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Colombia Travel Guide

Dear Reader

My name is Frank and I run a travel agency based in Bogota, Colombia. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please write them in our comments section. Thank you and have a great trip to Colombia!

1. Top things to see in Colombia

Below you will find a quick overview of the highlights of Colombia after my opinion. There is much more to discover although. You will find detailed information about those sites and many more in the blogs of the different regions.

 

Monserrate (Bogota)

Climbing the hill of Bogota and enjoying the great view

 

The Gold Museum (Bogota)

Dive into Colombia’s history and find out about El Dorado

 

La Candelaria (Bogota)

Check out the historic center of Bogota

 

Graffiti Tour (Bogota)

Learn about the history of the great street art in Bogota

 

The Salt Cathedral Zipaquira (Bogota)

Built into an active Salt Mine, check out this awesome tourist attraction

 

Villa de Leyva (Bogota)

One of the most beautiful colonial heritage towns of Colombia

 

Guatapé and El Peñol (Medellin)

The most colorful Colombian town and a big rock to climb

 

Comuna 13 (Medellin)

Learn about the violent history of Medellin

 

Cartagena (Cartagena)

An UNESCO heritage town you need to explore

 

Parque Tayrona (Santa Marta)

The most important Colombian National Park

 

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

From 0 at the Caribbean Coast until 5,700m (18,700 ft), what more to say

 

Lost City (Santa Marta)

The journey is the destination, a great 4 days trek to an incredible site

 

Valle de Cocora (Coffee Triangle)

See beautiful landscape and the wax palm which is the biggest palm tree in the world

 

Coffee Experience (Coffee Triangle)

Visit one of the various Coffee Farms in the Coffee triangle and learn everything about coffee

 

Carnivals (Festivals of Colombia)

In Colombia you can visit various Carnivals, with Barranquilla and Pasto as the most famous ones

 

Colombian Safari (Casanare)

Explore the Colombian Llanos and find incredible landscape and lots of cool animals

 

Punta Gallinas (La Guajira)

Travel through the desert to one of the most magic points on earth

 

Providencia (Islands)

The dream of a Caribbean Island, not easy to get there but worth the effort

 

The End of the World (Putumayo)

One of the most impressive Waterfalls of Colombia with natural pools

 

Caño Cristales (Meta)

A river showing rainbow colors some months in the year

 

Whale Watching (Bahia Solano, Choco)

See and learn all about whales during whale watching season

2. Introduction

Colombia is a megadiverse country with over 55,000 different species whereas over 9’000 are endemics and is very close to the Equator. It has a size of 1.142 km2 and is slightly bigger than France & Germany combined or the same size as the 2 biggest States in the USA, Texas and California. It was conquered by the Spaniards in 1499 and liberated 1819 by Simón Bolívar. It has a population of approximate 50m habitants, which are a mix of different ethnics. Colombia contains three Andean Mountain Ranges and has shores to the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Due to its proximity to the equator the temperature is depending on the altitude which ranges from 0 to 5,700 meters (18,700 feet) with the Pico Cristobal Colón as the highest peak. There is rain and dry season.

The main language is Spanish but there are also over 80 recognized indigenous languages. The currency is the Colombian Peso.

3. Direct flights to Colombia

Europe

  • Amsterdam

  • Barcelona

  • Frankfurt

  • Istanbul

  • Lisbon

  • London

  • Madrid

  • Munich

  • Paris

North America

  • Atlanta

  • Boston

  • Chicago

  • Dallas

  • Fort Lauderdale

  • Houston

  • Los Angeles

  • Miami

  • Montreal

  • New York

  • Newark

  • Orlando

  • Toronto

  • Washington

Latin America

  • Buenos Aires

  • Cancun

  • Caracas

  • Lima

  • Mexico City

  • Panama

  • Punta Cana

  • Quito

  • San Salvador

  • Santiago de Chile

  • Sao Paolo

4. Arrival at the airport

Upon arrival at the airport in Bogota you will walk out and on the way you will see service to exchange money. I recommend getting Colombian Pesos at one of the ATM’s in the airport instead. Maximum will be COP 700,000.—to withdraw at once. You will be able to make several withdrawals.

