top of page

The Ultimate Colombia Travel Guide

4.5709° N, 74.2973° W

Old white buildings with flag in Cartagena, Colombia

THIS COMPREHENSIVE COLOMBIA TRAVEL GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING TRAVELERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING COLOMBIA; INCLUDING, TOP COLOMBIA DESTINATIONS, OFF THE BEATEN PATH ADVENTURES AND TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS.

 



For years we had wanted to travel to Colombia. To us, the vibrant South American country seemed the check all of the necessary boxes: beautiful landscapes, exciting culture, affordable prices, and lots of off the beaten path areas to explore. But it took us having to bail on another exciting place (this time in Europe) to finally commit to spending a couple of months in Colombia.


In the end, we would live, work and play in Colombia for a total of 6 months. While this might seem like a lot of time to spend in one place, in truth, even after those 180 days we still felt like we had only scratched the surface. That is simply because Colombia is massive and incredibly diverse.


So, if you are like us and are looking to explore a country with almost every type of landscape, a place with a rich and vibrant history, and a destination with tons of adventure possibilities, then we truly cannot recommend Colombia enough. Luckily, we have compiled the ultimate travel guide on everything you need to know about visiting and exploring Colombia; including, information on the best places to go, when to travel and what kind of weather to expect, what you need to do before entering the country and even a quick travel budget to give you an idea of what things cost.


So if you are sold on exploring and adventuring in this amazing South American country, then read on for our in-depth Colombia travel guide.



 


JUMP TO...








 

COLOMBIA | THE TRAVEL BASICS

 






\\ Where is Colombia?


Colombia is located in the far top left corner of South America. In fact, due to it being the first point where the South American continent touches Central America, it is nicknamed the "Gateway to South America".



NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES


Colombia has five neighboring countries: Venezuela and Brazil to the east, Peru and Ecuador to the south, and Panama to the north. It also has two different coastlines: the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean to the north. Colombia is actually the only country in South America to border two different oceans.




TIME ZONE


Colombia only has one time zone: UTC−5 (COT). This is the same time zone as the East Coast of the USA, which includes cities like New York City, Atlanta and Miami.


Colombia is approximately 5 hours behind London, UK; 6 hours behind Munich, Germany; 10.5 hours behind New Delhi, India and 11 hours behind Beijing, China.




Map of Colombia and neighboring countries.



CAPITAL CITY


The capital of Colombia is Bogota, which has a population of 7.4 million people - making it the most populated city in Colombia.


GOOD TO KNOW: Bogota is actually the third highest capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador. The city sits at 2,640 meters or 8,660 feet.




HOW LARGE IS COLOMBIA?


Specifically, Colombia is 1.1 million square kilometers or roughly 441,000 square miles in size. This makes Colombia the 25th largest country in the world.







COLOMBIA'S CURRENCY


The Colombian peso (COP) is the country's legal tender.


$1 USD = 4,040 COP, easy to remember as roughly 4x1

1 Euro = 4,592 COP, so roughly 4.5x1

£1 Pound = 4960 COP, so roughly 5x1


(As of early 2022. Obviously the exchange rate is always changing, but this should give you an idea).


In 2016 Colombia decided to issue totally new banknotes. These new bills continued to highlight various cultural elements and landscapes found in the country (including the famous Caño Cristales river and the páramo). Additionally, the revamped notes paid tribute to major personalities of culture, science and politics, and reinforced recognition of women's important role in Colombian society (both the 2000 COP and 10000 COP notes have women displayed).






\\ When to Travel to Colombia


The weather doesn’t change that much during the year since it sits right next to the equator. But, with that being said, we recommend visiting during the tourist “off-season” aka NOT during the holidays (December - January). Now if you are someone who wants to combine their travels with a bit of Colombian festivities then consider visiting either during February when the second-largest Carnival festival takes place in the Caribbean City of Barranquilla or during August when you can join the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) in Medellin.


In our opinion, August and September are two of the best months to explore Colombia because it still has reasonably nice weather and lots of festivals going on - plus it is in the "shoulder season" so you can expect relatively good prices and fewer people.



WEATHER IN COLOMBIA


Colombian weather, unlike many other places, does not depend on the season. In fact, for the most part, Colombia doesn't really experience clear seasons (besides maybe the wet and dry seasons). Instead, weather - and most notably temperatures - depends almost solely on elevation (its height above sea level). Therefore geography and not time of year plays the strongest role in determining the climate in Colombia and the weather in specific regions. Below is a brief outline of the type of weather and climate you can expect in the various regions that make up Colombia.


