Traveling to Colombia for the first time: All you need to know

bandera de colombia

This post is also available in: Español

If you are going to visit Latin America, one of the countries you definitely can’t miss is Colombia. Imagine visiting a country where traveling just two hours in any direction, the landscapes and climate are completely transformed. A country where the cultural and ethnic diversity makes you feel in several continents at the same time, and the only one in South America that has the turquoise waters of the Caribbean and the warm ones of the Pacific. This is a country you cannot miss so here are some Travel tips to Colombia that you should know if you’re going for the first time.

Entry requirements

  • Documentation

    As in almost all South American countries, Colombia does not require a visa for stays of less than 3 months. However, don’t forget that you can only enter with your passport.

  • Vaccinations and health

    Colombia is a huge and very varied country, that is why vaccinations depend on the destination you have chosen within the country. To travel to some jungle regions or natural parks, it is best to get a yellow fever vaccine at least 15 days before your trip, in addition to a tetanus shot. However, it is always better to talk to your doctor before.

    tips for traveling to colombia

    As it is also a mountainous country, it is possible that you suffer from “soroche” or altitude sickness, which means that your body does not receive enough oxygen. This is a common symptom upon arrival to Bogota due to the altitude, so try not to make too much physical effort once you are there.

    In Bogotá, as well as in most large cities, you can drink tap water without problem, but if you travel to rural areas or smaller cities, it is best to get treated or bottled water.

When is the best time to go to Colombia?

Because Colombia is quite close to the equator, there are no stations. The country’s climate changes depend on the place and above all, the altitude the place is at.

If you go to Colombia you will be able to decide what climate to be in depending on the city you decide to visit. You can’t imagine how incredible it is to celebrate New Year’s and Christmas in warm weather!

  • Warm weather: Below 1000 meters high, with temperatures above 24 °C. Cities like Cartagena, Santa Marta and Bucaramanga.
  • Temperate weather: Between 1000 and 2000 meters high and where temperatures vary between 17 and 24 °C. Cities like Armenia, Barichara and Cúcuta.
  • Cold weather: It appears from 2000 to 3000 meters high and goes from 11 to 17 °C in some places like Bogotá, Villa de Leyva and Pasto.

visit cartagena

How to get to Colombia?

  • From the US

    Two of the most popular airlines to go from the US to Colombia are Avianca or American Airlines. The value for money is generally very good. COPA Airlines, another airline that also serves to travel to Colombia from the US, offers interesting air tickets from $310 from various cities such as Miami or New York.

  • From Europe

    Several airlines fly daily to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. Air Europa, Iberia and Avianca offer good promotions on a regular basis and if you want to travel as cheaply and quickly as possible (no stopovers), the best thing is to leave from Madrid, which offers tickets from €400.

    To find the best offers, it is best to book your flights three months in advance. During the high season, the price of a round flight to Colombia can be twice as much.

traveling to Bogota

Language

The official language of Colombia is Spanish and the variant spoken in the country is Colombian Spanish. Although it is the second country in the world with more native Spanish speakers, there is a great variety of dialects and indigenous and immigrant languages. Among them is Wayuunaiki, one of Colombia’s native languages, spoken by the country’s largest indigenous community: the Wayúu people of La Guajira.

There are also other languages such as Creole and Palenquero, two languages spoken mainly by Afro-Colombian communities. Both with features of African dialects and vestiges of Portuguese.

The Time Zone

Colombia has a time difference with the Greenwich Meridian of -5 hours in all its territory (UTC -5). Due to its location near the equatorial line, as we said before, there are no stations in Colombia and therefore no time changes according to the date.

National Currency

The official currency of Colombia is the peso (COP). If you have euros or dollars with you, you can easily change them directly at the airport, although we do advise you to use small amounts of loose change. However, you can use your bank card in most of the large stores such as restaurants or supermarkets.

1 US dollar = 3.848,10 Colombian peso
1 euro = 4.522,50 Colombian peso
(19 oct. 2020)

Travel budget and cost of living in Colombia

traveling to colombia

Traveling to Colombia is quite affordable. Although prices in the tourist areas have been increasing due to the fact that it is becoming one of the leading countries in Latin America, it is still quite affordable for tourists.

It is clear that everything depends on the length of your stay and the comfort you prefer to have, but in principle your budget can be divided into 4 main expenses:

  1. Transportation

    The prices of transportation in Colombia vary a lot depending on how you decide to move. If you want to move within a big city, cabs have a slightly lower price than they can have in any medium sized Spanish city. Buses are very cheap for both short and long distances.

    You can also take a look at the airline Viva Colombia, which works like the European Lowcost airlines and has very affordable prices for internal trips. If you travel by plane you can save a lot of time, Colombia is a huge country.

  2. Accommodation

    The accommodation also depends a lot on how comfortable you want to be, although it is usually quite cheap anyway. A double room with a shared bathroom in a central area of any large city such as Medellin, Cartagena or Bogota will cost you about 40,000 pesos. Which is around 9 euros.

    If you decide to stay in a hostel in a small city like Pasto, Popayán or Taganga, it can cost you about 17,000 pesos. 4 euros per night. Not bad, right?

    You can also find options such as hotels by the sea, in towns like Taganga, where a double room with its own bathroom, television and air conditioning, will cost around 25,000 pesos (approx. 6 euros). It is worth the expense if you decide to rest and pamper yourself for a few days.

  3. Food and drink

    In Colombia, you can eat very well for little money. The food of the street and the supermarkets are the most economic option, although the menu of a restaurant (entrance, main course, dessert) turns out to be very cheap for foreigners. In any of them you can spend around 20,000 COP (about 5 euros).

