Colombia Travel Guide | What Gringos MUST Know
Creating a Colombia travel guide for gringos was a no-brainer for me.
That’s simple. The country is one of my absolute favorites in Latin America.
The beau monde; la crème de la crème.
I’ll never forget my first week in Colombia. I was in Bogota, the rainy, cold capital. Some travelers and ex-pats advise you to avoid Bogota like the plague.
“Medellin has better weather.”
“The Caribbean Coast is more fun.”
But Bogota captivated me from the get-go. I instantly fell for her seductive charms. The gritty streets of Chapinero were filled with graffiti, hustle, and bustle–not to mention a seedy contingent of undesirable types lurking around every corner.
Rainy days spent working from Juan Valdez, hitting the BodyTech gym to get swole, and engaging with people from all walks of life in this fast-moving megacity. Evenings spent at the Bogota Beer Company blowing the froth off a cold one with my buddies or with a hot new date.
Best of all…
The nightlife in Bogota was insane. Of course, I made damn sure to indulge myself to the highest possible extent. The people there were more than friendly, and I was enjoying myself a little too much.
After just my first week in Colombia, I was hooked. I never wanted to leave because I knew I could spend months and months hanging around in the country. Hell, even years. Which is exactly what I did. I ended up staying for over an entire year.
So considering all the positive experiences I've had, I want to break things down for my fellow gringos. Spill the beans. Blow the gaff. Let the cat out of the bag.
I've visited damn near a dozen different Colombian cities. Suffice to say, I know a little bit about traveling here.
Gringo’s Guide to Colombia Travel
Enough of me got damn fluff. Let's dig into this Colombia travel guide, which I've written specifically for my fellow gringos and travelers.
Everything you need to know about this amazing country can be found below:
Getting to Colombia
In terms of getting to Colombia, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.
We’ll start with the bad: Colombia is a long way away from the Western world. (I know, it's in the western hemisphere, but you know what I mean). You’ll spend hours on a plane getting to the South American country. And unless you live in a LATAM flight hub like Miami, you’ll need a connecting flight or three.
But here’s the good news:
Flights to Colombia are cheaper than damn near anywhere else in South America. You can find roundtrip flights from many hubs in the United States for $300-400 USD.
That’s pretty reasonable, in my opinion. Especially when you consider a one-way to Argentina will cost you $800-900 USD.
Not only that, there are more and more direct flights going to Colombia these days. Cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, and NYC all have direct flights to multiple Colombian cities every day. So it’s not too difficult to fly to Colombia from the United States.
By bus, you can get into Colombia via Ecuador through multiple borders. It's even possible to enter Colombia via Brazil on a riverboat through the Amazon if you're feeling adventurous. Hell, you could even cross overland from Venezuela — but unless you're an aid worker, you've got no good reason to visit Venezuela at the moment.
But what you certainly can't do — unless you fancy dying a painful death — is cross overland from Panama.
Nope. Not possible.
This remote stretch of the world is called the Darian Gap and is literally inaccessible. To curb the flow of drugs surging north to the USA, the Colombian and Panamian governments have agreed not to pave it. There's not even one single lousy road connecting the two countries.
And if you reckon a long-distance overland hike sounds like fun, then think again. The jungle in the Darian Gap is so thick it's virtually impenetrable. And it's also jampacked full of narco-traffickers with a penchant for protecting their illicit cargo.
Just fly or take the multi-day sailing trip between the two countries instead.
Colombia Visa Guide
My guide on getting a visa to Colombia will be short and sweet.
Te lo juro.
Ain’t no need to write a book about the process. If you show up in Colombia, you’ll go through customs at the airport. You show them your passport, and they’ll give you 90-180 days on a tourist visa.
If you want 180 days, you’ll have to ask for it, often in Spanish.
Quiero ciento ochenta dias, por favor.
Once those 180-days are up, you can’t come back in the same calendar year.
For example, if you arrive in March and have to leave in August, you won’t be able to come back until the next January. Again, this is the tourist visa.
This does mean, however, that if you arrive in July, you can technically stay a full year in the country on a tourist visa.
