Colombia Travel Tips
Below you can find all my Colombia travel tips for travelers planning their own trip.
1. Best time to travel to Colombia
The temperature in Colombia varies more depending on the region and altitude than on the time of year. Below 1,000 meters, you’ll find a warm climate (24°C or higher). Between 1,000 and 2,000 meters, there’s a temperate climate (17°C-24°C). Lastly, between 2,000 and 3,000 meters, you’ll encounter a cold climate (11°C-17°C).
The high season in Colombia is from December to February, as the weather is excellent throughout the country. However, there will be more people, and prices will be higher.
The shoulder season is from March to September, with increased rainfall in various parts of the country, but it’s still easy to find clear skies.
Finally, the low season is during October and November, as they are the two months with the most rain. On the other hand, prices will be lower.
In general, the best time to travel to Colombia would be from December to March and July or August.
2. How many days should you spend in Colombia
If you’re coming to Colombia from the other side of the pond, I recommend staying for at least two weeks. However, I also say that if you have more days, even better. You can visit the country for a month and still crave more, as there are many places to explore.
We traveled independently in Colombia for three and a half weeks, visiting Cartagena de Indias, Santa Marta, Tayrona, La Guajira, Medellín, Guatapé, and the Coffee Triangle.
If you have less than two weeks in Colombia (one week or ten days), don’t worry. Choose the region that excites you the most and enjoy your days in this beautiful country.
Further down, I suggest several routes in Colombia based on the time you plan to spend.
3. Flights to Colombia
Once you know when you’re going to travel to Colombia and how many days you’ll be staying, it’s time to book your flights. I always use and recommend Skyscanner to find cheap flights since you can easily see which day and with which airline flights are more affordable.
There are direct flights between Madrid and Medellín or Bogotá with Avianca, Iberia, and Air Europa. It’s also possible to find some direct flights between Barcelona and Bogotá with Avianca. I flew from Madrid to Cartagena de Indias with a layover in Bogotá with Avianca, and the flight was very good.
4. Travel requirements for Colombia
US, Canadian, UK, and Australian citizens do not need a visa to travel to Colombia. You can enter the country with a valid passport, provided it will not expire in the next 6 months. A visit can last up to 90 days without a visa. If the stay is longer than 90 days, a visa is required. You will also need to show an outbound ticket.
There are no vaccination requirements to enter Colombia.
Other vaccines for Colombia
Visit the TravelHealthPro website to find out if you require a yellow fever certificate. Travelers who are 1 or older and are arriving from Angola, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Uganda, as well as those who have transited through an airport of a country where there is a risk of yellow fever transmission for more than 12 hours, must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Visiting San Andreas Island?
You must get a tourist card on the day of the flight from the airport you are departing from, usually at the boarding gate, if you are going to the Islands of San Andres, Providencia, or Santa Catalina. Children under seven years old and visitors who stay on the islands for less than 24 hours are excluded. Confirm your travel plans prior to boarding with your airline.
5. Is it safe to travel to Colombia?
Safety in Colombia is one of the main concerns for some people considering a visit to this country. The truth is that Colombia has a very bad reputation regarding safety due to its past, and because nowadays only negative news seems to make headlines…
Let’s not deceive ourselves; Colombia is not one of the safest countries in the world. One must be cautious, but as I always say, caution is necessary everywhere.
A key travel recommendation in Colombia is, as Colombians say, “no des papaya” (don’t give a chance). This means not walking around displaying your valuables. It also depends on where you are since there are very safe places where you can be more relaxed, such as the historic center of Cartagena de Indias. However, in areas of Bogotá or Medellín, you need to be more cautious.
Another useful piece of advice that I always follow is, upon arriving at the hotel, ask if there are any areas I should avoid. I especially inquire about this in large cities, as there might be more risk. This way, I make sure not to venture into an unsafe area. There are other obvious tips, like avoiding lonely streets at night or being cautious with your belongings, which are worth remembering.
