Colombia Travel Guide: Everything to Plan Your Trip
Are you thinking of visiting Colombia? Well, you should! Let this Colombia travel guide help you plan your trip, prepare properly, and also inspire you to finally book the trip! I loved Colombia so much that I just had to write this Colombia Travel Guide to help others make the most of this amazing country!
Colombia is South America’s newest travel hot spot and in the last few years tourism has exploded. Colombia’s old stigma that once plagued the country is fading and now more and more people are open to the idea of traveling this beautiful country.
With world-class coffee plantations, amazing beaches to the north and west, amazing food, rich history, and friendly people, Colombia is a place that you will likely love just as much as I do!
The first time I visited Colombia I spent 8 there and left with a desire to return soon – so I did. Recently, I went back to Colombia and spent another 3 months revisiting my favorite places as well as exploring some I’d missed on my trip before. It’s safe to say I am a huge fan of Colombia!
After speaking with many other travelers from all over the world, I’ve realized that it isn’t just me who feels this way, everyone loves Colombia!
So if you too want to travel to Colombia, here’s everything you need to know including important information to help prepare and plan for your trip!
Topics included in this Colombia Travel Guide:
- Visa and entry requirements
- Currency & ATMs
- The Weather
- Dangers and Safety
- What things cost
- Daily budgets
- Best places to visit
- Best things to do
Colombia Visa and Entry Requirements
The first and most important thing in any Colombia travel guide is how to get into the country!
There are 98 countries that do not require a visa to enter Colombia. These include the UK, all European Union passport holders, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. You will be given a 90-day stamp in your passport on arrival.
When entering Colombia it is a requirement to have proof of onward travel. By land this rule is not overly enforced, however by air most airlines will NOT let you board the plane without proof of onward travel.
This means you will need proof of you leaving Colombia either by land, air, or sea. If you don’t already this booked, you can create a fake flight ticket for $5 USD online. I’ve done this a few times and it always works for me.
Currency and Money in Colombia
The first thing you need to know when traveling to Colombia is about their money and how you can get it!
Colombia uses Colombian Pesos, also known as COP. This currency is used throughout the country and is preferred over USD (unlike many other South American countries). At the time of writing this (April 2020) $1 USD is worth $4,000 COP, but this can fluctuate quite a lot.
EFTPOS (or debit/credit card) is available in larger cities like Bogota and Medellin however only at larger department stores, supermarkets, large hostels, and fancy hotels. On most occasions, a charge is added when paying with EFTPOS (3-5%). It is important to always carry some cash with you in case places
ATMs are widely available around Colombia to withdraw cash. For free withdrawals use the ATMs called BBVA. These ATMs are the only ones that don’t charge a ridiculous fee to withdraw cash on a foreign card. The withdrawal limit is only 300,000 COP though.
You can also exchange USD or other common currencies such as CAD or Euros at airports or in major cities. However, they don’t always offer the best exchange rate.
Weather in Colombia
Due to Colombia’s northern location in South America, it has no clear seasons. The average temperatures in Colombia don’t change that drastically because of seasons. Instead, they change depending on where you are in Colombia due to the altitude.
The altitude tends to change the weather a lot more than the actual change of seasons. The city of Medellin is often referred to as “the city of eternal Spring” for its constant Spring-like weather.
On Colombia’s Caribbean coast, temperatures are hot all year round, however, suffers from tropical rains.
You can read more about the average temperatures and weather in Colombia here!
When to Visit Colombia
When deciding when to visit Colombia, the main weather condition to consider is the rain! During the summer months (June, July, August) it rains the most, and then in winter the least (December, January, February.)
Spring (March, April, May) – March signals the beginning of the rainy season. By May, Colombia receives on average 17 rain days a month!
Summer (June, July, August) – Summer in Colombia is the middle of the wet season so make sure you back your jacket and umbrella!
Autumn (September, October, November) – By the middle of Autumn the rainy season is gone and things keep drying up until December.
Winter (December, January, February) – Ahh winter at last! Winter is the dryest time in Colombia and as some say, the best time to visit.
Regardless of the weather, Colombia is a beautiful place to visit all year round! I visited in the months of August and September and still had an amazing time with many beautiful days!
The only other thing to remember when planning when to visit Colombia, is that it is busiest around Christmas time (December and January.) Also, Tayrona National Park closes for the entire month of February so it’s important that if you want to go there to plan around this!
Dangers and Safety in Colombia
Although Colombia is relatively safe, common problems such as pickpocketing are something to watch out for, especially in the larger cities. Other common crimes include robberies (usually during the night), currency exchange scams, and police corruption.
Please note that although some small amounts of drugs are decriminalized in Colombia, this rule generally does not apply to tourists and “on the spot fines” are usually given (however more severe penalties can apply.)
It is also required in Colombia to carry your passport or a copy of it with you at all times. During my stay, friends of mine received “on the spot fines” for not carrying theirs. This fine was instead of being escorted to immigration.