There are other visa types in the country for those who want to live here full time, but they’re far more challenging to obtain.
Cities in Colombia
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The meat and potatoes. Err, the rice and beans of this article right here.
Which are the best cities in Colombia for you?
Colombia is a large country of over 50+ million people (Source). As such, there’s a lot of cities to explore. In fact, I’ve explored many of them, including:
- Santa Marta
- Isla Fuerte
There’s still a handful of cities in Colombia I’m dying to check out. There's just so much variety on offer in this enormous land — mountain towns, beach cities, bustling metropolises, quaint colonial villages, and so on.
For noobie gringos in Colombia, there are a few suitable places to start exploring. If you don’t speak any Spanish, I’d stick to the big five Colombian cities for tourism:
Loads of foreigners begin their Colombia exploration in Medellin. The city is exceptionally modern, has fantastic amenities, and the nightlife pumps.
Trust me…you’ll never be bored here. Also, I got to mention the breathtaking landscapes in Medellin — I’m talking lush mountains surrounding the whole city with stunning views.
Medellin is one of the best spots in Latin America to “base up” and be a digital nomad too. Internet is fast and the cost of living is low.
Where to stay in Medellin: Click Clack Hotel
As mentioned, I began my travels in Colombia in the capital. If you love nightlife and big city vibes, then you’ll be in heaven here.
This city is gritty, but many a gringo has fallen in love with the place for its unique charms. There are stacks of exciting things to do around town, aside from the partying, and it's got one of the best fine dining scenes in Latin America.
The thing about Bogota is you have to stay in one of the nicer neighborhoods to make it worthwhile, like Zona T.
Where to Stay in Bogota: Hotel Saint Simon
The quintessential Caribbean colonial beach city, Cartagena has charms to “wow” just about anyone. The nightlife is fun, and the perpetual sunshine certainly doesn’t hurt either.
While I wouldn’t recommend living in Cartagena long-term, a weekend getaway here is more than ideal.
Spend 4-5 days in Cartagena and you'll be dying to go back. Spend 4-5 months and you'll want to slit your wrists. Te lo juro. The place just wears on you after awhile.
Where to stay in Cartagena: Hotel Capellán
The salsa dancing capital of the world is none other than Cali, Colombia. If you love to dance or want to experience an exceptionally unique part of Colombian culture, then Cali is the place for you.
I’ve found Calenos to be a great bunch, and the city is one of the cheapest in Colombia. Probably a bit more dangerous than other cities on this list, though.
Still, many a gringo has come to Cali and never wanted to leave.
Where to stay in Cali: Hotel Dann Cali
~ Santa Marta
A backpacker hub on the Caribbean coast, Santa Marta is ideal if fun in the sun and nightlife is all you’re looking for during your Colombia travels. Visiting the nearby Parque Tayrona is an absolute must while checking out this city.
I wouldn't live here, but it's a nice place to visit for a few days or weeks.
Stay in the center if you want the best logistics to explore the city. Stay in Rodadero for the best city beaches. Taganga is a dump, but good for backpacking fun.
Where to stay in Santa Marta: Bonita Bay Concept Hotel
Cost of Living in Colombia
One of the best things about living in Colombia? The cost of living is exceptionally reasonable.
You could comfortably live a good life on $1,500 USD a month in damn near every city in Colombia, except maybe Bogota and Cartagena, as they’re both a little more expensive.
Luxury apartments located in great neighborhoods in places like Medellin, Cali, or Santa Marta can routinely be found for $600-900 USD per month. Eating lunch out will only cost you $3-5 bucks. Hell, I’ve even paid $1 buck for breakfast each day while I was in Ibague. A full fookin' breakfast, fam! I’m taking juice, eggs, patacones, and bread.
A nice dinner in a big city will rarely cost you more than $15 bucks.
Groceries aren’t that much cheaper than back in the western world if you shop in grocery stores. However, if you go to the local markets, you can get produce and meat for pennies on the dollar of what you’d pay back home.
Overall, I’ve found living in Colombia to be about half the cost of living back home — while doing more stuff than I would in the west.
I’m talking bottles at the club, weekend flights on a whim, co-working memberships, eating out every day, endless dates, and more.
