Are you getting ready for an upcoming trip to Colombia? Do you want to be as prepared as possible?
You may have many questions if you’ve never traveled to Colombia. You could wonder about safety, weather, food, things to do, or how to pack. It might feel overwhelming when you’re just in the planning stage, but don’t worry!
The truth is Colombia has so much to offer. Whether you want to explore the Caribbean coast and the rich jungle or go on some adventurous hikes and treks around Colombia, or just want to walk around the bustling city streets of Bogota, Cartagena, or one of the other lively cities. you’ll have a blast when you visit Colombia.
I’m here to help you prepare for your visit to Colombia and give you all the important information before you board that flight (or bus). I hope this list of things to know before you visit Colombia will help you feel prepared, confident, and excited about your upcoming trip!
What You Need To Know Before You Visit Colombia
Is Colombia safe?
Many people ask me this question before visiting Colombia. The country has a negative reputation in terms of safety. You’ve certainly heard stories of the cartel and the Pablo Escobar era, rampant kidnappings, or armed robberies. And while some of the rumors are rooted in truth, it isn’t as bad as in the old days.
Colombia has been making great steps to improve safety, especially in the tourism industry. And millions of people visit Colombia each year with no problems.
You should follow some simple safety precautions while visiting Colombia just to be safe. For example, you should avoid carrying too much cash or all your bank cards. You don’t want all your valuables in one place because you’ll be in trouble if something does happen.
You should avoid taking street taxis in larger cities whenever possible. Street taxis in Colombia have a history of over-charging or even extorting unsuspecting tourists. Uber is available in most major cities in Colombia. If you take a taxi, talk with the driver and establish a price range before entering the cab.
Petty theft and crimes of opportunity are relatively common throughout Colombia. So, keep an eye on your belongings and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
These are just a few important tips to help you get by in Colombia. Of course, depending on where you are and your activities, there might be a few more suggestions worth noting.
For more detailed information, you should read my post Is Colombia Safe?
Know which neighborhoods are safe
The area you stay in can really make or break your stay. Most cities and regions have “good” and “bad” neighborhoods for tourists and travelers. For example, Centro Historico in Medellin is considered a hazardous location. In comparison, Poblado and Laureles are extremely popular and relatively safe for travelers.
Each city or village in Colombia will have a preferred location. Check out the most popular (and safest) regions before booking accommodation.
For more information on areas to stay, read my posts Where To Stay In Bogota and Where To Stay In Cartagena.
Understand the impact of the Pablo Escobar legacy
Some say that Pablo Escobar was the world’s most powerful drug trafficker in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was killed in Medellin in 1993, but not before ruining thousands of lives across Colombia, South America, and further north.
Pablo Escobar’s life and death have inspired countless stories, books, shows, and movies. The most well-known is the Netflix drama, Narcos (2015). Narcos follows the life and death of Pablo Escobar, his massive role in the drug trade in Colombia, and the effects it had on others.
Unfortunately, the Pablo Escobar legacy has persisted to this day. The aftershock of Pablo Escobar and the cocaine trade still affected many Colombians, and thousands of families were torn apart because of him.
You can visit the Pablo Escobar museum in Medellin, where you can take a tour of one of his stash houses, his grave, the spot he died, and a church his men frequented. However, many Colombians still take offense to Pablo Escobar and the people that financially support his legacy.
You should be cautious of how this might impact local Colombians, especially those that were personally affected by his decisions. He’s been dead for about 30 years, but his impact remains here.
If you’re traveling to Colombia to learn more about Pablo Escobar, just try to be respectful of the locals and how your actions may be perceived (such as paying money for a private tour about Pablo Escobar). After all, showing respect is the most important thing when you travel to a new culture and society.
Colombian beauty standards
Colombian women (and men) have pretty high beauty standards, especially in the city or wealthier areas of the region. People value looks and fashion very highly in Colombia and will look down on anyone that doesn’t put in the same level of time and care for their appearance.
Colombia is well-known for its plastic surgery procedures, proven by the many people who travel to Colombia specifically for cheap, high-quality plastic surgery.
When I was there, I noticed Colombian women hiking in heels and tight dresses, no matter the difficulty or weather. I also spotted so many women with boob or butt implants. And it isn’t so different for men. For example, we heard that any man wearing shorts and/or flip-flops in Medellin was severely looked down upon. So, you can see how societal beauty standards carry some weight in Colombia.
