Colombia Travel Guide
Tell your friends or family you want to travel to Colombia and you may hear remarks like, "You gotta be kidding", "Are you serious?", " Tell me you are joking", or "What the hell are you thinking?". Colombia has a reputation for violence and crime and the concerns of your friends aren't without a basis. But recent improvement in security has made the country safer and a hub for travelers who want to enjoy the country's incredible scenery and lush jungles.
Colombia is also home to several beautiful beaches, mind-blowing architecture, and incredible streets. Have some of the best times of your life trying the country's delicious cuisines or spend an evening learning the salsa dance. There's so much to do in Colombia and you just have to find the time to enjoy all the country has to offer.
Capital city: Bogotá
Currency: Colombian Peso (COP) 1 USD = 4403 COP.
Electricity: Power voltage is 110 Volts. Power sockets type A and B.
Languages: Spanish is the official and widely spoken language. English has official status in some cities like San Andres and Santa Catalina Islands. Several other languages are also spoken and can be grouped into 12 family languages including Arawakan, Cariban, Tupian, and Quechuan
10 Handpicked Highlights of Colombia
Travelers love that the cost of living in Colombia is low. As a plus, the country has several first-world amenities you’d expect to find in a much more expensive location. Below is a list of the best places to visit during your tour of Colombia.
It makes sense to start your tour of Colombia in Bogota since you’ll most likely arrive at the capital city or neighboring areas like El Dorado, especially if you are flying into the country. Bogotá is a vibrant, hectic, and beautiful city nestled high up in the Andes in a wide valley. Touring the city promises loads of fun but what will completely blow you away is the view of the city from the Cerro de Monserrate mountain that’s downtown of Bogotá.
You get majestic views of downtown and South Bogotá from the mountain. There’s also a colonial-era church on the mountain that’s become a popular tourist attraction. You can get to the top of the mountain on foot, by cable car, or by funicular railway.
Tayrona National Park
The Tayrona National Park is the poster boy of Colombia’s reinvigorated tourism industry. Looking for a iddylic beaches in Colombia? You’ll find many of them in Tayrona with their gorgeous blue waters and dense rainforest. The best part? The beach is easily accessible from the city of Santa Marta, or the small town of Taganga.
A day isn’t enough to enjoy all Tayrona has to offer. Try to allocate two days to Tayrona when planning your trip to properly get a feel of the park.
Lost City / Ciudad Perdida
The Ciudad Perdida (meaning Lost City) is an ancient remain of what is believed to be an important indigenous trading city. To get to the Lost City, you have to trek there. There are bo trains, buses, or even horse trails! I think this is one of the reasons why the Lost City isn’t as popular as it should be.
Getting to the Lost City is no easy part. You’ll hike through the jungle for days, cross raging waters and sleep in the most basic shelters. Your trek won’t be all gloomy as you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view featuring beautiful mountains, dense rainforest, soaring exotic birds, and deep blue skies on your journey. But the real prize is the Lost City which gives you mind-boggling views of the forest-covered mountains.
Cocora Valley and its wax palms
You are getting something wrong if Cocora Valley isn’t on your Colombia itinerary list as a nature lover. Hiking the valley is difficult due to the elevation and muddy trails but you get compensated with incredible scenery and views. But that not the real reward. The almost 60 meters high majestic wax palms of Cocora Valley are the highlights of your hike!
The wax palms look exactly like they do in the pictures. Tall, elegant, serene, peaceful, and majestic. A botanical treasure. Take your time to enjoy them. And if you are feeling up for it, you can hire a horse, which is readily available, because who wouldn’t want to ride a horse under the beautiful palms?
Cartagena Old Town
Inviting beaches, fantastic restaurants, spicy nightlife, incredible colonial architecture, and lively street life. These are the things you can look forward to on your visit to Cartagena Old Town. There’s also the delicious seafood, friendly locals, and interesting cultures. Better get a camera handy before you go to Cartagena. There are endless photo opportunities.
This one is a hidden gem as it seems many travelers don’t know about it. But I promise it’ll be worth you time. The Tatacoa Desert isn’t actually a desert as it gets enough rainfall to not be classified as a desert. But the dry and dramatic landscape definitely looks like a desert to the “untrained” or “unexpert eye” which is almost all tourists, haha.
Look, the landscapes and rock formations here are completely unique. You’ll have fun in the desert and encounter several natural swimming pools. On the plus side, the Tatacoa Desert is the best place to observe the night sky.
Laguna de la Cocha near Pasto
Mother Nature, in her infinite generosity, decided to bless South America with several beautiful lagoons. Colombia is one of the beneficiaries. About 30 minutes away from Pasto is the beautiful Laguna de la Cocha, the second largest lagoon in the country. It is shown in the picture at the very top of this page.
There is more to Laguna de la Cocha than the specular scenery, beautiful wildlife, vegetation, and the gorgeous little island, Corota Island, that lies in the middle of the lagoon. The lagoon is peaceful, tranquil, and gives an incomparable feeling of freedom.
