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Planning a trip to Colombia? Here’s what you need to know.

Of the 60+ countries I’ve travelled to, Colombia was one of the most time-consuming trips I’ve planned.

I spent at least two full days figuring the how, when and where of my trip to Colombia before I left – and plenty of time refining those plans as I went.

Perhaps naively, I expected Colombia to be fairly easy to travel. It’s pretty popular among both backpackers and digital nomads, after all. But it was surprisingly hard (and frustrating!) at times.

 

 

 

Before we go any further, I should point out a couple of things:

  1. I was trying to cover places and activities beyond the typical ones, for the sake of this blog. For example, I decided to forego the popular tourist spot of Salento for the almost-unknown town of Filandia just 20km to the west.
  2. I was being extra cautious regarding safety in Colombia. I was travelling solo and carrying $6000+ of gear with me. While it’s all insured, I tend to be extra careful on solo trips to countries I know little about.

These concerns undoubtedly contributed to my planning time and made things a little more complicated. But, even without these added in, planning my Colombia trip took more time than usual.

In this guide, I hope I can provide you with all the information that I wish I’d had before going. And, hopefully, these tips for planning a trip to Colombia will save you time when making your own plans!

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Planning a trip to Colombia: important things to know

Before you can begin planning your trip to Colombia, it’s important to get the boring bits out of the way. I’m sorry! But I promise you’ll thank me later.

Colombia visas

Depending on where you’re from, you may need a visa to enter Colombia. You can check your country’s requirements on this page.

If you don’t need a visa to travel to Colombia, you can enter Colombia for up to 90 (at the discretion of the immigration official). You may be asked to show proof of onward travel, so make sure you have an outbound flight booked.

 

 

Insurance for Colombia

Like anywhere, it’s never a good idea to travel to Colombia without insurance. I use and recommend World Nomads because they offer the most comprehensive travel insurance cover I’ve found. They cover plenty of adventurous activities that other insurers won’t offer, as well as theft, loss and even mental health support.

What’s more, they were super easy to claim with when I ended up hospitalised in Peru last year. You can click here to get a free, 30-second quote or read more about World Nomads in this post.


Colourful buildings in Guatapé Colombia


Safety in Colombia

There’s no beating around the bush with this one: Colombia doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety. Unfortunately, many people like to base their views about Colombia on shows like Narcos, while others think of its violent past.

Colombia has changed – a lot. And, more than anything, Colombia wants to change its reputation.

The locals in Colombia are some of the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever met. It’s hard to speak to a stranger in Colombia without gaining a new friend.

Most Colombians will go all out to make sure tourists feel safe and welcome in their country, making sure we leave with nothing but beautiful new memories of its many unique places.

 

 

 

However, that’s not to say you don’t need to be careful. While I survived 10 days in Colombia solo without incident (unless you count falling into a spiky tree!), I can’t downplay the risks.

There are risks, and there are certain precautions you should take. Do so, and there’s a good chance you’ll have an equally drama-free trip.

I wrote an entire guide to staying safe to Colombia, which I recommend you read. It’s on the long side (3,500 words!) but that’s because it covers everything I think you need to know to travel to Colombia in 2020. Check it out here.


How to plan a trip to Colombia

Now we’ve covered the essentials, it’s time to get to the fun part: planning!

It’s time to start laying the foundations for your trip, starting with the getting there and, after that, thinking about getting around.

Getting to Colombia

Most travellers visiting Colombia arrive in the capital, Bogotá. While starting in the biggest city seems logical, it might not be the best idea. Let me explain… 

If you don’t have much experience with altitude, Bogotá might not be the easiest way to start your trip. And, trust me, you don’t want altitude to ruin the start of your Colombia trip!

Bogotá sits at 8,600 feet. That makes it the third highest capital in the world!

 

 

 

Unless you know you’ll be okay with the altitude, it might be better to start elsewhere. Both Medellin and Cartagena have a number of international flights, so I would look into these if you can. Simply search “multi-city flights on Skyscanner (or your site of choice).

I decided to fly into Medellin and then ended my Colombia trip in Bogotá. It turned out to be a great way to do things, and meant I had time for an extra city, too!

If you can, I highly recommend flying in and out of different airports when you’re planning your trip to Colombia. Colombia is a massive country, and it will maximise your time there.


A coffee farmer in Filandia Colombia


Where to go in Colombia

During my Colombia travels, I met a surprising amount of fellow travellers. Even more surprising was that many of them were staying in Colombia for at least a month or more – and then going back home (rather than on to Ecuador or elsewhere in South America, like I expected).

But what surprised me most was that many of them were trying to extend their travels. Even two months didn’t feel like enough to see everything on their curated bucket list.

 

 

 

There are a lot of things to do in Colombia. Given its size and geographical diversity, it’s really no surprise.

But that means planning a trip to Colombia can lead you down all sorts of rabbit holes, jumping from one shiny object to the next. Choosing where to go can be a real challenge.

I decided to split my trip between three very different sides of Colombia so I could see a little of each:

The cities

Medellin and Bogota are the two biggest cities in Colombia and offer a glimpse of life in a Colombian metropolis. Not only that, but they make great bases for day trips to the surrounding areas.

The Caribbean coast

The northern part of Colombia is the most colourful, lively and delicious part of all. The Caribbean influence shapes everything about life here, including the music, the food and the daily lives of locals.

The coffee axis

El eje cafetero was my favorite area in Colombia. It’s serene, quaint and impressively beautiful. Again, it feels like you’ve stepped into a completely different country – or perhaps even a totally different era.

Other places you might want to include on your Colombia itinerary include the Amazon rainforest and the Pacific Coast. Both of these will another glimpse into a different side of Colombia, but the three above will give you plenty of diversity if you’re short on time.


RELATED READ: How (and why) to visit the Amazon in Ecuador.


If you want to visit more than one area in Colombia – something I definitely recommend – then don’t forget to factor in travel days.

Travelling around Colombia can take a while since the distances are long, but it’s totally doable. I would recommend allowing at least 2-3 days in each region, plus one day for travelling between.

 

 

Colourful houses in Filandia, Colombia


Choosing the best time to visit Colombia

When you’re planning your trip to Colombia, you’ll probably want to know when is the best time to visit. While there isn’t really a bad time to visit Colombia, you might want to consider the seasons.

Colombia has two seasons: rainy and dry. And I say you “might” want to consider them because you can totally visit Colombia in the wet season. Just be prepared for a little afternoon rain!

The dry season in Colombia generally runs from December-January and July-August. The wet season typically occurs in April-May and October-September. Throughout the rest of the year, the weather is pretty consistent. 

While there isn’t really a best month to visit Colombia, it’s good to be aware of how the weather varies from region to region. Medellin is known as the “city of eternal Spring” for a reason, while Cartagena is hot and humid all year round. 

 

 

 

How many days to spend in Colombia

As you’ve probably guessed, it won’t be hard to fill your time in Colombia. And, for that reason, I say spend as much time there as you can! One month would be ideal, but you can still enjoy Colombia in just a week or two.

I spent 10 days in Colombia because it was all I had (well, it wasn’t, but that’s another story). And while I got to see all the things I’d hoped to, I could have easily spent much longer exploring.

In 7 days, you could comfortably see 2-3 different cities or regions. In 10-14 days, you could visit 3-4 places but you could also find plenty to do in just one or two of those regions.

The trick to planning a trip to Colombia is prioritising what you want to see and working backwards from there.


A howler monkey at the Barbas-Bremen Reserve in Filandia Colombia
Colombia has everything: cities, beaches and MONKEYS!

Colombia travel tips

Now you have a better idea of where you want to go and for how long, here are some things you need to know for when you arrive.

Accommodation in Colombia

Most towns in Colombia have plenty of accommodation to choose from, but it can book up quickly. It’s best to book as far ahead as you can.

Throughout my entire Colombia trip, I stayed at Selina. Selina is a hostel meets co-working meets social space that’s ideal for social travellers and digital nomads. Although I stayed there on a comped basis, I wouldn’t hesitate to book one again (and have in fact done so!).

 

 

 

They have several locations across Colombia and I spent three nights at each of the Medellin, Cartagena and Quindío ones, as well as one night in the Bogotá Parque de la 93 one.

What I love most about staying at Selina is that they’ve created a consistent brand across all their properties, yet each one is completely unique based on its location. Every Selina property takes influences from its environment and it’s a great way to feel at home without forgetting what city or town you’re in.


A hammock on a balcony at Selina Quindio in Filandia Colombia
A balcony hammock is the perfect place to enjoy the nature sounds around you at Selina Quindio!

Given that I only stayed at Selinas, I made a point of asking other travellers about their experiences with accommodation in Colombia.

For the ones who had stayed at Selinas, it was clearly a winner for them. For the ones who hadn’t, they’d often heard about Selina from other travellers.

