10 Things to Know Before Visiting Colombia
Although there are lots of countries and must-see destinations to add to your South America bucket list, a visit to Colombia definitely deserves to be towards the top.
Colombia is a rich, beautiful place to spend your time on just about every level. It's colorful, it's home to some of the world's most beautiful sights, and it's world-famous for its cuisine to boot.
Check out our top tips and essential things to know before travelling to Colombia which will help you to preare and enjoy the safest and most enriching experience of your life.
1. Colombia is Generally Safe to Visit
Despite what you might have read or any preconceptions you might have, Colombia is now a very safe country to travel even compared to other countries in the region.
Colombia is a very vibrant with friendly people and the issues which once plagued the country with cartels and violence is generally a thing of the past. Cities like Bogota and Medellin are now modern cosmopolitan cities which look like many other cities in the world.
Having said all this, you still need to be streetwise, follow local advice, take precautions, don't flash expensive valuables and stick to the tourist trail. Some recommendations include arriving in destinations in the morning or day and if you have poor Spanish or just want to enjoy a much easier and safer trip, book an organised experience.
Also be sure to buy travel insurance before you go - we recommend World Nomads who offer affordable cover.
2. Book Everything in Advance to Save Money
To get the best deals on flights and accommodation book in advance to get the best deals. You can also find accommodation for all budgets, from budget backpacker hostels to luxury hotels.
Avianca Airlines fly direct to Colombia from the UK whilst you can also book international flights from other worldwide destinations with KLM, Air France, Air Canada, United, British Airways, LATAM, American Airlines, Delta, Air Europa, Iberia, Aeromexico, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.
Skyscanner is the best website to search and compare flights from all the main operators.
3. Plan Your Trip Around the Weather
No city, country, or region offers quite the same experience all year round, and Colombia isn't any different in this regard. That said, you'll definitely want to do a little homework on the weather in Colombia before planning the details of your visit. Each city and region comes attached to its own climate and weather quirks.
The weather in Colombia is generally very warm and tropical all year although temperatures vary throughout the year due to Colombia's proximity to the equator. From December – January & July – August the weather is usually dry or very hot whilst from April – May & October – November it is known as rainy or wet season.
Make sure you take these into consideration before finalizing your travel plans. Then double-check the local weather forecast again right before your trip so you can pack accordingly.
4. Research Before Departing
Be sure to find things to do, places to go and seek out recommendations for places to stay. The more you know, the more stuctured your trip will be. There are so many options from travelling independently to doing something strucktured like cookery courses, dance classes or volunteering in Colombia helping worthwhile good causes. Popular places to add to your Colombia travel itinerary include Me
5. Embrace Public Transportation
Internal flights can be the quickest way to get around and websites like LAN, Avianca or Copa offer good deals.
As is the case in much of the world, public transportation is definitely the most economical, convenient way to get around while visiting Colombia. Many cities there are famous for their metros or bus systems, so you can count on them to get you where you need to go quite efficiently.
Public transport can also be a fun way to rub elbows with some of the locals or to explore different cities at your leisure when you're not terribly pressed for time. In the event you need a more direct, private way to get somewhere, try a taxi app. They're generally safer and more convenient than simply hailing cabs you see passing by.
Download Easy Taxi or Tappsi - these apps are popular and a safer way than hail a cab on the street.
6. Book a Tour or Hire a Travel Guide
Even if you've done hours of research and planned what you're sure is the perfect itinerary before you leave for Colombia, the right travel guide can still be an absolute godsend.
To begin with, a professional tour guide will have the insider perspective and knowledge to make you aware of amazing traditions, events, restaurants, and experiences that are far enough off the beaten trail that you might not discover them on your own. Plus, tour guides are often animated storytellers who are adept at filling you in on all the entertaining details of each place you might visit.
You can hire a local guide or book Colombia tours with an international travel company. There are lots of trips and itineraries available.
7. The Food is Delicious
Cuisine in Colombia is great value and really tasty and there are lots of local and international food options available. Definitely plan on sampling as much of the local cuisine as you can, recommended dished include Arepa (a flatbread), Ajiaco (a soup made with chicken, potatoes, and herbs), Empanadas (street food snack with a meat or cheese stuffing) and Cazuela de Fríjoles (red bean stew).
The local currency in Colombia is the Peso (COP$) and denominations are in mil, Spanish for thousand. Notes generally come in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 50000 pesos.
When you're traveling abroad, you always want to have a plan in place for keeping your money safe. Although Colombia is considered a much safer place to travel these days than it might have been in years past, you still don't want to rely solely on cash. Cash can always be lost or misplaced, as can credit and debit cards.
We recommend exchanging money before arriving to get good transaction prices. You will also find the best exchange rates in Colombia by using cards or at ATMs. You might also want to go with a bank which offers no transaction fees when travelling.
You can also make sure you have reliable access to necessary funds by using an international transfer service like ShareMoney while you're away. Not only do such services make it easy to safely transfer money to Colombia when necessary, but they're a quick, easy way to make sure you get the best exchange rates as well.
In restaurants prices are fixed but in shops and street vendors don't be afraid to barter for goods. Haggling is fun, especially when you get some bargains!
9. Learn Spanish!
Knowing basic Spanish, even if just some words and phrases will make the whole experience of visiting Colombia easier. Some local people in accommodation and tourists hotspots know English, but you will find most people don't. If you have a flexible schedule you might like to book a Spanish course in Colombia. Or if not, start learning before departing.
10. Have a Sense of Adventure
While it's fine to have a running list of key locations, sights, and events you'd consider your Colombian trip incomplete without, it really pays to be friendly, open and also spontaneous.
Colombian people are generally very friendly and helpful, so feel free to strike up a conversation or ask for help if you need it. Look for opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture.
When you leave Colombia with a collection of beautiful memories to treasure for the rest of your life, you'll be glad you booked the trip.