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!
Table of Content
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.
Climbing the hill of Bogota and enjoying the great view.
Dive into Colombia’s history and find out about El Dorado.
Check out the historic center of Bogota.
Learn about the history of the great street art in Bogota.
Built into an active Salt Mine, check out this awesome tourist attraction.
One of the most beautiful colonial heritage towns of Colombia.
The most colorful Colombian town and a big rock to climb.
Learn about the violent history of Medellin.
An UNESCO heritage town you need to explore.
The most important Colombian National Park.
From 0 at the Caribbean Coast until 5,700m (18,700 ft), what more to say.
The journey is the destination, a great 4 days trek to an incredible site.
See beautiful landscape and the wax palm which is the biggest palm tree in the world.
Visit one of the various Coffee Farms in the Coffee triangle and learn everything about coffee.
In Colombia you can visit various Carnivals, with Barranquilla and Pasto as the most famous ones.
Explore the Colombian Llanos and find incredible landscape and lots of cool animals.
Travel through the desert to one of the most magic points on earth.
The dream of a Caribbean Island, not easy to get there but worth the effort.
One of the most impressive Waterfalls of Colombia with natural pools.
A river showing rainbow colors some months in the year.
See and learn all about whales during whale watching season.
Colombia is a mega diverse country with over 55,000 different species whereas over 9’000 are endemics. 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. The Spaniards started to conquer Colombia in 1499 and it was liberated in 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.
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 to La Candelaria.
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. You also can take the green bus to Portal El Dorado, which is a very big bus station, where you can buy the bus card and continue travelling by bus.
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.
Find more detail information in our Bogotá Travel Guide.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Below you will find destinations where usually backpackers go. Find my opinion and what to do there.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 though, 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.
There are actually different departments in Colombia that are part of the Amazon. The most popular destination is Leticia, which borders 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.
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.
Colombia has 2 cost lines, one to the Pacific, one to the Atlantic. Therefore many Islands are part of Colombia. Below you will find a brief overview over the most important and touristic islands.
Gorgona Island became more famous in the recent years. It was once a prison until 1984 the island was converted into a National Natural Park. It is great for birdwatching, diving, whale watching and nature tourism in general.
You can get there by boat from Buenaventura (approx. 4 hours) or you fly to Guapi from Cali and then take the boat (approx. 1.5 hours).
Situated in the Pacific Ocean, Malpelo is mostly named in connection with more famous isla Gorgona. It is also know for diving and Ecoturism. It can be reached from Buenaventura by boat in approx. 30 hours.
Those 2 islands are actually on the latitude of Nicaragua and quite far away from the mainland of Colombia. Saying that, it is actually easy to get there with direct flights from Cartagena and Bogota. To Providencia you have small airplanes to San Andres which take you there in about 15 minutes.
San Andres would be a great island but is targeting mass tourism with all its negative impact. Providencia still is a Caribbean paradise.
The Rosario Islands are actually a natural park and you can reach them by boat from Cartagena in about 45 minutes. They are great for snorkeling, visiting different beaches or also to have some party in Cholon. From Cartagena most operators have some plans but I really suggest renting a private boat to spend a quality day. There are also various hotels on different islands, whereas I cannot recommend any of them as the quality can be good on day and terrible the next.
This island is a hidden gem and you can get there from Paso Nuevo in the department of Cordoba. It is part of the Islas Rosario and has beaches and a reef for snorkeling and diving and also accommodation.
The island can be accessed by ferry from Tolu. The Island is very small and densely populated. It is probably the most crowded place in Colombia.
You can get there from Cartagena or Tolu by boat. Life is simple on the island and accommodation very basic.
Not a real island but a semi island close to Cartagena. You can get there by car or boat. You will find different hotels there. Also Playa Blanca is situated on Isla Baru.
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 investing heavily to improve the overall quality. So far I would say, the luxury in traveling Colombia lays especially in the rich nature and the unique places one can experience. If you are looking for top-notch luxury, Bogota and Cartagena will be your main destinations. There are also a few other luxury offers throughout the country but those are quite special. If you require, helicopters, airplanes or jets, they also can be chartered.
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.
