Colombia is a country with a story. It has a special history and many people know the country from the stories about drugs, cartels, the farc and Pablo Escobar. And yes, unfortunately this is also part of the history of the country but it is so much more than that! It has so much to offer, beautiful beaches, national parks, jungle, colonial towns and metropolises. In this article I'll tell you everything you need to know before traveling to beautiful Colombia!
Also read: Round trip through colorful Colombia | So much more than Pablo Escobar
Table of contents
In the North West of South America you will find Colombia, an amazing country with about 50 million inhabitants. The capital of the country is Bogota which is located at 2600m altitude in the Andes Mountains. The country has an area of 1.141.748 square meters and is therefore no less than 30 times larger than the Netherlands. Until the year 1810 Colombia was a colony of SpainThe country was declared independent after 1810. However, Spain was not satisfied with this and the Spanish troops recaptured the country. From the year 1819 there is real independence under the first president of Colombia Simón Bolívar. The official language of the country is Spanish. It is therefore certainly useful to speak a little Spanish as most Colombians do not speak English. If you don't speak Spanish now, don't let that stop you, with hands & feet and a number of translation apps such as Google translate you will come a long way! The currency is the Colombian Peso. Where €1,- is equivalent to about 4400 COP.
Also read: 20 Must Sees in South America | Feed for your Bucket List ✔️
Best time to visit Colombia
Colombia is located almost on the equator and therefore has a fairly constant climate. The country does have to deal with height differences, which means that it can be cooler in some places than in other places. The average temperature in the country is around 25 degrees Celsius. But in Bogotá, which lies at 2600m altitude, it is a lot cooler with an average temperature of about 15/20 degrees Celsius. To determine the best travel time, we look at the different seasons; the dry season & the rainy season. The rainy season in Colombia runs from April to June and October & November. The best travel time is therefore from December to March or from July to September. Of course, this does not mean that you cannot travel to Colombia during the rainy season. As mentioned, Colombia has an average temperature of about 25 degrees Celsius. You just have to settle for a little more rain.
The months of December & January are busy months in Colombia because the Colombians are on holiday. The months of July & August are busy because many foreign tourists travel to Colombia. Would you like to travel in the dry season but not mass tourism? Then choose the months of February, March or September.
You do not need a visa to visit Colombia. Upon arrival in Colombia you will receive a permit that allows you to stay in the country for 90 days. For this you need a valid passport, at least 1 empty visa page and an exit ticket. Do you want to stay in Colombia longer than 90 days? Then you can have your visa extended for another 90 days. You can do this at the local immigration offices in Bogotá or Medellin, among others. Or you can request this online via the official website† The costs for this are about €20. So you can stay in Colombia for a maximum of 180 days on a tourist visa.
What is important is that you can prove that you will leave the country within 90 or 180 days. You can prove this by means of a plane ticket, bus ticket or boat ticket. Have you only booked a one-way ticket and are you still not sure how or what? Then you can, for example, book a cheap bus ticket that shows that you are leaving the country to prevent further problems. Of course you can also gamble on it, in practice you are almost never asked for an exit ticket, but that is of course up to you, it always remains at your own risk!
At the moment there are no mandatory vaccinations for a visit to Colombia. However, a number of vaccinations are recommended. These are the vaccinations DTP, Hepatitis A and depending on where you come from.
Yellow Fever is necessary if you travel to Colombia from a risk country such as Brazil, Angola, Congo & Uganda. If you plan to stay in the country for more than 90 days, additional vaccinations are recommended such as Rabies & Hepatitis B. Always get advice about vaccinations from Vaccinations While Traveling or the GGD. They will also register all vaccinations in your vaccination passport that you have to take with you on your trip.
GGD is the specialist for travel vaccinations and inoculations in the Netherlands. The specialized vaccination nurses and doctors advise and vaccinate more than 35.000 travelers every year.
Obtained vaccinations can be put in an official vaccination passport (yellow booklet).