In conclusion, I can confirm that visiting Colombia independently is not dangerous; just be smart and take necessary precautions. However, bad luck can happen anywhere, and there’s little advice I can offer on that front.
If you want to know more about security in Colombia, I recommend reading the advice from the U.S Travel Advisory.
6. Travel insurance for Colombia
Another of the most important steps when organizing a trip is to purchase international medical insurance if you don’t already have medical coverage in the country you’re traveling to. In this case, you will need to get good travel insurance for Colombia.
We use Mondo, an insurance that I always use and recommend. We were fortunate not to need to use it, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes during a trip, we may experience flight delays, lost luggage, accidents, illnesses, etc. That’s why traveling insured is so important.
If you still don’t have travel insurance, you can get a 5% discount on HeyMondo through the following button:
7. Things to do in Colombia
As I mentioned before, there are many things to do in Colombia: beaches, charming villages, valleys, big cities, deserts… Below, you can find a list of the must-visit highlights of the country.
It was impossible not to start this list of things to do in Colombia with Cartagena de Indias. The historic center of Cartagena is probably one of the most charming places I’ve had the fortune to stroll through. Joy, color, and beauty are palpable in every corner. It was the first stop of my journey and is the most touristy place in the entire country. When you arrive, you’ll understand why.
Organize your visit to Cartagena with the following articles:
At 235 km from Cartagena, you’ll find the coastal city called Santa Marta. It is the oldest city in the country, founded on July 29, 1525, by Rodrigo de Bastidas. In the center, you can find charming streets and squares during the day and a lively atmosphere at night. What I liked the most about this city, though, were the incredible sunsets from the bay.
It’s usually the starting point for people visiting Tayrona Park, Minca, Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), Cabo de la Vela, Palomino, etc.
Plan your visit to Santa Marta with the following articles:
It is one of the Colombians’ greatest pride. In this natural national park, you can stroll through the jungle, swim on some beaches, and enjoy incredible places like Cabo San Juan, one of the most beautiful spots I saw during my self-guided trip to Colombia.
The park can only be visited on foot (also on horseback, but it’s much more ethical to use our own legs), and once you enter, you can stay as long as you want. You can take day trips or spend the night inside the park (there are several campgrounds or more luxurious cabins).
It’s a small town located in the Sierra Nevada where you can disconnect and enjoy all the surrounding nature. In the vicinity, you can visit waterfalls, engage in adventure sports, witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, or take the coffee route. It can be reached from Santa Marta.
Plan your visit to Minca with the following article:
Rosario Islands, Barú, San Bernardo Islands or San Andrés
If you’re looking for turquoise waters, paradise beaches, and some relaxation, I recommend any of these destinations. If you don’t have much time, you can go to Playa Blanca from Cartagena, although it might be quite crowded.
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City)
One of the most intriguing places to visit in this destination is the Lost City. This city was built in the 8th century by Tayrona indigenous communities. To reach it, you have to embark on a four or five-day trek. I did it on my second trip to Colombia, and it was a wonderful experience.
You can book the hike to the Lost City in advance or once you arrive in Santa Marta.
Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas
Going to La Guajira wasn’t initially in our plans in Colombia, but we eventually decided to go based on several recommendations. La Guajira is located in the extreme northwest of the country and is pure desert. The two most popular places in this department are Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas.
You can also get to know the customs of the Wayuu people, an indigenous group in the area. To reach Cabo de la Vela, go to Riohacha and from there take private transportation. You can also join an organized tour.
The second-largest city in Colombia and the capital of Antioquia. It is completely surrounded by mountains, which gives it a unique beauty and atmosphere. There are many interesting places to visit in this city, from viewpoints with breathtaking views to neighborhoods that have undergone significant transformation in recent years, such as Comuna 13 (don’t miss this place).
