Colombia is a beautiful country that offers everything a backpacker could dream of – ancient ruins, Caribbean beaches, Amazon jungles, snow-capped peaks and beautifully preserved colonial towns bustling with a people famous for their vibrancy and love for life. Unfortunately, Colombia is still torn apart by a bloody civil war. FARC guerrillas control large parts of the countryside and kidnapping, murder and worse are all too common in these strictly off-limits areas. Best suited to the more experienced traveller, stick to the safe zones, heed the FCO advice and Colombia offers the adventurous amongst us a once in a lifetime experience.
Colombia is high on the FCO’s danger list. Many parts of the country are considered off-limits as is all overland travel. Please check the FCO website for the latest Government travel advice here.
- Currency: Peso (Col$)
- Time Zone: GMT -5
- Language: Spanish
- Telephone Services: Country code +57, International access code 90
- Emergency Numbers: 112 for all services
The climate is very hot and humid, the rainy season is between May and November, at higher altitudes the climate is more temperate and there are mountains high enough to have permanent snow caps.
At the moment the FCO advises against all overland travel in Colombia. However internal flights are cheap and considered safe. Please check the FCO website for the latest travel advice on Colombia here. Remember, failure to comply with FCO advice could invalidate your travel insurance and place you at great personal risk!
Things to see and do
Colombia’s bustling capital city offers several excellent museums such as the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and the Museo Nacional. Colombia is famous for its pre-conquest gold work and you can still see many original pieces. Another featured attraction is the Jardin Botanico Jose Celestino Mutis, which besides being a mouthful to pronounce is also a stunning botanical garden featuring a variety of national plant life.
50km to the northeast of Bogota lies the famous Laguna de Guatavita, the birthplace of the El Dorado myth and the sacred lake of the Musica Indians.
Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage site is Colombia’s most visited tourist spot. Founded some 500 years ago to transport the riches of the Americas onto the Caribbean, this colonial gem features as one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. Visit the old town and the original coral stone fortifications or head out to one of the cities many nightspots. Cartagena has long since been the intellectual and cultural hub of Colombia and as the first city in the Americas to offer residence to freed slaves it boasts a diverse ethnic mix.
Take a ferry to the nearby beach of Playa Blanca – white sands and crystal blue sea await you. Head out further to the Islas de Rosario and lay right back in a truly Caribbean atmosphere.
Santa Marta, the city of contrasts, allows you to walk to the base of the Sierra Nevada – Colombia’s highest mountain one day, and snorkel amongst nearby coral reefs the next.
From here it is possible to visit the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) of the Tayrona Indians via a six day trek. Be aware that this area is the scene of Guerilla activity, the FCO advises against travelling there. In 2003 eight tourists were kidnapped and subsequently released several months later.
Colombia is extremely cheap and you will find rock bottom prices on accommodation in any major city, in addition to modern luxurious hotels at a much higher price. Many colonial houses have been converted into hotels and you can stay in some really impressive properties at very reasonable prices.
Be vigilant in major cities and avoid poor neighbourhoods. There is danger of street crime in Colombia and bogus policemen are rife, so always ask to see identity before handing over any documents. Remember if you do run into trouble, hand over your possessions as calmly as possible, these things are replaceable and secondary to your continuing health.
Vaccinations are recommended for polio, typhoid and yellow fever. Dengue Fever is present in many areas of Colombia and the cities. In densely forested regions there is risk of Malaria. Tap water may be unfit for consumption so bottled water is recommended. Be careful of food from street vendors – choose a busy outlet if any at all. As in all of South America hygiene standards are generally nowhere near as high as European. Colombian food is both delicious and cheap, so always choose a restaurant that looks busy.
- The Colombian Embassy in London has pages on visas, business and culture too.
- The FCO has placed areas of Colombia on its travel warning list, check out any advice they have before heading to Colombia and make sure you inform the British Embassy of your arrival on landing.
- BBC News has an interesting piece on the FARC guerilla organisation.
- Travel Doctor offers advice on vaccines and medicine for travellers.
- The Malaria Watch is a working timepiece that checks your blood four times a day for Malarial parasites, giving you a chance to drop those all important Malaria killing tablets.
- The Museo de Oro is an unmissable experience in Bogota.