Packing for Colombia can be a bit of a daunting task because of the sheer diversity of the country. So my advice to you before you go any further is to make sure you know where in Colombia you are planning to travel to. This will help you decide what you do and don’t need to pack.
For example, if you only plan on visiting Cartagena and perhaps traveling along the Caribbean coast for a while, then you will just need to pack clothes for warm weather. I wrote a packing list specifically for the Caribbean coast you can read here.
If however, you are going to be spending months traversing the whole of Colombia from the Amazon to the desert and everything in between. Then you, my friend, are going to need to pack smart as you will need clothes for warm weather as well as clothes for the cold and damp mountains and cities.
In this Colombia packing list, I’ve covered everything you need to know to help you pack for Colombia, including some city and place-specific information about general dress codes in these areas.
Feel free to use the links below to skip to the relevant sections you need.
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What to wear in Colombia
It’s pretty impossible to tell you exactly what you should and shouldn’t wear in Colombia. But what I can do if offer you some first-hand observations and share with you how I pack and dress in these particular areas.
Also at the end of the day, dress how YOU feel comfortable, just because I choose not to wear hotpants and a crop top in Medellin doesn’t mean you shouldn’t if you are comfortable doing so.
What to wear in Cartagena
Wondering what to wear in Cartagena, or anywhere in the Caribbean part of Colombia? There isn’t much of a dress code in Cartagena really as it is very touristy. Like the most touristy place in Colombia. So the locals would pay you much attention to wearing whatever you want to wear.
Cartagena is a little more upscale than other places in Colombia though so many dress up in the evenings and make a bit more of an effort than in other cities and towns in this area.
When I was in Cartagena I wore shorts, dresses, and anything else I had in my bag that was cool (it’s very hot and humid there). Pack clothes that will keep you cool.
If however, you don’t want to look like a tourist and prefer to blend it, then sweat it out in jeans like the locals.
What to wear in Medellin
Medellin dress code is similar to most big Colombian cities… wear jeans.
Now if you aren’t used to the heat this may be difficult for you as Medellin can get very hot during the day. But I personally prefer to blend in a bit more and not look like a backpacker here.
Trust me if you are walking the streets of El Poblado watering denim shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops then everyone is going to know you’re a backpacker. If your cool with that then wear your backpacker uniform with pride, my friend!
Nights out in Medellin anything goes. But generally, that means jeans or a dress for ladies. If I’m having a night out in Medellin I’m normally going dancing so I always pack a few outfits perfect for dancing salsa.
This includes a cute dress (with shorts under), jeans and a crop top, or something like this jumpsuit. Denim shorts can also work. Then I either bring my dancing shoes with me, or I just wear these cute pumps from Roxy.
What to wear in Bogota
Bogota is quite possibly one of the most difficult places to pack for if you are spending a lot of time here. The weather in Bogota is crazy so I suggest never venturing outside without a warm coat, and umbrella and possibly a hat and scarf too. No matter how sunny it may look when you walk outside in the morning, by the mid-afternoon, it could feel like winter!
What to Pack for the Amazon in Colombia
I wanted to add in a little extra info for you if you are planning to travel to Amazonia while in Colombia.
You will need some good hiking boots or quick-dry shoes like these. I would also strongly advise you to take a dry bag to protect all of your things from the damp. You are also going to need a lot of good bug spray and quick-drying clothing.
Colombia Travel essentials
First things first, you are going to need some solid insurance. If you don’t believe me then read this. I personally use SafetyWing Digital Nomads Insurance which is an ongoing policy that just renews each month. But before that, I used Heymondo who are the company I would highly recommend if you are backpacking.
Reusable Water Bottle
In most cities in Colombia (Bogota, call, and Medellin) you can drink water directly from the tap. Always check with a local first though. So having. a good reusable water bottle is essential in Colombia. If you are still a little worried then get a water bottle with a filter like this for piece of mind
Not so essential in Bogota, but travel to Minca, Salento, Cartagena, or Amazonia and you will need a bucket full! I suggest getting an eco-friendly one for your body and then getting something a little more aggressive like this to spray on your clothing.
The only vaccine you may need to prove you have in Colombia is the Yellow fever Vaccine. This will only be needed if you are planning to travel to Amazonia and/ or Parque Tayrona. Although I must admit it’s not really enforced in Parque Tayrona, so if you don’t have it you could probably get away with entering the park without it. But I prefer to air on the side of caution and always carry my certificate with me.
You will not need malaria pills in Colombia.
Luggage for Colombia
The first time I traveled to Colombia I just had a backpack and a day pack. The last time I was there I opted for a small hand luggage suitcase and a daypack. Both options worked well for me. But I would say though that going to the Amazon with a suitcase would be a terrible idea.
If you plan on covering a lot of ground then I would personally suggest a 65L backpack and a dry bag backpack as your main two bags. Then have a small daypack that can easily be packed when traveling. I’ve added images and links for the luggage I have tried and tested in Colombia bellow.
