Located in South America, Colombia is a vibrant country that’s easily accessible from the US and the rest of the continent. While Colombia has a certain reputation within the media, it’s a wonderful country to visit and you’ll find the locals to be incredibly friendly and welcoming. Keep reading as we share some of the top tips to keep in mind if you are visiting Colombia to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip.
Over 99.5% of Colombians speak Spanish. English is spoken in the San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Islands. There are a few other languages spoken in the country as well, but as a tourist, you’ll be okay if you stick to Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, try to learn a few basic phrases ahead of your trip to ensure you can get around safely.
Hotels in Colombia are similar to those elsewhere in the world, ranging from basic guest houses to fancy resorts and hotels. In the cities, you’ll find all of the usual US chains, with modern facilities and amenities. Most hotels include breakfast in the price, but in the islands and resorts, you’ll also find all-inclusive options.
The weather in Colombia is very varied and will be dependent on where you are visiting. The country is surrounded by three mountains, which split the country up into five regions: the Caribbean, the Pacific, Amazon, the Andes, and Llanos. All of these regions have different altitudes and climates, and the altitude is what impacts the weather. There are four types of climate in the country: warm, cold, temperate, and snow.
Colombia is quite a warm country, and 80% of the country sits below 1,000m above sea level and has an average temperature of 27°C (80°F). In Medellin and the surrounding area, the temperature drops to an average of 22°C (71°F). Bogota is located 2,000 m above sea level, so the city feels like autumn all year round, with an average temperature of 14°C (57°F).
The year-round climate in Colombia doesn’t change, and it’s one of the few countries in the world to experience this. It has two seasons, the dry season and the cloudy season. The dry season is from December to January and again from July to August, and the cloudy season is from April to May and October to November. The cloudy season will usually see the sun in the morning and then clouds and rain in the afternoon. Depending on where you are visiting, you’ll want to pack layers to ensure you are prepared for the cooler temperatures the country experiences.
The peak season for tourists to visit Colombia is between December and March. The week before Easter also draws larger crowds, both from abroad and within the country. December to March allows you to visit a wide range of destinations in the country and enjoy hiking and visiting the beaches.
However, prices will be a little higher, and things may be more booked up in advance. If you are visiting during this time, make sure you plan ahead to avoid disappointment.
As with anywhere in the world, you’ll want to be aware of your surroundings at all times. It’s generally recommended that tourists don’t visit Arauca, Cauca (except Popayán), Nariño, Chocó (except Nuquí), and Norte de Santander. These areas have higher levels of crime and so are best avoided by tourists.
Cali is known to be one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the country but still attracts a fair number of tourists. You have no doubt heard about the issues with Venezuela in the news in the past years, so try to also avoid the border towns of Cúcuta and Maicao for this reason.
Wherever you go, don’t get involved with illegal drugs at any time. The drug trafficking methods used here are very complex, but there are strict penalties for trafficking drugs. Colombians are desperately trying to shed the stereotypes about drugs and their country, and many don’t want to be associated with drugs at all. Make sure you always pack your own luggage when traveling in Colombia and returning to your home country.
Another thing to keep in mind in Colombia is ayahuasca, which is a plant that’s used in the indigenous communities in Colombia for spiritual cleansing. If you are invited to a ceremony, you’ll find that there is minimal medical assistance on offer, which has led to deaths and severe side effects in the past. The consumption of the brew that’s created isn’t regulated and so is best avoided.
Petty crime is the biggest concern for tourists in Colombia, and even locals will likely warn you about these issues. Don’t wear anything valuable when you are out and about, and keep your phone in your bag at all times. Make sure you are especially careful at night and don’t leave a bar or club alone if you’ve been drinking. Try to blend in as much as possible, which can often be a challenge for tourists in the cities. This is why we recommend trying to learn a few Spanish phrases, as it will be easier to avoid scams and overpaying for anything on your trip.
There are no real rules when it comes to dressing in Colombia, however, men will usually wear pants and closed-toe shoes at night or in the cities. Girls like to dress up here, wearing skinny jeans, heels, pretty shirts, and dresses. You’ll just want to be respectful when entering religious sites and ensure you are properly covered up.
It’s very unlikely that you’ll hire a car on a trip to Colombia, especially if you are staying in the cities. The traffic in cities such as Bogota is horrendous at all times of the day, and driving here can be incredibly dangerous. Instead, stick to taxis and buses, or use the local colectivo, which is a minibus or shared taxi. They usually go to a set destination, and they are an inexpensive way to get around.
Traveling will require you to know a few Spanish phrases to ensure you aren’t being ripped off for your journey. Public transportation is very cheap in the country, and if you feel confident with crowds, you’ll find it to be a great way to get around. One word of advice about traveling is to never hitchhike in Colombia, no matter how tempting it might seem.
As you can see, there’s a lot to keep in mind when visiting Colombia, especially with regard to your safety. However, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to get around this beautiful country and how welcoming and warm the locals are towards visitors. Just avoid doing anything you wouldn’t do at home on your visit, and you’ll enjoy a safe trip to this exciting country in South America.