At first, it was a shock. I felt very underdressed and noticed a small blow to my self-esteem. But I eventually got used to it and realized most Colombians don’t pay as much attention to foreigners as they do themselves.
Currency in Colombia
The currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso. The Colombian Peso is often abbreviated to COP but referred to in speaking as “pesos.” Currently, $1 USD is equal to approximately 4,850 COP. And €1 Euro is equal to about 5,170 COP.
Cash is king in Colombia. Most places, especially more local regions, don’t accept cards. And if they do accept cards, they have an additional fee. So, make sure you have enough COP on hand for whatever you need.
You can find ATMs almost everywhere in Colombia. I recommend only using ATMs inside banks or proper establishments, as street ATMs might be exposed to more scam opportunities.
Is Colombia expensive?
Colombia is one of the cheapest countries in South America, and South America is already known to be very affordable for holidays and travel. However, the strength of the Colombian Peso has been fluctuating recently due to uncertainty with the current presidency and future regulations. This shouldn’t affect the prices too drastically, especially if you come from a European or North American country.
If you’re on a budget, you can easily find a cheap room in a hostel for $5-10 USD a night. You can also eat local street food and the menu del dia for around $2 USD a meal.
Of course, you can choose to travel more luxuriously, as well. A fancy meal in Medellin would cost around $15 USD per person. And we stayed in a high-end apartment in Bogota for around $25 USD a night. For only a few dollars more, you can get lovely accommodation and meals.
Is tap water in Colombia safe to drink?
I was surprised to hear that tap water is okay to drink in some major cities in Colombia, particularly Bogota. According to Tap Safe and government officials, tap water in Bogota undergo rigorous testing and is safe to drink.
That said, I’ve spent several years around South America and chose not to drink tap water anywhere in Colombia. I can’t be sure of government regulations, frequent testing, and a building’s maintenance standards.
I drank filtered water all through Colombia. I have a water bottle I take everywhere and fill up with fresh filtered water whenever possible.
There are so many different things to do in Colombia
Colombia is well-known for the beautiful Caribbean coast and the adventurous Amazon tours and lodging. But the truth is, there is so much to do in Colombia.
Whether you’re interested in hiking the region surrounding Medellin, relaxing on the Caribbean coast in Cartagena or near Santa Marta, or hiking through the jungle, you’ll find it all. Colombia is just full of so much diversity, adventure, and fun.
Make sure to also read my post 29 Best Places To Visit In Colombia.
Tips for getting around Colombia
Colombia has great bus routes, with cheap and affordable public buses connecting all cities and major destinations. However, Colombia is a relatively large country, and many popular hubs for travelers are spread out nationwide. For example, if you fly into Bogota, a bus to Cartagena would be over 20 hours, and a bus to Medellin would be between 8 and 10 hours.
So, if you’re planning to travel by bus, plan your route properly and research the distances of your favorite places. Fortunately, flights are also cheap in Colombia, and most airports are pretty fast to get through. Flying might be the most time-efficient choice if you’re going a little further away.
Colombia has some great weather
Colombia is very close to the equator, so it has some pretty consistent weather. Colombia really only has two seasons. The dry season (from December to August) and the rainy season (from April to November).
Depending on the region and city, the temperature could drop below 15°C (59°F), but it is often pleasantly warm or hot throughout Colombia.
You should note that some regions may be hotter and more humid than others. For example, Medellin is nicknamed “the city of eternal spring” because it always has mild temperatures and frequent rain showers.
In contrast, regions near Santa Marta or in the Amazon will be much hotter and more humid. And Bogotà, which sits high in the Andes, has average temperatures of 14°C (around 57°F) and an average of 181 rainy days per year. Similarly, it rains pretty much every day in the Eje Cafetero – the coffee region of Colombia. I was there in February, which is meant to be the dry season, and not a day went by without rain!
What is the best time to visit Colombia?
The best time to visit Colombia will depend on what you want to do and what you’re trying to accomplish.
For example, the rainy season (from April to November) is the cheapest time to visit Colombia as prices increase during holidays and touristy seasons. However, if you want to do a lot of hiking and other excursions, you should visit during the dry season (from December to August).
For the Amazon, the most popular times to visit are between July and September. If you want to see animals and go with fewer crowds, go between June to October as it is in the rainy season.
