Colombia – A journey to rediscover yourself
“Calma, mi vida, con calma
Que nada hace falta.”
Colombia is the perfect fit for every kind of traveler! It kind of stolen my heart. Maybe it was my very first time in Colombia? Or just because I felt one of them? Maybe because… I don’t know. I know that Colombia has not always been a country you would consider as a travel destination, but it should be now on your list.
However, many places in the country have been declared safe to travel and with regular safety precautions, your experience can be immensely rewarding. Indeed this comprehensive Colombia travel guide is going to give you tricks, tips, and travle hacks you need for the next adventure of your life!
Ultimate Colombia Travel Guide
Colombia is a fast-growing tourist destination that draws in travelers with its mesmerizing diversity and beauty. It is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil, and one of the only 17 “megadiverse” countries in the world.
The country is also known for its tasty cuisine, extremely kind and friendly people, indigenous cultures, and vibrant music. With two oceans and a range of various climates, Colombia is the perfect destination for adventure!
Looking for spending few relaxing days on beautiful beaches?
Doing scuba diving in crystal clear underwater?
Learning how to dance salsa?
Maybe dreaming of sleeping under the stars in the middle of the desert?
Hikes on the edge of the world?
Exploring the coffee plantation?
Experience one Latin Carnival?
Knowing the real drug capital of Colombia which is Minca?
Or just relaxing in the middle of nowhere nearby the Ocean?
Getting spiritually lost in scenery to lush jungles in the Amazon?
Heading to the capital of Extreme activities of Colombia in order to experience the real extreme adrenaline feeling?
Or.. just knowing more about the old’s Colombian arts and history?
Live the thrill of being in Medellin, which at the time was the most dangerous city in Latin America?
Perceive how a local lives?
Eat delicious food?
Colombia is a travel paradise and I could write an endless list, but I would keep writing forever. If these wishes are on your, so-called, famous “To-Do List” Colombia will be able to satisfy them all. None of them will let you leave the country disappointed… hell no, they will let you be speechless instead!
NOTICE: The information here is updated as best we can in light of COVID-19. Please check before you go anywhere what modifications have taken place to avoid any inconvenience!
WHEN TO GO TO COLOMBIA
As Ecuador, Colombia is located near the equator which made it a tropical climate almost throughout the year. Colombia is a destination where the climate varies greatly from region to region depending on the landscape, so you’ll need to do some research about the places you’re heading to beforehand!
#1. Dry Months
As a general rule of thumb, the best time to go to Colombia is during the dry months (where it rains the least), from December to March. However, this is also Colombia’s peak season, so it will be both crowded and more expensive. So If you’re planning on traveling during this time, you will need to do all your bookings in advance.
There’s another dry season from July to early September.
Hey Goofball! If you want to experience and have fun at the Carnival in Barranquilla, this period time is the perfect one (taking place in February)!
#2. Rainy Season
Rainstorms do not last longer than 30 minutes, so if you don’t mind some rain, May and June would be the months to go. This period is the wettest month of the year, however, it will let you save a large amount of money and enjoy the places at your own pace without being too crowded.
#3. Wettest Months
The wettest months are between September and October.
WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO GO IN COLOMBIA?
I embarked on my adventure by coming by boat crossing the San Blas archipelago Islands. My body already knew Colombia would bring me something special in my life, my mind wasn’t ready yet.
Indeed in Colombia, you’ll never run out of things to do and wonderful sights to see, it’s truly a magical place that will have you coming back for more!
Let me give you my top recommendations for some of the things to do while you’re there according to what I experienced!
#1. Diving into the crystal clear waters of Capurgana
What is it?
Capuragna was the first Colombian town I stepped in. Far from everything and surrounded by the Darien rainforest to the north and the Caribbean coast to the east, Capuragna is probably the most isolated place I’ve encountered here in Colombia.
I was coming from the beautiful San Blas and here I was, sitting in a lovely Colombian village, starting my adventure in the underwater world (finally underwater again); home to some excellent dive sites.
#2. Visit Cartagena
What is it?
