Travelers to Colombia will recount stories of its warm people, impressive biological diversity, and an exciting contrast of terrains ranging from Andean mountain peaks to Amazonian rainforest, Caribbean coastline, beautiful beaches, and fertile, river laced lowlands.
Bustling cities such as Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, and Cartagena offer excitement, convenience, and a good introduction to the country’s largely urban population. Cosmopolitan Bogotá is the heartbeat of modern Colombia. It is the place to experience wild nights, a sophisticated food scene, historical museums, and more.
Those that venture far from the cities will discover interesting indigenous culture and a deeper understanding of the intricacies of Colombian society. Colombia’s past and present problems should not deter the traveler, but should encourage them to embrace the opportunity to discover the true character of an amazing destination with extraordinary depth of culture, art, history, and seemingly infinite ecological abundance.
The colors of rural Colombia and Amazonia are especially baffling. Visitors will encounter glorious orchids (of which there are over 3,500 species), poisonous dart frogs embellished with highlighter hues, vibrant birds, lush rainforest, and indigenous people – some of whom adorn themselves in bold and bright patterns reflective of the natural world around them.
Hidden deep within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria is the mystical Lost City (Ciudad Perdida). The city, built by the Tayrona people in 800 A.D., is spiritually alive and visually awakening. In Globe Trekker Panama and Colombia Megan McCormick meets the Tayrona people in Ciudad Perdida, and learns of their perceptions about modern ways converging with ancient customs – a relevant subject as this sacred place, only recently re-discovered, becomes increasingly visited.
Nature lovers can explore Colombia’s 56 national parks and protected areas. The culinary curious can visit a coffee plantation and discover how some of the world’s best coffee is produced from bean to brew. Adventurers have a plethora of options, including rock climbing, hiking, and white water rafting. Options for wildlife observation include whale watching, jungle treks, and some of the best birding in the world.
The Colombian currency is the peso ($ or COP). Major credit cards are usually accepted in cities. It’s best to carry small bills for tips and minor exchanges and to avoid exchanging money on the street. Most banks have ATMS. Check exchange rates before you arrive, and make the exchange money at a reputable location.
Colombia’s population reflects people of Spanish, African, Caribbean, and indigenous descent, as well as European immigrants, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, and many other groups. Nearly 60% of the population is mestizo, or mixed Spanish and native ethnicity. Eighty-seven indigenous groups survive in Colombia today, many living in semi-autonomous regions called resguardos indígenas.
Approximately three quarters of the country’s population reside in cities. People are generally very friendly and welcoming towards visitors.
Spanish is the official language. There are also 65 indigenous languages spoken throughout the country, mostly in rural areas or the semi-autonomous zones where many indigenous groups live.
Health and Safety
Although Colombia is safe to visit for the aware traveler, it is important to take proper safety precautions. Some paramilitary groups are still active in remote regions, and tourists would be wise to avoid certain areas or neighborhoods. Check before you go for safe places to stay and areas to avoid, as this may change. Always use a reputable guide, use bank affiliated ATMs, carry your personal belongings close to you, dress modestly, and do not accept food or drink from strangers. Register with your embassy in Bogotá, let others know of your whereabouts, and if you happen to make friends with the locals or other travelers, take the opportunity to exchange helpful information.
Malaria and Dengue fever, both spread by mosquitos, pose some a risk. This is especially so in certain areas along the Caribbean coast, and in Darién. Wear lightweight clothing that covers your skin to protect yourself from mosquitos and use plenty of bug repellent. Many bugs, wild animals, and venomous snakes make their home in Colombia. Travelers should be aware of these risks and when hiking should wear long pants and sturdy shoes or boots. Along the coast, swimmers should beware of rip currents. Altitude sickness can be a concern for those hiking to high elevations, for which proper precautions should be taken.
As in many Latin American countries, it is wise to dress well, especially in urban areas. Locals of every class take pride in their appearance and travelers will do well to do the same. Casual clothing is generally fine in the beaches and when hiking, though it is smart to cover up with lightweight cotton, linen, or other material rather than dress in shorts and t-shirts, in order to protect oneself from the sun, weather extremes, and the plethora of bugs that abound. This is especially true when trekking.
When to Go
Only a 3.5 hour flight from Miami, Colombia is an accessible destination for North Americans. With a number of distinct microclimates and varying elevations, the best time to visit largely depends on where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing. There are two seasons – the dry season (December – February) and the wet season, though temperatures and rainfall vary by region. Bogotá is relatively mild year round, with average temperatures of about 45 degrees F to 70 degrees F, whereas the Amazon is wet throughout the year, and temperatures high in the Andes can be extremely cold. The cheapest time to visit is October to November, though beware, it can be especially wet in the Andean region at this time, with the possibility of flooding.
Prices go up in the dry season (December – February), though it is a good time to visit for pleasant weather in most places.
To experience Carnaval in Barranquilla (reputed as one of the best parties outside of Rio), plan to be in Barranquilla the week before Lent begins. Other seasonal activities include whale watching in Bahia Solano or Isla Gorgona, both on the Pacific coast, for which the best time to visit is July – October.
Travelers to Colombia must have a passport which is valid for at least 6 months after arrival into the country. A visa may be required for travelers from some countries. British, United States and Australian nationals do not need a visa to travel to Colombia. Tourists can stay for up to 90 days.
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