The Amazon in Colombia is an incredible experience
Speaking of the Amazon, Colombia is the perfect place to visit if you’ve dreamed of that whole Amazon experience. Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Brazil are most well-known for Amazon lodging and treks. And while Colombia has a relatively small piece of the Amazon, it does have some of the lowest prices.
Don’t have high expectations for the food
Colombia is not famous for its food. Most of the food in Colombia is predictable and needs more seasonings. The food is very meat-heavy, emphasizing pork, chicken, and fish.
Regardless of that, you should try some traditional Colombian food – just don’t go in with high expectations. But who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised.
You should also read my post The Best Colombian Food To Try.
But the fruit and juices are delicious
Colombia does have some flavorful, juicy, and unique fruit and juices. Colombia’s diverse landscape and climate zones allow the fruit to grow year-long. That means you’ll find colorful fruits lining local fruit markets, no matter the season.
Some exotic fruit native to Colombia is goldenberry, gulupa, dragon fruit, and granadilla. And you should definitely try all of them.
You can typically find fresh fruit stands offering freshly squeezed juice for only about 5,000 COP ($1.04 USD). When I order fruit juice, I usually ask for no sugar (sin azúcar in Spanish) because otherwise, you might be shocked by how many scoops of sugar they add.
Colombian coffee is incredible
According to World Atlas, Colombia is the world’s third-largest coffee producer. This lush country has the perfect terrain for fresh coffee beans to thrive. You’ll find coffee plantations in almost every corner of the country. However, the Coffee Axis (or the Coffee Triangle, referred to as Eje Cafetero) is the most prominent region for gourmet coffee.
The Coffee Axis is in central Colombia and occupies three departments; Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío. Although you can find world-class coffee in any major city or destination in Colombia.
So, no matter where you are, look into a coffee plantation tour. There are very few better places to learn the ins and outs of coffee than Colombia.
Colombians are incredibly welcoming
Most people in Colombia are incredibly open, welcoming, and kind to all tourists and travelers. You can see that they love sharing their culture, history, and lives with foreigners, which just makes the experience so much more special.
Colombians always wanted to help us, whether with directions, recommendations, or anything else we needed. We also met many people who wanted to chat and practice their English with us. If you’re traveling to Colombia, you should not miss the opportunity to speak with some locals and get a peek into their society and culture.
If you speak Spanish, you can have nice conversations with them. And if you don’t, they will definitely try English and in any case go above and beyond to help you.
What are the visa requirements for Colombia?
Colombia is a visa-exempt country for most non-residents, including most of the Americas, Europe, and Northern Asia. That means you do not need a visa ahead of time. Upon entering the country, you will get a valid stamp for up to 90 days in Colombia. You can stay in Colombia for 180 days every calendar year, leaving the country every 90 days.
The visa-on-arrival policy is as follows (according to CIBT Visas):
- A passport that is valid for at least six months after your entry date and has one empty page for the visa stamp
- A ticket or reservation for your onward or return flight
- Any documents that you need for your next destination, such as visas, permits, or vaccinations
- Evidence of the purpose of your travel, such as a letter from your employer or sponsor, a registration confirmation for a conference or event, or a tour itinerary
- Proof that you have enough money to cover your expenses during your stay, such as bank statements, credit cards, or traveler’s checks
- A confirmation from your airline that they will allow you to board without a visa. This may depend on your nationality and destination.
The most important documents are a valid passport and proof of onward travel. I was asked to show a ticket leaving Colombia within my 90-day allowance when flying from Lima, Peru, to Medellin, Colombia.
Yellow fever vaccine
You don’t need the yellow fever vaccine to visit Colombia. However, certain activities will need it. We were asked to show our yellow fever vaccine before visiting Tayrona National Park, before our Ciudad Perdida trek, and before an Amazon experience.
Get travel insurance
Travel insurance is not required to visit Colombia but is highly recommended. Suppose you plan to do adventurous activities, like hiking through the Amazon, trekking to Ciudad Perdida, or even diving in the Caribbean. In that case, you’ll want to be fully covered for unsuspecting accidents.
I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.
These other posts will be useful to help you plan your trip to Colombia:
- Is Cartagena Safe For Tourists?
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- Is Medellin Safe?
- Is Bogota Safe?
- A Great 2 Weeks In Colombia Itinerary