- Not to be confused with Columbia, which can refer to numerous places other than the country in South America.
Colombia occupies the northwest corner of South America. It has an area twice that of France and almost twice Texas, with long coasts on the Caribbean and the Pacific oceans, mountainous regions, and Amazon jungle areas inland. The ethnic groups and cultures are diverse. The country has something to offer almost any traveller.
Pick a climate, and it's yours—if you find the light jacket weather of Bogotá cold, drive an hour down through the mountains and sunbathe next to the pool of your rented hacienda. If you don't want to sit still, head off into the Amazon or any of the country's other many inland jungles, snow-capped volcanoes, rocky deserts, endless plains, lush valleys, coffee plantations, mountain lakes, deserted beaches.
For culture, intellectual Bogotá might lead the rest of Latin America in experimental theater, indie-rock, and the number of bookstores, but you could also get a completely alien education in an Amazonian malocca, or you could delve into the huge Latin music scene of salsa and cumbia, with the most exciting dance display being the enormous Carnival of Barranquilla.
For history, wander the narrow streets of South America's original capital in Bogotá, check out old Spanish colonial provincial retreats like Villa de Leyva, trek through the thick jungle-covered mountains of the northeast to the Lost City of the Tayrona Indians, and walk the walls of Cartagena's achingly beautiful old city, looking over the fortified ramparts upon which the colonial history of South America pivoted.
For nightlife, hot Cali is today's world capital of salsa, claiming that competitive distinction over Colombia's other vibrant big-city party scenes, which keep the music going long into the small hours of the morning. The hipsters' playground is found around the El Poblado neighbourhood in Medellín downtown.
For dining, you'll find everything from the ubiquitous cheap, delicious Colombian home-style meals to world-class upscale and modern culinary arts in the big cities, with cuisines from all corners of the world represented.
And for relaxing, there are gorgeous tropical beaches along Colombia's Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but you can find even more laidback and peaceful retreats on the idyllic and unspoilt Caribbean island of Providencia.
The political violence has subsided substantially throughout the majority of the country and savvy travelers have already flocked here from around the world—come before everyone else catches on!
Rugged Andean landscapes and altiplanos containing Colombia's two largest cities, Bogotá and Medellín, beautiful national parks, and coffee plantations.
|Costa Norte |
The lively Colombian Caribbean has its share of attractions with the historic, yet modern, cities of its coast and diving, trekking and exploring opportunities in the jungle and desert.
The eastern endless plains with unique tropical savannas, gallery forests and wetlands, little frequented by tourists.
Colombia's Pacific coast combines tropical forests of the Chocó, the uniqueness of its marine life, Colombia's best party city and the country's religious culture into this potential tourist hotspot.
The beautiful, vast and remote Amazon jungle.
|Colombian Islands |
Remote and idyllic tropical islands with great diving opportunities.
- 1 Bogotá — the capital, a cosmopolitan city 3 km (two miles) high, with some eight million people sprawling outwards from Andean mountains, where you'll find excellent museums, world-class dining, and most everything one wants from a big city.
- 2 Barranquilla — the Gold Port and fourth largest city in the nation isn't necessarily that exciting most of the year, but its carnival is the second biggest in the world after Rio de Janeiro's, and is an amazing cultural experience and one heck of a party!
- 4 Cartagena — the Heroic City, Capital of the Bolívar department, is Colombia's tourist city par excellence. The colonial architecture and the skyscrapers can be seen together in this city that offers a unique experience of festivals, historic attractions, restaurants, and hotels.
- 5 Manizales — the center of the Zona Cafetera offers the opportunity to visit Los Nevados National Park and to live the coffee plantation experience.
- 6 Medellín — the City of Eternal Spring and capital of the Antioquia department is famous for having a large textile industry, which produces top-quality clothing that is sent all over the world. It's also the birthplace of master painter Fernando Botero, so it houses the great majority of his works.
- 7 Pereira — the lovely city, capital of the Risaralda department, and major city of the coffee region – modern, commercial, and touristic. The famous "naked Bolívar" monument and the Matecaña Zoo are here. Very near to Santa Rosa hot water springs and the National Park of "Los Nevados".
- 8 Popayán — this beautiful, white-washed city is Colombia's religious center. Home to the second largest Easter festival in the world (after Seville, Spain), this town has contributed more Colombian presidents than any other. Bordered by the Puracé National Park and gateway to the archeological sites of San Agustín and Tierra Dentro in nearby Huilla.
- 9 Santa Marta — a popular base for adventure tourism in the beautiful areas surrounding, and unique in the sense that it offers you beautiful beaches one day, and the next one a walk to the foothill of a snowy mountain, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest in the country.
- 1 Amacayacu National Park — Far, far from civilization in the Amazon rainforest, a huge national park explorable via boat, full of strange monkey-infested islands and pink dolphins.
- 2 Catedral de Sal — A colossal church built underground in a former salt mine, with passages lined with exquisite sculptures, and a radiant cross rising over the altar of the cavernous nave.
- 3 Ciudad Perdida de Teyuni — A pre-Columbian city located in the Colombian jungle close to Santa Marta. Built between the eighth and the fourteenth century by the Tayrona Indians. Nowadays only stone circular shaped terraces covered by jungle remain.
- 5 Isla Gorgona — This former prison island in the Pacific Ocean is now a nature reserve open for visitors. There is abundant wildlife like monkeys, snakes, whales and sea turtles. It offers excellent diving conditions.
- 7 Providencia — an idyllic, remote Caribbean Island found halfway towards Jamaica. With the Western hemisphere's second largest barrier reef, beautiful Providencia Island has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
|Currency||Colombian peso (COP)|
|Population||47.7 million (2012)|
|Electricity||110 volt / 60 hertz (Type A, Type B)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and it has the second-most biodiversity in the world. Lying to the south of Panama, Colombia controls the land access between Central and South America. With Panama to the north, Colombia is surrounded by Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, and Ecuador and Peru to the south west. The country was named in honor of Christopher Columbus, following the Italian version of his name (Cristoforo Colombo). Although Columbus never set foot on the current Colombian territory, in his fourth voyage he visited Panama, which was part of Colombia until 1903.