Walking out of the secure zone there will be many people offering taxi service. If you do not have a service picking you up, don’t let them bother you and walk outside to the official taxi stand, it is visible. A ride will cost you between 20’ and 30’ thousand pesos.

If you would like to take the bus, take the M86 until “Concejo de Bogota”. If you go to La Candelaria switch to Bus number 1 that brings you to “Universidades”, final station and 5 minutes walk to La Candelaria. Saying that, you will need a bus card. Sometimes you can buy it at the airport, sometimes not.

5. Destinations

5.1 Cities

Bogotá

Bogota has a population of over 10 million and sits on an altitude of over 2,600 meters (8,600 ft). It is the capital of Colombia and is also one of the biggest cities of South America. The temperature ranges between 7° and 20° Celsius (44.6° – 68°F). The weather is usually unpredictable and in one day one can experience sun, rain, hail, hot and cold. The tourist areas are usually limited to La Candelaria to the south and to Usaquen to the North. Popular tourist districts are the Zona T, Chapinero and Chapinero Alto. Bogota has a very vivid cultural agenda and there is always something to do. The best way to get around is by public transport outside of peak hours or taxi.

Medellin

Medellin has a population of over 4 million and is situated on an altitude of over 1,500 meters (5,000 ft). It is the capital of the department of Antioquia and is also known as the city of eternal spring. Also it is rated as one of the most dynamic and innovative cities in Latin America. The temperature ranges between 10° and 35° Celsius (50° – 95°F). The weather is usually unpredictable and in one day one can experience sun, rain, hail, hot and cold. The tourist areas are usually limited to El Poblado and Laureles. The best way to get around is by public transport outside of peak hours or taxi.

Cartagena

Cartagena has a population of over 900,000 and is situated on sea level. It is the capital of the department of Bolivar and probably the most touristic city of Colombia. It became a UNESCO world heritage in 1984. The temperature ranges between 22° and 32° Celsius (71° – 90°F). The weather is usually hot and humid. The tourist areas are usually limited to the walled city, La Matuna, Castillogrande, Bocagrande, Getsemani, San Diego and La Boquilla. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Cali

Cali has a population of over 2.5 million and is situated on an altitude of over 1,500 meters (4,900 ft). It is the capital of the department of Valle del Cauca and famous for its Salsa dancing. The temperature ranges between 18° and 30° Celsius (64° – 86°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta has a population of over 400,000 and is situated on sea level. It is the capital of the department of Magdalena. The temperature ranges between 22° and 32° Celsius (71° – 90°F). The weather is usually hot and humid. The tourist area is usually limited to the historic city center. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Bucaramanga

Bucaramanga has a population of over 500,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 950 meters (3,100 ft). It is the capital of the department of Santander. The temperature ranges between 18° and 30° Celsius (65° – 86°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Valledupar

Valledupar has a population of over 500,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 170 meters (560 ft). It is the capital of the department of Cesar. The temperature ranges between 17° and 39° Celsius (63° – 102°F). The weather is usually hot. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Pereira

Pereira has a population of over 450,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 1,400 meters (4,590 ft). It is the capital of the department of Risaralda. The temperature ranges between 17° and 35° Celsius (63° – 95°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

San Juan de Pasto

Pasto has a population of over 450,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 2,500 meters (8,200 ft). It is the capital of the department of Narino. The temperature ranges between 1° and 25° Celsius (34° – 77°F). The weather is usually cold. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Manizales

Manizales has a population of over 350,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 2,200 meters (7,200 ft). It is the capital of the department of Caldas. The temperature ranges between 6° and 28° Celsius (43° – 82°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Armenia