You can’t visit Colombia and not visit its crown Jewel, Cartagena. Although Cartagena is considered a cozy city with colorful colonial architecture and fascinating history, I discovered the annoying truth behind this little colorful city. It was once the largest slave port in the Americas and was often invaded and besieged by pirates.
One of the highlights of Cartagena is Ciudad Amurallada, or the Walled City, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It was used as a protection and fortress against storms and pirate invasions.
Cartagena is also surrounded by many beautiful beaches such as Playa Blanca, Isla Grande, and Tierra Bomba. If you’re an art lover, Cartagena is the city for you because it offers an immense range of galleries that feature impressive art pieces and sculptures as well as museums and street art!
Hey Goofball! Read my own experience in Cartagena!
#3. Sit back and relax in Tayrona National Park
What is it?
Tayrona National Park is the perfect place to relax and unwind. This protected area is where you will find some of Colombia’s best beaches as it is known for its crystal clear lagoons.
La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan are two great beaches for both swimming and snorkeling.
Tayrona is also a good place for hiking with hiking trails through tropical forests. During your hikes, you can get a glimpse of wildlife such as red howler monkeys, capuchins, and agoutis.
I am a firm believer that my love for the hammock started at Tayrona National Park!
#4. Tubing in Palomino
What is it?
From that exhausting few days into the jungle and being resurrected from the land of Tayrona National Park, we headed to Palomino.
Palomino is a small beach town half an hour part from the park. The town itself only has a few restaurants and shops but it’s now a growing number of hostels.
Little do we know it’s common practice to have a drink in the hostels and then head to the beach for a party from sunset until sunrise.
Apparently, we ended up in a party hostel, placed in a well-known city being a hub for heading in different directions other than time to relax.
#5. Explore the unexplored in Minca
What is it?
Because I love adventure so much, I decided to go to the tiny town of Minca which is not on the typical Colombian backpacker itinerary.
Minca is a mountainous paradise, far from crowded places such as Santa Marta and Cartagena. This place gives you a wonderful overlooking over the Caribbean Sea and gives you inner peace, even though it might feel a bit isolated.
One of the best hikes here is to Los Pinos, but it isn’t easy and takes 6-8 hours (though it’s worth the effort). Just make sure you bring lots of water and start early so you don’t get stuck in the dark.
#6. The Old Colonial City: Mompox/Mompos
What is it?
Mompox or Mompos is one of the most beautiful heritage towns in Colombia and has one of the best-preserved historic centers in Latin America. It’s situated 125 miles south of Cartagena, literally inland with its conservated history.
Mompox passed the centuries in relative obscurity, changing over the year. Indeed we headed to relax in Mompos/Mompox and experienced the Semana Santa.
#7. Experience the Adrenaline in San Gil
What is it?
Still thriving over 300 years since its foundation, Colombia’s adventure capital is the perfect place to get your adrenaline pumping!
Paragliding, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, and waterfall rappelling: they have it all. You can even explore their caves.
Don’t let this calm scenery fools you! The Extreme San Gil can be very exciting when you let it be. It’s such a beautiful little town. Whatever adventure you choose, San Gil will not disappoint!
#8. Oh, Medellin!
What is it?
Medellin is Colombia’s second-largest city and is nestled in the Abura Valley, this “City of Eternal Spring” DOES NOT disappoint with its mountainside scenery, artistic infrastructure, and luxury options.
It was once known as one of the most dangerous places on Earth (a long time ago or still now and I didn’t feel it?). It has now become the center of the textile industry, and today is a modern, vibrant city. Medellin is a principal manufacturing and industrial area, as well as a commercial flower-growing region, particularly focused on orchids.
I have to admit that any pictures do this city justice.
#9. Learn about coffee in Salento
What is it?
Even though I’m not a coffee lover, I venture into the famous Cocodora Valley indulging myself in the delicious coffee.
What better place to enjoy a coffee than Colombia?
Touring a coffee plantation is one of the top activities to do while in Colombia. There you will find out how coffee is made from the first step, learn about the coffee industry, and buy packs of coffee for cheaper prices than in supermarkets.
Hacienda Venecia and Finca El Ocaso Salento are two wonderful coffee plantations where you will get to enjoy all of this, plus some hands-on activities, and of course delicious coffee!
#10. Learn how to properly dance in Cali
What is it?