THE RAINIEST MONTH: October (followed by November)


THE HIGH SEASON: December to early February; the best weather but also the highest prices


THE LOW SEASON: September to November; the rainiest weather but also the cheapest prices




 



Below are a few of the more popular areas to explore in Colombia as well as what kind of weather you can expect and the best time to visit.



CARTAGENA AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST

You can expect hot sunny days and high humidity in most cities along the Caribbean Coast - including Cartagena, the “Jewel of Colombia”, Barranquilla, Santa Marta and the outlying islands.


THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: November to February (driest, best beach time), though April is also very temperate and nice; in February the Caribbean city of Barranquilla hosts Carnival, the second biggest celebration after Rio's world famous party. This 4-day event includes lots of dancing, drinking, parades and music.


GOOD TO KNOW: almost 80% of Colombia’s territory lies below 1,000 meters in elevation. These lower elevation areas have an average temperature of 27°C / 81 °F. Besides the Caribbean region, other places like Cali and Bucaramanga also experience this type of weather.




Sunny sandy beach with a yellow boat.




BUENAVENTURA AND THE PACIFIC COAST

One of the less visited areas in Colombia also has some of the most interesting weather. For starters, this part of the country is wet - very wet. In fact, some cities in this region are considered the rainiest places on Earth. But with that being said, this is also an amazing place to explore if you are interested in seeing wildlife; including whales and sea turtles.


THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: the most popular season is July to October due to the whale migration (and nesting sea turtles), but if you want the best chance for sunshine instead go between February and March.




MEDELLIN AND THE COFFEE REGION

The temperature begins to drop at 1,000 meters above sea level to an average of 72° F / 22°C. Similarly, you can expect even cooler temperatures up in the higher mountains - including in places like Salento, Filandia, and Manizales. Plus, the higher you go the more likely you are to experience heavy rainstorms and fog.


THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: the best time to visit this exciting area of Colombia is between December and March (busy but the drier season), or August and October (the low season). In August, Medellin plays host to the famous Feria de las Flores, or Flower Festival. The festival is a week long and concludes with the Desfile de Silleteros, which is when 400 or so campesinos (peasants) come down from the nearby mountains with huge flower arrays on their backs and then parade through the streets of the city.



🥾 HIKING SEASON: February is a great time to head out for hikes in the nearby mountains, including in beautiful Los Nevados National Park. You can still expect a bit of rain but you are more likely to have nice temperatures and sunny skies. This is also the best time to go hiking near Bogota its neighboring mountains like Chingaza National Park.







BOGOTA AND THE HIGH ANDES

The capital of Colombia sits at 2,640 meters (8,660 feet) in elevation, which helps keep the weather on the chillier side. In fact, the average temperature is 14°C / 57 °F in this part of the country. This higher elevation also leads to different landscapes, including being quite close to the paramo and tall, often snowcapped mountains.


THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: the most popular time to visit the capital city and nearby areas is between December and February when it is quite dry. But, if you don't mind a bit of rain, we instead suggest considering visiting between August and October when it is far less busy (and cheaper).




LETICIA AND THE AMAZON

Located in the far southeastern part of the country, the Amazon region - also known as Amazonia - makes up 35% of the country's total territory. Rich in biodiversity and many unique cultures, this part of Colombia is a fantastic place to explore if you are interested in plants and wildlife.


THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: most of the year is quite good, but for the best animal viewing opportunities and hiking head to this part of Colombia between October and November when the jungle is at its driest.





SNOW IN COLOMBIA?

As crazy as it might sound, you can in fact find snow in Colombia. You just have to work a bit to see it.


In fact, you will need to head to some of the highest points of the Colombian Andean Mountain Range, which can sit at well over 4,500 meters / 14,763 feet above sea level. In Colombia, there are six peaks that are always covered in snow (and three of those are volcanoes). Some of the best places to see these majestic snow covered mountains (known as nevados in Spanish) are in Santa Marta, Manizales, Ibague and El Cocuy.






\\ Is Colombia Safe for Tourists?


Yes! In our experience, Colombia felt very safe for tourists, including for single females and couples (and families). We felt safe in both the super touristy places (like Cartagena and Cocora Valley) and the more off the beaten path destinations (like San Cipriano and Pijao). Overall, everyone we met was very friendly and helpful.


