Colombia travel guide, including map of Colombia, food, drink, where to stay in Colombia, weather, health and things to do in Colombia
Once South America's kidnap capital, most of Colombia is now wholly safe and thrillingly uncommercialised – in 2010 Wanderlust readers voted it their favourite emerging destination worldwide.
Opportunities for climbing, trekking and diving are excellent. You can bathe in pools of volcanic mud, acres of flowers, remote coffee fincas high in the mountains and a CD library’s worth of music festivals. To top it all there are some superb historical sites.
The jewel in Colombia’s colonial crown is the beautiful city of Cartagena, full of wonderful old buildings lining flower-filled streets, with a fascinating history rich in emeralds and pirates. After a day of history, the city also does a smart line in international-standard beach resorts.
To the east lies Tayrona National Park, where visitors share the beaches with pelicans, enjoying an idyllic vista, the pale blue waters of the Caribbean offset by the snow-capped mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Inland, high up in the mountains, is Ciudad Perdida – an ancient centre of the once-great Tayrona culture.
Head to Zipaquirá, just a short bus-ride from Bogotá, to explore the awesome cathedral carved out of a rock-salt mine – a true wonder of this mysterious country and a favourite with pious Colombian tourists.
To the south-west, hidden in the jungle surrounding the town of San Agustín, lies one of the country’s most impressive pre-Colombian sites: the Valley of the Statues. Equally spectacular are the burial chambers in nearby Tierradentro, for which the village is famous. Scramble down the rock-hewn steps into tombs carved with ancient faces and watch as geometric patterns, celestial bodies and animals painted in red and yellow pigment appear out of the darkness.
Most Colombians eat breakfast and dinner at home so some restaurants close in the evening. Take advantage of the generous set menus offered in local establishments and make lunch your main meal of the day.
Be careful with electric showers in cheaper hotels as the wiring can be dodgy and always carry your own toilet paper – many places don’t provide it.
Happy, good-natured Colombians turn into angry maniacs behind the wheel so look both ways when you cross the road, look again and don't assume drivers will stop.
Wanderlust web intern Thomas Rees on the thing he wished he'd known before he arrived:
"Make time for a trip to Barranquilla during Carnival, when the city plays host to colourful parades and the streets echo to the sounds of salsa. Along with Santiago de Cali in the west of the country, Barranquilla boasts the best music scene in the Colombia."
When to go to Colombia
Colombia’s dry season, or verano (‘summer’), is December to March, with a second dry period mid-June to mid-August (except in the northern plains). These are the best times to visit and when most festivals take place. Temperatures are fairly constant year round, varying with altitude more than season.
Bogota (El Dorado) (BOG) 12km from city; Barranquilla (BAQ) 10km from city; Cali (CLO) 19km from the city; Cartagena (CTG) 2km from the city.
Getting around Colombia
Domestic flights connect to all major cities and towns via frequent, daily services to and from Bogotá. Standards are high, perhaps because problems with road travel mean Colombia has relied on air transport. Long-distance buses link many of Colombia’s major transport hubs but are susceptible to armed robbery and guerrilla activity, not to mention accidents. In cities public transport is excellent, with joined-up systems that include metro, bus, cable car, plentiful, inexpensive taxis and dirt-cheap shared minibuses.
Accommodation is springing up all over the place in Colombia, especially backpacker hostels in towns on the gringo trail.
It’s also worth looking for a private room in small hotels – many of them are great value.
High-end hotels are mainly clustered in the big cities with few mid-range options.
Campsites are expensive. Caffeine lovers looking for something different can stay on a coffee finca.
Colombians don’t like to mess about with their food. They like good unpretentious grub, simply served. Breakfast might be huevos pericos (scrambled eggs with tomato and onion) followed by a hearty lunch of meat, rice, beans and a salad. Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) is a staple. For snacks, look for tasty tamales (a meat pie steamed in a banana leaf) and arepas (flat maize cakes cooked on a griddle). Sugar fiends should try brevas con arequipe (figs smothered in a gooey brown syrup).
Healthcare in Colombia is reasonably good, especially in cities; in rural areas you’ll need to travel with a first aid kit.
Yellow fever vaccination is advised, especially if you’re travelling through any national parks, as are polio, tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis A jabs. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for travel to rural, low-lying areas. Heatstroke is a real danger, especially in the beach and jungle regions. Drinking untreated tap water isn’t recommended.
As for security, visitors who apply common sense should expect an incident-free stay in Colombia. A 78% drop in kidnappings since 2002 is reassuring. At the time of writing, Bogotá has less reported kidnaps than Buenos Aires or Mexico City. Still, you should avoid road travel after dark and heed warnings regarding landmines in rural regions. Some areas remain out of bounds: take local advice and steer clear.
From liana-strangled jungle ruins to disappeared desert civilisations and eerie ghost cities, exploring the planet’s forgotten places is a thrilling adventure… More
From eye-popping Italian islands and cheery villages to landscapes painted by nature, these multi-coloured rainbow destinations are guaranteed to brighten up your day... More
From lambs carved from butter through to wild rabbit hunts in New Zealand, here are the most eggs-traordinary ways to celebrate this Easter... More
After falling off the travel map for a while, Colombia is back and more welcoming than ever. Discover its extraordinary landscapes and friendly locals... before the hordes arrive More
Escape the stresses of modern life and discover a new, calmer you in some of the most beautiful spots on the planet More
Belizean blue waters, Greenlandic isolation, Argentinian bargains, Rwanda’s remarkable recuperation – they're all here in our scrupulous pick of must-visit destinations for the coming year… More
Master a new skill in the new year by Immersing yourself in new cultures and enjoying a more rewarding journey on these expert-led learning trips More
From ancient carved stone staircases in Sri Lanka to modernist marvels in the Vatican, these staircases are both beautiful and challenging – and breathtaking in every sense of the word More
Get your caffeine kick in Colombia, trek full-circuit in Chile and wind down with vino in Argentina – explore Central and South America anew with these crowd-free and fun-guaranteed activities... More
Whether you want to hike the Andes, self-drive Brazil, delve into the Guianas or take the train to Machu Picchu, these eight journeys will inspire a Latin adventure. More
If you’re looking for widescreen panoramas, ancient cultures and adventure around every corner, you can’t beat these epic road journeys. It’s time to get your motor running ... More
Want to see whales in the wild? Make sure you're in the right place at the right time, with the help of our expert guide. More
Whoever wins in the football clash between Colombia and England, Colombia is a champion destination for travellers, with bizarre ancient statues, colonial cities and endless ways to get active… More
Taste your way around the world on these immersive food holidays – with cooking classes, wine tastings, incredible street food, and some of the finest local flavours you'll ever encounter... More
Whether scaling the volcanic slopes of Cotopaxi on horseback or snorkelling the reefs of Belize, Central and South America are packed with thrills. Daniel Neilson reveals the best... More
Here are the most cheerful countries in the world – and why we're always happy to visit them... More
Sail the coast of Portugal, drive on ancient Silk Road trade routes, or take an overland adventure through Africa. These new trips will take you to uncharted territory - and beyond More
Embark on a historical journey on the path of revolutionist Che Guevara, visiting some of South America's most iconic sights along the way More
From Andean highs to coastal lowlands, South America's railroads cross some of the most dramatic scenery on Earth... More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
From: £2625.00More …
From: £1600.00More …
From: £7640.00More …
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!