If security is a concern for you then I highly recommend getting in Pacsafe backpack for added security and peace of mind. I also wrote this blog post on the best digital nomad backpacks and this one about carry on luggage, just in case they are useful to you.
You are also going to need some packing cubes to help keep all of you things organized (and squeeze in a few extra items of clothing). Plus a good laundry bag, toiletry bag, and of course a shopping bag.
Other Useful Things to Pack for Colombia
Over the years backpacking the world I’ve got packing down to a fine art and I have some essential items in my backpack that you might not think of. So here are some things you are going to need that you might not think of!
Laundry Soap and a Nail Brush – Unless you want to be doing laundry every few days, it’s best to just wash out your underwater in the shower each night. To do this I always travel with a bar of laundry soap and a nail brush. It also comes in handy to clean off marks and stains from clothes you are washing.
A Travel Washing Line – I love mine, it’s so handy and takes up no room at all.
A Sewing Kit – When you are traveling sometimes you need to make-do-and-mend.
Carabiner clips – So useful for attaching things to your backpack!
Head torch – Equally as useful for camping as it is for reading in bed, or trying to find your way home in the dark.
Ear Plugs – If you are planning on staying in hostels you are going to need these!
A Whistle – I know many people worry about safety and want to protect themselves. I like to carry a whistle just in case I need to pull attention. It might not be as effective as pepper spray, but as that is illegal to fly with too many countries, this is a good alternative.
Silk Sleeping Bag Liner – Another thing that doesn’t take up so much room, but will give you a lot of peace of mind if you need it. Sometimes you might either find yourself chilly or just not wanting to sleep in the bedsheets. So hopping inside a sleeping bag liner helps you get a good night’s sleep, wherever you are…
Umbrella – If you are traveling somewhere tropical it’s likely to rain, but still be hot. Having an umbrella in your bag will keep you dry without making you feel like you will collapse from heat exhaustion!
A padlock – I recommend getting one of these locks so you don’t need to worry about keys. They are TSA approved so you can use them to lock your luggage when flying as well as using it to lock your locker at the hostel.
USD – I always keep an emergency $50 USD hidden somewhere, just in case. USD is the most widely accepted currency, but you will need to ensure the notes are clean and crisp. Many places won’t accept them if they are marked at all.
A sarong – I never travel anywhere without at lease 2 sarongs. I use them to replace my towel, hang over my bed in a hostel for privacy. Wrap around my hair when it’s wet, sunbathe on… I could go on and on. I even make a dress out of mine when I’m at the beach.
Spice Bag – If you are planning to do some cooking then I recommend making a spice bag so you don’t end up wasting lots of money or herbs and spices, or eating bland food for the whole of your trip. I put my spices into ziplock bags and then keep them in one of these clear bags.
Ziplock Bags – I know, I know, more plastic. But they do come in really handy when traveling and you can wash and reuse them so you aren’t throwing them away.
Coffee Flask – Great for keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. It also saves you having to use disposable cups when you buy a takeaway coffee.
Clothing to Pack for Colombia
You can see my full Colombia packing list here on Amazon, and you can also download my free Colombia packing list here. So I’m going to try and keep this section brief.
For the coffee region (Salento, Jardin, etc) – You will need warm layers, clothing suitable for hiking and horseback riding like these leggings and this t-shirt. Hiking boots are great but I got by with these travel shoes (which I’m obsessed with). You will need a coat here, something like this one.
If you are planning on doing some scuba diving then check out this essential diving gear to pack list.
For salsa dancing I recommend these shoes as they are lightweight, go with everything, and they look cute,
Toiletries to Pack for Colombia
You can very all of the travel toiletries I recommend here on this Amazon list. Many things you can actually buy in Colombia easily, so I wouldn’t stress too much about buying a lot of toiletries to travel with. But there are some things that are harder to get hold of and expensive in Colombia, like shampoo! It’s all imported and I’m always shocked at how much it costs. So I always try and travel with my own.
Technology to take to Colombia
If you are stressing about taking your smartphone to Colombia, don’t. Most Colombian do have smartphones, so you aren’t going to stand out having one too. You will need to be careful about flashing your expensive digital gear around Colombia though. Take a read of these posts to help you prepare if you are worried.
The last time I visited Colombia I took my DSLR camera, my drone, GoPro, AND my smartphone. I used the drone a few times, the GoPro a fair amount, my smartphone camera a lot, and my DSLR once taking some selfies at Cocora valley!
Here are some digital things I’d recommend packing for Colombia.
Smart Phone – If you don’t want to take your fancy iPhone traveling, then this is a great phone with a very good camera for under $300. It’s what I personally have and shoot a lot of my vlogs on.
Camera and Tripod – I travel with this DSLR but I also have this mirrorless camera which I often take if I want to use something more discreet. I also love this tripod as I can use it with all of my cameras (even my phone), plus it’s small and light enough to fit in my daypack.
Books to Read in Colombia
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?”