Now with all of that being said, there are obviously some precautions you should consider when traveling around Colombia (and every other country). A few things to keep in mind are:


| Do not be flashy. This means don’t wave around expensive things like cameras, phones, jewelry, etc. - especially in busy areas.


| Don’t walk alone at night and stick to well-lit areas if possible.


| Watch your bags at all times. Pick-pocketing does happen, so always keep an eye on your bags and things. This is especially true in places like busy plazas, bus stations, on buses and in packed restaurants and bars.




Orange flowers in a front of a tall brick church



NO DAR PAPAYA


This is a popular saying in Colombia, which pretty much translates to “don’t give a papaya” aka don’t be an easy target. In other words, be smart and don’t put yourself in bad situations.







 

COLOMBIA | ADVENTURE + EXPLORATION

 






\\ Where to Travel in Colombia



TOP COLOMBIA TRAVEL DESTINATIONS


If you haven't guessed by now, Colombia is a very large country full of a whole lot of adventure. From the hot Caribbean Coast to the chilly high Andean mountains, this South American country is full of life and places to explore. While we believe you should try to get off of the beaten path while traveling, we also understand the appeal of visiting some of the most popular travel destinations (they are popular for a reason...). Below are five of the most famous and well-known Colombian travel destinations that are definitely worth exploring.



1 | CARTAGENA DE INDIAS

The most popular travel destination in Colombia is definitely this colorful Caribbean city. The Old City or Walled City is absolutely beautiful: multi-colored Spanish-style architecture, blooming tropical flowers, cute cafes and restaurants. It feels a bit European but also very much embodies Colombia's exciting cultural vibe.



2 | COCORA VALLEY

Often said to be the most popular non-city travel destination in all of Colombia, Cocora Valley or Valle de Cocora is a fantastic spot to head to if you are interested in the great outdoors. Plus, you get to see the world's tallest palm trees (the wax palm), which looks a bit like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.


💬 INSIDER TIP: while Cocora Valley is absolutely magical and 100% worth seeing, the nearby town of Salento is equally as cool and equally full of adventure.




View of tall palm trees in a bright green meadow



3 | TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK

One of the most popular national parks in the country, if not the most popular parks, is located in the northern half of Colombia along the Caribbean Coast. The real draw of this natural paradise is the wide array of activities - including snorkeling and hiking - as well as the beautiful landscape and wildlife (like monkeys).



4 | BOGOTA

The country's capital city is on most travelers' must-see lists thanks to its vibrant city life, close proximity to nature and interesting history.



5 | SAN GIL

This adventurous town is located high up in the Andean mountains. It is popular for adrenaline sports and other outdoor-focused activities such as whitewater rafting, canyoneering, hiking and mountain biking. The town is located almost 7 hours north of Bogota.




COLOMBIA'S MAJOR REGIONS


Below are the six main natural regions that make up all of Colombia. Each region is special and unique in its own way, and definitely worth seeing. Below we outline the main traits of each region as well as its biggest cities and the best things to do there.



THE ANDEAN REGION

This region covers the three branches of the Andes mountains found in Colombia (these are known as cordilleras) // The largest cities are Bogota, Medellin, Armenia and San Gil | This region is fantastic for hiking and trekking, coffee tasting, culture and history.



THE CARIBBEAN REGION (CARIBE)

This hot and humid region covers the area adjacent to the Caribbean Sea in the northern part of the country // The largest cities are Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta | This region is great for beaches and marine life/activities (like snorkeling and scuba diving), learning about Colombia's turbulent history and hiking.



THE PACIFIC REGION (EL PACIFICO)

Colombia's other coastal region covers the area on the west side of the country along the rugged and rainy Pacific Coast // The largest cities are Buenavista, Quibdo, Bahia Solano and El Valle | This region is awesome for animal watching, off the beaten path adventures, jungle hiking and relaxation.




Wide open sandy beach on the Pacific Coast of Colombia



THE ORINOQUIA REGION

This region is part of the Llanos or plains and is mainly located in the Orinoco river basin along the border with Venezuela // The largest city is Villavicencio | This lesser-known region is perfect for people interested in archeology and history, nature - the famous Cano Cristales river (or River of 5 Colors) is located here - swimming and waterfall spotting.



THE AMAZON REGION (AMAZONIA)

As the largest region in the country - it covers around 35% of Colombia - the Amazonia region is obviously part of the vibrant Amazon rainforest and home to some beautiful landscapes and lots of wildlife // The largest cities are Leticia and Puerto Nariño, the latter of which is considered one of the "greenest" or most eco-friendly towns in the country | The Amazonia region is awesome for wildlife spotting, nature-focused excursions and learning more about the country's indigenous tribes.