Language Barrier in Colombia
Colombia is a Spanish speaking country. You will need to speak Spanish if you have long-term Colombia travel plans.
Ya tu sabes.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t enjoy your Colombia travels without speaking Spanish. I sure as shit enjoyed my time in the country when I struggled to mutter, “Hola” back in the day.
But here’s the thing…
You’ll have such a better experience in Colombia if you’re able to speak decent Spanish. You’ll connect with people on a deeper level, Colombians will be even more friendly with you, and overall, you’ll have more fun.
I recommend picking up some Spanish before heading down south. If you’re curious how to do that, it’s never been easier.
These days there’s a variety of online Spanish language learning programs that make it simple to learn the love language before you hit the road.
My personal favorite? BaseLang.
This program offers unlimited private Spanish video lessons with tutors from around the world.
You pay a low monthly price and can take as many hours of lessons as your little gringo heart desires each month.
Infrastructure and Internet
This one may surprise me fellow gringos, but…
Even though Colombia is considered a “third-world” country, that’s not the case regarding the Internet and infrastructure in major cities like Bogota and Medellin.
The amenities and Internet speeds in Bogota and Medellin are some of the best in Latin America, even compared to Mexico City and Guadalajara.
I never had an issue with Internet when living in Bogota for six months. My Airbnb apartments all had great connections. Many coffee shops in Zona T did too.
Hell, there are even six WeWork locations in Bogota at the moment.
You’ll find various coworking spaces, cafes, and the like in the nicer neighborhoods of Colombian cities. I was pleasantly surprised – especially after living in places like Peru and the Dominican Republic, where Internet speeds can be straight ass.
Neighborhoods like Zona T in Bogota, Bocagrande in Cartagena, and Parque Lleras in Medellin will all have everything you need to live a great life as an ex-pat or traveler.
You'll also get yoga studios, gyms, bars, clubs, world-class restaurants, and more.
Is Colombian Food Good?
While Colombian food is more than palatable, this certainly isn’t Mexico or Peru in terms of cuisine.
You won’t be eating the world’s greatest food in Colombia. Colombian food is average. So-so. Mas o menos. So if you’re a true foodie, Colombia might not be the spot for you.
There’s some dope dishes to be found throughout Colombia. And as a basic AF gringo, I’ll have to mention my favorite.
Bandeja paisa: a dish filled with rice, beans, sausage, eggs, avocados, and so much more.
It’s filling and makes for the perfect post-workout lunch while in Colombia. No need for a fookin' protein shake, mate!
But outside of badneja paisa, the food in Colombia isn’t anything to write home about. The women, on the other hand.Well, that’s a whole different story and article, marica 😉
For fantastic cuisine in Latin America, stick with Mexico or Peru. Both places are a foodies paradise. Colombia is not. It's more like a degenerate’s paradise.
Weather in Colombia
This one is a bit hard to tackle in a few paragraphs on a blog post, jefe.
Because Colombia is a massive country filled with mountains, beaches, and everything in between.
The north coast of Colombia is insanely hot and humid. And they fuck donkeys. But that’s irrelevant when talking about the weather. Cities like Bogota are colder and too damn rainy.
Medellin is called the “city of eternal spring” for a good reason. The sun shines damn near every day, and the temperature tends to stay around the 70s and low 80s. Cali can be hot as hades during the day but tends to cool off at night.
Weather in Colombia is a mixed bag, but generally, it’s warm and pleasant throughout the majority of the country. The north coast is hot, and Bogota is rainy.
Is Colombia Safe?
You must be smokin’ dicks.
The land known for pure cocaine, Pablo Escobar, and sky-high murder rates cannot be considered “safe” by anyone coming from the western world.
There’s no doubt crime can be found around every corner in Colombia. The stats prove it.
I know many amigos who have been the victim of armed robbery in Colombia. One was stabbed.
Yeah, that’s what they call the “Devil’s Breath” down in South America.
What is it?
Oh, just a drug that takes away free will and choice. Often, a girl will slip it in your drink when at a bar or club. Then get you to take her back to your apartment. Next thing you know, she’ll have taken your wallet, smartphone, MacBook, and more. Good times.