Armenia has a population of over 300,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 1,550 meters (5,085 ft). It is the capital of the department of Quindio. The temperature ranges between 16° and 28° Celsius (60° – 82°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Riohacha

Riohacha has a population of over 150,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 5 meters (16 ft). It is the capital of the department of La Guajira. The temperature ranges between 17° and 39° Celsius (63° – 102°F). The weather is usually hot and dry. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Popayán

Popayan has a population of over 400,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 1,750 meters (5,740 ft). It is the capital of the department of Cauca. The temperature ranges between 8° and 28° Celsius (46° – 82°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Yopal

Yopal has a population of over 150,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 350 meters (1,150 ft). It is the capital of the department of Casanare. The temperature ranges between 20° and 33° Celsius (68° – 92°F). The weather is usually hot. The best way to get around is by taxi.

Tumaco

Tumaco has a population of over 200,000 and is situated on an altitude of over 2 meters (6 ft). It is situated in the department of Cauca. The temperature ranges between 16° and 36° Celsius (60° – 97°F). The weather is usually warm. The best way to get around is by taxi.

5.2 Backpackers

Below you will find destinations where usually backpackers go. Find my opinion and what to do there.

Salento

Salento is a town in the coffee triangle and the department of Quindio. It is the entrance door to get to the Cocora Valley. It used to be a beautiful town of the area and very original. Today it is a main destination for backpackers and many foreigners buy real estate to invest into tourism. It partly lost its local charm as gentrification continues and locals have more and more troubles paying the high costs of living. It is packed with restaurant, bars and hostels. Travelers who want to meet other travelers and have party nights are advised to go there. Visitors who seek for a Colombian experience should better avoid it.

Palomino

Palomino is known as the hippie town of Colombia. You can get there easily from Santa Marta for no money. Arriving there can be quite shocking as the main road where the bus stops is not the most beautiful place in the world. You will find many shops, restaurants and hostels. The dirt roads can be flooded after rain. If you are looking for Yoga, vegetarian food or spiritual enlightenment, this might be a good destination for you. The beach is ok but not great for swimming. The surrounding area is beautiful with the Sierra Nevada rising from the coastline. There are activities like Tubing on the Palomino River, visiting the Quebrada Valencia Waterfall, learning about the indigenous culture in the Taironaka or various tours with local providers. Some people feel magic in Palomino which I personally never experienced. To me it became an extension of Taganga close to Santa Marta, which is Colombia’s Sodom and Gomorrah.

Minca

Minca is a great destination to escape from the Caribbean heat. Just jump on one of the 4X4 collectivos in Santa Marta and within an hour you will arrive. The little town is situated on around 650 meters above sea level and is the entrance door to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In the recent years there was quite a boom and many hostels and other accommodations offer their services. After arrival you can easily take a Mototaxi to get to other places. Destinations with beautiful nature like Minca also face some risks. Today not only international travelers are attracted but also Colombians are arriving by the busload. The natural pools close by turn into massive crowded Colombian family gatherings with some negative side effects as in Colombia most people still are used to bring a lot of stuff and leave tons of trash.

Who wants to experience some peaceful days is therefore advised to look for accommodation uphill. There are great plans for hiking, night tours finding the crystal frog, visiting La Victoria Coffee Farm, going up to San Lorenzo for Birdwatching and much more. I stayed about 90 minutes up hill on 1,600 meters in a Coffee Farm with view over Santa Marta and the Caribbean. If you want to enjoy the greatest experience, I advise you to getting up to hill as far you can get.

Taganga

I visited Taganga for the first time in 2009 as a backpacker. Already then it was a party destination. It is still a fisher village and a backpacker and party destination but to me a great example of what can go wrong when tourism arrives. It still has some nice places and having some food above the bay and enjoying sunrise or sunset is a great experience. Today I call it Sodom and Gomorrah of Colombia. Taganga is famous for wild parties, drugs, prostitution and also child abuse. It is also not a secret that mostly Isreali males are in conflict with the local authorities and when talking to locals in Santa Marta they claim this nationality as the main source of the problems.

