a pretty girl posing in front of a mural displaying two women in Bogota, Colombia

Traveling in Colombia: 22 Things to know before you travel to Colombia

If you are thinking about traveling in Colombia either for 2 weeks or more, then there are several things you should know before you visit.

We spent one month in Colombia, and we definitely enjoyed it. Colombia was one of our favorite countries in South America. Colombia has also many beautiful cities, Caribbean islands, lovely beaches, and a great vibe.

If you are traveling to Colombia, knowing certain things will make your life much easier.

Here are our 22 essential tips before you decide to travel in Colombia.

22 ESSENTIAL THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL TO COLOMBIA

22 things to know before you travel in Colombia

TRAVELING IN COLOMBIA IS FUN

Traveling in Colombia is fun and we had a great time, but on the other hand, it can be also challenging.

Colombia is very famous for its happy vibes and that’s what we felt during our visit. We loved the atmosphere of each region in Colombia. Locals are very friendly and if you need any help they are there for you.

If you are planning your next trip to Colombia, check out Colombia itinerary perfect for 2 weeks or more. Here, we mention all our favorite spots and things to do in Colombia.

CASH IS EVERYTHING

In big cities, there are of course many ATMs, but most of the time you need to pay almost everywhere in cash. So make sure to always have enough money on you. In most of the restaurants or in markets, you will be only allowed to pay in cash. However, in hotels, we also experienced that they accepted our credit cards.

If you’re wondering how you can save money on credit card fees, make sure to check our 30 FREE TRAVEL HACKS.

LAND OF (BAD) COFFEE

As you probably know, Colombia is very famous for its production of coffee.

In fact, Colombia is the 3rd biggest exporter of coffee (in 2018). However, don’t expect to have the best coffee in Colombia. Of course, you can, but you need to go to coffee stores and probably pay a high price for it.

However, not many people know when they are traveling to Colombia, that the best coffee is mostly exported. That means locals and tourists most likely will end up drinking crappy coffee. It is because locals can’t afford high-quality coffee, so don’t be mad at the person at breakfast, it is not their fault. However, we also wonder why we always got Nescafe in Colombia.

bag of red coffee beans in the wooden basket in Salento
Yes, this is how coffee beans look like

If you are visiting the region Zona de Cafetero, make sure to join a coffee tour. Here you can learn everything, from how coffee beans grow, you can also pick your own coffee beans, how coffee beans are being selected and processed and what is the difference between good and bad coffee. And of course, here you will have a chance to drink one of the best coffee in Colombia. Check out El Ocaso for a great tour.

PEOPLE DIFFER IN EVERY REGION

Before you travel to Colombia you should know that Colombia is a very diverse country. For instance, if you travel to cities like Bogota, Medellin, Cali, the atmosphere there is definitely different than visiting cities on the Caribbean coast like Santa Marta or Cartagena.

If you will be going up north of the Caribbean coast you will also see a different kind of life. This region is called Guajira, where the indigenous people of Colombia live. And this is the region which is less populated, vast and lifeless.

two women standing in front of orange wall and one woman is carrying a fruit basket on her head
An unforgettable experience, Cartagena

READ MORE: THE BEST PHOTO SPOTS IN CARTAGENA AND THINGS TO DO

COLOMBIA HAS A CARIBBEAN COAST

Many people who travel to Colombia are not aware that Colombia has beautiful Caribbean beaches. I didn’t know that neither. Naturally, I was very surprised and happy. The entire Caribbean coastline is home to many beach towns and several islands. Cartagena is one of my favorite beach towns and a getaway for your Caribbean holidays. This place actually reminded me of Cuba a lot.

two people on the beach with turquoise waters and palm trees on San Andres Island, Colombia which needs to be added in your 2 weeks itinerary
San Andres Island

From Cartagena, we flew to an island called San Andres. We spend there one week and we didn’t want to leave. If you would like to visit it, make sure to read our San Andres’ guide. Also, make sure to go to Tayrona National Park, which is definitely one of the most beautiful places in South America.

