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THIS COMPREHENSIVE COLOMBIA TRAVEL GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING TRAVELERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING COLOMBIA; INCLUDING, TOP COLOMBIA DESTINATIONS, OFF THE BEATEN PATH ADVENTURES AND TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS.
For years we had wanted to travel to Colombia. To us, the vibrant South American country seemed the check all of the necessary boxes: beautiful landscapes, exciting culture, affordable prices, and lots of off the beaten path areas to explore. But it took us having to bail on another exciting place (this time in Europe) to finally commit to spending a couple of months in Colombia.
In the end, we would live, work and play in Colombia for a total of 6 months. While this might seem like a lot of time to spend in one place, in truth, even after those 180 days we still felt like we had only scratched the surface. That is simply because Colombia is massive and incredibly diverse.
So, if you are like us and are looking to explore a country with almost every type of landscape, a place with a rich and vibrant history, and a destination with tons of adventure possibilities, then we truly cannot recommend Colombia enough. Luckily, we have compiled the ultimate travel guide on everything you need to know about visiting and exploring Colombia; including, information on the best places to go, when to travel and what kind of weather to expect, what you need to do before entering the country and even a quick travel budget to give you an idea of what things cost.
So if you are sold on exploring and adventuring in this amazing South American country, then read on for our in-depth Colombia travel guide.
COLOMBIA | THE TRAVEL BASICS
\\ Where is Colombia?
Colombia is located in the far top left corner of South America. In fact, due to it being the first point where the South American continent touches Central America, it is nicknamed the "Gateway to South America".
Colombia has five neighboring countries: Venezuela and Brazil to the east, Peru and Ecuador to the south, and Panama to the north. It also has two different coastlines: the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean to the north. Colombia is actually the only country in South America to border two different oceans.
Colombia only has one time zone: UTC−5 (COT). This is the same time zone as the East Coast of the USA, which includes cities like New York City, Atlanta and Miami.
Colombia is approximately 5 hours behind London, UK; 6 hours behind Munich, Germany; 10.5 hours behind New Delhi, India and 11 hours behind Beijing, China.
The capital of Colombia is Bogota, which has a population of 7.4 million people - making it the most populated city in Colombia.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: Bogota is actually the third highest capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador. The city sits at 2,640 meters or 8,660 feet.
HOW LARGE IS COLOMBIA?
Specifically, Colombia is 1.1 million square kilometers or roughly 441,000 square miles in size. This makes Colombia the 25th largest country in the world.
The Colombian peso (COP) is the country's legal tender.
$1 USD = 4,040 COP, easy to remember as roughly 4x1
€1 Euro = 4,592 COP, so roughly 4.5x1
£1 Pound = 4960 COP, so roughly 5x1
(As of early 2022. Obviously the exchange rate is always changing, but this should give you an idea).
In 2016 Colombia decided to issue totally new banknotes. These new bills continued to highlight various cultural elements and landscapes found in the country (including the famous Caño Cristales river and the páramo). Additionally, the revamped notes paid tribute to major personalities of culture, science and politics, and reinforced recognition of women's important role in Colombian society (both the 2000 COP and 10000 COP notes have women displayed).
\\ When to Travel to Colombia
The weather doesn’t change that much during the year since it sits right next to the equator. But, with that being said, we recommend visiting during the tourist “off-season” aka NOT during the holidays (December - January). Now if you are someone who wants to combine their travels with a bit of Colombian festivities then consider visiting either during February when the second-largest Carnival festival takes place in the Caribbean City of Barranquilla or during August when you can join the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) in Medellin.
In our opinion, August and September are two of the best months to explore Colombia because it still has reasonably nice weather and lots of festivals going on - plus it is in the "shoulder season" so you can expect relatively good prices and fewer people.
WEATHER IN COLOMBIA
Colombian weather, unlike many other places, does not depend on the season. In fact, for the most part, Colombia doesn't really experience clear seasons (besides maybe the wet and dry seasons). Instead, weather - and most notably temperatures - depends almost solely on elevation (its height above sea level). Therefore geography and not time of year plays the strongest role in determining the climate in Colombia and the weather in specific regions. Below is a brief outline of the type of weather and climate you can expect in the various regions that make up Colombia.
THE RAINIEST MONTH: October (followed by November)
THE HIGH SEASON: December to early February; the best weather but also the highest prices
THE LOW SEASON: September to November; the rainiest weather but also the cheapest prices
Below are a few of the more popular areas to explore in Colombia as well as what kind of weather you can expect and the best time to visit.
CARTAGENA AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST
You can expect hot sunny days and high humidity in most cities along the Caribbean Coast - including Cartagena, the “Jewel of Colombia”, Barranquilla, Santa Marta and the outlying islands.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: November to February (driest, best beach time), though April is also very temperate and nice; in February the Caribbean city of Barranquilla hosts Carnival, the second biggest celebration after Rio's world famous party. This 4-day event includes lots of dancing, drinking, parades and music.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: almost 80% of Colombia’s territory lies below 1,000 meters in elevation. These lower elevation areas have an average temperature of 27°C / 81 °F. Besides the Caribbean region, other places like Cali and Bucaramanga also experience this type of weather.
