas during September 2018. However, they are gradually phasing this out and moving towards having these buses which take you to various metro stations only accept payments using a Cívica. I have included below the list of fares for 2019 for people using Metro de Medellín, an image with the new integrado fares for 2019 for buses currently accepting Cívicas.
You may be reading this and wondering what the heck is a Cívica, how do I get one, and how does it work? Cívicas are free reloadable metro cards that you can use throughout the whole metro system-Metrocable, Metro, Metroplus, Tranvía, and Encicla bike share. Getting a Cívica allows you save time, money, and transfer more easily between different forms of transit. You can get your Cívica, with your Cédula de Extranjería, if you are a foreigner who has been granted a visa for more than 90 days, a Colombian citizen with a Cédula de Ciudanía or your passport.
You can get a Cívica by going to customer service points where they do Cívicas at one the following metro stations: San Antonio, Niquía, Itagüí, and San Javier, they sometimes have tables set up at other stations where you can get your cívica. To get a Cívica, you need to bring an acceptable ID (passport or cédula de extranjería/cédula de ciudadanía ), wait in line, fill out some paperwork, the person inputs your data into the system and they make you a personalized card with your name on it. And then BAM, you have a Cívica. Then you can add money to it at different metro stations, Gana or online with a Colombian credit card.
I would recommend trying to get a Cívica if you are going to be here for more than a week. Having a Cívica saves you so much time waiting in line to buy metro tickets, and it saves you money as you transfer between different forms of transportation within the metro system, i.e. if you transfer from metro rail to the tranvía you don't have to pay extra. So when my family came to visit, I added extra money to my card and shared my Cívica with them, as we went through the turnstiles and it saved us so much time and headaches constantly buying metro tickets. Moreover, since the Cívica is personalized if you lose it or it is stolen, you can call the helpline and block the card. For more information about getting and using a Cívica, you can check out a later blog post, “How to get your first Cívica".
Metro de Medellín Schedule
Monday-Friday for Metrorail A and B, the tranvía, Metrocable H, J, K, and Metroplus Buses 1 and 2
4:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Sundays and Holidays
Metrorail lines A and B, the Tranvía and Metroplus Lines 1 and 2: 5:00 AM-10:00 PM
Línea K Metrocable: 8:30 AM-10:00 PM
Línea J Metrocable and Línea H Metrocable: 9:00 AM-10:00 PM
Cable Arví, (Línea L)*
Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM
Sundays and Holidays: 8:30 AM-6:00 PM
*The Línea L metrocable traveling between Santo Domingo and Parque Arví is not in service the first business day during a given week, so if there is a Monday holiday, this metrocable will likely not be open on the following day, Tuesday, since Parque Arví during weeks when there are not any Monday holidays is closed on Mondays. If we are observing a Monday holiday, Parque Arví will be closed the next day, Tuesday.
**Here is a link to where you can find out the schedule for integrados**
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