Five Things First Time Travellers To Colombia Should Know
- English is not widely spoken outside of major cities like Medellin. Make your trip easier by learning a few phrases and words in Spanish before you go.
- Haggle to get the best prices. You can negotiate the prices for goods at street stalls and taxi rides. Vendors will start with a much higher rate for tourists, so a good rule of thumb is to cut it in half and go from there.
- Be careful when withdrawing money from ATMs. If you can, avoid the ones on the street and rather make an effort to find ones in bank buildings or shopping malls. It's also not a good idea to go to an ATM at night, and if you can find someone to go with you, that's even better.
- There is a tipping culture in Colombia. Most people tip about COP 1000 at a small restaurant or 10% at more expensive establishments.
- You can drink the tap water. In Colombia's main cities like Bogota, and Medellin, the water is safe to drink straight from the tap. However, if you're travelling to remote areas, check with the hotel staff beforehand.
Best Time To Visit Colombia
The most popular time to visit Colombia is during its dry season. From December to February, the country is warm, and the fiestas are in full swing. It's also the start of Colombia's surf season, and the coastal cities are buzzing with water sports enthusiasts.
Make sure you book your accommodation and flights a few months in advance. It's the busiest time of year as tourists and Colombians working abroad flock to the country over the festive period.
March to May is Colombia's wet season, but that doesn't mean you should avoid travelling to the country during this time. The Easter holy week takes place in March, and it's one of the best times of year to soak up the local culture.
Another peak tourism period in Colombia is from June to August. It's the country's second dry season, and a great time for outdoor adventures and cultural activities. For hikers, it's the ideal time of year to hike the Andes, and in Medellin, there are a variety of festivals taking place throughout July.
From October to November, the rains return, and it's not the best time of year for a seaside holiday. However, the high water levels in the Amazon make these months excellent for hiking and prices for hotels are at their lowest.
Situated in the Andes mountain range, Bogota is the capital of Colombia. Once notorious for its high risk of violence, the city is safer these days, and its tourism sector is slowly recovering.
It's rich in culture, with Spanish, English and Indian influences and is full of colonial buildings, a thriving foodie scene and historical sites.
Make sure you visit the La Candelaria district, the Colombian National Museum, and go on a Bogota graffiti tour.
Founded in 1533, Cartagena is one of Colombia's oldest cities. The streets are lined with beautiful architecture from decades gone past, making Cartagena seem more like an open-air museum than a bustling metropolis.
Be sure to visit the Ciudad Amurallada. The ancient fortress protected the city from pirates and invaders throughout the centuries. No trip to Cartagena would be complete without a stop at the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. The castle took 150 years to complete and is the crowning landmark of the city.
Medellin was once named the most dangerous city in the world. Today, it's teeming with innovation. It's decked out with a modern metro system, cable cars linking to the settlements in the hills and community centres for its poorest citizens.
While it might not have been the most desirable destination in the 1990s, Medellin now welcomes half a million visitors each year. Fondly called the "Capital of the Flowers", try to plan your visit around the annual orchid festival in August.
Top Attractions in Colombia
As the world's third largest producer of coffee beans, no visit to Colombia would be complete without a trip to the plantations.
Eje Cafetero is home to a concentration of farms that have begun public tours and tastings. The trips are run by the owners who take an hour out of their day to explain their coffee making process to visitors.
While some farms do offer accommodation, the best place to base yourself is in Salento. It's a short ride away from other popular attractions like the Cocora Valley, home to the tallest palm trees in the world.
The Lost City
The most popular hike in Colombia is the trek to The Lost City. Hidden within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, the ruins were discovered 40 years ago by treasure hunters.
Once the home of the Tayrona Indians, the city was founded 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. It's considered to be the largest pre-Columbian settlement in the Americas. While much of the site is covered by the jungle, you can still explore the stone terraces and stairways peeking through the foliage.
An important thing to keep in mind is that you can't visit the site independently. You will need to book a tour from Santa Marta.
Hacienda Napoles is the former home of the notorious drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar. After his death in 1993, the estate fell into disrepair until the local government turned it into an amusement park.
Located in Puerto Triunfo, the estate boasts lavish hotels, a water park, a zoo, and life-size dinosaurs Escobar purchased for his son.
But remnants of the drug lord can also still be found on the property. Guests can visit his antique car collection as well as one of the Cessna planes he used to smuggle drugs into the United States. There is also a small museum that serves as a reminder of what happened to people who got in his way.
Tayrona National Natural Park
Tayrona National Natural Park is famous for its crystal-clear waters and palm-shaded coves. Set against the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, a visit here makes for an ideal beach vacation.
Hike the rainforest trails, or go snorkelling along the coastline. For those that want to spend a few days here, you can stay at the lavish Ecohabs Tayrona or one of the many beachside campgrounds.
While the beaches are remote, that doesn't mean you won't find crowds of sun worshippers. Try to plan your visit from February to November if you want this slice of paradise all to yourself.
Once off-limits, Cano Cristales is back on the tourist track. While the Orinoquia region itself is breathtaking, what makes this river unique is its unusual colour.
Between July and November, the algae bloom turns the riverbed into an array of colours. It's one of Colombia's top natural landmarks and deserves a spot on any traveller's itinerary.
Located near the small town of La Macarena, it's still recommended to hire a guide or go on a group tour to explore this area. Along the way, you'll pass beautiful waterfalls and even get the chance to swim in natural pools formed by this colourful river.
Major International Airports in Colombia
- El Dorado International Airport
- Jose Maria Cordova International Airport
- Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport
- Rafael Nunez International Airport
- Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport