Tips for your first time in Colombia
When you’re going on a trip to a country you’ve never been to, you need to be well informed. I personally love to read and read about that country before I go, look at different blogs, different opinions, look at guides of the country in question, even sometimes look at the pages of the embassy or consulate of the country. What is said to soak well the lesson of the new destination?
Here you can find all kinds of tips for your route through Colombia, everything I would have liked to read before embarking on my trip. All the information I’m going to give you is from my personal experience in the country and updated to this day. Don’t miss a detail!
It’s easy to move around the country if you know how…
As you know, I prefer to move as the local people do, usually by public transport. So that’s what I’ll explain to you at this point, how we moved around Colombia and how transportation works.
Colombia is a very large country and the distances can be very long, yet it is very easy to get around. Whether you do it by land, by sea or by air, the options are many and I dare say very economical.
Flights in Colombia are a very good option as distances are short and prices are very affordable for all pockets. If you do not have much time for your trip, use internal flights and do not waste time on transfers. If, on the other hand, you are not in a hurry and you also enjoy seeing the scenery along the way, move around by bus, most of them are very comfortable and you will also save a few pesos.
You can find cheap flights here.
Buses in Colombia work very well, both long-distance and city buses for shorter journeys. We get almost everywhere by bus and without problems. Local buses, for short journeys, range from 1200 pesos (0.35 euros) to 2100 pesos (0.61 euros), depending on where you are.
Find out which bus you have to take. When you get on the bus you tell the driver where you are going so that he will tell you when you arrive and that’s it. During our trip we met people very kind and willing to help us, it was not difficult.
The long bus journeys are also very typical in Colombia and there are many varieties. Go to the bus station, look and compare with different companies, the prices are similar and economical. For example, the bus from Santa Marta to Cartagena cost us 22000 pesos (6,38 euros) and took about 4 hours.
Watch out for taxis in Colombia. It’s not that they are dangerous or anything like that, but sometimes they try to take advantage of the tourist (as in many other places we won’t be fooled). Before getting into a taxi ask a local how much the race to your destination can cost, so you’ll get a rough idea of what the journey is worth. In big cities, taxis take a meter, but most don’t, so negotiate the price before getting on.
Before getting into the taxi, take a picture of the license plate, probably nothing will happen, but it’s just a measure in case it happens…advice from a Colombian, they also do it sometimes.
Our experience with taxis in Colombia was good, sometimes even very good because the driver, in turn, became a tour guide. But we also had a few mishaps with some taxi driver something more “pirate”, like charging us a lot for a very short trip, tell us (with a taximeter) that we had to pay a “minimum race of so much” much higher than it marked … Anyway, I do not want to say that all are like that, but there are, so to the parrot.
With a little bit of luck, he takes you this cute in his car…
Money in Colombia
In many destinations in the country is difficult to find places that accept the card to pay, you will not be left other than to carry cash. Our surprise was that many ATMs do not let you get much money, which I do not recommend either, I do not think it is a good idea to go very loaded with cash. I know that the subject of money is very personal, the ideal would be, to find a bank that when traveling, did not charge commissions, we still do not have it and we have to pay commission, even so, you get more to account to withdraw money than pay by card (at least in our case, so it was).
While it is true that in many places accept dollars, the official currency is the Colombian pesos (cop).
Do I take the money from home? Do I exchange the euros there for pesos? Do I get money there? To all these questions (which I think, we all ask ourselves) I think the best thing is to get the money there when you arrive since the commissions are lower than those you will have in your country for this type of operation. The exchange rate of the euro in Colombia is quite bad so I don’t recommend it.
Do not be left with the doubt if you want to know how much a trip to Colombia costs.
Food in Colombia
Eating in Colombia can be very cheap and very good! If you’re like me, one of those who enjoy food, you’re going to love Colombia. Don’t forget to try the paisa tray (one day you’ll be very hungry, already?). Also, another typical dish is the ajiaco, here I leave you a fotillo so that you go doing mouth…
Another of the things I loved about the country is its bread, the yucca bread, the cheese bread…mmmm, you have to try them!
Lunches are offered all over Colombia, with a starter, mostly soup and a second main course. The truth is that they are very good, it is what the local people eat and they are also very economic. Enjoy your trip!
The best time to visit the country
According to the locals, any time is good to visit Colombia and the truth is that the temperature does not vary much from season to season. I was in September and it was a great time all over the country.
The high season in Colombia is December/January and the months of June/July, so prices skyrocket and everything is more expensive.
The rainy season is usually the months of April/June and October/November. Something to keep in mind.
Vaccines recommended and/or mandatory
Compulsory vaccinations, in our case, that we travel from Spain, there is not. As recommended are yellow fever, hepatitis A and tetanus. In addition, it depends on the areas you travel and the duration (national parks, jungle) you can give treatment for malaria pills.
If by chance, like us, you travel to more than one South American country, the yellow fever vaccine becomes mandatory. It should be noted that the yellow fever vaccine must be given a minimum of 10 days before arrival in Colombia. When passing from one country to another, these usually ask for the vaccination record to check that everything is in order.
When you are planning your trip, this is a very important point to keep in mind. To organize your trip ahead of time and consult your doctor.
What do I need to carry in my backpack?
As I told you in another post about the places you can not miss, Colombia is a country that has a lot to offer, both in nature and cities, which must be taken into account when planning what we are going to put in our backpack.
You have to be prepared for the heat and the cold, for the sun and the rain, for the jungle and for the beach, for the city and for the mountain… I know it sounds difficult but quiet, it’s not at all, I’ll tell you…
In the case of Colombia, take summer clothes and a jacket for cooler climates. Don’t forget a raincoat and a bathing suit! If you are going to the part of the jungle, take long clothes and not too dark (for the bugs).