THE INSULAR REGION

The final Colombian region is comprised of the islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans // The largest towns are San Andres and Providencia, both of which are located on islands in the Caribbean (they are also the only parts of Colombia technically in North America) | This tropical island region is great for water activities and relaxing on the beach.




COLOMBIA'S MAJOR CITIES



BOGOTA

The capital of Colombia is a massive city full of exciting things to do. Bogota is not only the largest city in the country, but it is also the economic, administrative, and industrial center of the country (it also has the most universities). All of that put together pretty much means that if you need anything or want anything - then Bogota has it. Plus, because of its higher elevation (the city sits at 2,640 meters or 8,660 feet above sea level), you can expect much cooler temperatures than places like Cartagena and Medellin.



MEDELLIN

This thriving metropolis has been named one of the most innovative cities in the world thanks mostly to its focus on public transportation. In fact, the Metro system (the only one of its kind in the country) is used by more than 500,000 residents and visitors each day, which in turn has reduced Medellin's CO2 emissions by 175,000 tons a year. Medellin combines work, creativity and play seamlessly, so if you want a city that has a real "go, go, go" vibe but also easy access to nature then this is a great spot to spend some time.



SANTIAGO DE CALI

This town in the more southern part of the country is known as the Sports Capital of Colombia (as well as the Capital of Salsa). In fact, it is the only city in the country to have hosted the Pan American Games. Besides a love of sports, this major metropolis is the second-largest city in Colombia by area (and the third most populated). It is also one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. In Cali you can expect warm weather year-round (it is known as the City of Eternal Summer) and great access to various outdoor pursuits; including, the Pacific Coast ~2 hours away and the Coffee Region ~3 hours away.



As one of the oldest cities in all of Colombia (and one with some of the craziest history), Cartagena de Indias is a great spot to spend some time if you are looking to learn more about Colombia's past, as well as its vibrant Caribbean culture. With easy access to numerous beaches, from the smaller (grayer) beaches in the city itself, to the more tropical-style beaches farther afield, most notably Baru and the Rosario Islands, Cartagena is a great spot to combine history and ocean adventures, especially snorkeling and scuba diving.








COLOMBIA'S BIODIVERSITY


Former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos once said, "biodiversity is to Colombia, what oil is for the Arabs". And after looking at how biologically rich this country is, you might also agree. Luckily, for the most part, the country is trying to preserve its rich biodiversity in national parks, reserves and other protected areas.


Just to give you an idea, Colombia is...


1st in the number of orchids, birds and butterflies

2nd in overall biodiversity (behind Brazil, a country 10x its size)

2nd in the number of plants, amphibians and freshwater fish

3rd in the number of palm trees and reptiles (it is also home to the largest palm tree in the world, the wax palm)

6th in number of mammals


Colombia is home to roughly 63,000 different species, and of those 14% are endemic (aka only found in Colombia). The country is also one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world. A designation given to other countries like China, India, Australia, and the USA.








COLOMBIA'S NATIONAL PARKS


Colombia understands its good fortune and has been establishing nationally protected natural areas since 1960. Today, it is home to 59 national natural parks that cover about 169,545 square kilometers (or 65,462 square miles). That amount of land represents more than 14% of Colombia's total area.


If you are interested in hiking, backpacking, rafting, snorkeling or scuba diving, canyoning or climbing in Colombia, then you should definitely consider visiting at least some of the national parks, if not multiple.


Interested to learn more about Colombia's stunning national parks? Then consider checking out our article on the Top 6 National Parks in Colombia.




Cloud covered snowy mountain in the Colombian Andes





\\ How Long Do You Need in Colombia?


This answer depends on how much you want to see and how fast you want to travel. In our opinion, you need at least one month - but more is obviously better. Due to the country’s size and regional diversity, it would be hard to explore everything in less than a month. In fact, we spent 6 months in Colombia and still felt like we only scratched the surface.


While most travel itineraries focus on the more popular destinations - like Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena - we instead urge you to spend a bit of time exploring some more off the beaten path Colombian destinations. These places, including the three below, will give you a better idea of what Colombia's culture is really like, as well as a better understanding of the country's incredible diversity.


So if you have the time, make sure to add these three places to your Colombia travel itinerary.



3 OFF THE BEATEN PATH COLOMBIAN ADVENTURES

Colombia is a very large and diverse country with a whole lot to offer the adventurous traveler. While some places like Cartagena, Medellin and the Coffee Region are very well known and very much explored, the country still has a lot of off the beaten path destinations and adventures to offer the traveler willing to get off the known tourist-track. A few places we believe worth checking out are:



THE PACIFIC COAST

This laid back part of the country has absolutely stunning beaches, jungles and national parks. Plus, during the right season (July to October) you have a great chance of spotting migrating humpback whales and nesting sea turtles. You can learn more about the exciting Pacific Coast in this article.