Cali is the third-largest city in Colombia and one of its liveliest and most fun! Known as the capital of Salsa, Cali has amazing nightlife and a great atmosphere. But other than that, it has many other things you can do!
One of its highlights is Iglesia la Ermita, a gothic-style church boasting beautiful architecture and stained glass. Cristo Rey, a 26-meter statue of Jesus Christ that stands at the top of the Hill of Crystals, is another famous landmark. On top of the hill, you’ll have the best panoramic view of the city. Other highlights in Cali include Zoológico de Cali and Zoológico de Cali.
#11. Thousands start at Tatacoa Desert
What is it?
The Tatacoa Desert is located in the central Colombian department of Huila and became famous for travelers in Colombia for seeing the surreal stargazing and feeling a sense of isolation.
Achieving the dream of sleeping under the star of the Tatacoa Desert in my beloved hammock.
#12. Not to miss Bogota!
What is it?
Colombia’s largest city often gets mixed opinions from travelers; however, I believe it’s definitely worth a visit, even if for just a couple of days and I happened to head here right before heading back home.
Bogotá is a combination of colonial beauty and modern style. Walking around the city, you’ll be met with marvelous street art and stunning colonial buildings. La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogotá, is where you will find the most impressive buildings. Museo del Oro is also not to be missed; it’s the city’s most popular museum and it’s filled with artifacts collected from Colombia’s pre-Hispanic cultures.
#13. Journey into The Amazon Rainforest
Of course, you cannot miss the once-in-a-lifetime chance of heading into the Amazon Jungle.
Adventuring into a spiritual trip to the Amazon (before heading back home).
#14. Bonus Destinations
COSTS OF TRAVELING AND BUDGETING AROUND COLOMBIA
Here is a rough budget of average costs you can spend during your trip. On average, you should plan to spend around 235’000 COP daily during your trip to Colombia, of course, this will vary according to your needs and the level of comfort you’re looking for.
The average price for one person for accommodation in Colombia could vary from 15’000 to 60’000 COP per night. For two people sharing a typical double-occupancy hotel room, the average price for a hotel room in Colombia is 650’000 COP.
You can also find rooms in a Hostel or on Airbnb for around 50’000-280’000 COP. Why not spend equal to 0 pence hosting by a Couchsurfer? It’s always a good idea to check booking.com to find the best deals!
If you are more a Gextremers, you could even get a basic plot in a campground by the beaches and national parks for around the same price as a dorm accommodation which, in my opinion, is not worth it since wild camping isn’t considered really safe!
Colombian food is a blend of indigenous, Caribbean, and European traditions and you don’t really have to go far to find an affordable meal! On average, people spend around 10’000-30’000 COP on food per day (depending on whether you eat in a local restaurant or not).
Hey Goofball! Most hostels have kitchens so if you want to break down the cost of it, grocery shopping costs about 80’000-100’000 COP per week for basic staples.
Activities depend on what you want to do. Museums cost around 5’000 COP, Coffee tours around 25’000 COP, National Parks admission around 25-50’000 COP, and so on!
Here’s a breakdown of this budget:
There are plenty of ways to save money during trips, and here Giorgy aka G-Extreme is about to add another list of her top tips to keep your budget even slower than the one mentioned above. Ready to know the trick to break down Colombia in a low-budget style?
- Low/shoulder-season – As mentioned before, not only does traveling outside high season allow you to save you a lot of money but it also won’t be packed with people too!
- Eat al local restaurants – Street food is the local Colombian food and offers the best value in the country. Or cook your own meals saving a fortune, especially since the food is super delicious!
- Type of transportation – The airplane is the cheapest way to fly around the country, moreover if you buy the ticket more in advance. Uber is also popular although is illegal in the whole country, make sure to sit in front in case you take one! If you get on a normal taxi, make sure to talk about the price before even jumping on it.
- Avoid tour activities– Most cities offer a free walking tour around the city for instance Medellin. You can have an inside of the city’s history and culture, also get to know new travelers. Try to avoid other tour activities which are overrated and way too expensive. Instead do also hiking, swimming, and relaxing around which cost you nothing at all!
