Colombia Travel Guide | What Gringos MUST Know
Creating this 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.
I’ll never forget my first week in Colombia. I was in Bogota. The rainy, cold capital of Colombia.
Some would say to avoid the place like the plague. That Medellin was superior in every which way. That the Caribbean coast was far more fun.
But Bogota had me captivated from the jump. I instantly fell for her charms.
The gritty streets of Chapinero filled with graffiti, hustle, and bustle – along with a few undesirable around damn near 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 the fast moving city.
Evenings often spent in Bogota Beer Company down brews with buddies or on a date.
Plus, the nightlife in Bogota was insane – and I made sure to indulge in every which way imaginable. The people were more than friendly and I was enjoying myself a little too much.
After just my first week traveling Colombia, I was hooked. I never wanted to leave. I knew I could spend months in the country.
Hell, even years.
And unsurprisingly, I ended up spending over a full year there.
With that in mind, I wanted to break things down for my fellow gringos. Dish the dirt on Colombia. A country I’ve visited damn near a dozen cities in.
Suffice to say, I know a little bit about Colombia travel.
In this guide for my fellow gringos and foreigners, I’ll take a stab at:
- Getting to Colombia
- Colombia Visa Guide
- Cities in Colombia
- Cost of Living in Colombia
- Language Barrier in Colombia
- Infrastructure and Internet
- Is Colombian Food Good?
- Weather in Colombia
- Is Colombia Safe?
- Nightlife and Dating
- Top Things to Do in Colombia
If any of those specific topics are right up your alley, just click the link above and you’ll be taken to the specific section you require.
If you’re looking for an overview of traveling Colombia and the best course of action, just keep on reading, jefe.
The devil is in the details here.
Well, the devil is certainly found in something in Colombia. But we’ll leave that out of things for now ;(
A Gringo’s Guide to Colombia Travel
Enough of me got damn fluff.
Let’s dig in and check out this Colombia travel guide for my fellow gringos.
Here’s what you need to know:
– Getting to Colombia
We’ll start with the bad…
Colombia is far from the western world.
You’ll spend hours on a plane getting to the South American country. Unless you live in a hub, you’ll definitely 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. To either:
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’s more and more direct flights going to Colombia these days.
Cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, and NYC will all have direct flights to multiple Colombian cities every day.
So it’s not too difficult to fly to Colombia from the western world.
By bus, you can get into Colombia via Ecuador – although I’ve never done it.
The borders between Venezuela and the Amazon river are not ideal for entering Colombia via land.
– Colombia Visa Guide
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.
Once those 180-days are up, you can’t come back in the calendar year.
Aka 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.
There are other visa types in the country, but they’re far more difficult to obtain.
– Cities in Colombia
Colombia is a massive 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
And there’s still a handful of cities in Colombia I’m dying to check out.
This country is massive and filled with unique cities to explore. Mountain towns, beach cities, busting metropolises, and so much more.
For noobie gringos in Colombia, there’s a few places to start exploring.
If you don’t speak any Spanish, I’d stick to the big five Colombian cities for tourism:
- Medellin: This is where many a foreigner begins exploring Colombia. The city is exceptionally modern, has fantastic amenities, and the nightlife really jumps. You’ll never be bored here. Furthermore, the landscapes in Medellin are truly stunning. I’m talking lush mountains surrounding the whole city – with stunning views.
- Bogota: As previously mentioned, I began my travels in Colombia in the capital – Bogota. If you love nightlife and big city vibes, then you’ll be in heaven here. This city is gritty, but many a gringo has fell in love with the place.
- Cartagena: The quintessential Caribbean colonial beach city, Cartagena has charms that would wow just about any foreigner. The nightlife is fun and the sun certainly doesn’t hurt. While I wouldn’t recommend living in Cartagena long-term, a weekend getaway here is more than ideal.
- Cali: The sals dancing capital of the world is Cali, Colombia. If you love to dance or want to experience an exceptionally unique part of Colombian culture, than Cali is 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.
- Santa Marta: A backpacker jump off 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 Parque Tayrona is an absolute must while checking out this city.
– Cost of Living in Colombia
The cost of living is exceptionally reasonable.
You could easily live a good life on $1,500 USD a month in damn near every city in Colombia – sans 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 a month.
Eating lunch out will only cost you $3-5 USD.
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 meal at 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, coworking space memberships, eating out everyday, dates on dates, and more.
– Language Barrier in Colombia
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 out, “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 couldn’t recommend picking up some Spanish before heading down south.
If you’re curious how to do just that, luckily 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?
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
Even though Colombia is considered a “third-world” country by many metrics, that’s far from the truth with regards to Internet and infrastructure in major cities like Bogota and Medellin.
The amenities and Internet speeds in Bogota and Medellin are certainly some of the best in Latin America. Comparative 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’s 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 expat or traveler.
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 when talking cuisine.
You won’t be eating the world’s greatest food when in Colombia. Colombian food is average. So-so.
Mas o menos.
If you’re a foodie, Colombia might not be the spot for you.
That being said…
There’s definitely some dope dishes to be found throughout Colombia. And as a basic AF gringo, I’ll have to mention my favorite.
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, marika 😉
For amazing cuisine in Latin America, stick with Mexico or Peru. Both places are a foodies paradise.
Colombia is not. More like a degenerate’s paradise.
– Weather in Colombia
Because Colombia is a massive country filled with mountainous regions, beach towns, and everything in between.
The north coast of Colombia is insanely hot. It’s humid too. And they fuck donkeys. But that’s irrelevant when talking about the weather.
Cities like Bogota are cooler and often, too damn rainy.
Medellin is called the “city of eternal spring” for 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 personally 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.
Never happened to me, but a couple 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 huge effort to clean up the streets and police the nice neighborhoods.
Sure there’s parts of every Colombian city that you’d never want to step foot into, but there’s also high-end neighborhoods that seem just as safe as back home to me.
I personally have never had an issue in Colombia.
No drugs I didn’t consume myself. Never been robbed down there. Nobody 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 each and 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
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 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 just 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 the 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, marika.
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 absolutely 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.
A Gringo’s Guide to Colombia Travel
I’ve been known to be a wordy son of a gun from time to time.
So this guide is damn near 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 ya.
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