Whatever you THINK you know about Colombia, you are probably wrong. I know I was.
When I first hit the road back in 2017 Colombia was firmly on my countries to avoid list. But as I was working in a Guatemalan hostel for several months every traveler who came into the hostel who had been traveling north when asked what their favorite country was answered the same thing, Colombia. So when an opportunity came up that took me to Bogota I jumped at the chance.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse, beautiful, friendly, and just all-round incredible places on this earth. Colombia is so much more than narcos and political unrest. Trust me when I say Colombia should be at the top of your places to visit list. The only problem is once you have fallen in love with Colombia it’s hard to get excited about any other country in quite the same way.
That said, Colombia does still have its issues and because of this, you do need to take your safety seriously and do your research. I traveled there alone and felt very safe, but I was well informed and didn’t take any risks. I’ve written safety guides to help you and I do keep them updated with all of the latest information.
Colombia is a country in South America. It has borders with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador.
Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, mountains rainforests, deserts, coffee farms, and some of the vibrant culture in the world.
The capital of Colombia is Bogotá.
Although Bogota is most peoples starting or ending point, by far the most popular city is Medellin. Most travelers spend a few nights in Bogota and the rest of their time exploring the rest of the country.
The curency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso COP.
The dialing code of Colombia is +57
The water is safe to drink from the tap in many of the cities in Colombia. In Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Salento it is safe. On the Caribbean coast it is not safe to drink. Other places you should check with a local person.
For a bed in a dorm expect to pay ($7 USD) if you want a private room in a hostel then you are looking at around ($14 USD). Or if you prefer to stay in a hotel expect to pay around ($18 USD).
If you prefer to stay in an Airbnb then a room in a house will cost around ($12 USD) and for a whole house or apartment expect to pay ($25 USD).
Food in Colombia is ok (don’t tell any Colombians I said that though). Expect to eat a lot of fried food and arepas!
That said the food varies a lot from region to region. Soups are always amazing in Colombia and prepare to be amazed at the sheer amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that you can pick up at the markets.
Earing out is very cheap in Colombia and you can find local places to eat a lunch of soup, meat, rice and veggies with a drink for around $8000 COP ($2).
Many people come to Colombia to take Spanish classes. So if you want to take a week of group classes here studying for 5 hours a day expect to pay about $130 USD a week.
I would budget for at least $10 USD a day for activities if you want to do the lost city hike or visit Cabo de la Valle then you will need a bit more money as both have pretty fixed prices. Somedays you will spend less of course, and some days more.
Backpackers Budget – $100,000 COP ($25 USD)
Accommodation: $20,000 COP
Food: $30,000 COP
Activities: $50,000 COP
Mid Budget – $200,000 COP ($50 USD)
Accommodation: $50,000 COP
Food: $50,000 COP
Activities: $100,000 COP
Luxury Budget – $350,000 COP ($85 USD)
Accommodation: $100,000 COP
Food: $100,000 COP
Activities: $150,000 COP
These are companies I 100% recommend booking activities with In Colombia. I know they all pay their staff well and give back to the community.
Colombian Buddy – I love this company. If you need some help with anything from getting from the airport to your accommodation or someone to help plan your, or maybe you want a friend to go hiking with. Colombian Buddy has your back!
Toucan Experiences – They are the largest language school in South America and in my opinion the best. They have schools across Colombia so you can move around the country taking classes if you like. I’ve studied with them several times now with great results. But there is more to Toucan Experiences than just language learning, they also have tours, dance classes, a coffee museum, and a cafe.
The first thing I want to say about traveling to Colombia is, don’t believe everything you parents tell you. Unless of course, they have actually been to Colombia! And remember, Narcos is just a TV show loosely based on some bad shit that happened in the past. I swear there were so many people who told me I was crazy for going to live in Colombia. And you know what, not one of those people had actually been, they just read about it somewhere.
But one thing I know for sure is that you should never travel to Colombia without some kind of insurance. There is no free healthcare from foreign visitors there so if anything should happen to you you will end up with a very large bill without insurance. There are 2 travel insurance companies I recommend SafetyWing and World Nomads.
SafetyWing is insurance specifically for Digital Nomads which renews every month. Whereas World Nomads is more for Backpackers. You can read the full review I wrote about long term travel insurance here, and use the widget below to check the price of World Nomads.
