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When we told people we were going to Colombia, we got a lot of questions such as, “is Colombia safe to travel to?”, “why would you go to Colombia?”, and “what is there to do in Colombia?” We were a bit surprised by these questions as we had been wanting to travel to Colombia for some time and had heard great things. We also felt Colombia was very safe to travel to, but as with all countries, precautions should be taken. Since we received so many questions about our trip, we decided to share 17 things to know before your trip to Colombia. Hopefully these tips will make your trip planning and your visit to Colombia as smooth as possible.
17 Things To Know Before Your Trip to Colombia
1. The country IS safe, but as with all countries, make sure to keep a close eye on your belongings and avoid the sketchier areas after dark. When visiting the biggest tourist spots or very crowded areas, keep extra awareness on your belongings, going as far as wearing your backpack front facing. Don’t have your phone out and easy to snatch. Lock the doors when you’re in a taxi and passing by those areas. When we traveled by taxi, the driver often warned us when we passed by the sketchier areas and told us to hide our belongings.
2. While we had nothing but fantastic experiences with taxis, we did hear that the taxis can sometimes not be safe. Make sure to look for one that is reputable (has a meter, called from the restaurant or hotel, located at a taxi pick up spot). You can also use a ride share app like Uber. Keep in mind, we got very conflicting answers on whether or not Uber is legal in Colombia. We did find our Uber rides to be cheaper and cleaner than taxis.
3. It’s Colombia, not Columbia and this is a major pet peeve for Colombians.
Where to visit:
4. The major areas/cities to visit are as follows: Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, Cali, Amazon, Tayrona National Park, and San Andreas. That being said, there are also so many little villages, islands, and towns that are well worth exploring. You most likely can’t do it all in one trip, so plan to hit the major hot spots and go back again to explore more! We visited Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena during our 10 day trip. We found a great flight package with flights between each city included.
5. Each city has a completely different vibe, it can almost feel as though you’re in a new country. Seeing one city in Colombia does not mean you’ve seen all of Colombia. We highly recommend seeing Cartagena + another city. A lot of people only visit Cartagena and we feel that’s doing yourself a disservice, as Cartagena feels like a completely different country than the rest of the cities.
6. The climate is completely different in each city. Plan to bring different types of clothing for each location you are visiting. We recommend going from cold –> hot, with Cartagena being your last stop. The reason for this is that with how hot and humid it is in Cartagena, there’s no way you can re-wear any items of clothing without washing them.
7. Checking the weather means nothing. We checked the weather daily and it was never as predicted. As one of the hotel receptionists said, “only God knows” when asked about the weather for the day. Layers are going to be your best friend.
8. It’s a very clean country! We were not expecting this and were very pleasantly surprised. Exercise caution as always, but the food is pretty safe to eat, even from street vendors. All the food vendors in the walled city in Cartagena have strict food standards they need to meet.
9. Avoid tap water. Most food establishments offer filtered water, if not, get bottled.
10. Colombians use a very liberal amount of salt. If you’re not used to a lot of salt or are trying to cut down on your sodium intake, ask for less or no salt. You will get some very surprised reactions, but trust us, the food will taste much better.
11. To follow up on the point above, Colombians rarely use other seasonings other than salt. If you’re used to spicy foods or foods with lots of seasoning, you may want to bring your own spices or ask for hot sauce.
12. Fruit is probably the most delicious thing you will eat in Colombia. Eat lots of it! There are very diverse options and many specific to Colombia only. A few of the varities we tried are loved were: cherimoya, guanabana, lulo, mamoncillo, and uchuva
13. If you have dietary restrictions, be VERY clear when ordering. Substitutions and modifications don’t seem to be very common. In addition, it’s often assumed that vegetarians eat chicken and fish. Again, just be very specific.
What to pack:
14. Pack mosquito repellent and loads of sunscreen. Even in colder climates, you can still get major sunburns with the higher altitude. Light clothes + layers are going to be essential! In addition, about half the public restrooms we visited didn’t have soap and toilet paper, so you may want to carry travel size versions.
Here are some of the items we took along:
- Mosquito repellent (You’ll need a strong one. This is not the time to go natural)
- Sunscreen pack (Includes face sunscreen, body mist sunscreen, lip sunscreen- all small enough to carry-on)
- Travel toilet seat covers (These were a life saver for Lena!)
- Travel toilet paper
- Toilet travel pack (Includes seat covers, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and wet wipes)
- Hand sanitizer wipes (Easier to travel with than liquid or gel)
- Altitude remedy (This may be helpful if you’re traveling to Bogota. Please note, we are not doctors and are not providing medical advice)
15. Learn basic Spanish words or have Google Translate ready. We saved a few of our commonly used phrases on Google Translate so it would be easily accessible when we needed it. Since American tourists are not yet very common in Colombia, not everyone you will encounter will speak English. We noticed even the people who did speak English were very nervous to speak with us and really appreciated it when we attempted to speak in Spanish.
16. Always haggle. Never accept the first price offered to you. It is usually expected that people will negotiate and prices are often majorly inflated for tourists. On a similar note, do not get in a taxi until you negotiate a price and always ask for half of what the driver initially quotes you. If you aren’t sure how much it should cost to get somewhere, ask a local. They typically know the average cost of most trips.
17. You can get the best exchange rate using cards and withdrawing money from an ATM, especially one that doesn’t charge you an international fee like Citibank. Hotels and and currency exchange services don’t give you a very good rate.
Do you think there are any other things to know before traveling to Colombia? We’d love to hear your tips!