Traveling in Colombia is definitely worthwhile. From Bogotá, with a temperate climate 2,600 m (8,530 ft) above sea level and at a constant temperature of 19°C, a drive of one or two hours north, south, east or west can take you to landscapes which are as diverse as they are beautiful. To historic city centres and towns, modern and energetic party cities, oriental plains which stretch out far beyond the horizon with little modulation. rugged contours of the higher Andean region, the Guajira peninsula and its desert, idyllic beaches, the tropical jungle of the Amazon and the Choco with abundant flora and fauna, snowy peaks and volcanoes, ancient ruins, the Magdalena River valley and its hot weather, beautiful coral reefs and an abundant underwater marine life together with pleasant relaxed tropical islands, and the ability to rest and relax in a privately rented hacienda that lets you have and enjoy these treasures to yourself. Such a diversity comes with equally diverse traditions and foods. Colombia is one of the equatorial countries of the world, but unique in its extreme topography and abundance of water and has something for everyone.
Take your pick, really. Colombia is an equatorial country with amazing variance in altitude, so it's going to be pretty whatever temperature you like best all year long somewhere! The climate is tropical along the coast, eastern plains, and Amazon; cold in the highlands with periodic droughts. Lacking the usual seasons, Colombians normally refer to rainy seasons as winter—but the differences in terrain and altitude mean the rainy seasons are different in every corner of the country!
The one downside to all this climactic diversity, though, is that you'll have to bring a fair amount of different clothes if you plan to travel extensively. Cities in the center like Bogotá and those to the north in Boyacá can potentially reach temperatures below 0°C, so bring a coat. Some mountains are also covered in snow year-long. Cities along the Caribbean coast like Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta are hot and humid, while some cities at mid-altitude in the Andes like Medellín (the City of Eternal Spring), Manizales, and other cities in the Coffee Triangle region always have beautiful temperate weather.
Flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
Natural hazards: highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes. A volcanic disaster occurred in Armero, 1985. 25,000 people were buried by lahars (volcanic mudflows) that the Nevado del Ruiz produced.
Highest point: Pico Cristobal Colon 5,775 m (18,950 ft) of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The mountain is part of the world's highest coastal range. Nearby Pico Simon Bolivar has the same elevation
Colombia was inhabited by numerous, major indigenous cultures like the Muisca, the Tayrona and the Quimbaya; some groups of indigenous people as the Caribs lived in a state of permanent war, but others had less bellicose attitudes. The area that now is Colombia was conquered by the Spanish through alliances with some indigenous groups when America was 'discovered' by Europeans. The process of conquest and colonization radically altered the social structures of the areas, the indigenous populations shrank dramatically in size and their share of the population has declined ever since. The Spanish Empire brought European settlers and African slaves, while most of the population in the colony was of mixed Spanish and Indigenous ancestry. The Spanish empire brought slaves to their colonies largely using the 'asiento' system, licensing merchants from many slave trading nations to transport slaves.
Independence from Spain was won in 1819 as part of the "Gran Colombia" Federation, but by 1830 the federation was dissolved. It was one of the five countries liberated by Simón Bolívar (the others being Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia). The success of the independence movements across Latin America was made easier by the Napoleonic Wars that left mainland Spain with two rival governments. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was declared in 1886. The United States of America's intentions to control the Panama Canal led to Panama becoming a separate nation in 1903.
Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America. Slavery was abolished in the country in 1851. The years following independence were marked by several civil wars, the legacy of these conflicts combined with state repression against leftist militias in rural areas and world polarization caused by the Cold War culminated in a communist insurgent campaign in 1964 by the FARC and the ELN to overthrow the Colombian Government. The years during the conflict were marked by heavy fighting between the communist guerrillas, the Colombian state and military, right-wing paramilitaries and several drug cartels. In the years following 2005 the safety has been improving throughout the country. As part of a difficult peace process the AUC (right-wing paramilitaries) as a formal organization had ceased to function, and in 2012 the government and the FARC started peace talks aiming at bringing the 50-year-old Civil War to an end once and for all. Colombia is in recovery with an rapidly improving economy. Ending the conflict, wealth inequality and rebuilding the nation are some of the issues that confront the country. In October 2016, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in bringing the country's five decades of civil war to an end.
Passport holders of the following countries do not need a visa to enter Colombia when the purpose of the visit is tourism for up to 90 days (unless otherwise noted): Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong (180 days), Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.
Canadian citizens who hold normal passports must pay a reciprocity fee of 160,000 Colombian pesos upon arrival except for tourists who are under 14 or over 79, or those whose final destination is San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
Colombian authorities will stamp passports from the above countries giving permission to stay for a maximum of 30 to 90 days. Immigration officials at any of the international airports of the country will usually ask you the intended length of your trip, giving you a determinate number of days that will cover it, which you can extend to 90 by going to any immigration services office.
Extending your stay
You can apply for a 90-day extension to your stay at an Asuntos Migratorios office in some of the major cities, which costs around US$40. You need two copies of your passport's main page, two copies of the page with the entrance stamp, two copies of a ticket en route out of the country, and four photographs. The procedure takes some time and includes taking your fingerprints. For visitors, the maximum length of stay can not exceed 6 months in 1 year.
There are regular international flights into major cities including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Pereira and San Andrés Islands as well as to other smaller cities in the borders with Venezuela, Ecuador, Panamá and Brazil.
There are daily direct flights to and from the U.S, Canada, México, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, France, and South America.
Beware that Medellín is the only Colombian city served by 2 airports: International and long-range domestic flights go to José María Córdova International Airport (MDE IATA) while regional and some other domestic flights arrive in Olaya Herrera airport (EOH IATA).