In the department of Santander, one of the best outdoor sites of Colombia you find the little town of San Gil. You can fly to Bucaramanga and take the bus for 2 and a half hours to San Gil, or take a bus (also overnight bus) from Bogota, which will take you around 6 hours. San Gil is actually a very ugly town but the outdoor activities are great. From river rafting to paragliding and hiking, no wishes will stay unsatisfied.

5.3 Destinations away from tourist crowds

La Guajira

La Guajira is one of the most interesting departments of Colombia but it is also one of the poorest. You heard of Palomino? This is already in La Guajira. Then it stretches all the way up until it hits the Caribbean Sea and therefore also is the northernmost point of the continent. It also borders with Venezuela. It is mostly desert and the landscapes are spectacular. To get to Riohacha you can either take a bus, a private transport or fly there from Bogota. The capital is nothing special, but I think in the future it will develop and more hostels will open. The to me interesting sites are more north. Getting to Cabo de la Vela is very easy. You can either organize your trip with a local travel agency or look for a “collectivo” taking you to Uribia and then taking another “collective” 4×4 (they usually transport goods and locals). Also you can take the regular bus to Cuatro Vias, from there you have cars that bring you to Uribia and then you also can take the “collectivo”. All in all from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela it takes approx. 4 hours.

Cabo de la Vela is a Kitesurf paradise, has a nice beach that has shallow water for a long time and is the perfect spot to chill. The landscape is spectacular. From there you also can travel up to Punta Gallinas.

Llanos/Casanare

Llanos of Casanare is one of my favorite destinations in Colombia and like my second home. It is the Cowboy Land of Colombia where you will see the true cattle business and also can be part of it. It is part of a greater area that stretches into Venezuela. It is a tropical grassland plain, hot and with a strong rainy season. It is the perfect destination to do a Llanos Safari where you can spot animals like Puma, Jaguar, Anaconda, Chiguiros, Orinoco Crocodiles, Babillas, Nutrias and much more. It is also a great destination for birdwatching.

Llanos/Meta

Llanos of Meta is very similar to the Llanos of Casanare but a bit different. Part of it is the Chingaza Natural Park. That means it contains altitudes between 450- 4,000 meters (1,450 – 13,000 feet). There is more influence from the Amazon region and also you will find Canon Cristales in this department. It is also a great destination for birdwatching.

Choco

The Choco is situated on the pacific coast and is mostly nature. There are actually only 2 towns you can visit as the area in general is occupied by Narcos or armed groups. Bahia Solano and Nuqui are safe tough, as there are also battalions of the Marines. It is a great destination for whale watching during the season, which starts in June until November. Also nature is great. You can get there either with direct flights from Medellin or from Bogota with stop over in Quibdo.

Amazonas

There are actually different departments in Colombia that are part of the Amazon. The most popular destination is Leticia, which boarders with Peru and Brazil. You only can get there by flying. There are lots of cool activities you can do there. If you are afraid of spiders or insects, this might be not the ideal destination for you.

Nariño

The department of Nariño is one of the undiscovered treasures of Colombia. The department borders with Ecuador to the south and has coastline and Volcanoes. International and even national tourism is on a very low scale. The temperature is mostly cold but the landscape and natural treasures to discover are great.

Cesar

The department of Cesar is a real surprise. It is situated at the backside of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The climate is great and nature just spectacular. You can swim in virgin crystal clear rivers with NOBODY around. The Capital Valledupar is also famous for its Vallenato.