SEE MORE: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN COLOMBIA

LOCALS LOVE TO DANCE

Colombians are in general happy people and they love their country. They follow their customs and traditions as much as they can. Colombians love to dance and sing, so if you’re traveling to Colombia, make sure to head to the local bar or join a dance class to learn the moves. The most traditional dance is definitely salsa or flamenco. Cartagena or Cali are great places to spice up your dance moves.

woman in front of pink wall in Cartagena which has to be in your 2 weeks itinerary when visiting Colombia
Dance like no one is watching

SAFETY IN COLOMBIA

Many people before they travel to Colombia wonder a lot about safety. We were asked so many times if we weren’t scared to travel around South America for 5 months. We weren’t!

Like in any other country, taking normal precautions will keep you safe. That means, even in Colombia, you need to be aware of your surroundings and where you are.

On our first day in Bogota, we were approached by the locals that we need to be careful with our camera. It was midday and we were in the middle of the city (La Candelaria). This really shocked us.

Colorful houses next to a street in Candelaria in Bogota, a great start during your 2 weeks in Colombia
A colorful street in Candelaria, Bogota

For instance, in big cities, we were warned not to walk in certain neighborhoods and to watch out for our belongings. We also didn’t go out, didn’t party and we made sure that we are back in our hotel around sunset. We barely walked outside when it was dark. However, in general, we felt very safe.

However, if you feel concerned, check out our comprehensive guide about SAFETY IN SOUTH AMERICA and in Colombia

TAXIS VS. UBER

We barely took any taxis during our travels in Colombia. It is because we knew that Uber is available in Colombia, and we just try to take Uber as much as we could.

Uber is available in every major city in Colombia. We had a great experience with Uber and we love to use the app. It is very simple to use and just the fact that everything is online will give you that extra peace.

You can check your driver before s/he comes, you can check the reviews and the best thing is, you don’t need to carry cash with you because you can just pay online. Also, the best thing is that you know how much the ride will cost upfront, and you do not have to argue with a taxi driver and be overcharged. And in the worst-case scenario, getting robbed at some dark corner. For most Uber drivers, this is their full-time job and they depend on good reviews and do not wish to be kicked out of Uber. Be aware that Uber is technically not legal in Colombia. To find out more click on the link below:

If you would like to know more about our experience with USING UBER IN SOUTH AMERICA, then this one is for you.

SHOPPING IN COLOMBIA IS FUN

I’m not sure about you, but I love to get unique souvenirs from each country. Colombia is very famous for its traditional and authentic Wayuu bags.

So once you arrive in Bogota, the first thing you will notice are those cute colorful pouchy bags. They are mostly made by an indigenous tribe that comes from Guajira in the northern part of Colombia. And I love them so much that, of course, I bought several of them, and also got just enough to place them in our online store. So if you would like to check it out, click here for our selection of authentic Wayuu bags. 

authentic Wayuu bags found in Guajira region, Bolivia
Wayuu bags, Guajira

Of course, these bags are not the only awesome souvenirs you can take home. There are beautiful handmade jewelry, shoes, hats, ponchos, of course, coffee and other things. And every large city in Colombia has a traditional market, where you can get these cute souvenirs. Make sure to avoid expensive stores as they charge definitely more than on the market.

GRINGO TERM

Once in Colombia, you will be always viewed as a tourist. Gringo is a basic term for a tourist in South America. Gringo comes from the expression “Green Go” or Green, Goooooooooo (away), that was first directed at Americans. In particular at American soldiers wearing green uniforms in Mexico. At least that is how the story goes.

Now it is a general term for all foreign travelers who are not from Latin America. We were so naive that we thought that we will blend into South American society, but it is impossible. Anyways, do not get offended by the term, locals usually do not mean it in a negative way. So yeah, you will be always just a gringo 😀 No hard feelings.

