PACKING FOR A LONG-TERM TRIP - A MONTH OR MORE - CAN BE A BIT STRESSFUL. THIS GUIDE WILL HELP YOU FIGURE OUT EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING FOR AN EXCITING SLOW TRAVEL ADVENTURE IN COLOMBIA.
Possibly one of the most stressful parts about planning and prepping for an upcoming trip is packing. The wide array of decisions you have to make - do I take those shoes or these? Will I need one jacket or two? - can be taxing and just plain not fun. And this stress only doubles if you are planning to head off on a long-term trip (say a month or more).
We felt this pressure on our first slow travel adventure to Colombia. The idea of packing for a three-month trip was daunting. Plus, we didn't know what sort of services and stores would be available in the (likely) chance we forgot something important (turns out we did: our handy laptop charger).
Luckily, for round two in Colombia we were much less stressed when it came to packing. That was because we knew exactly what to expect and what was available (almost everything). Including, plenty of places to buy shoes, rain jackets, and all manner of electronics.
This helpful guide will give you an idea of what you should pack yourself if planning to slow travel through Colombia. It also outlines five items we think are absolute MUSTS if you are planning to explore and adventure around the country.
5 Must-Have Items for Traveling in Colombia
Colombia is a paradise for birdwatching and animal viewing in general. In fact, Colombia has the most bird species in the world as well as the sixth most mammal species. Similarly, Colombia as a whole is ranked second in overall biodiversity (behind Brazil, a country 10x its size). This means you have a very strong chance of seeing various animals on your travels - no matter where you are staying.
What we are trying to say is that you definitely should come prepared for some amazing animal viewing opportunities - especially when it comes to the feathered and flying kind. Luckily, you can easily find a pair of binoculars that are compact and light enough to store either in your checked bag or in your carry-on/day bag.
These binoculars are small enough for your day bag, but hardy enough for all manner of adventures - be it in the jungle, the mountains or the desert.
Colombia is full of adventure - from trekking through dense jungle to hiking around volcanoes to mountain biking back dirt roads, there is a whole lot to do. So you definitely want some boots that can handle all challenges and weather. And mud. There is always mud.
In our opinion, hiking boots are one of those items that you should focus on buying the best quality, even if that means spending a bit more up-front. Purchasing gear that will last you for years to come is always better than just buying for a pair that may stand up to a couple of tough adventures. In terms of sustainability (and even economics), it is always better to think about quality over quantity.
We really like Asolo hiking boots - especially the ones that are made of 100% leather (like this one) - because they can stand up to many different terrains, including dense snow and dry, rocky deserts.
INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to purchase hiking boots while in Colombia, we recommend checking out Bumerang Boots, a small leather boot company based out of Pereira. You can buy the shoes in their main store (here) or head to their shop on Calle Real in Salento.
Reusable Water Bottle
By far one of the most important things to pack for a trip to Colombia - and really for anywhere in general - is a reusable water bottle.
Now, while having a water bottle with a built-in filter is awesome; luckily, for the most part, the water in Colombia - including in places like Cartagena, Armenia and Salento - was actually safe to drink straight from the tap. Similarly, when we went on our 4-day trek in Los Nevados National Park we didn't even need to use a water filter since the water was completely safe to drink (you could literally see the source of the water right above you).
But, with all of that being said, if you have the chance to get a water bottle with a built-in filter, do it. You will be grateful you did once you choose to travel to other places that have unsafe water. Below are two great travel water bottle options:
| Hydrapak Stash Collapsable Water Bottle (1L): this is a great water bottle to have along with you on your adventures because it can collapse down and take up very little space in your bag. Plus, it only weighs 3.3 ounces (0.2 pounds) when empty.
| Grayl GEOPRESS Water Purifier: though the price of this water bottle is steep (just under $100 USD) it is definitely worth it when you think of the time and money you will be saving by not buying plastic water bottles. Plus, you will also be doing your part to help decrease the amount of single-use plastic that eventually ends up in landfills, oceans, and waterways and your carbon footprint overall.
Compact + Durable Day Bag
Colombia has a lot to offer the adventurous traveler. And luckily, it is very easy to base yourself in one place and then head off on various day trips. Some of the best places to make your home base are Bogota (great day trips include visiting Zipaquirá and Chingaza National Park), Medellin (so you can head to Guatape and Las Orquídeas National Park), Santa Marta (where you can easily reach Minca and Tayrona National Park) and our personal favorite, Salento (where you can easily reach Cocora Valley and Los Nevados National Park).
GOOD TO KNOW: it is really easy to get around Colombia, either by using their comprehensive and efficient bus system or by booking a cheap flight through Avianca or LATAM.