Comfortable flip-flops and bamboos for walking in the mountains and in the city. In my case, I wear Salomon trekking shoes that have Goretex, which is great for rain and are super comfortable.
Important, an adapter to be able to connect your devices to the network. Also essential chargers. An inner fanny pack to keep your documents and money.
Here you will find everything you need to maintain proper hygiene during your trip.
First Aid Kit
In this section, I believe that the most important thing is to go to the doctor before starting your trip. He or she will best recommend the medications you should bring with you, as well as the vaccinations that are necessary for the trip.
Also, to give you an idea, I will explain what we have brought (recommended by the doctor):
- Insect repellent containing 35% DEET or more.
- Loratadine, for insect bites.
- Alergical, cream for insect bites-
- Oral serum for dehydration due to acute diarrhoea.
- Ciprofloxacin 500 mg, for complicated diarrhea, angina, bronchitis.
- Fortasec in capsules.
- Biodramine to avoid dizziness.
- Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
- Bandages (this I say jejeje).
Don’t forget your passport and your immunization record. Depending on which company you fly with to Colombia, you may be asked for a return ticket. Take a good look at the conditions and if so, make sure you have it, otherwise, you won’t be able to fly. In our case, we had to present the return ticket to Barcelona airport.
It is also important to bring your travel insurance policy number and an emergency telephone number from abroad so that if necessary, we can access it quickly.
If you want to know in more detail what I usually take on a trip in my backpack, you can check it here.
Religion in Colombia
In a country like Colombia and in most South American countries, people are usually very Catholic. You will see that all the cities are full of churches. The established religion in the country is Catholicism, an imposition given by the European settlers back in 1942, who left no other option on colonized land.
Most churches are open to the public and you can visit them without problems, it is a good place to rest after a long walk! You may find somewhere you have to pay a small fee to enter, but they also tend to have some free public entrance hours.
There is bargaining in the prices
When you go to markets and product fairs, there is haggling. You will see that they lower the price themselves so that you can buy the product you are interested in. It is also not good to spend too much, always think about the value of the product you are buying and the work that costs to do (in cases of craftsmanship for example). A good way not to be fooled by the price and not pay too much is to compare in different places, not stay with the first price we are given.
These tips are not only applicable to products themselves, but also for private excursions and transport. Compare and ask the locals as well.
On occasion, we have met a tourist who tries to haggle at all costs, without perhaps realizing it, who is haggling for a few cents. You have to try to be congruent and not overdo the bargaining. Also, on the other hand, sellers who are very “clever” and try to deceive you by the mere fact of being a “gringo”. Anyway, there is everything, the important thing is to compare and ask.
Try to do free tours in different cities
Nowadays, in almost every city, there are free sightseeing tours, in which, in the end, you put the price with the tip you give the guide.
We have become addicted and always when stepping on a city, the first thing we do when settling in is to see if there are free tours. It is a very interesting way to get to know the city and in most cases, the guides are very up to date in history. They are very pleasant tours, usually on foot, that go through the historical part of the city.
A recommendation is to do them at the beginning when you arrive in the city since they give very important information and they usually advise you of places and things to try. They also help you to solve your doubts. Don’t miss them!
What are the accommodations in Colombia?
The accommodations in Colombia are very varied, as everywhere, everything depends on the budget you have and the one you want to spend.
Normally, in the cities, lodgings are more expensive than in rural areas. To give you an idea, prices range between 50000 and 90000 Colombian pesos (from 14 euros to 26 euros) per night. The characteristic that we usually look at is that they have a good score and to be able to be a private bath in the room.
One of the things to keep in mind in Colombia is that hot water is paid. Many accommodations do not have hot water, although it is true that sometimes the heat does not matter, in other if. You are warned!
Curiosities and Colombian customs
Whenever you arrive in a new country, you see things that call your attention and Colombia was not going to be any less! The little things that surprised me the most were these…
They are very respectful
Colombians are very respectful. They lack time to give their seat on the bus to older people, women with children or someone who needs it. It’s a custom I love and I think it should be done everywhere!
The kindness of your people
From escorting us to take a taxi, to walking us to an address. The Colombians are very friendly and are always ready to help you and give you good advice! Many of them are proud that you visit their country and don’t hesitate to thank you! We asked for an address on the bus as soon as we arrived and the whole bus answered us… what a wonder!
A la orden
It’s just a way of thanking you, of giving you a service, but it was always curious. In the end, we also ended up saying… A a orden Colombia!
They put cheese in the chocolate!
Yes, yes, as you hear it. A typical snack is a cheese, with bread and hot chocolate (in water, not milk). The first time you find it strange, but you get used to it…maybe we’ll do it at home, hehehe.
Do you want a red wine?
Well, you’ll have it everywhere. No, a red wine is not a wine…it is a coffee! Without a doubt, coffee in Colombia is one of its strong points. They sell it on the street and very cheap. A red please!
Safety on the streets of Colombia
Perhaps the issue that most worries people who are thinking of traveling to Colombia. One of the things they told us the most when we said we were going to Colombia was, “You’re crazy! You’re going to be kidnapped! Colombia is super dangerous!
We will not say that there is no danger in Colombia because it would be lies. We believe that in the cities we live a little steeper than in the rural areas, where we went with total tranquility. My advice if you are considering going to Colombia is, don’t be afraid. As long as you’re careful, nothing has to happen to you. As the locals would say, what we have to do is NOT GIVE PAPAYA!
The places we visited were quite touristic. The personnel of the hotels and of different services, gave us recommendations on security at all times to be calm for the zone that we were.
A saying that you will hear in Colombia constantly will be “The only danger in Colombia is that you want to stay”. So, don’t be afraid to visit a country that has a lot to offer!