LA UNION AND COLOMBIA'S WINE COUNTRY

While Colombia is definitely more well-known for their coffee, they do indeed have a pretty beautiful wine country. Located in the northern part of the Valle del Cauca department, La Union is the best town to explore to learn about all things wine. Plus, there is also a wine theme park (how cool is that?). Learn more about this part of Colombia in this in-depth article.







SAN CIPRIANO AND THE RAINIEST PLACE ON EARTH

We were recommended this part of the country by a local Colombian friend who promised it would be beautiful, full of adventure and totally off the beaten path - or in his words, "it's deep Colombia." It turns out all of that was true. San Cipriano and the surrounding jungle - which sits between the hot Valle de Cauca and the Pacific Ocean - is incredibly pretty and also very wet (some say it could be one of the wettest areas in the world). We recommend heading there if you want to get totally away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and also get back to nature (and see some wild toucans). Find everything you need to know about San Cipriano (including the unique way to get there) in this comprehensive article.







 

COLOMBIA | THE TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

 






\\ Colombia's Entry Requirements


Colombia has multiple points of entry and methods of arrival. While the most common way to reach Colombia is by plane, the second most common form of transportation is actually by boat, especially cruise ships. If arriving by plane, you will likely land in Bogota - which has the largest and busiest airport in the country. Other somewhat common ports of entry by plane are Medellin, Cartagena and Cali. As for arriving by boat, the biggest port is definitely in Cartagena (or Cartagena de Indias).


Luckily, it is very easy to enter Colombia as a traveler. For the most part you can just show up and enter the country. Below are the few entry requirements you should be aware of if planning to travel to Colombia.



THE CHECK-MIG FORM


All passengers arriving in Colombia from other countries must fill out the government-issued Check-Mig Registration Form, which you can find on the Colombian Migration website or at the helpful app iVisa (they help you fill the form out ahead of time).


The Check-Mig Registration Form must be completed 24 hours before your flight to Colombia. The questionnaire is relatively short and straightforward, though you will need to have your passport handy as well as information on where you are staying in the country (including specific addresses). You will also need to fill out the Check-Mig Form when you leave Colombia.




COLOMBIAN VISA REQUIREMENTS


All travelers receive a 90-day travel visa upon arrival in Colombia. You will get this stamped into your passport once you land in the country - either by plane, boat or by bus/overland. Travelers are only allowed two 90-day travel visas for a total of 180 days in one calendar year - meaning you can technically only spend half a year in the country as a traveler.


If you are planning to stay longer than 90 days in Colombia, you can either leave the country and re-enter at an official border crossing and get another 90 days, visit an embassy or go to the Colombian migration website to get an extension.



HEALTH REQUIREMENTS


Thankfully, there are no health or vaccine requirements for entering Colombia. The only medical item recommended for travelers is the yellow fever vaccine, but even that vaccine is only needed if you are planning to visit a region known to have yellow fever - most likely the Amazon.


You can find more information on health requirements and suggestions at this link.



TRAVEL INSURANCE

For adventurous digital nomads, we recommend using SafetyWing for all your travel medical insurance needs (including COVID-19 coverage). Don’t worry, policies can be purchased while already abroad.




Explore our article on everything you need to know about entering Colombia here. Also, if you don't want the hassle of going to the Colombian Migration website to fill out the Check-Mig Form, you can just head to iVisa instead. This option is super fast and easy.









\\ Colombia Travel Budget


Here is a basic rundown of what common things cost in Colombia. You can find a more in-depth Colombian budget and cost analysis in this article.



A standard breakfast: 24000 COP / $6.38 / €5.50


Dinner at an up-scale restaurant (especially in a big city like Cartagena or Medellin): 100000 COP / $26.70 / €24


A cup of coffee: 3500 COP / $0.93 / 0.80


A local beer: 3500 COP / $0.93 / €0.80


A bus ticket (short distance): 5300 COP / $1.41 / €1.22


A bus ticket (long distance): 70000 COP / $18.62 / €16.05


A hostel room (private room) in a touristy city: 60000 COP / $16 / €14.50


A hostel room (private room) in a less touristy city: 40000 COP / $10.60 / €9.70



GOOD TO KNOW: these conversions to USD and Euros are from early 2022. Obviously, the conversion rate is continually changing so expect the cost to fluctuate just a bit.