Bogotá has two airport terminals: Puente Aéreo and El Dorado. Outside the airport, be aware of enterprising men who will help you lift your bags into a taxi or car, and then expect payment. It is best to politely refuse all offers of help unless from a taxi driver you are about to hire.
Taxis are regulated, reasonably priced and safe from the airports. A taxi ride from the airport to the central business district in Bogotá, takes approximately 20 minutes.
- Important: There are no major roads coming from 3 neighboring countries: Panamá, Brazil and Perú. There are no roads at all from Panamá, and there are tiny roads between Colombia and Perú or Brazil, but they do not lead to major cities or regions.
Enter from Panama by the Puerto Obaldia-Capurganá pass. From Capurganá, another boat ride takes you to Turbo, where buses take you to Medellín and Montería. You can take a ferry from Panama City to Cartagena. More info.
If you enter from Brazil, there are weekly boats from Manaus to Tabatinga/Leticia through the Amazon River. It takes around six days to go from Manaus and just three days to come back (the reason of the difference is the current of the river). There are also weekly motorboats which are more expensive, but cover the route in less than two days. Once in Leticia you have dayly domestic flights to several cities, including Bogotá.
A fair number of cruise ships pay day visits (usually at Cartagena), especially during cooler months in North America.
Connections can be made from the Caracas main terminal to most cities in Colombia. From the main terminal, Maracaibo (Venezuela) you can find buses that run to the cities (Cartagena, Baranquilla, Santa Marta) on the coast. The border at Maicao provides a relatively easy, straightforward entry into Colombia from Venezuela.
The border can be a bit of a hassle or even dangerous, especially in the night time. Ask locals.
It is very straightforward to enter Colombia from Ecuador. Travel to Tulcan, where you can get a taxi to the border. Get your exit stamps from the immigration offices and take another taxi to Ipiales. From there you can travel further to Cali, Bogotá, and so on.
You can't cross from Panama to Colombia by bus—the Darien Gap begins at Yaviza, where the Interamericana runs out. Consider using the boat crossing instead. There are often yachts that will shuttle you between Colombia and Panama and offer a stop in the gorgeous San Blas islands.
Airlines with flights between the two countries are Avianca, COPA, and LAN.
The most important domestic carriers in Colombia are:
- Avianca (main Colombian national airline)
- VivaColombia (the low-cost, Ryanair-like airline). This airline offers the cheapest airfares, but the worst booking system for foreigner. For 2014 foreign credit cards are not accepted to book a flight. VivaColombia has no offices and hardly any tour operator offers a booking service for this airline. So you can either use the call centre, find somebody with a Colombian credit card (e.g. hotel manager) or choose the payment option with VIA-BALOTO sales points. With the last option you get a code to pay at any VIA-BALOTO shop.
- COPA Colombia (formerly AeroRepublica)
- Wingo (a 'low fare' subsidiary of Copa Colombia operating as a separate brand)
- LATAM Colombia (formerly Lan Colombia and Aires)
- EasyFly (regional airline around Medellín, Bogotá and Bucaramanga)
- Satena (Servicio Aéreo a Territorios Nacionales) (operated by the Colombian Air Force to provide transport to remote regions of Los Llanos, Amazona & the Pacific coast from Bogotá)
- TAC (Transportes Aero Colombiana) charter airline
- ADA (Aerolinea De Antioquia) (new Medellín based carrier offering regional flights in Antioquia and adjoining regions)
- AEXPA (primarily a charter carrier to and along the Pacific coast)
They all have well-kept fleets and regular service to major towns and cities in Colombia. The major Colombian airports have been certified as "Highly Safe" by international organizations. The online payment process of some domestic airlines is complicated. Payments can be done at the airport or official ticket offices. Most airline fares can be compared at the website of despegar.com.co.
The Metro in Medellín and its surroundings is the closest thing to a passenger train in Colombia. There are no additional intercity trains in the country.
Driving is on the right hand side of the road-most cars have standard transmissions. Colombia's fleet is composed mainly of cars with 4-cylinder engines that are of European and Japanese manufacture.
Foreign visitors may drive if they show an international driver's license (a multilingual endorsement card issued by automobile and driver's clubs around the world).
Insurance is cheap and mandatory.
The speed limit in residential areas is 30 km/h (19 mph), and in urban areas it is 60 km/h (37 mph). There is a national speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph).
The country has a well-maintained network of roads that connect all major cities in the Andean areas, and the ones in the Caribbean Coast. There may be significant landslides on roads and highways during the rainy season (November to February), by which traffic gets interrupted. This usually is resolved within 6 hours to 4 days. There are many toll crossings; the fee is about US$3.00. There are also plenty of dirt roads of variable quality. International land travel is only possible to Ecuador and Venezuela.
Travel by bus is widespread and has different levels of quality. Long-distance trips rarely cost over US$55 (one way). When acquiring tickets for the bus, the local custom is that the passenger comes to the terminal and buys the next available bus going to the desired destination. Depending on the company or terminal, it may be even not possible to purchase a ticket 1 or several days in advance! Therefore, it is recommendable to know at least when a particular service starts and ends in a day. Long distance bus travel tends to be very slow because main highways are two-lane roads with lots of truck traffic. For any distance more than 5 hours, you may want to check into air travel.
|Destination||Distance (km)||Time (h)|
Some of the major companies that offers routes to the north of Bogotá and Medellin to the Caribbean coast and the areas in between the two cities:
- Expreso Brasilia, toll-free: . From Tigo and Movistar phones call #501 or #502
- Copetran, ☎ (Bucaramanga), toll-free: . #567 or #568 from Claro cell phones
- Berlinas del Fonce. Travels between Bogotá, Tunja, Barbosa, Socorro, San Gil, Piedecuesta and Bucaramanga
- Rapido Ochoa, ☎ . Travels from Bogotá to Barranquilla, Cartagena and Tolu on three separate routes via multiple cities and towns along the way; and from Medellin to Arboletes, Monteria and Tolu on another thre routes via multiple cities and towns along the way.