Hike in Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park
The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park is a worthwhile detour on any visit to Colombia, especially for outdoor lovers. There are several opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and mountaineering at the park. You get to see diverse terrain on your hikes and some trails lead to gorgeous blue glacier lakes such as the Laguna de la Plaza.
It’s recommended you hire a local guide on your hikes as the weather can change suddenly and reduce visibility to less than 10 meters. Having someone who knows the lay of the land is important should that happen.
Caño Cristales River in Serranía de la Macarena National Park
“The river that escaped from heaven”, ” The most beautiful river in the world”, “The river is rainbow made into water”, are some of the things you’ll hear about the Caño Cristales River. Good news? The river lives up to the hype.
The aquatic plants in the Caño Cristales grow in bright and varied colors like deep-red, bright yellow, or brilliant green and the water takes on this color! Unless you take a close look at the river, you’ll think the water is flowing in different colors.
San Andrés Island, a Caribbean territory of Colombia
Sun, sea, and great beaches. That’s how to summarize the beautiful San Andres Island that’s off the coast of Nicaragua. While it’s not as popular as other Caribbean beaches like Aruba, San Andres definitely has its charms. Hire a boat to explore the waters, go diving, visit the reefs and snorkel, and go horse riding, there are many things to do on the Island. Your only worry is having enough time to do them all.
Colombia's Geography & Landscapes
A country of extremes, Colombia can de be divided into the following geographic regions:
- The Andean Highlands.
- The Caribbean lowlands coastal region in the North.
- The Pacific lowlands coastal region.
- Eastern Colombia, the great plain east of the Andes mountain. We can find there the Llanos, vast and wildlife-rich wetlands shared with Venezuela.
- Southern Colombia, with the Amazon rainforest
The landscape of Colombia is mainly made up of high Andean peaks and snow-covered volcanoes in the center. Deserts lie in the North, tropical beaches occupy both the North and West, while the East consists of vast grasslands. The more we go towards the south and southeast, the denser the jungle gets.
Best Time To Go To Colombia
Mainly a tropical climate, the peaks of the Andes mountains in the center of Colombia mean there are five different types of climate in the country. They are:
- Tropical rainforest
Temperature varies greatly among the regions due to climates and choosing the best time to go to Colombia means figuring out the best time to travel to a particular region rather than the country as a whole. However, the best times to visit the country are December to March and then July to August.
- December to March corresponds to Colombia’s “dry season” and conditions are more ideal across the country. This is the best time for relaxing on the beach, diving, snorkeling, hiking, or spotting animals in the plains of the east. Book accommodation ahead if you’ll be visiting between the festive months of December and January as it’s the busiest time of the year in the country.
- July to August is the best time to visit the pacific coast of Colombia.
Traveling in Colombia
You aren’t going to get stabbed or kidnapped in Colombia. Still, you must be very careful as petty crime is rampant in the country. Below are safety tips to have in mind.
- Keep your valuables hidden at all times. Displaying your phone, watch, and laptop can make you a target.
- Ask your hotel or hostel management for places to avoid.
- Don’t go anywhere alone at night. If you go to a night party, don’t return alone.
- Don’t do drugs. You may get offers but politely decline. It could be a setup by the police or some locals to extort money from you. I don’t support drugs but if you must do it, Colombia isn’t the place, especially for a foreigner.
- Make copies of all important documents and carry them with you. Put the original under lock and key in your hotel.
- Purchase good travel insurance.
- Don’t fight back if you get robbed. Your life is more important than any valuables you may have with you.
- Carry just enough cash you need for the day.
- The local water quality isn’t very good. Consider buying a filter water bottle if you want to save cash on single-use water bottles.
Never take photos/videos of police or military infrastructures. I happened to have a police station in front of my hotel in Pasto, and I randomly took a picture of the view from my room. Shortly after, a military guy in uniform came to knock at my door to take me to the station with my camera. They made sure every photo of the station gets deleted. They don’t joke with that.
Getting to & Around Colombia
The major points of entry to Colombia by air are the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota and Medellin Jose Maria Cordova in Medellin. Local airline operators include Wingo, Viva Air Colombia Avianca, LATAM Colombia and SATENA.
Public transportation is cheap in Colombia. Local buses are the most popular means of transportation in towns and cities.
Intercity buses are also available and popular operators include Expreso Palmira and Expreso Trejos.
A ‘Colectivo‘ could be a minibus, van, jeep, or shared taxi. They are faster than regular buses and are usually used for short journeys within towns and cities.
Flying is useful, especially if you are pressed for time. I took two domestic flights in Colombia and saved a lot of time and hassle this way.
There are no trains in Colombia.
Car rentals are available but I don’t recommend it. Carjacking is also quite common and a foreigner behind the wheels may be a more appealing target. Also, you’ll need to have an International Driving Permit and be at least 21 years old to drive in Colombia.
Hostels are readily available in most towns and cities and are quite affordable. The prices may double or even triple during the high season, though.
Budget hotels are available and you’ll have to pay more for more amenities.
You can use Airbnb in major cities if you are willing to pay more.
Camping isn’t safe in Colombia, so I don’t recommend with. Considering how affordable accommodation is, you will have no problem getting a good place to lay your head even as a budget traveler.