Evidence of the first inhabitants of the territory that we know today as Colombia dates back to approximately 16,000 years ago. These nomadic groups traveled from the north through the Bering Strait and then down the Isthmus of Panama. They were following animals and finding fertile lands to domesticate plants for cultivation. These men colonized the different geographical regions of the territory, developing different cultures and economies that responded to particular conditions and subsequently to their relationship with other human groups.
It was at the beginning of the 16th century when the Spaniards began conquering the territory looking for El Dorado, which led to the disappearance of several of the indigenous communities in its path.
Together with the arrival of the African population due to the slave trade, a process of miscegenation that resulted in a great diversity of cultures throughout the territory.
Colombia became independent at the beginning of the 19th century, and since experienced different wars and problems within the country. Even today we have some security problems in remote regions. However, we must emphasize that today, since the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, violence decreased tremendously.
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 be 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.
I wasn’t there
To me this is the most beautiful town of Colombia. It also provides perfect climate and beautiful nature. Situated in the department of Santander, you can either take the bus or overnight bus from Bogota (approx. 10hrs) or fly to Bucaramanga and drive (approx. 3.5 hrs.) and also combine the trip with a visit of the canon de Chicamocha.
I wasn’t there
I wasn’t there
I wasn’t there
Honda can be visited from Bogota by car within 4 hours. It is a small town and was once very important as it is situated right next to the river Magdalena. The historic part is on a hill with a good view of the surrounding landscape. A visit should be combined with Guaduas.
I wasn’t there
Guaduas is close to Honda and the historic part is small and nice. A visit should be combined with Honda.
Jardin is one of my favorite historic towns of Colombia. Not only the town is very cozy and beautiful, also it is surrounded by great nature.
I wasn’t there
I wasn’t there
Some say Mompox is the most beautiful colonial town of Colombia. I am not sure about that. To be honest, getting there is quite a hazel unless you take the boat. The town is small and pretty but with that infernal hot and humid climate, I left already after one night.
Located about 4 hours by car from Bogota in the department of Boyaca, this town is a great destination for 1 or 2 days. The best hotel is basic and the nights are cold. If you go, you also should visit the “Paramo de Ocetá”
I wasn’t there
One of my favorites, Salamina is in the department of Caldas. From Manizales it is about 2 hours by car on curvy roads. It is a great town and feels like time stood still. Combine your trip there with a visit to the wax palm forest.
Santa Fe is about 90 minutes from Medellin. The climate is great and the town very beautiful. If you go to Medellin, this is a great and close option.
Villa de Leyva is probably the most famous colonial and touristic town of Colombia. People from Bogota love to visit it, although it takes almost 4 hours to get there. It is quite big and offers great activities in and outside town.
The Colombians chose the 7 Wonders of Colombia in 2007. Each of those is worth a visit after my opinion.
This impressive cathedral embedded in an active salt mine, it is almost a must visit when coming to Bogota. You can get there in about 1 hour from the capital.
This Cathedral is the most impressive I have seen so far. It is not around the corner but you can get there in 2 hours by car from Pasto.
There are actually different Archaeological Parks around San Agustin and it is worth having a guide and a car to visit all of them.
If you go to Cartagena, you can walk around and check it all out by yourself. There are also different tour operators but I am not sure if you need a guided tour if you just would like to see it and are not interested into much background information.
Starting from Santa Marta it will take you 90 minutes to the start point and 4, 5 or 6 days to do the hike. This trip only can be done with a local operator.
I wasn’t there
In the center of La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogota, you can see it from outside or also make a tour, which you will need to organize in advance.
As this section would become very big we will include our recommendations for each regions or make a separate description in the future.
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.
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.
Getting around Colombia by bus is very easy. On public holidays you should buy your tickets well in advance. You can either go to the local bus terminal or also buy your ticket online. Check the following App that will help you a lot (redBus app).
The following companies are quality bus providers in Colombia. There are also many crappy ones and the prices sometimes even do not differ too much.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 for best hospitals in Colombia.
There are some basic things to know about 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.
Colombia is great in one particular service and this is home delivery. Whatever you need, you can order it online and soon it will be delivered to your doorstep. In big cities you can use the following app and no wish will remain open: Rappi
I hope this guide was useful and helped you a lot. We are more than happy organizing your trip to Colombia. If you require more information, just follow the following link to the main page www.pelecanus.com.co.
If you have feedback or suggestions on how to improve our guide, we would be very thankful if you leave a note below in our comment section.