EXPLORE MORE | THE COST OF SLOW TRAVELING IN CARTAGENA AND ARMENIA, COLOMBIA





CASH OR CARD?


We were surprised to find that many places, including restaurants, did not accept credit cards. Luckily, ATMs are readily available almost everywhere (except maybe along the Pacific Coast). We suggest making sure you have plenty of cash with you when heading out to explore the country.





\\ Must-Have Items in Colombia


Due to Colombia’s highly diverse landscape, which includes everything from humid, Caribbean coastlines to one of the rainiest places on Earth, you need to make sure to pack items for almost all types of climates.


While this might seem like a lot, for the most part, you can get away with good, hardy basics. Below is a basic list of items to pack for a full-country tour of Colombia:


| A rain jacket (we promise this will come in handy no matter where you are in the country; but more specifically if you are looking to explore the Coffee Region - Salento, Cocora Valley - or the Pacific Coast)


| A light sweater (also works great as a blanket on the buses), this is especially nice for the Andean region


| Moisture-wicking shirts, both long and short sleeved. You will be thankful you have these in the Amazon and along the Caribbean.


| A few pairs of shorts, some for hiking and adventure sports and some for days exploring the cities.


| Sandals, especially if planning to spend some time on the Caribbean or Pacific Coasts.


| Sturdy boots that can handle mud (because there is always mud).


| Warm pants or tights - it can get quite chilly in places like Bogota and the Coffee Region.


| Bug spray, especially nice if exploring the Amazon and the Pacific Coast.


| Sunblock, even better if it is environmentally safe.



A few extra good-to-have items are: a dry bag for valuables like your phone and camera, a pair of sunglasses, a notebook and a handy Spanish translation book or app (we especially like Microsoft Translator).






\\ How to Get Around Colombia



BY BUS


Buses are by far the most common transportation method throughout Colombia. From the luxury overnight buses that crisscross the country, to the smaller, rough and rowdy chiva buses that trundle down mountain backroads, you can pretty much find a bus heading to every possible destination - no matter the size.


Luckily, it is super easy to find buses and purchase tickets in Colombia. In most cases, you can simply show up at the bus station (no matter the size) and buy your ticket in person, either for that day or for an upcoming trip.


If you are instead looking to buy your tickets digitally instead of in person at the bus station, then your best bet is to check out Busbud.


Now one of the most common questions about bus travel in Colombia is about the road conditions themselves. In truth, because of Colombia’s relatively rugged topography (the Andean Cordillera mountain ranges stretch along almost the whole length of the country), the roads can be quite rough. Not to mention curvy (we felt like there were no straight roads in the whole country). Plus, because it rains quite a bit, the chance of landslides and flooding is relatively high.


But with all of that being said, the road conditions themselves were quite nice. All of the highways we journeyed on were paved, and unless we were taking a bus down a back mountain road (which we of course did), the ride was always quite smooth.




Colorful chiva bus in the mountains of Colombia



BUS PRICES

The cost of a bus ticket in Colombia depends on three things: the distance between the starting point and the final destination, the departure and arrival times (worse times = cheaper tickets), and the overall style of bus (a fancier bus with more amenities like a TV and power outlets = a more expensive ticket). We found bus fares to be quite reasonable, especially when planning to check out towns and destinations within a couple of hours. If you are a budget traveler then taking the buses is likely the best way to explore the country.



SOME EXTRA TIPS FOR LONG-DISTANCE BUS TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA

Always bring a jacket (for the cold), earplugs (for the noise) and water and snacks on a multi-hour ride, especially if it is overnight. Similarly, try to sit on the right side of the bus for a better view and at night, for no headlights in your eyes. Finally, plan for the bus ride to take longer than originally stated on the ticket. We took many buses around Colombia and almost none of them arrived right on time.



► Want to learn more about riding buses around the country? Then make sure to check out our article The Ultimate Guide to Bus Travel in Colombia.




BY PLANE


While bus travel is the most common way to get around Colombia, it is not the only form of transportation. If you are short on time or just don't like the idea of sitting on a bus for multiple hours, then taking a plane between cities might be the better option.


The two most popular airlines in Colombia are Avianca and LATAM, while the largest airports are found in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena, Armenia, Pereira and Bucaramanga. If you are planning to explore the country by plane then plan to fly into these cities and then either rent a car or hop on one of the local buses.