Other companies that go to multiple cities and towns in the southern part of the country, south of Bogotá and Medellin and the areas between two cities; and down towards the Ecuadorian border:
- Bolivariano, ☎ (Bogotá number). Operates buses from Bogotá to Manziales, Medellin, Pereira on three separate routes; and from Medellin to Neiva and Mocoa on one route and from Medellin to Cali, Popayan and Ipiales on another route. They also offer international service down into Peru.
- Expreso Palmira, ☎ (from cell phone), toll-free: .
- Fronteras - Continental Bus.
There are numerous other bus companies and drivers' unions throughout the country that operate more locally at varying distances of a particular city or town or within a department or between adjacent departments. See or contribute to those articles of particular locality as to what is available. In the Amazonas, Los Llanos and in the remote parts of the southern regions towards Leticia and the Pacific coast the roads are limited to none, so are the bus services. In addition some of these remote areas especially those near the borders with Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador; Amazon rainforest in the southeast and towards the Pacific Coast may still be unsafe to travel to and around due to ongoing guerrilla activity. Inquire locally before going.
By urban bus
Around the turn of this century urban centers in Colombia saw the development of a highly efficient and neat bus transit systems that are spreading to other countries. In Bogotá you can find the Transmilenio, in Medellín el Metroplus , in Cali el Mio, in Barranquilla Transmetro, in Bucaramanga Metrolínea, in Pereira the Megabús.
It is still recommended that you keep an eye on your belongings and that you do not carry valuables, excess cash (more than COP$20,000 visible) or unnecessary items. Never accept food or drinks from strangers. Avoid talking to strangers at bus stops or terminals. It is possible you may be stopped at police check points. A calm attitude is the best key to avoid inconveniences.
The only metro system of Colombia is in Medellín, in the Department (state) of Antioquia. It connects the outlying suburban towns with the barrios of Medellín - Line A departs from La Estrella to Barrio Niquía, Line B from Barrio San Antonio to Barrio San Javíer. The metro system also has two cable car lines: Metrocable Line K from Barrio Acevedo to Barrio Santo Domingo Savio and Metrocable Line J departing from Barrio San Javier. Riding the cable cars is a unique experience, as passengers travel up the mountains in gondolas. The MetroCable has six stations and an extension to the Parque Arví ecopark. Ride to Parque Arvi costs about US$4 (COP$3500). There, after a 20-minutes trip in the gondola carts you reach an altitude of 2500 meters above sea level.
The taxi networks in big cities such as Bogotá are extensive. The prices vary a lot between cities, Bogotá for example being relatively inexpensive while Cartagena pricey. A (bright yellow) taxi journey across Bogotá, can take up to a day but cost less than US$15.
If you order a taxi by phone the company will then give you the taxi registration number. Then the taxi will be waiting at the given address. You may need to give them a three or four digit code given to you when you book the taxi. During the day some taxi ranks outside hotels, office buildings and government offices will only allow certified drivers and companies and will also take your name and details when you board the taxi. Taxis from city to city are easy to arrange by phoning ahead and agreeing the price, it will still be cheap by western standards and is safe and quite agreeable.
The meter in all taxis starts at COP$25, and then increases over distance. The number it arrives at corresponds to a tariff that will be on display on the front seat of the cab. Taxi and bus prices increase on Sundays, public holidays, early in the morning and late at night. There are also extra charges for baggage and for booking in advance by telephone.
Unlike many other countries it is not customary to tip the taxi driver. It's up to the individual.
Many taxis are not allowed to travel outside of Bogotá due to boundary restrictions with their licences. You should always make arrangements to travel outside of Bogotá by taxi ahead of time.
In some locations (Las Aguas in the Candelaria district of Bogotá for example) you may find an individual acting as a tout for taxi drivers - they will offer you a taxi and lead you to a particular cab. They then receive a small tip from the driver.
It has become very common, in big cities, to use apps to hail cabs. Tappsi and EasyTaxi seem to be quite popular. Uber service is available in Bogotá and Medellín.
By cable car
Since most of the Colombian population lives in the Andes, cable car systems are becoming popular for both commuting and tourist transportation. You can ride the ones in Manizales and Medellín, which are integrated in the Metro system, and the ones in rural small towns of Antioquia: Jardín, Jericó, Sopetrán and San Andrés de Cuerquia. Also enjoy the magnificent view of the new cable car above the Chicamocha river canyon in Santander.
The official language of Colombia is Spanish. Some indigenous tribes in rural areas continue to speak their own languages, though almost all people from those tribes will be bilingual in their own language and Spanish.
If you've recently learned Spanish, its a relief to know that the Bogotá dialect is clear and easy to understand. The Spanish does vary, however, from Cartagena to Bogotá to Cali. Generally the Spanish on the coasts is spoken more rapidly, and Spanish from Medellín has its own idiosyncrasies. In cities like Medellín and Cali, the dialect of Spanish is the voseo form. Meaning that instead of the second person familiar pronoun tú, vos is used instead. Though tú is also understood by everybody, vos is a more friendly voice while tú is reserved for intimate circles. The Spanish spoken along the Caribbean coast is similar to the dialects spoken in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Quite a few Colombians know at least a few basic phrases in English, because English is taught at school, and Hollywood movies tend to be in English with Spanish subtitles. For the most part, however, you should definitely invest in learning the basics of Spanish since you will encounter plenty of situations where no-one will speak any English.
Colombians from more affluent backgrounds will be more likely to have learned English, and the majority of high ranking professionals, executives and government workers in Colombia speak an acceptable level of English. An English-based creole similar to Jamaican patois is spoken by the Jamaican diaspora in the Caribbean archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia.