It was one of the places I liked the most on my trip to Colombia. This town looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. Its streets are the most colorful I’ve ever seen. Additionally, very close by, you can find the Peñol Rock, a huge rock that you can climb (get ready for a lot of stairs!) and enjoy a landscape filled with greenery and lakes.
The Coffee Triangle
In this area of Colombia, you can visit one of the many coffee farms and learn about the entire coffee process, from planting to your cup. Additionally, there are many charming towns like Salento or Filandia. Although the most incredible place is the Cocora Valley, where you can see the famous wax palms.
This desert is located in the department of Huila and features very curious geological formations. It is divided into 2 zones: Cuzco, with a reddish ocher color, and Los Hoyos, with a gray color.
Bogotá is the largest city in Colombia and its capital. Don’t miss places like La Candelaria neighborhood, the Primatial Cathedral, or the viewpoint of Monserrate Hill.
Other interesting things to do in Colombia are San Agustín, Las Lajas Sanctuary, Caño Cristales, Quebrada las Gachas, Cali, Barranquilla, or El Cocuy National Natural Park.
8. How to get around Colombia
There are several options for getting around the country: buses, flights, and rental cars.
TRAVELING BY BUS IN COLOMBIA
We did almost all the journeys of our trip in Colombia by bus. Some journeys can be a bit challenging due to many curves or because some roads are in poor condition or under construction. We used to buy tickets at the station or a few days before online.
In Colombia, there are two types of buses: those that make multiple stops and those that are direct. The first type includes buses with a defined route but where people can board or alight wherever they want. I saw them more in the northern part of the country. They can be convenient as they allow you to flag down buses on the road. We used them several times.
Also, on these buses, many street vendors usually board. It comes in handy if you get hungry. The roads in the north weren’t bad, and if it weren’t for so many stops, the journey would be quick. Anyway, I found it to be a very authentic way to travel around Colombia.
Direct buses only make stops for rest and driver changes. It’s the best option for a long journey. I recommend the Brasilia company.
TRAVELING BY PLANE IN COLOMBIA
For many journeys, flying is the best option as it saves a lot of time. Additionally, if you plan your trip in advance and have a fixed itinerary, flights can be reasonably priced. If the flight prices are too high for your budget, you can opt for the bus.
In Colombia, you can find the following airlines: Avianca, EasyFly, Latam, Satena, Viva Air, and Wingo. The most budget-friendly airline is usually Viva Air. As always, I recommend using Skyscanner to find the best-priced flights.
RENTING A CAR IN COLOMBIA
In some areas, it can be very convenient to rent a car to explore the place more freely. One of those places is the Coffee Triangle, where many tourists choose to rent a car. We didn’t do it, and I regret it. Next time, I’m sure I’ll do it this way.
I recommend comparing prices and renting your car in Discover Cars.
9. Currency and prices
In Colombia, the Colombian peso is used. 1 US Dollar (USD) is approximately 4,000 COP.
Colombia is a relatively affordable country. However, I always say that a country can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be, depending on where you go, where you eat, where you stay, etc. If your budget for traveling to Colombia independently is low, don’t worry. You can visit it economically.
A meal at a local restaurant in Colombia will cost you around 8,000 pesos. A dish at an economical tourist restaurant will cost you between 14,000 and 20,000 pesos. And finally, a dish at a more expensive restaurant will start from 20,000 pesos.
Regarding accommodations, it depends on the location and the season, as everything tends to be more expensive during high season. You can find a bed in shared rooms starting from approximately $10. For private rooms, decent options start from around $25 per night in touristy places and from $18 in less touristy areas.
Most banks in Colombia charge a commission of 13,000 – 14,000 COP for withdrawing money. One of the banks that does not charge a commission is Davivienda. Therefore, if you have a card that either doesn’t charge a commission or charges very little, you can withdraw money almost for free. I use Revolut and N26 cards.
10. My 3.5-week itinerary through Colombia
Once you know which places you want to visit during your trip to Colombia and how much time you have, it’s time to create the itinerary.