In most cases, the vaccinations can be reimbursed via the health insurance - contact your health insurer for this.
- Low prices
- Often fully reimbursed
- Evenings and weekends
- Yellow booklet / passport
- Locations throughout the Netherlands
An important point! Colombia has not built up the best reputation in the past. However, the country has become very popular in recent years and more and more tourists come to discover this amazing country. The reputation of insecurity, drugs and violence are in my view very unjustified. The Colombians are very hospitable, friendly & helpful. As far as I'm concerned, you can travel perfectly in Colombia without having to look over your shoulder all the time. Of course it is important to use common sense, just like you do here in the Netherlands. Some tips that can help you are:
- Learn a word of Spanish, so you can always ask for help or understand what people want from you.
- Travel by taxi in the evening, rather not by public transport.
- Do not just leave your valuables in your room, always use a safe.
- Ask in your accommodation if there are places to avoid, locals know best!
- Do not walk alone in the dark.
Also read: Colorful Colombia | The 5 most beautiful cities
Are you traveling alone and going out? Then report to the reception of your accommodation where you are going. This is always a nice backup that someone knows where you are.
Also for solo (female) travelers I think Colombia is a safe country to travel. As long as you use common sense and use the above tips, you can travel around the country safely.
There are several transport options that you can use during your trip through Colombia. We'll start with the most commonly used option: the bus. With the bus you can easily move around the country, you have buses for long distances & you have buses for short distances. The bus actually works like a taxi. There are often no real bus stops, especially in the smaller towns. You simply raise your hand when a bus passes by, get in and ask the bus to stop at your terminus. Super handy and this only costs a few euros. This is of course slightly different for long distances. The buses then depart from major bus stations and you buy a ticket for a specific route. Are you unsure about the best way to travel from one place to another? Then use the Rome2Rio app. They will show you all the options with the costs involved.
For longer distances you can use the plane. Domestic flights in Colombia are very cheap. Sometimes just as cheap as a bus ticket. You can catch a domestic flight for a few bucks. The budget airline to fly with in Colombia is Viva Air. Super basic but affordable prices. You can often still book the tickets until the last minute. (Of course it also depends a bit on the season in which you travel, in the high season it might be better to book a little further in advance).
The city of Medellin is the only city in the country with a metro network. Super handy & reliable. You can buy a one-time metro card at the station or a card on which you can put money. Then you check in and out at your arrival and departure station. This actually works a bit the same as an OV chip card here in the Netherlands. With the metro card you can also use the funicular in the city. A single ride on the metro or funicular costs 2300 COP or about €0,50 cents. You can buy the one-time metro card at every station, the top-up card can be bought at the major metro stations; San Antonio, Niquia, San Javier & Itagüí. The Metro is a safe means of transport, but watch your belongings. Carry your bag on your stomach so you can keep a close eye on it.
Last but not least, the taxi. Uber is illegal in Colombia. There are Ubers driving around, but if you are stopped you do have a problem. So I wouldn't recommend using Uber during your trip in Colombia. They do have another app that you can use in Colombia; cabify. This actually works the same as an Uber, only these are official taxis and not 'regular' people in their own car. You download the app, enter your payment details and you can order a taxi. Here you can choose a cheaper option or a more luxurious option. Unfortunately I have not been able to discover exactly what the difference is between the two, so both are fine!
In Colombia you pay with the Colombian Peso. At the moment, 1 euro is equivalent to about 4400 COP. Colombia is one of the cheapest countries to travel in South America. To determine a budget, you can divide your trip into a number of categories:
Let's just say that you can of course make it as crazy as you want. Are you a real backpacker who only stays in dormitories? Do you prefer a private room or do you opt for pure luxury. For a bed in a dormitory you pay an average of about €10. For a private room in a hostel you can count around €30,- and for about €50,- per night you have luxury accommodation. Keep in mind that it also differs per destination. This way you can save some money in one place and spend a little more in another.