Much of Colombia is in the Andes, which means there is very beautiful mountainous scenery to be found. On the other hand, there are also nice beaches to be found in the lowlands. The altitude of some peaks mean that snow can be seen even though they lie in the tropics.
There are a lot of things to do in Colombia, and you can find parties and celebrations wherever you go. Colombians especially love to dance, and if you don't know how, they'll happily teach you. Colombia is known for its exciting night life.
There are many groups and agencies offering eco-tourism and it is very usual to find trekking plans (locally named 'caminatas' or 'excursiones') on weekend; many groups (named 'caminantes') offers cheaper one day excursion, special trips (on long weekends or during periods of vacation time (January, Holy Week, July, August, October, December) to different places in the country. Some recommended groups based out of Bogotá are: Viajar y Vivir, Fundación Sal Si Puedes, Caminantes del Retorno; there are many other. Patianchos in Medellín; Rastros in Bucaramanga. They usually offer guidance and transportation to the place; on long trips include lodging and other services. The recommendation is asking if the guide has the official certification.
Exchange rates for Colombian pesos
As of January 2018:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of Colombia is the Colombian peso, but the symbol you will encounter is $ (ISO code: COP). Wikivoyage uses the notation "COP$" for clarity.
Most banks and money changes will accept major world currencies such as the US dollar and the euro.
ATMs are widely available, with varying withdrawal limits. Banks with highest limits are Citibank (COP$1,000,000 but charges an extra fee) and Bancolombia (COP$600,000 limit).
Typical prices: modest but clean (and occasionally charming) hotel: US$25, for a nice meal US$15, for two beers US$0.60-1.00 at "tiendas" or similar stores, US$1.5-3 at bars; bus 100 km about US$6 (cheaper per km for longer trips, more for dirt roads); urban transport US$0.50-0.90
A service charge of 10% is generally added to the bill in nice restaurants (if it's not, you should add it yourself). Tipping taxi drivers is not common. Most "tipping" is merely rounding up to the nearest thousand pesos (e.g., rounding up your cafe bill to COP$7,000 from COP$6,700). Private tour guides do not need to be tipped, but it is common to do so, if you liked the guide.
In some restaurants and bars that include the tip (la propina) in the bill, this extra money often does not make it into the hands of the staff person who serves you. Instead, it is simply kept by the owners. With this in mind, many Colombians will pay the bill without the tip (in cash or with credit card) and then hand a cash tip to the staff member (waiter, bartender, etc.) who served them.
The Colombian textile industry is well-recognized and reputable around South America and Europe. Clothing, including lingerie is particularly well-regarded as high quality and very affordable. Leather garments, shoes and accessories are also of interest to foreigners. The best place to buy either is Medellín, known for being the fashion capital of the country, where one can buy very high quality goods at a very low cost.
Colombian emeralds and gold (18k) jewelry can also be very attractive for visitors. A typical Colombian style of jewelry is a copy of precolombian jewelry, which is fabricated with gold, silver and semi-precious stones.
The "mochila", the Spanish word for "backpack" or "rucksack", is also a traditional, indigenous, hand-woven Colombian bag, normally worn over the shoulder. They are commonly sold in shopping malls, especially in the Santa Marta/El Rodadero area. Mochilas usually come in three sizes - a large one to carry bigger things, a medium one to carry personal belongings, and a small one to carry coca leaves. Coca leaves are carried by local tribe members to reduce hunger, increase energy and to combat altitude sickness.
Handicrafts such as intricately designed jewelery are commonly sold in markets and on street corners. Many street vendors will approach people, selling T-shirts, shorts, glasses, bracelets, watches, necklaces, souvenirs, and novelty photographs. If you want to buy something, this is a good time to exercise your bargaining skills. Usually you can go down by COP$2,000-3,000, however 10%-15% is the generally accepted rule. For example, if someone is selling a shirt for COP$10,000, try asking if you can pay COP$8,000. Go from there.
If you don't want to buy anything, a simple gracias, ("thank you") and a non-committal wave of your hand will deter would-be sellers.
Pre-Columbian civilizations cultivated about 200 varieties of potatoes, and they remain popular today. Try the local preparations like papas saladas (salted potatoes) or papas chorriadas (stewed potatoes). Most meals feature some kind of meat with rice, potatoes, and avocados. In the coastal areas, the rice is usually flavored with coconut.
Both restaurants and family meals often feature soup, and, in the mountain areas, you may even be served a milk-based soup called changua for breakfast.
Compared to nearby countries, Colombian food is not nearly as spicy as Mexican food. Fruit juice is particularly popular. Some foods with the same name are quite different. For example, empanadas, made with potato and meat with a pouch-like yellow exterior, are delicious and entirely different from their Mexican and Argentinian counterparts.
In many areas of Colombia, it is common to have buñuelos (deep fried corn flour balls with cheese in the dough) and arepas (rather thick corn tortillas, often made with cheese and served with butter) with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Bogotá and the central region have its own breakfast delicacy of tamales: maize and chopped pork or chicken with vegetables and eggs, steamed in plantain leaves, often served with homemade hot chocolate.
For lunch, especially on Sundays, you should try a sancocho de gallina (rich chicken soup, served with part of the chicken itself, rice and vegetables or salad). Sancocho is widespread throughout the country, with countless regional variants. On the coast it features fish, and is highly recommended. Another soup, served in Bogotá and the periphery, is Ajiaco (chicken soup made with three different kinds of potato, vegetables and herbs (guasca), served with rice, avocado, corn, milk cream and capers).
Bandeja paisa is the official national dish of Colombia. The name translates roughly as "the peasant's plate". This filling dish includes rice, beans, fried plantain, arepa (corn bread), fried egg, chorizo sausage, chicharrón (pork crackling) with the meat still attached. It's a very fatty dish, but you can leave what you don't like, and if you're lucky enough, you could find a gourmet bandeja paisa in a good restaurant in Bogotá or Medellín. They are lighter and smaller.
