Colombia is a country that just keeps on giving; around every corner there is music, passion and dancing. The magical realism portrayed by Colombia’s much loved author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, can be seen all over the country; from its pristine beaches on the Caribbean coast to its vast deserts and tropical jungles. You will discover quaint and colourful towns, UNESCO world heritage sites, the second largest carnival in South America and a pulsating capital city that never sleeps. It has something for everyone.
However, there is still trepidation in travelling to Colombia, especially as a solo female traveller and the fact is, there is no hiding Colombia’s turbulent past. But allow me to let you in on a secret; Colombia’s past is exactly why its future's so bright. As a nation, they are doing everything possible to escape their association with drug cartels and corruption. The warm welcome of the locals, ongoing peace agreements and increased security are only a few reasons as to why their economy is booming and tourism has dramatically increased.
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Climate in Colombia
The best time to visit Colombia is during their dry seasons, either December to March or July and August, and whilst Colombia’s temperature remains fairly constant due to it's proximity to the equator, it is dependent on varying altitudes. It is cooler in the mountains (Minca, Salento) and at higher altitude (Bogota); whilst on the coast it can be incredibly hot, reaching temperatures of 34°C (93°F) in July and August (Cartagena, Santa Marta), and the Amazonian region stays warm and wet all year round. If you are a big hiker, I would suggest visiting Colombia between the dry months!
Currency in Colombia
The currency used in Colombia is the Colombian Pesos (COP/COL$). If you are converting to GBP, I used the estimation of the cost in COL$ divided by 4, which is equal to the number of pence (E.g: COL$1000 = 250p = £2.50). Conversion rates at the time of writing are as follows:
€1 = COL$3,500
$1 = COL$3,000
There are ATMs in every major city and town in Colombia. Most charge a transaction fee.
- BBVA: COL$300,000 (€87 / $101) transaction withdrawal limit. No transaction fee.
- Banco Davivienda: COL$400,000 (€116 / $135) transaction withdrawal limit. Transaction fee: COL$20,000 (€5 / $7). Good for giving smaller notes.
- Bancolombia and Citibank: COL$400,000 (€116 / $135) transaction withdrawal limit. Transaction fee: COL$20,000 (€5 / $7).
There is an exchange desk in the arrivals hall in Bogota if you are flying into there, and if you are crossing borders, there will always be someone around to change your currency. However, be careful of fake notes at border crossings or when receiving change from taxi drivers. Where you can, give the exact change when buying tickets and always check the notes you receive
I used the Monzo card when I was travelling which allowed me to withdraw £250 free of charge per month and no charge incurred when I paid for purchases using my card, although this may change so please check their policy information. Another option (if you are from the UK) is the Starling Card. This card has minimal/no foreign transaction fees which means masses of savings! I would suggest taking two bank cards with you, or one bank and one credit card and store them separately, so if you lose one, you have a back up.
Go travel and Talk Top Tip: Always let you bank know beforehand that you are travelling abroad and where you are going. This will notify the bank and prevent them from freezing your card which they will do if they think it has been stolen.
Getting around Colombia
For backpackers the main mode of transport is bus and Colombia’s bus system is exceptional, connecting almost every town/city/area in the country. Tickets are relatively inexpensive and the buses tend to run on time, however, some buses are better than others. Popular bus companies in Colombia are:
- Cruz del Sur (the most expensive company but very comfortable)
- Bolivariano (excellent and budget friendly)
- Expreso Brasilia
In most cases there is no need to book your buses ahead of travel, you can just go to the station and book at the counter.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: You can book online with Busbud but prices will be inflated. Alternatively, head to the bus station a few days earlier to buy and collect your tickets. When booking long bus journeys book ‘full cama’ (seat reclines to 180°C), especially important for night buses. 'Semi cama' reclines to 140°C.