Never happened to me, but a couple of friends have been victims.
That being said…
Even with all the horrid stuff I’ve talked about above, Colombia isn’t that bad. Over the last five years, the country has made a considerable effort to clean up the streets and police the nice neighborhoods.
Sure there are parts of every Colombian city that you’d never want to step foot into, but there are also high-end neighborhoods that seem just as safe as back home to me.
I personally have never had an issue in Colombia. I didn't consume any drugs unintentionally. I have never been robbed down there. Nobody ever stabbed me. Knock on wood.
Overall, I wouldn’t be too concerned with violence in Colombia if you’ve got a half-decent head on your shoulders.
Millions of tourists visit Colombia every year without issue.
You’ll have to be a little more careful than you are back home, but Colombia is far from a war zone. Most cities in Colombia don’t even crack the world’s top 50 most dangerous list.
You’ll be alright.
Avoiding hookers and cocaine will eliminate a number of these security concerns.
Nightlife, Dating, and Party Favors
I know all my fellow abject degenerates skipped immediately to this section.
Just be yourself, bruh.
So I’ll break it down for you with the quickness. Colombian women are more than attractive.
You will not be disappointed if you find the typical Latina look lovely. Oh, and you don’t hold anything against plastic surgery.
But the best part about the girls in Colombia is how fun they are. Many have great personalities. Chicks in Colombia are always up for a good time.
The country is getting safer, and the economy is opening up, yet people still remember the violent days of the past. This created a “live in the moment” vibe that’s stronger than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
Aka dating moves quickly here and is a damn good time.
Nightlife in Colombia is weird.
On the one hand, la rumba in Bogota is world-class. Some of the best in Latin America from my estimation.
However, Colombians often go out in big groups. The mingling you find throughout the western world isn’t as common in Colombian clubs. Outside of Bogota, Medellin, and the tourist areas – you’ll be expected to go out in a group and spend most of your evening with them.
Salsa dancing is huge too.
And the party favors…
Yes, I’m talking about cocaine. It can be found all over the country in disco bathrooms and dark alleys from Cartagena to Cali.
It’s everywhere and cheap as hell. Too cheap. Ungodly cheap.
But here’s the thing:
Colombia is so much more than that stuff. I don’t give a damn if you partake, but trust me when I say the country has so much more to offer than drugs. Well, drugs and women.
Top Things to Do in Colombia
I can see the male audience rolling their looking eyes on me.
Drugs and mujeres. It’s Colombia, marica.
I get that, but I’ve also had a damn good time getting off the beaten path in Colombia and enjoying other things the country. There's world-class beaches, amazing mountains to hike, and unique cultural experiences to be had.
But I've talked about things to do in Colombia before.
So I'll keep this section short and sweet. Just a couple of “MUST” things to do while visiting this amazing country.
Here they are:
- Parque Tayrona: This place is amazing. You absolutely must visit Parque Tayrona if picturesque Caribbean beaches are your thing. Just look…
- Learn to Dance Salsa: If you're coming to Colombia to party just a little bit, then make sure to take some salsa dancing classes. It's a damn good time and a great way to get to know the culture. Cali and maybe Medellin are best for this.
- Visit the Coffee Zone: The center of Colombia is often referred to as the “Coffee Zone” by gringos. It's filled with stunning mountain views, fincas, and great hiking opportunities. Highly recommended and a bit off the tourist path.
Gringo’s Guide to Colombia Travel | Verdict
I've been known to be a wordy son of a gun from time to time.
So this guide is well over 3,000+ words of pure heat and Colombia travel tips.
I hope you dig it.
It's long because, well, it's Colombia – and I fookin' love the place. Hell, I could talk about traveling around Colombia for hours on end. The place is magical!
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns before heading down to Colombia…
Make sure to shoot me a comment below, and I'll do my best to answer you.
Que te vaya bien,
More Colombia content:
- Cartagena Travel Guide
- Cali, Colombia Travel Guide
- Bogota, Colombia Vs. Lima, Peru Vs. Mexico City
- Bogota Travel Guide