In Colombia there are a great variety of tamales but they are very different from their most famous Mexican cousins. They differ from region to region, but all of them are delicious. Envueltos are the sweet tamales made of corn.
There are a few chain restaurants in the country. In addition to worldwide franchises (McDonald's, Subway, T.G.I.F., which are specially focused on Bogotá and other big cities), Colombian chains are very strong and located in almost every city. Presto and especially El Corral serve outstanding burgers, Kokoriko makes broiled chicken, and Frisby specializes in roasted chicken. Gokela is the first choice among people wanting healthy options such as wraps, salads, super foods, supplements, and subsequently one of the only options for vegetarians, vegans and organic eaters. Crêpes and Waffles, as the name indicates, is an upscale breakfast/brunch restaurant with spectacular crêpes, waffles, and ice cream. There are many international restaurants, including rodizios (Brazilian steak house style), and paella houses.
Organic food is a current trend in big cities, but in little towns you can get fruits and veggies all very natural and fresh. Colombians aren't used to storing food for the winter, since there are no seasons in the traditional sense. So don't ask them for dried items like dried tomatoes or fruits. All you have to do is go shopping at the little grocery stores nearby and pick up the freshest of the harvest of the month (almost everything is available and fresh all year). As for pickles and related preserved food, you can find them in supermarkets, but they are not common in family households.
Bread and pastry is easily available from a neighborhood bakeries. Pastry is prevalent, both salty and sweet, including pandebono, pan de yuca, pastel gloria, and roscon. These vary in quality—ask the locals for the best niche places to indulge.
Colombians are famous for having a sweet tooth, so you are going to find a lot of desserts and local candies like bocadillo made of guayaba (guava fruit), or the most famous milk-based arequipe (similar to its Argentinian cousin dulce leche or the French confiteure du lait). That just covers the basics, since every region in Colombia has its own fruits, local products, and therefore its own range of sweet products. If you are a lover of rare candies, you could get artisan-made candies in the little towns near Bogotá and Tunja.
A great variety of tropical fruits can be tasted, and the corresponding variety in juices, from some of the oddest ones you can find around the globe (really) to the sweetest ones. Some examples of those exotic fruits include: tamarinds, mangoes, guanabanas, lulo, mangostines (really great and rare even for Colombians), and a great variety in citrus. In addition, you can find some of those rich and strange flavors in prepared food like ice cream brands or restaurant juices. Fruit juice is a very common and popular drink. Most of Colombians drink juices at home and in restaurants. They are inexpensive and natural everywhere.
Regarding coffee, you can find a lot of products that are both made commercially and homemade from this very famous Colombian product, like wines, cookies, candies, milk-based desserts like arequipe, ice-cream, etc.
The tres leches cake is not to be missed. A sponge cake soaked in milk, covered in whipped cream, then served with condensed milk, it is for the serious dairy fiend only. Another delicious milk-based dessert is leche asada, a milk custard similar to the better-known flan.
For breakfast, take a home-made hot drink. The choices normally include coffee, hot chocolate or agua de panela. The latter is a drink prepared with panela (dried cane juice), sometimes with cinnamon and cloves, which gives it a special taste. Coffee is usually taken with a lot of milk. In Bogotá and the region around, it's customary to use cheese along with the drink, in a way that small pieces of cheese are put into the cup and then after they are melt, you can use a spoon to pick them up and eat it like a soup. It is the same way to drink hot chocolate.
Colombia's national alcoholic beverage, Aguardiente (a.k.a. guaro), tastes strongly of anise, and is typically bought by the bottle or half bottle or a quarter. People usually drink it in shots. Each region has its own aguardiente, "Antioqueño" (from Antioquia), "Cristal" (from Caldas), "Quindiano" (from Quindío), "Blanco del Valle" (from Valle del Cauca) and "Nectar" (from Cundinamarca). There is also a variety of rum beverages, like "Ron Santa Fe" (also from Cundinamarca), "Ron Medellín Añejo" (also from Antioquia), "Ron Viejo de Caldas" (also from Caldas) among others.
The water is drinkable right from the tap in most of the major cities, but be prepared to buy some bottles if you go to the countryside. Agua Manantial Bottled water is recommended, it comes from a natural spring near Bogotá. An advice, make sure you do not use ice cubes, or drink any beverage that might contain non distilled water, ask if the beverage is made with tap or bottled/boiled water.
If you are lucky enough, and if you are staying in a familiar "finca cafetera" (coffee farm) you can ask your Colombian friends not only for the selected coffee (quality export) but for the remaining coffee that the farmers leave to their own use. This is manually picked, washed, toasted in rustic brick stoves and manually ground. It has the most exquisite and rare flavor and aroma ever found.
In Bogotá and the rest of the country, black filter coffee is referred to as "tinto" - confusing if you were expecting red wine.
Also, you can find specialized places where you can drink coffee with many different combinations (like Juan Valdés Café or Oma), hot or frozen preparations.
Commercially, you can find a lot of products made out of coffee too like wines, ice-creams, soda-pops and other beverages.
In Colombia you can find a range of options, bed and breakfast conditioned to western standards and hostels to five-star hotels. There are also apartments that rent per day.
Colombia education is generally strict and is kept to high standards. Most Colombian degrees can be legalized in foreign countries. In contrast to American education, a typical Bachelor's degree program in Colombia is 160 credits or 5 years long. You can find several programs in different universities around the country.
Colombian Spanish is considered by many around the world as the purest in Latin America and there are many universities and language schools that have Spanish programs.
Colombia is one of the mother countries of Salsa and you will be able to listen to this music all over the place. In the last years several of the Salsa World Champions came from Colombia. Especially in Cali and Cartagena there are plenty of clubs and schools.