We spent three and a half weeks in Colombia. Our itinerary was as follows:
Cartagena de Indias (4 nights) → Santa Marta (3 nights) → Tayrona (4 nights) → Camarones (1 night) → Cabo de la Vela (2 nights) → Santa Marta (1 night) → Overnight bus to Medellín (1 night) → Medellín (2 nights) → Guatapé (2 nights) → Salento (4 nights) → Overnight bus to Bogotá (1 night).
With all this time, we could have visited more places, but we always prefer to take it easy even if it means visiting fewer locations.
COLOMBIA ITINERARY IDEAS
Here are several Colombia itinerary ideas based on different time frames in the country. These itineraries are indicative, as you may need to subtract a night for an overnight bus or perhaps prefer to spend fewer nights in one place and more in another…
- One week: Cartagena (2 nights), Rosario Islands/Barú (2 nights), Santa Marta and Tayrona (2 nights).
- Ten days: Medellín and Guatapé (3 nights), Cartagena (2 nights), Rosario Islands/Barú (2 nights), Santa Marta and Tayrona (2 nights).
- Two weeks: Cartagena (3 nights), Rosario Islands/Barú (3 nights), Santa Marta and Tayrona (2 nights), Medellín and Guatapé (3 nights), Coffee Triangle (2 nights).
- Three weeks: Cartagena (3 nights), Rosario Islands/Barú (3 nights), Santa Marta, Minca, and Tayrona (4 nights), La Guajira (2 nights), Medellín and Guatapé (3 nights), Coffee Triangle(2 nights), Tataoca Desert (1 night), Bogotá (2 nights).
- Four weeks: Cartagena (4 nights), Rosario Islands/Barú (3 nights), Santa Marta, Minca, and Tayrona (4 nights), La Guajira (2 nights), Medellín and Guatapé (4 nights), Coffee Triangle (4 nights), Tataoca Desert (2 nights), San Agustín (2 nights), Bogotá (2 nights).
11. Where to stay in Colombia
Time to book accommodations! Below, I provide various recommendations in different tourist destinations across the country, sorted by budget.
Hotels in Cartagena de Indias:
Hotels in Santa Marta:
Hotels in Tayrona:
Hotels in Medellín:
Hotels in Salento:
More Colombia travel tips for travelers
Here are some final tips for your trip:
- Try to carry only hand luggage. Most airlines charge an extra fee for checked baggage. If you travel with only hand luggage, you’ll save money on all your flights and travel much lighter. On the other hand, boats departing from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands and the San Bernardo Islands have a weight limit for your luggage.
- Don’t leave Colombia without trying arepas, bandeja paisa, empanadas, patacones, etc. Also, indulge in plenty of fresh fruit juices – they’re delicious! Additionally, you’ll discover many new fruits like lulo, passion fruit, tamarillo, soursop, etc. Colombian cuisine is a delight.
- If you want to have internet on your phone, I recommend buying a SIM card at your destination. The best company is Claro. I didn’t research this and bought a card with the Tigo company, but in many places, there wasn’t good coverage. Another very important thing is to go to an official store, instead of buying the card anywhere. If you prefer to have internet from home, take a look at Holafly’s eSIMs.
- Uber is prohibited in Colombia, but it can still be used. I always recommend downloading this app because it makes your life easier when moving around cities. If you prefer not to use it, taxis are also a good option.
- If you want to book any airport transfer to the city center in advance for added security, you can do so on Civitatis. On that website, you can also book guided tours and excursions.
- Bogotá is one of the highest capitals in the world, so it’s possible to experience a bit of altitude sickness. Remember to stay well-hydrated and avoid heavy meals.
Map for visiting Colombia
In the following map, I’ve highlighted the major airports and the best things to do in Colombia. I hope it proves extremely useful as you finalize your travel plans.
Don’t miss my Colombia travel guide for all the information about the country.
I hope my recommendations for planning a trip to Colombia have been very helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or write to me via email. Until next time!