So, while I can’t compare Selina to other accommodation in Colombia, I can recommend it as an awesome place to stay. Their properties all have social areas, coworking, kitchens and living areas, bars and restaurants. Many of them also have movie theatres, yoga decks and other social spaces, often with free or very affordable events.

 

 

Getting around Colombia

Given how big Colombia is, you can expect to spend a fair amount of time travelling internally. Luckily, it’s (mostly) pretty straightforward.

Flying is usually the best way to travel in Colombia given how easy and cheap it is. Admittedly, it’s not the best for the environment, but it’s much safer (and faster) than travelling by road.

For shorter journeys, each area has its owned preferred method of transport. The most distinctive is the coffee region, where the only way to get around is on old Jeep Willys!

Elsewhere, taxi apps are usually your best bet. Uber has been on/off banned in Colombia, but Beat and Taxify are both used by locals. For safety reasons, it’s always best to use an app service rather hailing a street taxi.


Jeep Willys in Filandia Colombia
Jeep Willys are the only way to get around in the coffee region!

How much does a trip to Colombia cost?

My trip to Colombia, after flights and accommodation, cost me around 250,000 COP (about £50 or $62 USD) per day.

I wasn’t on a budget, and I did splash out more for things like transfers because I was taking extra safety measures. I also had to pay more for tours and transport because I was travelling solo.

If you want to join tours (you can see read more about why I recommend you do in this post), eat out and take private transfers from the airports, expect to budget a little less if you’re travelling as a couple or group.

 

 

 

If you’re on a tight budget and happy to take more risks and eat mostly street food, you could easily travel Colombia for £20 per day after accommodation.

Generally speaking, you want to allow around 150,000-200,000 COP per day for excursions or transfers, plus 30,000-80,000 COP per day for food and drink.


A solo female traveller at Colombia's Cocora Valley


Packing for Colombia

Since each region of Colombia is so different, your Colombia packing list will depend entirely on your itinerary. One thing’s for sure: you’ll want to pack well!

Here are some things you’ll definitely want to take on your trip to Colombia.

Gear and accessories

A secure day bag. Pickpocketing isn’t uncommon in Colombia, so make sure you have a secure day bag. As the locals say, you don’t want to dar papaya (make yourself an easy target). This PacSafe bag has anti-theft locks to keep your things extra safe.

A spare phone. Unfortunately, cell phone theft is pretty common in Colombia. If you can, take one that you don’t care much about and leave the other one safely locked away in your room. If you want to take photos, I recommend picking up a discreet but powerful compact camera like this travel-focused one.

Adapters (if needed). Colombia uses plug types A and B, which is the same as the USA. The voltage is 110 V. 

A padlock. This trip was the first time I’ve travelled without a pdlock… and I ended up buying one. A padlock will come in handy at some point in Colombia, even if you’re not staying in hostels. A combination lock like this one is the most secure and means you don’t need to worry about keys.

A reusable water bottle. Colombia has some of the best tap water in the world – so use it! I didn’t need to buy a single plastic bottle in Colombia because I could nearly always drink the tap water. The one time I couldn’t was in the coffee region, but the Selina had free purified water available for guests.

Your insurance details. Make sure you take a copy of your insurance documents with you and keep them somewhere safe.

Clothing & cosmetics

A light rain jacket. Even if you’re travelling to Colombia in the dry season, it’s a good idea to pack a light rain jacket. A fold up jacket like this one is perfect.

Jeans. Jeans are pretty much the uniform in Colombia. Even on the humid Caribbean coast, you’ll rarely see locals in anything else. If you want to avoid sticking out – which you do – I recommend wearing jeans most of the time.

A money pouch. Are they cool? No. Will you use it? Yes. I didn’t take a money pouch to Colombia, but I wish I had. You’ll want to separate your money and values as much as possible, and it makes it much easier to do so.

Running shoes. Almost all Colombians wear trainer, which is luck because they’re super practical. I recommend packing a pair of Nike running shoes for day to day wear.

Layers. The weather in Colombia can be changeable, so make sure you have some lightweight layers to throw on when needed.

Insect repellent. Unless you’re sticking to the big cities, you’ll want to pack some strong insect repellent. I didn’t see many insects, but I sure felt them the next day!

Sunscreen. You’ll want to wear sunscreen daily in Colombia, even – and especially! – in the cooler cities. Don’t be fooled by Bogotá’s mild temperatures either; the high altitude makes it much easier to burn.


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