5.4 Colombian Luxury Destinations

Colombia is still very new in tourism. Therefore infrastructure and service quality still have potential for improvement. Although in some cities you have some great hotels, throughout the country the luxury offer is mostly still missing. But on my travels I encountered more and more people with a vision, that invest heavily to improve the overall quality. So far I would say, the luxury in traveling Colombia lays not staying in 5* resorts or hotels but more in the unique experiences Colombia has to offer. As there is a little bit of both, we also wrote a separate guide on that.

 

Baru

 

Providencia

 

Barichara

 

Coffee Triangle

6. Playing Golf in Colombia

Playing golf in Colombia will be an unique experience. There are over 50 golf courses around the country. You can play from sea level up to 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) in different climate zones year around. Saying that, most of the Golf courses are private and you will not have access as an individual traveler.

7. Cultural and History Travel

7.1 Culture and History in Colombia

7.2 17 Heritage Towns

There are 17 Heritage Towns in Colombia of which you should visit at least some. All of them are colonial architecture towns and beautiful, some are bigger, some smaller. Some are more touristic, others are very original and seem to stuck in the last century.  Not all of them are easy to get to or worth the effort. Watch the video or check the list below.

 
1. Aguadas I wasn’t there
2. Barichara Most beautiful historic town of Colombia
3. Buga I wasn’t there
4. Ciénaga I wasn’t there
5. El Socorro I wasn’t there
6. Honda Visit if in the region
7. Jericó I wasn’t there
8. Guaduas Visit if in the region
9. Jardín I recommend to visit
 
  10. La Playa de Belén   I wasn’t there
  11. Lorica   I wasn’t there
  12. Mompox   Visit if in the region
  13. Monguí   I recommend to visit in combination the the Paramo
  14. San Juan de Girón   I wasn’t there
  15. Salamina   I recommend to visit
  16. Santa Fé de Antioquia   I recommend to visit
  17. Villa de Leyva   I recommend to visit

Jardín, Antioquia

Santa Fé de Antioquia, Antioquia

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá

7.3 7 Wonders of Colombia

The Colombians chose the 7 Wonders of Colombia in 2007. Each of those is worth a visit after my opinion.

 
1. Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira I recommend to visit
2. Las Lajas Sanctuary I recommend to visit
3. San Agustin Archaeological Park I recommend to visit
4. Military Architecture of Cartagena I recommend to visit
5. Ciudad Perdida I recommend to visit
6. Tierradentro I wasn’t there
7. Teatro de Cristobal Colon I recommend to visit

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira

Cartagena

8. Where to stay?

As this section would become very big we will include our recommendations for each regions or make a separate description in the future.

9. Transportation in Colombia

Colombia is as big as France and Germany or California and Texas combined. There are many mountains and therefore average ground speed is about 40 Km/h. Believe me, I traveled the country several times by car. Therefore I recommend flying if you have to travel for longer distances. For budget travelers there are also overnight buses, which today are very confortable.

Flying

Following you will find the list of the different airlines that operate within the country. It is also possible to charter airplanes. Note that sometimes it is difficult to buy a ticket online.

 
Avianca Biggest Colombian Airline
Latam Quality airline
Satena National Airline
Viva Air Cheap carrier
Easy Fly Cheap carrier
Wingo Cheap carrier
Copa Airlines Never used it

Bus

With buses you can travel the whole country. You can either go to the local bus terminal or buy your ticket online. Also you can use the redBus app.

Here are some of the best bus companies:

Others

For getting around in the cities I recommend taxi or Uber. You should not pick it up on the street but order it from an app ask Hotel/Restaurant etc. to order it.

Some aps you can use:

10. Best time to go to Colombia

It can be said, that the peak tourism month are from December to March. During Easter week in April all Colombians are travelling. Also take in account that in Colombia are over 18 public holidays, usually on a Monday. On long weekends popular tourist destinations can get very busy and prices rise. It is difficult to advise you on when to come to Colombia as dry and wet season differ from region to region and everything depends where you would like to go and what activities you want to do. In the Amazon and the Orinoquia you will have to decide, if you want the water level of the water bodies up or down. If the level of the Amazon river is low, you will not be able to access some of the sites per boat. In the Orinoquia some of the sites become inaccessible during rain season.