- The secret of the Nights Out – Who said you have to necessarily drink alcohol every time you go out? You can still have fun without alcohol and drinking, no alcohol each night can also significantly reduce travel costs. Especially in Colombia Cocktails are pretty expensive around 30’000 COP!
- Own your Water bottle – Generally around Colombia is safe to drink tap water, still bring the following filtered water bottle to save money and reduce plastic around the world!
- Cash vs Digital banking – Digital banking is getting more available in most of South America; keep in mind this is going to save you unwanted fees.
- Slow travel – If you have the luxury of traveling long-term instead of a few weeks, it is going to allow you to incorporate more free days around the city and explore what you like around you without being in a hurry – which means saving a lot of money as well.
- Stay with a local – Not only does Couchsurfing give you free accommodation, but it connects you with locals who can give you insider tips and advice. And why not make a new international friendship?
- Airline surcharges Hack – Use the local version to book a flight, otherwise, you risk being charged a double price on airfare! If you can manage it, no one at the check-in would challenge you about your fare.
- Avoid packed touristic places – Every place where are too many tourists means double the price of EVERYTHING!
HOW TO GET AROUND COLOMBIA
Long-distance buses are a convenient, economical, and comfortable way to travel in Colombia (maybe not the one someone with little time is going to choose). The cost could vary on the length from 50’000 to 180’000 COP. Check Expreso Palmira and Expreso Trejos companies on their own website.
City transportation in Colombia is efficient and modern. Medellin even has a metro system that is around 2’500 COP. Buses fare is usually between 1’000 – 2’500 COP one way.
Use taxis during the evening when public transportation may not be safe. Use apps like 99Taxis or Uber (licensed taxi).
This is a minibus, known as a shared taxi or large Jeep. These are run by private owners especially from the hostel when they organize the transfer for you. You would even see them often as they pass on the streets yelling out destinations.
RENT A CAR
If you want whole independence from any other public transportation, rent your own vehicle car around 90’000 COP per day! Ta-taaa-taaaa I would not suggest you rent one since public transportation is pretty good and break-ins are pretty common!
Hey Goofball! In case you still want to rent a car, make sure to have insurance as a back plan!
I put it as the last option because is not eco-friendly at all even tho it is cheaper than buses. The prices could be found for as little as 55’000 COP!
COLOMBIA PACKING ESSENTIALS
Colombia isn’t your average everyday travel destination, so it’s important to be mindful and careful about what you pack so you can be carefree during your trip!
Here’s a list of some essential items you will need during your trip:
- Sunscreen: As I mentioned, being near the equator the sun might not seem strong but is very strong anyway. Remember to pack enough sunscreen for your trip;
- Insect Repellant: Use it to keep away those annoying mosquitoes from your sweet blood. I recommend this natural spray that protects you from bugs and natural elements;
- Flipflops or sandals: a good pair of sandals or flipflops while going around exploring the cities or hitting the beaches;
- Sun Hat & Sun Glasses: Pack your hat and a pair of polarized sunglasses (the fancy pair I use) to protect you from the rays;
- Swimsuit: Having a comfortable swimsuit is essential for your next trip to Colombia or maybe more than one;
- Lightweight waterproof jacket: Whether you are hiking, on boat rides, or exploring the beaches, the weather is unpreventable, and having a good waterproof jacket could save you from these unconventional situations;
- Travel Insurance: A good rule of thumb is to never travel without travel insurance, as if anything happens, you’ll be flown back home for medical attention which can be quite expensive. Put a First Aid Kit in your backpack, always comes in handy;
- Confirmation of yellow fever vaccination: Even though people won’t check your vaccinations card, it’s recommended to have the yellow fever vaccination if you are visiting areas such as the Amazon and the Lost City.
- Hiking boots and hiking socks: According to how many hikes you are going to do, having a comfortable pair of supportive boots completed with socks are really important while exploring Colombia. Along with hiking outfits too.
- Photo gear and underwater camera: The landscape, nature, and wildlife on the island are so incredible, that you will not want to miss taking lots and lots of pictures! It would definitely be a plus if you could pack an underwater camera because there are so many wonders that are worth capturing. Don’t forget to pack chargers and memory cards too;
- Reusable Water Bottle: Water is important, bring a reusable bottle with you that you can fill from wherever you are. Especially if this one is a filtered water bottle.
