With a diverse geography, landscape and some of the friendliest people in the world, Colombia is a must-visit destination in South America.
Long gone are the days of stereotypes and misunderstandings, and although travelling with caution is advised, there’s no reason why you should miss out on the incredible beauty and mesmerising sights of this coastal country. The trick is always to travel prepared, so keep reading to learn everything you need to know before exploring colourful and lively Colombia.
Australians can enter Colombia for up to 90 days as a visitor without a visa, you may just need to provide evidence of return or onward travel. Bear in mind that you will be fined if you stay in Colombia longer than 90 days. It’s also extremely important you get the entry stamp on your passport if you’re entering by land, as if you fail to do so, Colombian officials could force you to go back to the border to obtain the stamp.
Safety and Security
While the days of extreme violence and political unrest are largely behind Colombia, the Australian government still advises to exercise a high degree of caution throughout the country. There is a high level of crime in the country, including pickpocketing, bag snatching, and gang activity. Of course, and like anywhere you travel to, if you follow common sense safety precautions you should be just fine. Simply travel to the more well-known areas, choose planes over buses, don’t flash your cash, don’t leave your bags unattended, use legitimate ATMs and use only registered taxis (better yet, book them via an app). Be aware of your surroundings and do not take safety for granted.
Needless to say, while in Colombia you will be subject to Colombian laws. Be aware that penalties for drug possession and use are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails. Also note that photographing military establishments and strategic sites is prohibited.
When to Go to Colombia
Colombia is a tropical country with many climatic zones, so the weather can be unpredictable. While Bogota and Medellin are in tropical highlands and can get quite chilly at night (especially Bogota, where you might be wearing jackets and scarves), Cartagena or San Andres, on the coast, can experience much warmer temperatures.
High season is between December and February, where travelers can expect sunny days in the Andes and the Caribbean. Be mindful that travelling around Christmas and New Year’s may be difficult, with many hostels and hotels booking out quite rapidly. So perhaps the best time to visit is between February and March, especially if you’re looking to visit beaches.
Practice your Spanish
Start rolling your r’s. While you can get around with English sufficiently, your experience will be much better if you know at least a little Spanish. Many locals don’t speak any English at all, so you may well find yourself struggling if you don’t know the language. Speaking Spanish will also allow you to a deeper understanding of the culture as you’ll be able to communicate with locals.
Get Ready to Make Friends
Many travellers agree that Colombians are some of the friendliest people in the world. They’re helpful, grateful, happy, proud of their heritage and always willing to show you the way with a big smile on their face.
Traveling Around the Country
When moving around the country, flying might be the best option, rather than taking an overnight bus. Not only because of distances – Colombia is a big country – but also to avoid safety concerns on buses.
The currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP/COL$), which can be withdrawn from all ATMs (remember to only use the ones installed within banks). Colombia is very much a cash economy. People and business like their cash, so plan ahead, especially when going to smaller towns or villages. Tipping is not expected.
Leave Stereotypes and Politics Aside
Refrain from talking about drug lords/wars and Pablo Escobar. Nobody really wants to hear about it. While being aware of politics is great and necessary in any society, avoid talking about it in a nation that’s gone through a painful civil war and is quite politically polarized.
Places to Avoid in Colombia
There are no-go zones in Colombia due to high criminal activity. These are Arauca, Putumayo, Caquetá, Guaviare, Meta, Nuqui, Bahia Solano and Capurganá, and the Ecuadorian border. In addition, rural areas along the Venezuelan border, such as parts of Norte de Santander, La Guajira and Cesar are also best avoided.
Your Colombian Adventure Awaits
Colombia is filled with incredible nature, amazing beaches, astounding mountains and friendly people. And while travelling there may mean you should take a few extra precautions, it’ll be worth it in the end. A trip to picturesque Colombia is one you’ll surely enjoy and cherish for a lifetime.
Contributor: Matthew Todd
Matthew Todd has a strong love of travel and regularly contributes to online travel and lifestyle titles to share first-hand knowledge on small group adventure travel. True to his passion for travel and his experience as a digital marketing specialist, he currently works as an Online Marketing Guru at G Adventures Australia and New Zealand.