Colombia once had a railway network of over 3000 km. Today, most of it has been removed or abandoned, and only a few of these railroads are still in active use. However, in some cases, the abandoned railroads experience a renaissance of sorts, when common people use these rails to transport people and freight between villages on homemade rail vehicles. One such abandoned railroad used in this way can be found at the tropical town of Villeta, about 90 km west of Bogota. The resulting famous journey on rails from Villeta to the Bocatoma Waterfall lasts about 50 minutes in each direction.
The Villeta train trip is an adventure from beginning to end. In Villeta, passengers board a curiously constructed, small open trolley made of wooden planks placed over a chassis that straddles the tracks. The passengers sit throughout the ride on benches positioned atop the flat base of the trolley. Locomotion is provided by a motorcycle attached to the trolley (you really have to see it to believe it), causing the trolley to reach speeds of up to 30km/hour on the rail. Colombians know these vehicles as "Brujitas," meaning "Witch" in English.
The rail from Villeta to Bocatoma has a single track only, which makes passing another vehicle adventurous. In such a case, the "Brujita" with the least number of passengers stops and allows the other vehicle to pass. Passengers might even be asked to help move the "Brujita" off and back onto the rails so that the other railcar can continue its way without being removed from the track.
Despite the exertion that may be required when passing another "Brujita," a trip on these strange vehicles is an exotic, fun experience well worth the time. But don't expect any safety precautions! And don't hesitate to ask the driver to stop when you spot an animal or would like to take a photo of the surroundings.
At the Botacoma Waterfall, visitors can swim in the river, which is about 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) all year round. Keep in mind that on weekends it can be very crowded at the waterfall. Nearby are many small local restaurants where visitors can enjoy lunch or a snack. Instead of a Colombian beer, you might want to try the refreshing drinks of "panela lemonade" or "sugarcane jus" called "Guarapo."
If you have time and like abandoned buildings, have a look at the nearby Bagazal Railway Station. If you enjoy a tropical walk, take the walk from the Bagazal Railway Station to the Mave Railway Station, crossing iron railway bridges on the way. (The Mave Station itself is not attractive because it is in disrepair.)
Those who plan to walk along the railway tracks should keep in mind that people living in Colombia's rural areas often have dogs to protect their houses. For this reason, I recommend bringing a stick with you in case you come across an aggressive dog during your hike. At the very least, be prepared for dogs to bark at you as you pass.
We travel on the Villeta Train and swim beneath the Botacoma Waterfall during our tour "Coffee, Rum & Trains in Colombia and Panama."
For the Villeta Train experience, check-out our trip "Coffee & Rum in Colombia and Panama" that we organize from 15 May - 2 June 2022.