If you want to work for a national company, such as Bancolombia/Conavi, Avianca, or Presto, you must be able to speak Spanish with near-native fluency. Depending on your qualifications, companies may offer Spanish lessons, however always make sure that you are indeed eligible for the position advertised. You can teach English for extra money, especially in smaller cities where the demand for it is high. Also you could work for a non-governmental organization.
Colombia has suffered from a terrible reputation as a dangerous and violent country but the situation has improved dramatically since the 1980s and 1990s. Colombia is on the path to recovery, and Colombians are very proud of the progress they have made. These days, Colombia is generally safe to visit, with the violent crime rate being lower than that in Mexico or Brazil, as long as you avoid poorer areas of the cities at night, and do not venture off the main road into the jungle where guerrillas are likely to be hiding.
The security situation varies greatly around the country. Most jungle regions are not safe to visit, but the area around Leticia is very safe, and the areas around Santa Marta are OK. No one should visit the Darien Gap at the border with Panama (in the north of Chocó), as well as Putumayo and Caquetá, which are very dangerous, active conflict zones. Other departments with significant rural violence include the Atlantic departments of Chocó, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca; eastern Meta, Vichada, and Arauca in the east; and all Amazonian departments except for Amazonas. That's not to say that these departments are totally off-limits—just be sure you are either traveling with locals who know the area, or sticking to cities and tourist destinations. In general, if you stick to the main roads between major cities and do not wander off into remote parts of the jungle, you are unlikely to run into trouble, and you are much more likely to encounter a Colombian army checkpoint than an illegal guerrilla roadblock.
Colombia is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. So don't walk around blithely through the countryside without consulting locals. Land mines are found in 31 out of Colombia's 32 departments, and new ones are planted every day by guerrillas, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers.
There was an agreement in 2005 with the government which resulted in the disarmament of some of the paramilitaries. However they are still active in drug business, extortion rackets, and as a political force. They do not target tourists specifically, but running up against an illegal rural roadblock in more dangerous departments is possible.
At the turn of the millenium Colombia has the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, a result of being one of the most cost-effective ways of financing for the guerrillas of the FARC and the ELN and other armed groups. Happily the security situation has much improved and the groups involved are today much weakened, with the number of kidnappings dropped from 3,000 in 2000 down to 229 cases in 2011. Today kidnappings are still a problem in some southern departments like Valle del Cauca, Cauca, and Caquetá. Colombian law makes the payment of ransom illegal, therefore the police may not be informed in some circumstances.
The guerrilla movements which include FARC and ELN guerrillas are still operational, though they are greatly weakened compared to the 1990s as the Colombian army has killed most of their leaders. These guerrillas operate mainly in rural parts of southern, southeastern and northwestern Colombia, although they have a presence in 30 out of the country's 32 departments. Big cities hardly ever see guerrilla activity these days. Even in rural areas, if you stick to the main roads between major cities and do not wander off the beaten track, you are far more likely to encounter soldiers from the Colombian army than guerrillas. River police, highway police, newspapers, and fellow travelers can be a useful source of information off-the-beaten-path.
The crime rate in Colombia has been significantly reduced since its peak in the late 1980s and 1990s, with the police having arrested or killed many of the important leaders of the drug cartels. However, major urban centers and the countryside of Colombia still have very high violent crime rates, comparable to blighted cities in the United States, and crime has been on the increase. In the downtown areas of most cities (which rarely coincide with the wealthy parts of town) violent crime is not rare; poor sections of cities can be quite dangerous for someone unfamiliar with their surroundings. Taxi crime is a very serious danger in major cities, so always request taxis by phone or app, rather than hailing them off the street—it costs the same and your call will be answered rapidly. Official taxi ranks are safe as well (airports, bus terminals, shopping malls).
Local consumption is low, and penalties are draconian, owing to the nation's well-known largely successful fight against some of history's most powerful and dangerous traffickers. Remember that the drug trade in Colombia has ruined many innocent citizens' lives and dragged the country's reputation through the mud.
Marijuana is illegal to buy and sell, although officially you can carry up to 20 grams without being charged for it. Police will tolerate you having a few grams of this drug on your person, but you are flirting with danger if you carry much more. Especially in small towns, it is not always the police you have to deal with, but vigilantes. They often keep the peace in towns, and they have a very severe way of dealing with problems.
Scopolamine is an extremely dangerous drug from an Andean flowering tree, which is almost exclusively used for crime, and nearly all the world's incidents of such use take place in Colombia. Essentially a mind control drug (once experimented with as an interrogation device by the CIA), victims become extremely open to suggestion and are "talked into" ATM withdrawals, turning over belongings, letting criminals into their apartments, etc., all while maintaining an outward appearance of more or less sobriety. After affects include near total amnesia of what happened, as well as potential for serious medical problems. The most talked about method of getting drugged with scopolamine is that of powder blown off paper, e.g., someone walks up to you (with cotton balls in their nose to prevent blowback) and asks for help with a map, before blowing the drugs into your face. But by far the most common method is by drugging drinks at a bar. To be especially safe, abandon drinks if they've been left unattended. While a pretty rare problem, it's an awfully scary one, and happens most often in strip clubs or other establishments involving sex workers.
Drink only bottled water outside the major cities. The water in major cities is safe. Most drinking water in people's homes is either boiled or of the purified variety that comes in huge multi-gallon plastic bags (which you can find at any little grocery store). The coffee's delicious, though, so why not just start that habit!
Tropical diseases are a concern in lowland parts of the country, and more so outside of major cities. Mosquitos carry malaria, Yellow fever, and Dengue, and infection rates are similar to other lowland parts of South America (i.e., much lower than in sub-Saharan Africa). Yellow fever has a vaccine, so get it—it's required for entry to many national parks, anyway. Dengue is not preventable beyond avoiding mosquito bites, so using bug spray regularly in lowland rural areas is good sense.