If heading to the Caribbean Coast (Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tayrona NP, Minka): fly into Cartagena or Barranquilla


If heading to Medellin and greater Antioquia (Guatape, Jardin): fly into Medellin


If heading to the Coffee Region (Salento, Filandia): fly to Armenia or Pereira


If heading to Bogota and the Llanos area: fly into Bogota


If heading to the southern part of the country (Popayan, Pasto): fly into Cali


If heading to the Amazon: fly into Leticia


If heading to the Pacific Coast: fly into Bahia Solano




FLYING INTO COLOMBIA | WHAT TO EXPECT

Like we mentioned earlier, the most common airport you will fly into if coming from outside of Colombia is Bogota. The capital city's airport - El Dorado International Airport - is big, modern and easy to get around. Plus, they have lots of international flights available - including numerous flights to countries like the USA, Spain (mainly Madrid), Germany, Chile, and Mexico.


From Bogota, it is really easy to catch a domestic flight to places all over the country. Including, to such small places like Neiva, Pasto, San Andreas, and Bucaramanga as well as to of course the major cities like Medellin, Cartagena and Cali.






\\ Colombian Culture



FOOD AND DRINK


During our time in the country, we noticed that the most famous Colombian foods usually focused on simple ingredients (potatoes and cheese being easily the most common items). This is likely due to the fact that many of these traditional foods and meals came about during a time when many Colombians were struggling to make ends meet. Fast forward to today, and food that was once considered comida de pobre (poor people food) is now eaten by all socio-economic classes.


Below are some of the most popular foods in the country:



HOT CHOCOLATE WITH CHEESE

At first these two foods might not seem to go together very well. But let us tell you, after a cold day outside nothing tastes as warm and as cozy as a huge cup of hot chocolate and a salty slice of cheese.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the two most common cheeses served with hot chocolate are costeño cheese, which comes from the coastal region and is very salty, and campesino cheese, which comes from the mountains and is a little less salty and a little tangier. It is also very squeaky.



AREPAS

Very likely the most popular food in Colombia, arepas are a simple but filling food that can be made in a variety of different ways. While arepas are eaten at all times of the day, they are especially popular in the morning (they are one of the most common Colombian foods for breakfast throughout the whole country) and as a late afternoon snack.


A couple of well-known arepa varieties are arepa de huevo (which is a fried arepa with a cooked egg inside), arepa de queso (corn arepa with salty melted cheese inside), arepa andina (a simple flat white corn arepa) and arepa paisa (similar to arepa andina but with melted cheese on top).



BANDEJA PAISA

This massive meal, which is also known as bandeja de arriero, bandeja montanera and bandeja antioquena, is a heavy, high calorie feast that is traditionally served on a big, oval platter. There are commonly a total of 13 ingredients used in the dish, including golden-fried chorizo sausages with lime, hogao sauce, white rice, ground beef, plantains, an arepa, avocado, stewed red beans, fried pork belly, and a fried egg.


Originally, the platter of food was meant to provide plenty of nutrition and energy to the local farmers to help keep them going for the whole day, but today you can find bandeja paisa served at most traditional Colombian restaurants during breakfast and lunch.



AJIACO (THE NATIONAL DISH OF COLOMBIA)

This savory soup is made up of chicken, potatoes, corn and herbs. In the past, it was considered a poor man's dish because it had to include three varieties of potatoes - which were and still are abundant and inexpensive in Colombia. Today, you are likely to find the soup topped with avocado slices, capers, rice, cilantro, and black pepper.






IS IT POSSIBLE TO FIND VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN FOOD IN COLOMBIA?

We were happily surprised to find a relatively wide array of restaurants serving vegetarian food and sometimes even vegan food all over Colombia. For the most part, you can order a vegetarian meal at most restaurants within the country - including at places serving up traditional Colombian food. Most vegetarian meals will include rice, stewed red beans (which are really tasty), grilled or fried plantains, an arepa and sometimes avocado (aguacate) or cheese.


One great meal to order, especially in the morning for breakfast, is bandeja frijoles, which is a large platter of food that includes beans, rice, avocado, plantains, an arepa and an egg (it is like a bandeja paisa but without the meat). If you can't find this on the menu you can usually just ask for it or see if they can make you a meal without the meat.




PEOPLE AND CULTURE


POPULATION

Colombia has a population of 50.3 million people, which is the third highest in Latin America and 28th highest in the world. While the country is quite densely populated, the majority of the people actually live in the higher Andean regions (including in places like Bogota and Medellin) and along the Caribbean Coast (in cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla). In fact, while the nine eastern lowland departments comprise over half of Colombia's total area, they contain less than 6% of the total population.



