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Colombia Vacation Guide

panoramic view of coffee farm in pereira

Updated on 05/03/2024

Dear reader,
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!

Why You Should Holiday in Colombia: A Decade of Transformation

Introduction: Colombia’s Tourism Renaissance

Colombia, a country that has emerged as a new gem in the world of travel, beckons tourists with its vibrant culture, lush landscapes, and rich history. Over the last decade, it has undergone a remarkable transformation that has reshaped its image from a once-nervous destination to a must-visit spot on the global map.

A Personal Journey Through Colombia

My Colombia Adventure: Living in Colombia since 2015, I’ve journeyed extensively yet still find a trove of unexplored destinations. My compiled Colombia Travel Guide stands as a testament to the country’s allure—there’s none more comprehensive.

The Rise of Colombian Tourism

  • From Backpacker Haven to Mainstream Destination: In 2009, only the most adventurous backpackers ventured into Colombia. Areas like La Candelaria’s historic center were rough around the edges, with scant accommodation options.
  • Security Then and Now: My early travels were marked by stringent security checkpoints. Today, you’ll find a stark contrast with minimal police presence, reflecting the country’s progress toward peace and safety.

Investment and Quality Upgrades

La Candelaria’s Transformation: Investments have flowed into neighborhoods like La Candelaria, enhancing quality and safety. The journey from Cartagena to Riohacha now presents no more than routine traffic stops, a clear indicator of Colombia’s developmental strides.

A Peaceful Turn: The 2016 Peace Treaty

  • FARC Demobilization and Tourism: The signing of the peace treaty with FARC guerrillas in 2016 was a pivotal moment, ushering in an era of security that has bolstered both national and international tourism.
  • Personal Mileage: My 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles) of car travel through Colombia is a testament to the improved infrastructure and security landscape.

Colombia today

Many backpackers still come and Colombia is one of the countries with the highest density of hostels in the world. Many Colombians, including those in peripheral regions, have come to realize that tourism is not only a great challenge but also a great opportunity. Locals are now constantly investing and improving the infrastructure.

However, it still lacks the command of foreign languages. Even inhabitants of the big cities and well-educated Colombians often do not speak foreign languages. Some Spanish skills are therefore of advantage for visitors.

Guided tour in Guatapé Colombia

Exploring Beyond the Beaten Path in Colombia

Colombia’s Hidden Treasures

While cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena are well-trodden by tourists, Colombia’s true splendor lies beyond these hubs. A short visit barely scratches the surface of what this expansive country offers, with many gems hidden away, just waiting to be discovered by those who venture further.

Travel Smart: Navigating Colombia’s Distances

  • Air Travel for Long Distances: Given the country’s vastness and challenging road conditions, flying is recommended for covering large distances efficiently and comfortably.
  • Time vs. Comfort: Opting for air travel over road trips saves time and spares you from the potential stress of navigating unfamiliar terrain.
  • Latin American Visitors: There’s a notable increase in tourists from Latin America, particularly from Mexico.
  • European Market: European travel agencies are now tapping into Colombia’s potential, with packaged tours available even in supermarkets akin to Walmart.

Rethinking Packaged Tours

  • Prepackaged Disappointments: While readily available, these cookie-cutter tours often fall short, offering experiences like distant all-inclusive resorts marketed as Cartagena beach holidays.
  • The All-Inclusive Trap: Such trips might suit those who prioritize familiar comforts over authentic experiences, but they miss the essence of Colombia’s diverse culture.

The Case for Tailored Experiences

  • Value of Custom Trips: I advocate for individually planned journeys or small-group tours led by local, English-speaking Colombian guides.
  • Cultural Authenticity: Just as a Colombian might struggle to encapsulate the nuances of Texan cowboy culture, nothing beats a local’s insight into their homeland.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Contrary to perception, personalized travel in Colombia can be quite affordable, particularly when arranged directly within the country.
  • Personalized Service: Custom trips offer the benefit of tailored advice and personal attention.

Understanding the Security Landscape in Colombia

Significant Improvements in Safety

The narrative of Colombia’s security has seen a remarkable transformation, moving away from its tumultuous past. While the progress is notable, it’s crucial to remember that the country’s current state is not akin to the near-perfect conditions one might associate with Switzerland.

Remaining Vigilant in Select Areas

  • Zone-Specific Risks: Certain regions and neighborhoods, even within major cities, are best avoided by tourists due to higher risk levels.
  • Valuables: It’s wise to leave expensive watches and jewelry at home to avoid drawing unwanted attention.

Crime in Tourist Areas

  • Petty Crime: As with any popular destination, tourist zones can attract petty criminals. Incidents such as pickpocketing and snatch thefts can occur.
  • Nightlife Cautions: Tourists indulging in nightlife and alcohol may become easy targets, especially if illicit substances are involved. Personal responsibility is key to staying safe.