STAYING SAFE AS YOU TRAVEL
Is Colombia Safe? In the end, everywhere you go could happen something to you. It’s just important to be precautionary, to be vigilant, and stay safe while traveling around Colombia because there is still a petty crime, especially at night.
Here are some tips I would like to remember for you all!
- Know where you are heading – There are certain areas people should avoid, and Colombia is no different. Make your research in order to be safe in the areas you plan to visit. Be also aware that taking an overnight bus (which is always a good reason if you can sleep everywhere and want to save money on accommodation) is a little bit riskier, more if you get to the destination very early or late at night. Especially if you go for a hike, check the weather in order to avoid complications while the hike; also never stray from the trail, in doubt hire a guide.
- Taxi scam – Never believe when someone says the meter is broken once the drive has begun; stick on metered taxis or negotiate a price in advance.
- Drink in moderation – Not only does not drink alcohol is allowing you to spare money but saving you from unwanted situations since it makes you more vulnerable. Keep in mind that alcohol makes it harder for your body to acclimate especially in high-altitude places. Also bring just the money you need for the night, the rest locked in your accommodation’s locker.
- Not be outstanding – Try also to avoid outstanding with rare gadgets or jewelry that may attract the wrong kind of attention as theft. Neither leaves valuables in the car (if you rent a car) overnight.
- Reassure the beloved ones – Let others know where you are by sharing your itinerary.
- Have a copy of your essential documents – You never know what could happen, make sure to have a copy (paper and digital) of all your essential documents. There could be fake police around the area you are in, so show them always a copy. And the inner gut never does wrong, feel and leave if you feel something is about to happen!
- Travel Insurance – You never know what could happen while traveling, Travel Insurance will protect you against anything!
- Become a local – Knowing at least a bit of Spanish, it’s going to be helpful while traveling in Colombia. I would recommend downloading an app for learning it or getting an instant translator to have with you a long way.
- Follow the rules – If you don’t do it at home, neither do it in Colombia! Especially do NOT do drugs here as if it’s a sign of insult to Colombians who are trying to cut off their drug-related past!
- Avoid the border towns – Because of the current situation in Venezuela, it’s a good idea to avoid Cúcuta ana Maicao (border towns).
What To Expect
Language: Unfortunately, English is not widely spoken in Colombia, so I recommend you learn some basic Spanish phrases in order to be able to get around! Of course, you can always use the help of digital translation applications or websites.
Currency: The official currency of Colombia is the Colombian peso (COP). 1 USD is equivalent to 3’764.88 COP.
ATMs & Credit Cards: Credit cards are widely accepted in Colombia, maybe not in small towns where they accept just cash. ATMs are mostly available in the whole country, you might be surprised too.
Plugs: Colombia has plugs type A, the same as the USA. If you’re traveling from other countries, a universal adapter is suggested.
Staying Safe in Colombia: Colombia isn’t a dangerous country, however, petty crimes are still very common, so you will need to take some safety precautions in order to have a good enjoyable trip. I advise you to keep your valuables hidden and don’t wear any expensive jewelry. Avoid dark, empty streets, especially if you’re alone, and definitely avoid using ATMs on deserted streets. Make copies of your important documents such as ID and passport. I also recommend using taxi apps if you have phone data as they will most likely be safer than street cabs.
It has been an overwhelming 5 weeks around Colombia. It gave me a lot and at the same time, it removed the time from wasting it on my cellphone.
So I deeply enjoyed every single moment I spent in Colombia. It was overwhelming because this country gave me a lot. Moreover, the city gave me another point of view on how to live and approach life: CON CALMA. What’s the matter with living your life at your own rhythms, following the flow without overthinking, and doing what makes you feel good.
Exploring this country gave me an inner sense of freedom and peace that I couldn’t find .. even better, I lost a long time ago.
I can’t guarantee you will have the same result as me, but I’m pretty sure Colombia will find a way of stitching inside you forever! So don’t miss out on the fantastic adventures Colombia has to offer and use this guide to plan your trip to one of the richest and most diverse places on earth!