LANGUAGE

Spanish is the official language, which makes sense since over 99% of the population speaks Spanish. While Spanish, or Castilian, is the most widely spoken, over 100 other languages can also be found in Colombia, many of which are native languages by various indigenous groups. In fact, about 850,000 people are said to speak one of these native languages.



RELIGION

The vast majority of Colombian's identify as Catholic (about 90%), and of that group most are Roman Catholic. The other 10% of the population is split into four groups: 4.7% are atheist or agnostic, 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow a specific religion, 1.8% are Jehovah's Witnesses and less than 1% adhere to other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, and Indigenous religions.




Large street art on a building in Cartagena, Colombia.





\\ Extra Helpful Colombia Travel Tips



THE WATER IS SAFE TO DRINK


This is at least true in all of the most popular tourist destinations (like Cartagena, Medellin and Salento) as well as in more rugged and less populated areas. Similarly, if you are planning to trek in the high mountains you can rest easy knowing that for almost all of the water up there (within reason) is safe to drink.



COLOMBIAN PEOPLE ARE INCREDIBLY FRIENDLY AND HELPFUL


Even if you don't speak Spanish, you will still be able to easily get around the country because everyone is super nice and always willing to help you out. So if you are on the fence about visiting Colombia because are worried about the language barrier, don't be. Everyone we met during our six months in the country was incredibly friendly and more than willing to help you out.







YOUR COLOMBIA TRAVEL CHECKLIST


1 | Figure out where you want to go. Review the major Colombian regions and cities above for a good idea.


2 | Book your tickets to Colombia. We like to use the site Skyscanner to find the cheapest airfare.


3 | Pack your bags! You can use our handy packing guide above or check out this article.


4 | Reserve your hotel or hostel. You can find the best deals and options for hostels at Hostelworld.


5 | Within 24 hours of your planned arrival in Colombia you need to fill out the Check-Mig form. You can do that here quite easily.


6 | Arrive in Colombia (woo!). Once through migration you now have 90 days to explore this wonderful country. Have fun!



Need some ideas on where to explore and adventure in Colombia? Then make sure to check out all of our comprehensive travel guides.




 



Colombia is a fantastic country to explore no matter what kind of traveler you are. Into history and archeology? Head to Cartagena and the Orinoquia region. Is the great outdoors and hiking more your thing? Then the Andean region and Coffee Axis should be at the top of your travel list. Or maybe you just want to hang out on a beach and drink fresh coconut water or a cocktail? Then consider venturing out to either the Pacific Coast or to one of the islands for some much needed R&R.


No matter what kind of travel experience you want to have, you can have it in Colombia.


And hopefully, this comprehensive Colombia travel guide helps you figure out exactly where you want to go, what you want to see and everything you need to know to have an amazing adventure in this beautiful South American country. If you have any questions about this travel guide or about Colombia in general, then please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly. Happy traveling!




 

LIKED IT? PIN IT!


Colombia travel guide pinterest pin


 

EXPLORE MORE OF COLOMBIA WITH THESE INFORMATIVE AND INSPIRING ADVENTURE FOCUSED TRAVEL GUIDES.


ARE YOU MORE OF A VISUAL PERSON? THEN MAKE SURE TO HEAD OVER TO OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL AND WATCH ALL OF OUR CINEMATIC TRAVEL FILMS ON COLOMBIA.




 

PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR COLOMBIA


| Reusable water bottle: we cannot imagine traveling without our LARQ water bottles thanks to their fancy rechargeable filter that eliminate up to 99% of bio-contaminants.


| Eco-friendly sunscreen: we love MadHippie sunscreen because it’s cruelty-free, vegan, broad spectrum, and reef safe. And even better, they donate $1 for every purchase to conservation efforts.


| Allbirds shoes: comfortable shoes can make or break an adventure or travel day, these eco-conscious and cozy shoes from Allbirds have been our faves for years.



► Find our full sustainable travel packing list here.



 


STAYING SAFE & PLANNING AHEAD


| SafetyWing: make sure you are staying safe with this easy-to-sign-up health insurance that is specifically meant for digital nomads. You can even sign up once you are already abroad.


| WayAway: this flight aggregator helps travelers find the best rates on airline tickets to tons of different locations.


| BusBud: explore millions of bus routes and destinations in one easy-to-use search; plus, you can compare prices and book your tickets online (in your language).


| Rentalcars.com: check out the world’s biggest online car rental service that is available in over 150 countries.


| iVisa: this site helps make sure you have all of the necessary documents and entry requirements while traveling.


| Wise: this app makes it super easy to transfer money between currencies while abroad, keeping you from worrying about whether you are getting the right exchange rate or not.


Comments


bottom of page