If you want to save money then one sure-fire way to do so is to take some Spanish classes. It’s amazing how things magically become cheaper when you speak to the person selling those things in their language. From getting the right fare from the taxi driver to haggling at the market, think of the money spent on learning Spanish as an investment. Read these posts to learn more about my experience of learning Spanish in Medellin and Cali.
This is how I was able to stay in Guatemala for almost a year rent-free! There are lots of great options for Worldpackers in Colombia and it’s not expensive to join. Plus if you join through my link and use the discount code in this blog post you get some money off… you’re welcome!
It’s pretty obvious really, but I’m going to say it anyway. Eat at the local places, or from the street food carts and you will save a lot of money.
The supermarkets can be expensive in Colombia so always shop at the market first, then if you can’t find what you are looking for head to the supermarket or a tienda.
In most of the main cities, the water is safe to drink directly from the tap. Just double-check with a local to be 100% sure though and be sure to bring a good water bottle with you.
Wondering what to pack for Colombia? I got you. I’ve done 2 full blog posts outlining everything you need to pack for Colombia depending on where you are traveling to.
Or you can just skip ahead and download my free packing list using the form below.
I recommend staying in Chapenero over La Candelaria if you are staying longer than 24 hours.
Hostels I recommend in Chapinero are:
If you are only in town for 1 night then I recommend staying in one of these places in La Candelaria:
If you need a hotel close to the airport then I recommend the Radisson AR Bogota Airport.
I recommend staying at El Patio Hostel it’s right in San Antonio and the owners are so lovely and helpful.
Wondering where to stay in Medellin? I recommend staying in either El Poblado or Laureles and here are a few of my favorite places to stay:
High – Hotel Kawa Mountain Retreat
If you’d have asked me a few years ago I probably would have told you to avoid taking buses at all costs. However, after my recent trip to Colombia it seems that things have greatly improved. For intercity travel in Colombia you have 3 options, fly, take a bus, or rent a car.
To help you decide I have put together these very detailed guides explaining exactly how to get from place to place.
Transport in the main cities is mostly by bus or taxi.
In Medellin, there is the metro, tram, Uber, or Taxi, read this guide to transport in Medellin to learn more.
In Bogota, it is Transmillenio, Taxi or Uber. I don’t advise flagging down a taxi on the street though, it’s better to use Tapsi or Cabify. There is also DiDi and Beat as good alternatives to Uber in Colombia.
This is a hard one. In all honesty, there is no bad time to visit Colombia as it doesn’t actually have seasons. Although many Colombians joke that you can experience all 4 seasons in a day in Medellin and Bogota!
The high season in Colombia is December through to January which is when many Colombians head to the Caribbean Coast for a Christmas break. So expect things to be busy around this time.
That said, Colombia does have a lot of festivals which you might want to plan around, for example, the salsa festival in Cali in December, or the flower festival in Medellin in August, and who could forget the Baranquia Carnival in February.
Héctor Abad’s Oblivion is one of the most touching and beautiful books I have ever read. It’s a heartbreaking, well-written memorial to the author’s father, Héctor Abad Gómez, how was murder by paramilitaries in 1987.
It took Héctor 12 years to write this book and it’s probably one of the most impactful things I have read about the war in Colombia.
If you are going to be spending time in Medellin and want to know more about the history from a personal point of view you must read this book.
I couldn’t not include this Lonely Planet Guide to Colombia in the reading list.
I’m not always a fan of these kinds of travel guides as they are oftern out of date. But they do serve a purpose and it’s always nice to have one actual book that you can use to plan before your trip as well as having something to read when the battery dies on your kindle!
Although you can also get most of these Lonely Planet Guidebooks free as part of a kindle unlimited subscription.
If you buy Colombiano it will probably take your whole backpacking trip to Colombia to actually read it! The book is HUGE.
It’s a blend of fact and fiction that paints a vivid picture of one of the darkest times in Colombia’s history.
“From innocent teenage love to barbaric torture…from cruel despots to cocaine traficantes…from seedy drug markets to brutal battlefields…Colombiano is a blockbuster revenge thriller and an electrifying coming-of-age story.”
Looking for a light funny read while in Colombia? Dancing Feat is the book for you. It’s a story of one Englishman’s attempt to dance his way around Colombia.
The book is a fun light story that weaves in insight into Colombian dance, ranging from social dance in nightclubs, to more traditional folkloric dances.
“But can such a bad dancer really make the necessary transformation? Is it even possible to remember so many dances? And is there a window backstage big enough for an adult male to fit through?”