Travel Insurance for Colombia
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries and it is the only travel insurance we will ever use! It is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
WorldNomads.com is backed by a suite of strong and specialist travel insurers who provide you with great cover, 24 hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support. The WorldNomads.com prices are some of the most competitive online and if you need to change plans, you can buy more cover or claim online while you are still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you're already travelling. They also offer travel safety advice and tips online through the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub and WorldNomads.com members can learn the local lingo through a series of iPod & iPhone Language Guides and can stay in touch with family and friends with an online travel journal. You can find out more about why travel insurance is important for your trip. If you have any questions about your travel insurance or travel safety in general, please contact WorldNomads.com directly.
Medical Advice for Colombia
When you know where you want to go in Colombia, go to your doctors and ask to see the nurse to discuss travel vaccinations. They will go through your travel plans and suggest what you need. It is likely that you will need:
- Hepatitis A and B, tetanus
- Diphtheria, rabies, typhoid
- Yellow Fever: this is a must. You will need to show your vaccination certificate for some places.
- Malaria Tablets (location dependent)
*In the UK, some of the vaccinations will be free of charge through your doctors surgery, and some will cost. To keep the cost down, you can always visit a travel centre instead, where the injections are slightly cheaper. When thinking about vaccinations for your trip, the following website can be really helpful: Fit for Travel.
What to pack for Colombia
- Long sleeved tops and long comfortable walking trousers if you are hiking
- Dresses / shorts / light clothes for the beach
- Warm clothes (scarf, hat, gloves, jumpers, jackets)
- Quick dry towel
- Waterproof clothing / rain poncho - I suggest both!
- Walking shoes / walking boots / trainers / sandals
- Bug spray (high Deet) and sunscreen
- Battery pack / electronics
- First aid kit
- Padlocks, x3
- Travel pillow
- Packing cubes. Get different colours to separate your clean and dirty clothes!
- Life Straw. This is an amazing accessory to have when you are trekking and a cheap alternative to buying water along the way, it also saves on buying plastic bottles and for every purchase, a child in a developing country, receives clean drinking water for 1 school year!
- Zip lock bags for traveling with left over food items / prevent liquid items from spilling
- Biodegradable soap ~ especially important when hiking and washing in nature
- Money Belt
Safety Considerations for Colombia
Colombia is a beautiful country and worlds away from where it was 20 years ago. I travelled solo to Colombia in 2018 and did not encounter a single problem or feel unsafe. However, it is important to always be alert and always take precautions:
- Always keep your valuables hidden or locked away.
- Keep your valuables in your small backpack and wear it on your front when walking around.
- Do not store your small backpack overhead / back of the bus, keep it on you. For extra security: put your passport, money and phone in a money belt around your waist, under your clothes.
- When travelling on buses, always padlock your big bag and put the rain/protective cover over it.
- Do not walk around at night on your own, always take a taxi, even if it is a short distance.
- Always ask your hostel about the area and for safety advice.
- Keep your two bank cards separate so if anything happens, you have a second source of money.
- Always have at least one photocopy of your passport, so if you lose it, you still have a copy.
- Bring two forms of identification with you (drivers license).
- Always choose an ATM inside of a bank rather than on a street. Put your cash in your money belt, under your top straight away. If you feel nervous about withdrawing money, go with someone else.
- Never leave your drink unattended when out at night.
- Get insurance before you travel! Even if you are only going on a short trip as you never know when you are going to need it. As a wise man once said, “if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you shouldn’t be travelling”. We recommend World Nomads.
Budget for Colombia
Planning your budget for exploring Colombia is subjective and it depends on how you want to travel. Colombia is relatively inexpensive in terms of accommodation, transport and food, but if you want to do certain activities, your costs will increase. For example, The Lost City hike (multi-day trek in Northern Colombia) costs COL$950,000 (€265 / $316) for 3 nights and 4 days and Casa en el Agua (hostel in the middle of the ocean), costs around COL$630,000 (€167 / $210) for 2 nights and 3 days.
Travelling comfortably, staying at cheap hostels (but not the cheapest) in mixed dormitories with breakfast included, always taking buses and not flights, eating 1 or 2 meals out a day and doing the above activities, I spent around $1,200 (€1,000) per month in Colombia.
Don't forget to buy your Travel Insurance...