Transport in Colombia is cheap. So cheap that even for longer distances it is sometimes just as cheap to fly as to take the bus. The local buses cost a few euros for a few hours. So super cheap! These are often buses without air conditioning and absolutely not suitable for the tall Dutch among us, but doable for not too far distances. The long distance buses are large tour buses. Air conditioning, luxury seats, and often a TV. For a ride of about 8 hours you pay around € 25,- pp. When you book the same route with Viva Air, you can also score a plane ticket for the same price. Prices for domestic flights are usually between €25 – €50 per ticket. the choice is yours! You can count on around €500 per person for a return flight from the Netherlands to Colombia.
Cook yourself, eat out locally or (more luxurious) international restaurants. 3 options, 3 different price range. If you really want to keep it low budget and start cooking, you can score ingredients in the supermarket for a few euros and cook a meal. In the local restaurants you can score a main course for less than €10 and in the more luxurious restaurants you can count on about €15/€20 for a main course. You can score a beer for less than a euro and you can also buy soft drinks for the same price. So food really doesn't have to be expensive during your trip in Colombia!
Often the biggest expense when traveling, all the tours you can book. But in Colombia it is not that bad when it comes to tours. Be sure to check out the free tours in the major cities such as Bogotá, Medellin and Colombia. These are often very nice and 'free'. Free means you can make a contribution at the end of what you thought the tour was worth. In addition, access to national parks such as Tyrona, waterfalls, coffee tours, etc. usually costs around €10 / €15 per person. A tour that really costs money is The Lost City Trek. If you have these on your list, you can count on about €300 per person. In general you can do a lot of fun things in Colombia for free or for a small price!
After taking in all this information, it is of course time for the preparation! Anticipation is at least as important as the journey itself. Below I share 3 places that you should not miss during a tour through Colombia!
Also read: La Guajira | 13 reasons to visit this Caribbean coastal desert
Valle de Cocora – Salento
From Salento you can visit Valle de Cocora. What a special place this is! It is a Valley in which you can find the highest palm trees in the world, the palm trees can grow up to 60m high. Insane isn't it? Jeeps leave daily from the main square in Salento that will take you to
to the starting point of the hike. This will cost you about €1 per person, one way. You can then choose between the long or the short walking route. The long walking route takes about 6 hours and the short walking route about 2 hours. I advise you to take the long route. You first walk through beautiful fields with amazing views, then you walk through the forest with rivers and waterfalls to eventually reach the best part, the valley with the palm trees. After the walk there are always jeeps ready to take you back to Salento. Make sure you have enough to eat & drink with you because during the walk you will only come across 1 restaurant. Also bring some money because you have to pay a small entrance fee for the long route because it is private property.
Cascadas de Marinka – Minca
Minca is a lovely place in the middle of the Jungle. You can reach Minca from Santa Marta by bus or taxi in about 45 minutes. It used to be in the hands of the Farc, today a popular spot in the jungle. You can hike, spot birds and relax here, but it is mainly known for its many waterfalls. The highlight is Cascadas de Marinka. This waterfall actually consists of 2 waterfalls, a higher waterfall & a lower waterfall. A lovely place to spend a few hours. You will also find a restaurant here where you can relax in the large hammocks. You pay a small entrance fee of a few euros pp to visit the falls, but this is definitely worth it! Do you want to read more about Minca and what there is to do? Then check out this extensive blog about Coin.
The city of Cartagena has been voted the most beautiful city in Colombia several times and rightly so in my opinion! Stroll through the wonderfully colorful streets or go shopping in one of the many boutiques that you can find here. It is also very hot in the city, so it is definitely recommended to take a trip to one of the many beaches that you can find in the area. However, you have to book a tour for this, because the city unfortunately does not have its own beach.
Are you curious about more of my travel experiences? Then you can follow me on my website www.travelaway.nl or you can find me on Instagram at @travelaway.nl† I look forward to seeing you there!
Seen a mistake? Ask? Remark? Let us know in the comments!