BARGAIN LIKE A PRO

In markets, you are definitely welcomed to bargain, but always be respectful to the locals. They also need to make a living, so keep that in mind. First, walk around the market to get an idea of how much things cost.

Then approach the seller and ask for the price. Do not settle for the first prise as this is very likely the highest price. Again, make sure to know the local currency. Colombians are using their own currency which is Colombian Pesos.

How many times tourists do not realize how much they pay for things in different currencies?

Also, knowing numbers in Spanish will be very helpful to bargain and get the best price.

SEE MORE: HOW TO SPEND 2 AWESOME WEEKS IN COLOMBIA

two people having hands in the air with desert of Guajira and ocean in the background.
It is a little bit windy in Guajira

HABLAS ESPANOL?

I will never forget the first time we got to our hotel in Bogota. 

Already on our first day, we had problems with communication. Hotel staff didn’t speak any English. The same goes for Uber drivers and most of the restaurants, the staff doesn’t speak English or only with a limited vocabulary.

Of course, there are exceptions, but when we were traveling in Colombia, we only spoke Spanish. Our Spanish is not that great, but we quickly realized that this is the situation, and we need to pick up our Spanish as soon as possible. So learning basic phrases will definitely help you through your day and make your life much easier. It also gives you an opportunity to talk to locals and get to know the culture better.

  • Hello – Hola
  • Thank you – Gracias
  • My name is – Me llamo
  • Where is …? – ¿Dónde está…?
  • Toilet – Bano
  • How much does it cost? c ¿Cuanto cuesta?
  • Bill, please – La cuenta, por favor.
  • How much does this hotel cost? – ¿Cuánto cuesta este hotel?
  • Goodbye – Adiós

THE TALLEST PALM TREES IN THE WORLD

Did you know that Colombia is home to the tallest palm trees in the world? If you wonder where you can find them, you need to check out our guide to Salento which is located in the Zona Cafetero. 

These palm trees are the national trees of Colombia and can grow up to 60 meters (200 feet).

Salento is not only famous for its palm trees, but also for the wonderful hikes in the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora).

a girl looking up at the tall palm trees in the green Valle de Cocora near Salento
Some tall palm trees, Salento

COLORFUL CITIES

Colombia has many colorful cities. In every city, you can see many colorful murals or houses. If you are going to Medellin, make sure to visit Guatape, which is one of the most colorful cities in Colombia. There are also other cities that thrive in colors, such as Bogota, Cartagena, Jardin, Manizales, Salento, Santa Marta and many more.

view into a cobblestone street with colorful painted houses in Guatape
Beautiful streets in Guatape

PABLO ESCOBAR DARK TIMES

Many people who travel to Colombia would like to take either Pablo Escobar’s tour or learn more about him. We understand that this is an interesting topic, but you need to be aware that Colombians are not proud of Pablo Escobar and his crimes. That means, they do not want to be associated with him at all. So don’t just take any random Pablo Escobar tour, but do your research in order to respect Colombians and their country.

If you’re looking for a cool Netflix show check Narcos. We watched it while we traveled around Colombia. We loved the show as it gives you a better understanding of who Pablo Escobar was and how Colombia and its people suffered during his regime. Also, in Medellin, there is a very good museum called Memory House Museum, which is dedicated to all victims of Pablo Escobar’s crimes.

WEATHER

If you are visiting Colombia, and thinking flip flops and a tank top, then you will have a problem. The weather in each part of Colombia is different and has various climates. From tropical rainforests, hot deserts, humid jungles, to freezing mountains.

For instance, the weather in Zona Cafetero is mostly wet and evenings and morning are cool. Whereas, on the coast, the weather is hot and humid. In the Guajira region, the weather is very dry and windy. So depending on what region you are visiting, your clothes needs to adapt as well.