    Of course if you decide to have a few drinks and a night of party (which is also amazing), the bill will be higher.

    Anyway, make sure you don’t miss trying the patacones, the rice with coconut, the ajiaco, the bandeja paisa, the beef and all the incredible variety there is to eat. We’ll obviously tell you more about this if you continue reading.

  4. Activities

    To estimate an approximate budget of activities, you first need to know if you are more into urban culture or nature and adventure because price may vary. Museums and city tours are relatively cheap. When the entrance to museums is not free (on Sundays), the price rarely exceeds 5 euros.

    If you are more into nature, there are also several excursions of several days that have everything included at very affordable prices. If you travel to Colombia it is important that you get to know the diversity of its landscapes and its people so we not only recommend that you travel for at least 2 weeks but that you book with a travel agency that allows you to make the most of your time.

Security

Decades ago this country lived one of its most violent stages and although today the situation is very different, it is always good to follow some travel tips to Colombia if you’re going there for the first time.

  1. Avoid walking with valuables.
  2. Always leave a copy of your documents (passport, driving license, etc.) in your accommodation and in the cloud, just in case.
  3. As anywhere in the world you travel, try carrying the minimum amount of money in cash with you.
  4. If you are taking a cab, ask directly at the hotel or download an app like Uber or Tappsi.

Places to visit in Colombia

We could write pages and pages about all the essential places to visit in Colombia, from the green mountains where coffee is harvested, the warm beaches of the Pacific where the whales arrive, the Guajira desert where the Wayuu live, to the Lost City (better known as El Dorado).

This country is full of treasures, so let us give you at least our top 3:

  1. Lost City
  2. This is the final destination of what many call the most spectacular trek in South America. Discovered just over half a century ago, Ciudad Perdida is an impressive archaeological site that is still intact. There are no roads or motorized paths here so if you want to go, you will have to walk at least 3 days on a road full of steep climbs, indigenous people, mud and sweat that we promise will be one of the best experiences of your life.

    colombia travel tips

  3. Punta Gallinas
  4. Punta Gallinas is one of the most spectacular places in the world due to its landscapes, culture and natural sites. If you decide to visit it you will get to know the culture of the Wayuu people and their way of life, as well as a variety of landscapes as impressive as the “Pilón de Azúcar”, the Auyama Desert and the Taroa Dunes.

    The experience in Punta Gallinas is like no other. You will see that this is a magical place and out of the ordinary. A place that presents a great variety of landscapes, a community that despite being so different opens its arms and teaches you about itself, and a space to just disconnect from reality.

    travel tips colombia

  5. Tayrona National Park
  6. Located one hour by bus or car from the beautiful town of Santa Marta (from where tours to Punta Gallinas also depart), the Tayrona National Natural Park is one of the great natural wonders to visit in Colombia.

    This is the perfect place for those who are nature lovers. A place to discover unique landscapes and enjoy the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Not only in the park but also on your way to it, cause you will be able to go through a large area of forest where you’ll find all kinds of fauna. From birds, monkeys and jaguars. Just remember if you want to go trekking, not to forget to get a guide who can show you the area.

Tayrona colombia

Colombian food

Like dessert, the best for the end! Let’s talk about Colombian food, because my goodness, how much flavor and how much variety! Once you are there you will realize that if you haven’t tried it, you haven’t tried anything in your life.

This country offers a richness and diversity in its dishes as wide as its culture, so it varies a lot depending on the region you are in. Although we cannot list every one of these wonderful dishes, let us tell you which three are not to be missed:

  • The ajiaco

    colombia

    If you’re traveling from the U.S. or Europe, chances are your first stop will be Bogotá, the country’s capital or as the citizens of the coast call it: “The freezer”.

    Because the capital is in a mountainous area, at an altitude of 2630 m, it is usually quite cold so the people of Bogota decided to create what is one of the best dishes in the country: the ajiaco.

    This soup with chicken, three types of potatoes that are only found in Colombia, corn, avocado, capers and cream will leave you with the necessary energy for the rest of the trip as well as a feeling of home that no other dish will give you.

  • The arepas and empanadas

    Well yeah, we kind of cheated… we have put the two together even though they aren’t anything alike, but both are so good that you can’t stay without trying them.

    The arepas, are usually filled with cheese and vary according to the region (don’t miss the egg arepas in the Caribbean region).

    The empanadas on the other hand are filled with meat, chicken or both. Both arepas and empanadas are the best fast food that can save you when you want to eat something good (very good) and cheap.

  • Bandeja paisa

    This is one of the most representative dishes of Colombia and the emblem of the region of Antioquia. It is called tray or “bandeja” because it is a huge dish. You will probably feel a little intimidated by the amount of food in front of you, but we assure you that once you have tried it you will not want to share it. This dish is composed of rice, chicharrón (pork rinds), fried egg, slices of ripe banana, chorizo, arepa antioqueña (a type of cornmeal), red beans, ground meat and avocado.

Colombian food

We are sure that these 10 tips for traveling to Colombia will be very helpful during your trip, especially if it is your first time there. From its incredible variety of landscapes to its culture and cuisine, Colombia is a country of contrasts that makes you not know which way to go first.

And you? Where are you going to start :)?

Lily

Lily is happy with a backpack on her back. Every year she travels through one country in Latin America and has repeated several times, especially Peru where she says she feels at home (although she says the same about Argentina, Chile and Bolivia).

She loves ceviche, hiking and Sunday picnics with her friends, although whenever you ask her, she's always planning her next destination.

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