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!
Development of the last 10 years
There are countless reasons why you should go on holiday in Colombia. However, I will try to highlight the most important ones and incorporate my experiences. I have been living in Colombia for more than 4 years and despite a lot of travel I still have a long list of destinations, which I still miss.
First of all, you should know that Colombia is an absolute newcomer to tourism. When I visited for the first time in 2009, just backpackers started arriving. The historic center of La Candelaria was still inhabited by dodgy characters and in the evening you did not really want to be alone outside the door. There were only a handful of hostels back then. When I then traveled on the Caribbean coast from Santa Marta by bus to Cartagena, we passed 3 checkpoints of the police and military, which were heavily armed. Additionally armored personnel carriers stood on the street side. It meant getting off all passengers, checking luggage and listening to theory about the threat situation.
Today, only 10 years later, we are light years away from these conditions. Since my arrival in 2015, I live in La Candelaria and it is invested everywhere and the quality is increasing everywhere. Today you can drive from Cartagena to Riohacha and you may pass a traffic control with 2 police officers.
Then in 2016, the peace treaty with the FARC was signed and a trend that was already emerging became reality. Most of the troops were demobilized and entire zones became effectively secure and national as well as international tourism could safely travel these areas. I drove over 40,000 km myself through the country in recent years. The infrastructure is partly still bad, but I never had security concerns.
Many backpackers still come and Colombia is one of the countries with the highest density of hostels in the world. Many Colombians, including those in peripheral regions, have come to realize that tourism is not only a great challenge but also a great opportunity. Locals are now constantly investing and improving the infrastructure. However, it still lacks the command of foreign languages. Even inhabitants of the big cities and well educated Colombians often do not speak foreign languages. Some Spanish skills are therefore of advantage for visitors.
However, there are already established tourist destinations such as Bogota, Medellín, Cartagena, Santa Marta, the coffee triangle, to name a few. The potential of destinations throughout the country, however, is much greater and foreign travelers see only the tip of the iceberg on a 2-3 weeks journey. Due to the size of the country, the transport routes are sometimes long. That’s why I generally recommend travelers to travel longer distances by plane. Not only will you save so much time, but also annoyance about the conditions on Colombian roads that you are not used to.
The country is currently experiencing the greatest tourist flows from other Latin American countries. Especially from Mexico, the number of visitors is steadily increasing. From Europe, various flat-rate providers have now established themselves and round trips in Colombia are already offered at Aldi (similar to Walmart). My opinion, these trips are a waste of money! But for the typical all-inclusive traveler, whose biggest concern is to get his local beer wherever he goes, this is probably the right thing for him. Those travelers will then be promised beach holidays in Cartagena, but they will find themselves in an all-inclusive resort one hour away from the city.
Colombia offers a lot and is a super exciting country. I therefore recommend travelers to book an individual trip or a quality trip in small groups. The guide should definitely be a Colombian who speaks English. Or dear reader, can you imagine that conversely a Colombian can explain the Texas Cowboy culture professionally to USA travelers? Prices for an individual travel are also not exorbitantly high. If you book directly in Colombia, it is already cheaper. Booking an individual trip also means that you will be advised personally and individually. A request is worthwhile in any case.
As mentioned above, the security situation in Colombia has improved massively. However, this does not mean that in Colombia conditions are like those in Switzerland. There are still areas where you should not travel. Even in big cities, there are neighborhoods in which one should not get lost as a foreigner. The expensive watch and the jewelry should also be better kept at home.
In the tourist zones of the cities, of course, there is petty crime, as in any major tourist destination around the world. Pocket or tear thefts can occur. Party-hungry tourists who drink too much and try offered drugs are also simple victims. Since then everyone is responsible for the necessary caution.
The Colombia police forces have also adapted to the increasing tourist flows. There is a special unit, the Tourist Police (Policia de Turismo), whose members often speak English.
In regions such as the coffee zone or San Agustin, there is little to fear in terms of crime. I can say from my own experience that I have not experienced a single incident since I’ve lived here, not even on my two previous trips to Colombia. In addition, none of my clients has ever experienced an incident or anything stolen. You can certainly not give any guarantees but you can already influence a lot with your own behavior. For more information about the security situation, I can recommend my blog Is Colombia Safe? for reading.
