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 rapidly, and this amazing country is opening itself up to travellers like never before.
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.
Culture And Etiquette.
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.
What You Need To Know.
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.
British nationals and citizens of most countries in Western Europe, the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa can enter Colombia for up to 90 days as a visitor without a visa at the discretion of the Colombian Immigration Officer on arrival. Any other country can expect to pay a small fee for a visa on arrival. You may need to provide evidence of return or onward travel. Check the latest entry requirements with the Colombian Consulate General in London or your own country’s embassy before you travel.
You may be able to extend your stay once you are in Colombia by up to 120 days for a maximum of 180 days in total by applying at the immigration office Migración Colombia.
If you enter Colombia by land you should make sure your passport is stamped by the immigration authorities. Failure to do so may result in a fine on departure. If the immigration office on the border is closed, seek help at the nearest office of Migración Colombia.
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.
All travellers are strongly recommended to be up to date on their routine vaccinations including MMR, diptheria – pertusis – tetanus and varicella (chicken pox) by the Centre of Disease Control and the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Hepatitis A and Tetanus are also advised.
Yellow fever is present in Colombia and a vaccination against it is not only strongly recommended but having a yellow fever certificate (otherwise known as an ICVP) is a requirement of entering the country as well as entering most other countries after you leave Colombia.
The central belt of Colombia, including Bogota, San Miguel, Cali and Medellin is low to no risk of malaria and so antimalarials are not advised for the majority of travellers who stick to these areas. The Western coastal region on the Pacific ocean and the border of Panama are high risk of malaria, and the Eastern region bordering Peru, Brazil and Venezuela are high risk of malaria too, so antimalarials are advised for travellers spending any time in these regions.
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 Colombia 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 ports of Beunaventura and Tumaco, and 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. One of the biggest expense most travellers will have is transportation, especially the over expensive buses, and as always, activities, treks and tours which can all add up very quickly.
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.
Places To See.
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.
Things To Do.
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!