Police Presence and Support

  • Tourist Police Unit: The Colombian government has established a dedicated Tourist Police force, with officers often trained in English to assist international visitors.

Safer Regions for Travelers

  • Tranquil Areas: Places like the coffee zone or San Agustin are known for their lower crime rates.
  • Personal Testimony: Based on my extensive personal experience and feedback from my clients, incidents are rare to non-existent in these areas.

Mitigating Risk with Personal Conduct

  • Proactive Safety: A traveler’s behavior significantly impacts their security. By making informed choices and staying aware of their surroundings, visitors can greatly influence their own safety.

What to Expect in Colombia: A Land of Diversity and Contrast

Natural and Cultural Richness

Colombia proudly stands among the 17 megadiverse countries of the world, second only to Brazil in its ecological variety. Expect to be mesmerized by:

  • Biodiversity: An incredible range of habitats, from different altitudes to a stunning array of flora and fauna.
  • Cultural Tapestry: A country shaped by indigenous peoples, Spanish colonization, and African influences, resulting in a melting pot of cultures and languages.

Diverse Landscapes and Activities

  • Geographic Variety: Mountains, rivers, two coastlines, the Amazon, volcanoes, prairies, and megacities.
  • Activities Galore: From piranha fishing and adventure rafting to whale watching, cultural tours, and scientific expeditions.

Traveler’s Dilemma: Choosing Your Adventure

Given the vast selection, it’s impossible to prescribe a one-size-fits-all itinerary. Colombia’s size, comparable to Texas and California combined, requires knowing your interests to tailor the perfect trip.

Affordability and Economic Advantage

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Favorable exchange rates make Colombia an attractive destination, offering affordable accommodation, cheap food, and reasonable service costs.
  • Travel Costs: Domestic flights start as low as USD 30, although ground transportation can be pricier.

Emerging Tourism Infrastructure

  • Young Tourist Destination: With its growing infrastructure, there might be gaps in services, such as the availability of hot water in less developed areas.
  • Accommodation Spectrum: Luxury stays are mainly in Bogotá and Cartagena, but the luxury sector is expanding gradually.

Cultural Insights: The Colombian Way

  • Relaxed Pace: Adopt the local “tranquilo” approach and expect some deviations from punctuality and precision.
  • Improvisation Skills: Colombians have a knack for finding solutions, ensuring that most problems find a satisfactory resolution.

The Colombian Spirit

  • Joy and Hospitality: The happiness and friendliness of Colombians often transcend any inconveniences, ensuring a delightful visit.
  • Language Tip: Learning basic Spanish enhances the travel experience, enabling deeper connections with locals.
Men talking in the central park of Jardín Antioquia

Optimal Travel Times in Colombia

Steady Climate with Seasonal Considerations

Colombia’s equatorial location ensures consistent temperatures year-round, primarily influenced by altitude rather than seasonality. Here’s what to consider when planning your trip:

Seasonal Dynamics

  • Rainy vs. Dry Seasons: These vary by region and can affect travel plans. Research the seasonal patterns of your specific destinations within Colombia.
  • Altitude Effects: Temperature ranges from tropical heat at sea level to frigid conditions at high altitudes.

Cultural Events and High Seasons

  • Festivals Impact: Cultural festivities, like local carnivals, may affect crowd sizes and availability.
  • Peak Travel Times: The national holidays—Christmas to mid-January, Easter week, parts of June and July, and long weekends—are typically the busiest.

General Travel Recommendations

  • Popular Travel Period: December to April is often recommended for international tourists, but this can be overly simplistic.
  • Personal Preference: Consider less conventional times, such as November until Christmas, for better weather and fewer tourists.

Preparing for Your Colombian Adventure: Health and Safety Essentials

Understanding Colombia’s Tropical Environment

  • Biodiversity Haven: Colombia’s tropical climate is ideal for a wide array of life, including not just wildlife but also microorganisms.
  • Vector-Borne Diseases: Be aware that mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and dengue are present in Colombia.

Health Check and Vaccinations

  • Pre-Travel Medical Consultation: Schedule a visit to your doctor or a travel clinic well before your trip for a health check-up and to discuss travel health advice specific to Colombia.
  • Vaccination Guide: Stay updated on recommended vaccinations by referring to comprehensive medical guides, like the one provided in the article “Medical Advice for trips to Colombia.”

Travel Agency Assistance

  • Tailored Travel Planning: Consider enlisting the services of a specialized travel agency based in Bogotá for personalized trip advice and arrangements.
  • Language Preparation: Equip yourself with a basic Spanish vocabulary to enhance communication and enrich your travel experience.

Final Preparations

  • Packing Essentials: Bring along insect repellent, sun protection, and any personal medication.
  • Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia. I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia. For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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