Colombia is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world and ranked number 2 after Brazil. Accordingly, one finds here a lot of nature, an incredible variety of habitats, different altitudes and of course an incredible variety of flora and fauna. In addition, Colombia also has an extremely diverse culture, which is related to the history of the country. Colombia is a melting pot of indigenous peoples, Spanish immigrants and slaves imported from Africa. That means we have different cultures within the country. Only the indigenous tribes speak more than 80 different languages and are in part not related to each other.
You can find mountains, rivers, 2 coasts – one to the Pacific and one to the Atlantic, Amazon, volcanoes, prairie steppe, megacities and much more. In this already huge selection of course the number of offered tourist activities is huge. These range from piranha fishing, safari, adventure rafting and river rafting, to whale watching, road cycling camps to horseback riding, cultural and architectural tourism and scientific exploration.
So, if somebody asks me what should he visit and see in his 2-week Colombia vacation, I cannot give a general answer. First, I need to know what interests the traveler has in order to narrow down the possible activities and destinations. Incidentally, Colombia has the size of Texas and California combined.
In terms of price, Colombia is very attractive and very cheap. The exchange rates are ideal and have known only one direction for years. You get very solid accommodations for very fair prices. Food is very cheap and also staff costs such as guides certainly doesn’t ruin the travel budget. Domestic flights can already be purchased from prices of USD 30.–. Only private terrestrial transports are relatively expensive.
As explained earlier in the text, Colombia is a very young tourist destination. Therefore, there is still a lack of infrastructure and adequate offers for foreign travelers. For example, if you are traveling outside of the known tourist destinations and resorting to very cheap accommodation, there may be no hot water available. This applies to all existing climate zones, from cold to hot. The majority of Colombians are used to take cold showers. Even in cities like Bogota with an average temperature of 14° Celsius (57° Fahrenheit), not all households have warm water and certainly no one has heating.
Those looking for luxury hotels will probably have to confine themselves to Bogota and Cartagena. Although the luxury segment is developing and expanding, it will still take decades for Colombia to catch up with Costa Rica and Ecuador. There are now some good Ecolodges in Colombia, but a comparison with Lapa Rios in Costa Rica is still far off. But the prices are much cheaper.
You should relax in advance before a trip to Colombia. Colombia is in Latin America and people here do not work like Swiss clockworks. As a Swiss, I sometimes still suffer after over 4 years, but I am still improving. The motto is “tranquilo”. In return for self-caused problems due to lack of planning, unpunctuality or external factors, the Colombians have developed a great talent for improvisation. Therefore, there is usually an acceptable solution for every problem. In addition, the Colombians are such happy and friendly people that the widespread zest for life usually also capture the foreign tourists and misfortunes described above are likely to forgive fast.
As a quality provider, I also had to swap local providers to ensure a certain quality level.
In summary, I can say that a Colombia holiday is an enrichment and at the moment it is something of the most exciting thing to do. The tourist crowds have not arrived yet and many experiences are still absolutely original. Only I would recommend travelers to learn some Spanish in advance, so you can at least a little bit to communicate with the Colombians. This greatly enhances the quality of such a trip, because the Colombians are very open and hospitable to strangers.
Colombia has no major temperature fluctuations due to its proximity to the equator. The temperatures are always dependent on the altitude. Colombia offers a spectrum between sea level and over 5,700 meters above sea level.
However, there is rainy and dry season. Depending on the region, these are distributed differently over the year and vary in intensity. You should therefore select the best travel months based on your itinerary, with dry season not always and everywhere being the best travel time.
Furthermore, there are various cultural events, such as the different carnivals in the country, which can also influence a planning. National high season is Christmas to mid-January, Easter week, part of June and July and every long weekend (Colombia has 18 national holidays, most of which are celebrated on Mondays).
The usually best travel months for foreign tourists are December – April. However, I find that statement too general for the reasons given.
Personally, I travel around the country all year round. The best travel time for me, since the weather is generally good and the tourist activities are low, is November until Christmas.
Colombia is a tropical country. It is therefore not only a paradise for flora and fauna but also for viruses and bacteria and parasites. All mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue, etc., are found here. One should certainly consider a check-up at the doctor before a longer South American travel. In any case, you should check the necessary vaccinations. An overview can be found in the following, separate article.
With a basic vocabulary in Spanish you are well prepared for an exciting holiday in Colombia. Anyway, I wish you a nice journey!
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