12 Essential Colombia Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
Interested in a few Colombia travel tips? Curious to learn more about this “dangerous” South American country?
First and foremost, Colombia certainly isn’t as “dangerous” as they say. Actually, it’s one of my favorite countries in the world. And there’s a number of reasons for that!
Colombia Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
Still, you need to know a few things about this country before you get on a plane and check out Colombia for yourself. So here are a few essential Colombia travel tips to ensure smooth sailing in South America:
It’s a Big Country
Many people just think of Medellin when talking about Colombia. However, Colombia is a vast country of nearly 50 million inhabitants. This isn’t the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica.
You can’t cross Colombia by bus in one day. You can’t visit every city in the country in a few weeks. Colombia is vast, and there are tons of people here. There are five cities of more than a million people in the country. You need time to explore this beautiful place.
Base Up Somewhere
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to see all of Colombia on a short trip. You want to get more out of your travels than a few pictures for Instagram. You want to dive into the Colombian culture and get to know some of the local people.
So one of the most important Colombia travel tips I can give you is this: stay in one place for at least a few weeks or months.
The longer you can stay in a location the better. You’ll get to know locals and have an improved travel experience.
Some of the Friendliest People
One reason it’s so important to stay in one place for a decent amount of time is the people in Colombia. Colombians are some of the friendliest people on earth. They’re helpful, happy, and fun-loving.
Sure, you’ll meet the occasional scammer or hustler here. But for the most part – you’ll find an incredible warmth to the Colombian people that is truly tough to find anywhere else on earth.
Learn Some Spanish
While you can have a good time in Colombia without knowing much Spanish, your experience will be vastly improved with some knowledge of the local language. Colombians speak Spanish.
If you plan to spend even a few weeks in the country, you’ll do yourself a great benefit by learning a little Spanish. Even just a month or so of study will return huge dividends.
With some Spanish, your life will just be better in Colombia. Ordering food won’t become an ordeal. Your interactions with locals will go smoother. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the local culture.
Colombians are Latin people. As such, they value time a little bit differently than people from the Western world.
For example, I went to a concert in Bogota last week. The ticket said the show would start at 7:00 PM. There was an opening act that I didn’t care about, so I decided to arrive around 9:30 PM.
I figured this would account for the Latin “time” and the opening act. I was wrong. The main act didn’t take the stage until 1:00 AM, a staggering six hours after the listed time on the ticket.
While I was annoyed by the delay, most of the people didn’t even show up until 11:00 PM. The exceptionally delayed start was anticipated and expected.
That’s just an example of how things go in Colombia. If you want everything to start exactly on time, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. Time just doesn’t work the same way as it does back home while in Colombia.
It’s Not “That” Dangerous
Make no mistake about it. Colombia is dangerous. However, I’ve spent nearly six months in the country over three different trips. And knock on wood – but I’ve never had a single issue.
No robberies. No fights. Nothing.
Now, I know this could be luck. I’ve heard stories of phones being robbed and other violent acts. However, most travelers who don’t do stupid stuff on the regular seem to be doing pretty well here.
If you don’t engage in sex tourism while taking copious amount of drugs, you can eliminate nearly 95% of potential safety issues in Colombia. Furthermore, if you rent an apartment in a nice area and use Uber instead of public transportation, you’ll stay even safer.
While Colombia may not be considered safe, you shouldn’t have any issues here if you have half a brain and a little travel experience.
Speaking of Uber, you should be using the app in Colombia. While it’s technically illegal in Bogota, everyone still uses it. And as a foreigner, you should, too. It’s amazing here.
The benefits of using Uber in Colombia are vast. First, it keeps you safer. Uber drivers are vetted, and there are electronic records of every ride.
They can’t take you on a ride to empty your bank account. They can’t rob you and they can’t kidnap you.
On top of the safety benefits, Uber ensures you won’t be overcharged or ripped off. The app keeps track of every route. If you think your driver took you for a spin, just check the app and contact customer service. You’ll be refunded for the bad trip.
There’s absolutely no reason to use anything other than Uber while living in a Colombian city.
More Than Medellin
Almost every single foreigner will start their Colombia travel time by hitting up Medellin. It’s by far the most popular place for travelers and digital nomads to spend time in Colombia.
And there’s good reason for that. The weather is fantastic. We’re talking sunny spring vibes all year around. The city is nearing world-class status with incredible amenities, an excellent metro system, and tons of cafes, restaurants, and bars that expats love.
Oh, and the girl in Medellin aren’t ugly, either. In fact, many consider them to be some of the prettiest in the world. It’s easy to see why a foreign guy would hit up Medellin and forget about the rest of the country.
This is a huge mistake. I’ve been all over Colombia, including:
And I can tell you without a doubt that Colombia has so much more to offer travelers that Medellin. If you’re in the country, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice by not checking out other cities.
Medellin is great, but so are many other places. Bogota has the best nightlife in Latin America.
Cali offers stunning nature within the city limits and attractive females, too. Cartagena is a charming city featuring colonial architecture and beach life.
The coffee region is chalk full of amazingly friendly people and beautiful mountain landscapes.
Stay Out of Hostels
Colombians are some amazing people, but the country is relatively poor. As such, backpackers staying in hostel dorms while rolling around in dirty cargo shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops tend to get a bad rap.
Colombians just aren’t a fan of poor, especially when it’s foreign backpackers looking for cheap cocaine and hookers.
To avoid this stigma, I highly recommend staying away from the hostel scene. Local people, especially the women, don’t want to be associated with it whatsoever.
You’ll have a much better experience in Colombia by staying in an Airbnb furnished apartment. You’ll have more privacy, a higher level of safety, and the ability to cook your own meals.
I wish someone would have told me this Colombia travel tip before I took one horrific bus trip from Bogota to Medellin.
See, Colombian is filled with mountainous terrain. To get from big city to big city, a la Bogota to Medellin, you’re going to have to travel through the mountains. And that’s never good for the stomach.
Instead, just fly. Flying between Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena is dirt cheap. For example, a bus ticket to Medellin from Bogota runs around $52,000 Colombian Pesos, or $18 USD. A flight between the same two cities costs around $70,000 Colombian Pesos, or $24 USD.
The difference in travel time? Around 10 hours, as the bus takes about 11-12 hours, and a flight takes a little over 1 hour. Just check airlines:
Bring Decent Clothes
As I said before, you don’t want to look like a poor backpacker while rolling in Colombia. It’s just not worth it. You’ll have a much better experience if you present yourself in a respectable manner.
By wearing an outfit like the one above, you’ll set yourself above 80% of the gringos that enter Colombia. Colombians will have more respect for you, and you’ll have an overall better travel experience.
Learn to Dance Salsa
Last, but certainly not least – you’ll want to know how to dance a little salsa when you head to Colombia. Colombians love to dance. Everything from salsa to bachata to champeta to reggaeton – and more.
Even if you have two left feet, you’ll improve your Colombia travel experience by making an effort to learn to dance.
Worst comes to worst – you can sign up for a few classes and lessons. These are great places to meet people, make some friends, and learn how to dance a little. If your Spanish isn’t up to snuff, you’ll also meet people who speak English at these classes, as many cater to foreigners.
Traveling in Colombia!
Colombia is an absolutely amazing place. By following these Colombia travel tips, you can ensure a wonderful time in this exciting South American country.
If you have any questions, concerns, or tips about the country – feel free to sound off in the comments.
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Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.