During my stay in Bogota, Bailey and I were robbed at knifepoint at the main plaza in La Candelaria. That being said, I would like to mention this robbery was in no way violent and happened at 11 pm (a time we should not have been walking around in a quiet area).
I found the rest of Colombia to be super safe and had no other problems except this one incident.
General safety rules apply in Colombia. So keep your wits about you, don’t go out at night alone, don’t show off valuables, and only carry on you what you are willing to lose. Plan routes and directions carefully to avoid walking through unsafe neighborhoods.
As a general rule, the tourist areas where hostels and hotels are located are safest, but if you venture to a different area do some research first or consider going on a guided tour.
This Colombia travel guide is not meant to scare you off, just be cautious and I’m sure you will be fine. We truthfully felt very safe during our time in Colombia!
For more information about staying safe in Colombia, check out our blog, South America safety tips!
What Things Cost in Colombia
A very important part of planning a trip is budgeting and knowing approximately how much it will cost you. So that’s why in this Colombia travel guide I’ve included the below information about what things cost on average in Colombia!
Accommodation in Colombia Prices
Dorm rooms in hostels range from 20,000-40,000 COP. Private Rooms start at 60,000 COP, but this is usually for something in a smaller town and very basic. For a decent private room with a private bathroom expect to pay around 100,000 COP, but of course, more luxurious hotels can be upwards of $100 USD.
All of the places I stayed at included free wifi and some had free continental breakfast. Many hostels and hotels in Colombia are fully booked on weekends and during peak season. This is largely due to Colombia’s tourism infrastructure not being able to keep up with the sudden demand.
Colombia Food Prices
Local street foods like empanadas can be found for 1,000-2,000 COP. Meals at cheap local restaurants start at about 10,000 COP. These meals usually come with a choice of meat and rice, beans, and fried plantain.
If you’re after western food then expect to pay at least 20,000 COP for something like a burger. At a fancier restaurant expect to pay up to 50,000 COP for a main meal.
Beers at hostels usually cost 5,000 COP and at bars you’ll pay upwards of 8,000 COP. Cocktails range from 10,000-20,000 COP and a glass of wine is usually around 12,000 COP.
Fruit and vegetables from grocery stores are much cheaper than processed food items that are imported.
I mostly ate my own cooked meals. Eating cooked meals and mostly street food with the odd restaurant set me back around 250,000 COP for Bailey and me each week. You could easily spend a lot more if you eat at all of the best restaurants and don’t cook for yourself.
Transport Prices in Colombia
Local buses and the metro are cheap and most rides cost around 2,000 COP.
Intercity buses, however, are rather expensive with a trip from Cartagena to Medellin costing around 130,000 COP.
Local flights with Viva Colombia are cheap and can cost as little as 80,000 COP (Medellin to Bogota.) However, these flights do not include baggage and will cost extra to add on.
Cost of Tours in Colombia
Tours range so widely in price and length so it’s hard to give a figure, but for the sake of this Colombia travel guide, I’ll try to give you a ballpark figure. A city tour will usually cost around 60,000-100,00 COP. Other tours like the Lost City Trek can set you back 400,000- 600,000 COP.
Generally speaking, Medellin and Cartagena are more expensive than in other cities and towns.
Daily Budgets in Colombia
For the sake of this Colombia travel guide, I have included some average daily budgets. These figures are based on average daily spending per person per day. So, if you consider yourself a budget backpacker look at the “low” budget range below, whereas a more luxury traveler should refer to the “high” section.
80,000-130,000 COP per day – This means staying in cheap hostel dorms, cooking almost all meals, rarely going on organized tours, and barely drinking any alcohol.
130,000- 200,000 COP per day – Staying fancier dorms or basic private rooms (split between 2 people), eating out sometimes, participating in select tours, and having a few beers here and there.
200,000+ COP per day – Staying in private rooms in nicer hotels or hostels, eating out most meals, taking taxis regularly, tours in every city, and partying a decent amount.
Top Destinations in Colombia
There are so many amazing places that I couldn’t cover them all in detail in this Colombia travel guide, but here are a few of my absolute personal favorites! These are destinations in Colombia you should seriously consider visiting.
Guatape is a small town located about 1 hour from Medellin. This small town is famous for a few great reasons including its colorful buildings and being home to the 3rd largest monolithic rock in the world – which you can climb!
The area is also home to one of the infamous Pablo Escobar mansions as well as a massive lake perfect for water activities!
Read about all of the amazing things to do in Guatape on our blog article!
This beautiful southern town is a great place to get amongst the locals and experience Colombia’s rich culture. Located to the south of Medellin, Salento boasts amazing coffee plantations, great food, and of course the famous wax palms in the Valle de Cocora.
We written a detailed guide all about Salento, Colombia!
No trip to Colombia would be complete without a visit to Medellin. With amazing free walking tours, a rather infamous history, and a vibrant nightlife, Medellin shows visitors how far it has come since being one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
There’s so much to do and see in Medellin it can be hard to plan your limited time there wisely. We’ve carefully constructed this Medellin itinerary to suit anybody who has one to five days to spend in the city!