If planning to travel the country this way - which we highly recommend - then you will definitely want a good-sized, easy-to-carry day bag in your travel set. Below are a few recommended bags:
| Topo Designs Rover 20L Pack: this bag is compact and hardy enough for storing on all manner of Colombian transportation (including buses and Willy jeeps). Plus, 20 liters should be plenty of storage space for everything you may need for full-day adventures (including a water bottle, camera, and light jacket).
| Patagonia Arbor 28L Lid Pack: if you are looking for even more space in your day bag (maybe for your laptop) then consider this 28 liter pack from Patagonia. Some of our favorite specs from this bag is the fact that it is made from durable recycled polyester material and the numerous interior pockets to help keep all of your gear organized (it even has a handy laptop sleeve).
Sun Shirt + Hat
Colombian weather is pretty constant 365 days a year. For the most part, it goes like this: sunny, rain showers, sun, repeat. Depending on where you are located, the amount of sun and the amount of rain simply increases or decreases. Keeping this in mind, we recommend packing at least one sun shirt and some sort of hat (the wider the brim the better).
While living in Cartagena we pretty much lived in our lightweight, wicking sun shirts because the colorful Caribbean town is bloody hot (and humid). But even in a town like Salento, where the weather is much cooler and rain is pretty much your constant companion, a sun shirt and hat are still necessary (thanks to the town's elevation - 1,828 meters/6,000 feet - when the sun does come out it comes out strong).
We personally like long sleeved sun shirts just for the added protection (bonus points for being a natural bug repellent) and hats that have a wide enough brim to cover both your face and neck. Below are some great options:
| BackcountryTahoe 2 Sun Hoodie: this lightweight shirt includes both a hood and those handy thumb holes. It also has a UPF 50+ rating when it comes to overall sun protection. Plus, there are numerous colors available for both men and women.
| Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat: this sun hat might scream summer-RVing-dad vibes but you will be grateful for its long back flap and wicking material the moment you walk around the beaches of Baru or the historic streets of Cartagena.
Other things to consider bringing with you while slow traveling through Colombia is a handy, lightweight Kindle (for all of that downtime waiting for the buses), a compact Colombian wildlife book (especially one with all of the birds - like this one), and an easily packable rain jacket or poncho.
\\ Packing for a Specific Area
Colombia has a lot of different regions and biomes within its nearly 1.2 million square kilometers. Including, the hot and humid tropical Caribbean coast (home to places like Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park and Cartagena), the equally humid but way more wet Pacific Coast (home to Buenavista and San Cipriano), the high Andes and the Llano plains (home to Bogota) and of course the Amazon.
GOOD TO KNOW: the country is actually split into 6 very clear regions = the Andes mountain range, the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean coast, the Llanos (or plains), the Amazon Rainforest and the insular area (which is made up of islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans).
Below is a brief outline of what you need to pack with you if you are planning to travel to any of these cities or regions.
This popular Caribbean city is very hot and humid. Similarly, the main activities in Cartagena include hanging out on the beach (either at the city beaches or at the ones nearby, including Baru) and walking around the beautiful historic Old City. Therefore it is important to make sure you have clothes with you that are both lightweight and wicking but also protect you from the blazing sun.
You will also want a pair of comfortable sandals that you can walk around in all day - both in town and on the beach, a hat or sunglasses and a backpack to carry your water in.
The capital city - which sits at 2,640 meters or 8,660 feet (making it the third-highest capital in the world after La Paz, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador) - is unsurprisingly quite chilly, especially at night. Therefore, make sure to have a warm jacket or sweater (or both) handy if planning to explore the city.
This popular travel destination is nicknamed, the “City of the Eternal Spring” so you can expect a healthy mix of sunshine, warm days and a bit of light rain. Therefore come prepared with a light jacket for the cool evenings, comfortable walking shoes (especially if planning to explore nearby Parque Arvi), and a compact backpack that fits on the popular metro (the only one in Colombia).
The Coffee Region
It rains a looooot in this area of the country - which includes popular places like Salento, Filandia, Armenia and Pereira - so make sure to bring a nice rain jacket, a couple of dry bags for all of your important gear (like cameras) and sturdy boots for the ever-present mud.
If planning to spend a long amount of time in Colombia (we recommend at least one month) you need to come prepared with all sorts of adventure gear. Luckily, most of the items are pretty self explanatory and you likely already have them in your travel set. Similarly, if you happen to forget something at home or realize you actually should have brought that one item you figured you wouldn't need (we are guilty of that) you can easily pick it up in many of the bigger cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena.
Colombia has a ton to offer the slow traveler so if you are considering switching to a more laid-back, deep-dive kind of experience, we highly recommend doing it in this stunning South American country.