Since 4 years I travelled the whole country throughout the year and the only thing I try to avoid is the Caribbean coast between September and October, as hurricanes (They don’t come to Colombia) can bring a lot of rain for many days to the region.

11. How to choose the best travel agency for coming to Colombia

Not all of us are backpackers and have plenty of time to spoil and limited budget. Especially in Colombia traveling with a professional has its advantages. After years in the country I am still surprised how things can go wrong, like cancelled flight, missing hotel reservations, closed roads etc. Choosing the right travel agency for your needs can be a quite difficult decision. We think you deserve a trusted partner that offers you great service and that is 100% professional. Also we believe it is a big advantage to have a travel agency in Colombia, knowing the country, the culture and having direct access to a network of specialists, being capable of taking actions and finding solutions right away, in case something goes wrong.

In the video I explain more indebt about the different types of agencies, advantages and disadvantages.

12. Safety in Colombia

Colombia is safe as any other Latin American country after my opinion. We are far away from how Colombia was 20 years ago. For tourist today it is safe to travel the country.

Please find additional information in our video or in the links below.

13. Preparation before traveling to Colombia

Before traveling to Colombia you should make sure your passport is still valid and from your country there are no Visa restrictions. Depending on the region you would like to travel to, you might get a vaccine in advance.

Check our Medical Advice Blog for that.

14. What to bring and what not to bring to Colombia?

There is actually nothing specific that you need to bring as most stuff you also can buy here in Colombia. Just be aware that depending of your itinerary you will travel into different climate zones and therefore will need clothes for warm and cold weather. Sun protection you should have at any time.

In the video you will learn more about my thoughts.

15. Emergencies in Colombia

For every emergency you encounter you can dial 123. This is the national emergency number of Colombia. If you do not have a local phone ask for the next police station. A list of all the embassies in Colombia you will find under the following links:

If you have a medical emergency, the health system in Colombia is considered as very good. You should be able to prove insurance that you will receive treatment. Following you will find a link with .the best hospitals in Colombia.

https://globalhealthintelligence.com/the-best-hospitals-in-latin-america-2018/best-equipped-hospitals-in-colombia-2018/

16. Tips and tricks

There are some basic things to know about Colombia

  • Check passport is valid > 6 months

  • Advise Bank that you can get cash with your card at local ATM’s

  • If you are oversized, it can be difficult to get clothes or shoes in Colombia

  • Check your vaccines

  • Don’t bring expensive stuff or jewelries

  • Make a copy of your documents and carry them around

  • Learn some Spanish in advance

  • Don’t talk about Pablo Escobar

  • Don’t bring foreign money, use ATM’s instead to get cash

  • Tips are usually 10%. Sometimes it is included, sometimes not

  • Most people speak Spanish, English is not common

  • Emergency Number is 123

  • There are over 18 public holidays, don’t travel on those dates

  • Same as Semana Santa, the Easter holiday

  • Bring patience

  • Watch your drinks when you go out

  • Don’t take taxis on the street

  • Protect yourself from sexual transmitted diseases

17. Food in Colombia

Colombia is food paradise. The soil is very fertile and everything grows like crazy. Therefore wherever you will go, you will be served fresh prepared food. You will never encounter convenience food. Saying that I have to outline, the mostly the food lacks seasoning for most peoples taste. The cuisine is very regional and when traveling the country you will experience the variety of the country not only due its climate and landscape but also with its food. In the colder regions you have many soups and dishes loaded with calories whereas on the coast you can enjoy a whole range of different seafood. Arepa is for sure the national food and you will find it wherever you go, but in different variations. We will also include a food section in the local travel guides that you will now where to eat what.

In the big cities you also can order everything online, check out the app below.

Rappi

2019-10-09T18:57:41+00:00

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