BUENAVENTURA AND THE PACIFIC COAST
One of the less visited areas in Colombia also has some of the most interesting weather. For starters, this part of the country is wet - very wet. In fact, some cities in this region are considered the rainiest places on Earth. But with that being said, this is also an amazing place to explore if you are interested in seeing wildlife; including whales and sea turtles.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: the most popular season is July to October due to the whale migration (and nesting sea turtles), but if you want the best chance for sunshine instead go between February and March.
MEDELLIN AND THE COFFEE REGION
The temperature begins to drop at 1,000 meters above sea level to an average of 72° F / 22°C. Similarly, you can expect even cooler temperatures up in the higher mountains - including in places like Salento, Filandia, and Manizales. Plus, the higher you go the more likely you are to experience heavy rainstorms and fog.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: the best time to visit this exciting area of Colombia is between December and March (busy but the drier season), or August and October (the low season). In August, Medellin plays host to the famous Feria de las Flores, or Flower Festival. The festival is a week long and concludes with the Desfile de Silleteros, which is when 400 or so campesinos (peasants) come down from the nearby mountains with huge flower arrays on their backs and then parade through the streets of the city.
🥾 HIKING SEASON: February is a great time to head out for hikes in the nearby mountains, including in beautiful Los Nevados National Park. You can still expect a bit of rain but you are more likely to have nice temperatures and sunny skies. This is also the best time to go hiking near Bogota its neighboring mountains like Chingaza National Park.
BOGOTA AND THE HIGH ANDES
The capital of Colombia sits at 2,640 meters (8,660 feet) in elevation, which helps keep the weather on the chillier side. In fact, the average temperature is 14°C / 57 °F in this part of the country. This higher elevation also leads to different landscapes, including being quite close to the paramo and tall, often snowcapped mountains.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: the most popular time to visit the capital city and nearby areas is between December and February when it is quite dry. But, if you don't mind a bit of rain, we instead suggest considering visiting between August and October when it is far less busy (and cheaper).
LETICIA AND THE AMAZON
Located in the far southeastern part of the country, the Amazon region - also known as Amazonia - makes up 35% of the country's total territory. Rich in biodiversity and many unique cultures, this part of Colombia is a fantastic place to explore if you are interested in plants and wildlife.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT: most of the year is quite good, but for the best animal viewing opportunities and hiking head to this part of Colombia between October and November when the jungle is at its driest.
SNOW IN COLOMBIA?
As crazy as it might sound, you can in fact find snow in Colombia. You just have to work a bit to see it.
In fact, you will need to head to some of the highest points of the Colombian Andean Mountain Range, which can sit at well over 4,500 meters / 14,763 feet above sea level. In Colombia, there are six peaks that are always covered in snow (and three of those are volcanoes). Some of the best places to see these majestic snow covered mountains (known as nevados in Spanish) are in Santa Marta, Manizales, Ibague and El Cocuy.
\\ Is Colombia Safe for Tourists?
Yes! In our experience, Colombia felt very safe for tourists, including for single females and couples (and families). We felt safe in both the super touristy places (like Cartagena and Cocora Valley) and the more off the beaten path destinations (like San Cipriano and Pijao). Overall, everyone we met was very friendly and helpful.
Now with all of that being said, there are obviously some precautions you should consider when traveling around Colombia (and every other country). A few things to keep in mind are:
| Do not be flashy. This means don’t wave around expensive things like cameras, phones, jewelry, etc. - especially in busy areas.
| Don’t walk alone at night and stick to well-lit areas if possible.
| Watch your bags at all times. Pick-pocketing does happen, so always keep an eye on your bags and things. This is especially true in places like busy plazas, bus stations, on buses and in packed restaurants and bars.
NO DAR PAPAYA
This is a popular saying in Colombia, which pretty much translates to “don’t give a papaya” aka don’t be an easy target. In other words, be smart and don’t put yourself in bad situations.
COLOMBIA | ADVENTURE + EXPLORATION
\\ Where to Travel in Colombia
TOP COLOMBIA TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
If you haven't guessed by now, Colombia is a very large country full of a whole lot of adventure. From the hot Caribbean Coast to the chilly high Andean mountains, this South American country is full of life and places to explore. While we believe you should try to get off of the beaten path while traveling, we also understand the appeal of visiting some of the most popular travel destinations (they are popular for a reason...). Below are five of the most famous and well-known Colombian travel destinations that are definitely worth exploring.
1 | CARTAGENA DE INDIAS
The most popular travel destination in Colombia is definitely this colorful Caribbean city. The Old City or Walled City is absolutely beautiful: multi-colored Spanish-style architecture, blooming tropical flowers, cute cafes and restaurants. It feels a bit European but also very much embodies Colombia's exciting cultural vibe.
2 | COCORA VALLEY