San Andres Island
San Andres is a popular place among locals for weekend getaways. Located in the Caribbean, it boasts amazing beaches, world-class diving, and a relaxed island vibe! To me, it is easily one of the best places in all of Colombia and you should really consider heading there for a few days.
Read our complete guide to San Andres Island to help plan your trip!
This large city on the Caribbean coast is home to some amazing history. The old city is surrounded by a huge wall that used back in colonial times and is truly a sight to see! A must-do in Cartagena is the free walking tour in the day, but by night, be sure to Getsamani for the party!
For more information on the best thing to do in Cartagena, read ou detailed blog that includes tons of attractions that most tourists miss!
Tayrona National Park
This beautiful national park located on the Caribbean coast is a must-see! Thick green rain-forest meets crystal clear waters and with the option to stay the night on the beach it’s the ultimate Colombian getaway!
If you’re heading to Tayrona National Park, it’s best to stay in or near the park. Read our blog about where to stay in Tayrona for all the info you need!
San Gil is Colombia’s adventure capital. With fantastic rivers perfect for kayaking and white water rafting, bungee jumping, abseiling and much more it’s the perfect place for any adrenaline junkie!
Find out more about all of the adventures you can have in San Gil, Colombia!
Minca is a small town located in the mountains near Santa Marta. Famous for its amazing views, cool climate and beautiful waterfalls it’s a popular spot for backpackers!
We’ve come up with 15 awesome things to do in Minca, find out what they all are on our blog article!
Santa Marta is used as a base for Tayrona National Park, the Lost City Trek, and Minca. This city has a great nightlife and some pretty cool nearby beaches to explore.
Check out our comprehensive guide to visiting Santa Marta, Colombia!
The southern town of Popayan is not a backpacker’s dream, however, its old colonial architecture is simply beautiful. If you’re heading through to Ecuador or vice versa it’s a great place to stop en route to the border!
Las Lajas Sanctuary
Las Lajas Sanctuary also known as the Las Lajas Cathedral is arguably the most beautiful cathedral in Colombia and well worth checking out if your crossing from Colombia to Ecuador by bus. It is closest to the city of Ipiales and very easy if you’re planning on going there already.
Check out this blog for a backpacking in Colombia itinerary!
Top Things to do in Colombia
Last but least, no Colombia Travel Guide would be complete without a list of the best things to do!
Lost City Trek
The 4-day hike through the Colombian jungle is a must! Located near Santa Marta in the north, this hike takes you through amazing landscapes and finally ends at the famous Lost City Ruins! The only way to do this hike is on an organized tour with an authorized guide.
Bungee jumping in San Gil
San Gil is home to the cheapest bungee jump in the world. At only $20 USD every traveler can afford it. Oh, and don’t worry, I jumped first to make sure it was safe!
Medellin Free Walking Tour
In 15 months of traveling Latin America, the Medellin free walking tour by Real City Walking Tours was by far the best! This tour really shouldn’t be free. The quality of the tour is 5 stars and from start to finish I was so intrigued. Medellin’s history is both crazy and interesting!
Party at Carnival
If you love partying away the night and day then Colombia’s Carnival celebrations are for you! On during the month of February, the celebrations are amazing with the biggest celebrations taking place in the city of Barranquilla.
With the Caribbean on Colombia’s doorstep, it’s no wonder that diving is so popular. I personally dived off of San Andres Island and absolutely loved it! The sea life and corals are stunning!
Another popular place to go scuba diving in Colombia is Taganga. Here, the calm waters and cheap prices make for the perfect place to learn as well!
Visit the Amazon
Colombia is home to a small portion of the Amazon rainforest and also some of the least visited. For this reason, you can go on a trip into the unknown and off the beaten path!
Colombia is famous for its amazing coffee and the best place to drink it is at one of the farms on a coffee tour! Tours can be done almost everywhere with farms all over the country with the most popular locations being Salento, Jardin, and Minca.
Enjoy the Beaches
There are some pretty incredible beaches around Colombia. I personally enjoy the ones on the Caribbean coast the most such as Playa Grande, Playa Blanca, Cabo San Juan, and Costeno Beach! From Santa Marta and Cartagena you can explore the most pristine beaches the country has to offer!
Before you go…
After visiting Colombia it’s easy to see why it has earned its top spot among travelers. It shocked me to see how far this country has come and how important it is to spread the message that this once dangerous country is now a spectacular place to visit.
The Colombian people are some of the friendliest I have met and are begging for tourists to give the country a go. For these reasons and many more, Colombia is one of my favorite places on earth and is what has inspired me to write this Colombia travel guide.
I hope you found this Colombia travel guide helpful and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below, we respond to them all!
Bure sure to browse our massive collection of blogs about Colombia too – you’re sure to find more helpful info!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars many times. World Nomads is a great company to use if you are an adventure traveler like us!
May 14, 2020