Malaria is a potential problem, so trips outside Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, and the Andean region warrant use of antimalarials, which can be bought very cheaply without a prescription from a droguería, which are everywhere in any city of any size throughout the country. Ask for Doxycicline tablets at a dosage of 100 mg, with the number being 30 days plus the number of days in a malarial area (so you can start 1–2 days in advance, and take it daily continuing for 4 weeks past the end of your trip). The phrase you want is: doxyciclina, cien miligramos, [number] pastillas. Using some bug spray in the evening serves as a bit of extra protection.
Colombians are acutely aware of their country's bad reputation, and tactless remarks about the history of violence might earn you a snide remark (likely regarding your country of origin) and an abrupt end to the conversation. However, Colombians eventually become willing to discuss these topics once they feel comfortable enough with someone.
Colombians are more formal than much of Latin America. Make a point to say "please" ("Por favor" or "Hágame el favor") and "thank you" ("muchas gracias") for anything, to anyone. When addressed, the proper response is "¿Señora?" or "¿Señor?" In parts of the country (especially Boyacá) Colombians can be formal to the point of anachronism, calling strangers "Su merced" (your Mercy!) in place of usted. The one (much) more informal part of the country is along the Caribbean coast, where referring to people just as "chico" can be more the norm—but take your cues from those around you.
Race is not a hot issue in Colombia, since whites, criollos, and mestizos (mixed race) blend naturally with natives and Afro-Colombians in everyday life (education, living, politics, marriage). Differences between white foreigners are not dwelled upon: expect to be called "gringo" even if you are, say, Russian. Unless context includes anger, it's not meant to be offensive. If you are black, you will probably be referred to as "negro" or "moreno," which also are not considered at all offensive. Asians are usually called "chino" (Chinese), regardless of actual background. Confusingly, Colombians from the inner regions also occasionally refer to children as chinos ("kids"); this use comes from Chibcha, an indigenous language. Even more confusingly, Colombians refer to blondes and redheads as "monos" (monkeys). It sounds offensive, but actually ranges from neutral to affectionate. Colombians have the mannerism of pointing to objects with their chins or lips; pointing to a person or even an object with your finger can be considered rude or less discreet.
Avoid indicating a person's height using your hand palm down, as this is considered reserved for animals or inanimate objects. If you must, use your palm facing sidewards with the bottom of the hand expressing the height.
Colombians dance a lot. Anyone will be glad to teach you how to dance, and they will not expect you to do it correctly, since they have been practicing every weekend for most of their lives. Colombian night life centers mostly on dancing, and bars where people sit or stand are less common outside major cities. Despite the sensual movements, dancing is normally not intended as flirtation. It is applied in the same way as in Brazil—an almost-naked "garota" dancing samba in the carnival is not inviting you to have sex with her but inviting you to enjoy, to be happy, to join in the celebration, to join the exuberant shedding of inhibitions.
Gay and lesbian travelers
Most Colombians are Catholic, although you'll find that young people are quite relaxed about religion, especially with regards to social issues. Public displays of affection are rare, though, and may elicit uncomfortable stares. Verbal and physical homophobic violence is not necessarily unheard of, and unfortunately less aggressive homophobia may be more widespread than what politeness masks. Overall, Colombian attitudes to homosexuality are pretty similar to what you find in the United States.
You can find more liberally-minded areas (at least about LGBT issues) in Bogotá's Chapinero district. It is home to what may be the biggest LGBT community in Colombia, and is the focal point of the community's nightlife in Bogotá (if not the whole country), with explicitly gay-friendly establishments such as Theatron (arguably one of the biggest discos in South America) . LGBT pride parades also take place in some of the major cities sometime around late June and early July. 
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Colombia since April 2016.
Colombia does not have a government-run post office system. However, the private firm 4-72 serves as Colombia's de facto postal service, though it tends to be somewhat slow and unreliable. Locals rarely use the 4-72 service and usually go to couriers such as Servientrega, which have many more branches than 4-72, though they are very expensive when used to send mail overseas.
It's simple enough to get a SIM card and even an unlocked phone at the international airport in Bogotá, although there is, of course, a price hike. They're not hard to find in any city either, just ask your hotel or hostel staff where to go. Topping up is also easy, and can be done pretty much on any street corner.
The carriers you'll most likely see are Claro, Tigo, and Movistar. Claro is the most expensive (by a little bit), but has the widest coverage in the country, if you expect to get off the beaten path.
Virgin Mobile might be the best option if you want to have internet for a low price, as you can pay for COP$20,000 for a month and get 350MB (plus 50 minutes, 10 sms and unlimited use of WhatsApp, an almost universally used chat app in Colombia) without the need of a contract. It might take a bit longer to find a spot that sells the sim cards. It should cost COP$5k-10k pesos.
|1||Bogotá and Cundinamarca|
|2||Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño|
|4||Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba|
|5||Atlántico, Bolívar, Cesar, La Guajira, Magdalena, Sucre|
|6||Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío|
|7||Norte de Santander, Santander, Arauca|
|8||Boyacá, Tolima, Huila, San Andrés and Providencia, Meta, Caquetá, Amazonas, Casanare, Vichada, Guainía, Vaupés, Guaviare, Putumayo|
To call from a landline to another local landline, dial the normal seven digits. To call from a landline to a mobile, dial twelve digits, always beginning with 03, followed by the ten digit number provided.
It's far more complex to make long-distance domestic calls or international calls. Ask whoever owns the phone to dial it for you. If that's not an option, buy a mobile phone. Seriously.
From mobiles and from abroad:
To call a Colombian landline from another country or from a mobile phone in Colombia, use the +57 country code then the eight digit number (the first of which is the area code). To dial to a mobile phone, dial +57 and then the ten digit number. You can also type "00" instead of the "+".
Internet cafés are easy to find in any city or town. Expect rates to run about COP$1,250-2,500 per hour, depending on how much competition there is (i.e., cheap in Bogotá, expensive in the middle of nowhere). Quality of connection is directly related to the centrality of location, and hence inversely related to price.