COLOMBIA AND COLONIZATION

Colombia has been colonized for many years. In 1499 Spaniards came to Colombia searching for gold and getting rich. This is when they started to invade almost every country in South America. That’s why in every city in Colombia, you will see many colonial buildings and majestic squares or plazas. 

statues of a men and a horse in front of the green tree
Plaza Bolívar, Cartagena

And almost every plaza it’s either called Plaza Bolívar or has a statue of Simon Bolívar. Simon Bolívar is a national hero and one of the important characters in the history of Colombia and in general in South America. He is known for freeing South America and gaining independence for several countries. 

SEE MORE: HOW TO SPEND ONE DAY IN TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK

IS COLOMBIA CHEAP?

We travel to seven different countries in South America, and we have to say that Colombia was the cheapest when it comes to traveling. Of course, after coming back from Southeast Asia, the prices were much higher in South America.

Just to give you an idea: A basic lunch in Southeast Asia would cost you 3-4€, the basic lunch in Colombia costs around 7€. For the basic hotel room for two with a private bathroom, we paid around 25-35€ per night.

a girl sitting on the white sand with a palm tree above her head
No, that wasn’t our hotel, just a cool beach umbrella in San Andres

AVOID HOLIDAYS

If you would like to travel to Colombia, make sure to avoid holidays. This is a time when most of the locals travel as well and it means that attractions and places will be very busy. And traveling in Colombia during this time can be hell. Also, you will very likely pay higher prices for accommodation. Plus, the hotel rooms are booked out in advance. 

Also, try to avoid trips and tours during the weekends.

many tourist visiting Acuario on San andres
Acuario, San Andres

BUSES ARE SLOW

If you’re traveling around Colombia you will quickly realize that public transport is very slow. Especially in the area of Medellin and in the Zona Cafetera. You need to be aware that they are located in the Andes. And if Goggle maps say it is only 200 km, that doesn’t mean that you will be there in two hours. If you’re traveling in the Andes, 200 km can take up to six hours.

It is because the buses cannot go fast, as it’s dangerous, and there are many curves. And if there is traffic and bad weather, it can easily escalate to a longer time of travel. When we were traveling to Salento from Medellin it took us 9 hours.

COLOMBIAN FOOD

If you are looking for budget meals, there are many restaurants in Colombia that offer Menu del dia (Meal of the day). It consists of soup, a main course, salad, and juice. The price goes from 8.000 CUP to 10.000 CUP.

If you would like to try street food, make sure to go for empanadas, which are fried pastry with several filings. The most popular empanadas have meat or potato filings.

However, we are going to be honest with you. We found Colombian food a bit bland and sometimes tasteless. We were not the only ones who felt like it and other travelers we talked to, also didn’t like Colombian food that much. Of course, that depends on the restaurant and your budget but that was just our experience.

Also, Colombian food is not very healthy as it contains a lot of fried stuff and oil. We do not want to be mean of course, and we had a lot of nice vegetarian foods in hipster restaurants all around Colombia. Just make sure to read reviews before you go.

tasty lunch and plates with curry sauce, rice and vegetable
Ikaro Cafe, Santa Marta

EXOTIC FRUITS

However, as Colombia is an exotic country, there are also a lot of exotic fruits which you need to try. Go to the market and get some fresh fruits such as guava, lulo, papaya, guanabana or many things that you can’t pronounce. And if you order juice, you will most likely get a juice that is made out of exotic fruits. Super Tasty.

colourful beach umbrella with a fruit stand and a men eating from a bowl
Who fancies any tasty juice?

We hope that you will have a great time traveling in Colombia. We truly enjoyed our travels in Colombia and we definitely miss it. Let us know if you have any questions.

Adios muchachos.

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About the author
Since I was little I always wanted to see the world. Travel to new places, get to know new cultures, see how other people live. I love beaches and I love discovering tropical destinations. That is why, together with my partner Nico, we created this blog to share with you the most beautiful beaches and stunning holiday destinations which we visited during our travels.

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