Colombia has long since been a pariah in the travellers destination guides thanks to decades of civil conflict and a reputation for danger, but that is changing. Ignore the less than savoury reputation as a haven for drug smugglers and kidnappers, Colombia is a stunning country full of awe inspiring Caribbean beaches, archaeological highlights, modern steel and chrome cities, a pulse pounding nightlife and local delicacies that will keep you enchanted far longer than you planned for!
The more adventurous backpackers and independent travellers have been taking advantage of Colombia’s hospitality for years now, but in recent years it has begun to open up its borders a little more as more and more travellers begin to discover the delights here.
Colombian culture varies slightly depending where in the country you are. The culture has been heavily influenced by Catholicism and the Spanish settlers in the Colonial era, but there is also a heavy influence from African and Indian cultures as well as local indigenous Indians, but to a much larger extent.
Spanish is the dominant language, and the culture is patriarchal and conservative, especially in the cities of Bogota, Medilin and in the higher altitudes. Down at coastal level there is a distinctly more laid back, Caribbean feel and a much more unhurried pace of life.
The visa situation changes relatively frequency in Colombia so it is always a good idea to double check the situation before you go. Most Western European, United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand, South African, Canadian and U.S citizens do not need a passport at the time of writing.
It is important to ensure that you get both an entry and an exit stamp on arrival and leaving to avoid potential trouble with the authorities.
Apart from the routine vaccinations that everyone should have, vaccinations against hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid are strongly recommended. Vaccinations against rabies is recommended for anyone spending any amount of time in rural areas or working with animals. Yellow fever is present in Colombia and a vaccination against it is strongly recommended. Even if you aren’t headed to the areas like the national coastal parks where it is more prevalent the vaccination is still strongly recommended. Make sure you get the yellow fever certificate as many countries will not allow you into the country without it if you are travelling from Columbia.
Malaria and dengue fever are both present in Colombia so make sure you have protection and prophylaxis if necessary.
In the larger cities such as Bogota clinics and medical facilities are easy to access and pharmacies are common, although the quality can sometimes be a little questionable Columbia still has some of the best medical facilities in South America. The further out into the rural areas you get the harder it is to get access. If you do need medical care then you will be expected to pay cash, often upfront, so make sure your insurance will cover the costs later.
Crime and Safety.
Colombia doesn’t totally undeserve its reputation as being the most dangerous country in the world, but there is no need to let the rumours and reputation put you off visiting either. The security situation has improved incredibly in recent years and has seen a huge surge in traveller numbers as a result. You should still be on your guard though and take reasonable precautions for your own safety and security.
Keep a very close eye on your belongings and be aware of local scams and distraction techniques that can be used as a precursor to snatching your stuff. It is a good idea to separate your sources of money and keep back ups of all your important documents. It also goes without saying that you should think twice before accepting any sort of drink or food from a stranger, you never know what could have been put in it.
The Foreign Commonwealth Office does advise against all but essential visits to the rural borders of Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador, and rural areas in northern Antioquia and Huila and southern Bolivar and Cardoba. The security situation is improving but there is still an increased risk of isolated guerrilla activity and drug running in these areas.
Costs and money.
Colombia is not an ultra cheap destination but it is far from expensive too. Most travellers can get by on a basic budget of around £30 per day, whilst a mid range traveller looking for a bit of comfort can get by on around £50 a day. Accommodation is relatively cheap, with hostels around £5 a night and a private room at around £20. Street food and set lunches are extremely cheap and you can eat very well in Colombia. The empanadas are usually less than £1 and are very filling and delicious. The biggest expense most travellers will have is transportation, especially the over expensive buses. Make sure you budget specifically for travel.
When to go.
Colombia is equatorial so the climate and temperature stay pretty much stable year round. The high seasons of December to February and Easter time see prices jump sharply, so it may be a good idea to avoid those periods if possible.
Colombia’s capital has long had a reputation of being dangerous and a place tourists should avoid, but this is far from the reality. It has undergone a huge regeneration in recent years and is now a great place to spend a few days exploring, with some of the most fascinating museums in the country as well as some stunning restaurants and hot nightspots.
Cartegena’s old town is full of colonial charm with every nook and cranny packed will old, stone churches, monasteries, stone walled streets and mansions that are the archetype of Caribbean and Spanish colonial architecture.
Parque Nacional Tayrona.
Imagine a Caribbean paradise filled with swaying palm trees, falling coconuts and soft white waves pounding against the white sand, and you will be imagining this movie set worthy national park.
San Agustin Archaeological Park.
San Agustin Archaeological Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and is an archaeologists or historians dream, with the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. Not as famous as some of the historical sites in say Peru or Brazil but still well worth a visit.
Learn to salsa in Cali.
Cali is often known as the salsa capital of Colombia and there is nowhere better to take a class and learn this energetic dance, or even just attend and watch.
Go on a coffee plantation tour.
Easy to organise from Bogota or many other places, a tour of a coffee plantation is a great way to see one of the country’s major exports go through the harvesting process and taste some delicious strong coffee straight from the source!