Be prepared for your dream holiday to Colombia with our helpful information.
From money advice to visas, from inoculations to which plugs to take, below you’ll find a wide range of travel tips, advice and information that will help you get ready to explore Colombia.
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Colombia is the country that has everything you could need from a South America holiday.
Diverse people and landscapes make this a country rich in wildlife, landscapes and culture.
Hikers can choose to trek to glaciers on snow-capped peaks, or through steamy forest to hidden ruins, or to unique Paramó plains.
Cyclists can pedal over and around the Andean peaks that dominate, and adventure seekers can try anything from paragliding to canyoning.
Beach lovers can enjoy surfing and relaxing with a Colombian twist, or head to islands for a more Caribbean vibe.
Prefer wildlife? Try the pacific coast and its whales and turtles, or perhaps the Amazon and its diverse flora and fauna.
The cities are cosmopolitan and cultured, replete with incredible museums with enormous collections.
Colombia is divided into five main geographical regions: Pacific, Llanos, Amazon, Caribbean and Andes.
The Andes dominate and have three main branches, all running roughly from south to north.
The Cordillera Occidental lies furthest to the west, running parallel to the Pacific coast; Furthest east lies The Cordillera Oriental running almost to the whole length of the country and incorporating Bogota; and in between these two, is the Cordillera Central.
Less than 3% of the population live in two lowland areas that comprise more than half of Colombia’s overall size.
The first lies to the east of the Andes called Llanos and is a savannah, and forms a part of the Orinoco river basin.
The second is Colombia’s steamy Amazon rainforest, which lies to the far south east of the country and covers almost one third of the entire country.
In the north is the hot and humid Caribbean coast, characterised by beautiful beaches and turquoise seas as well as fertile and low-lying plains and La Guarija Desert.
Colombia lays claim to two small islands, close to Nicaragua, called San Andres and Providencia, and islands in the Pacific and these are known as the insular area.
The narrow Pacific coastal lowlands are densely covered with vegetation, with very few people living here.
Colombia has warm to hot average temperatures all year round.
Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, for example, averages around 325 days of sunshine a year, even during its ‘winter’.
There are, however, two rainy and dry seasons that Colombians call summer and winter.
The severity and length of these seasons also depends on where you are in the country – the coast has slightly more severe and longer dry seasons than the Andean region, for example.
Dec-March and July-early Sept.
On the coast the rainfall stays low during the whole of September.
April to June and October to early December.
Much depends on where you are in the country. Up in the mountains one of the great attractions of Colombia is the fact that within half and hour of travel, either losing or gaining altitude, you can emerge in a totally different climate, substantially hotter and drier, or colder and more humid, depending on where you are.
On mountain treks the temperature will decrease around 6°C for every 1,000 metre (3,300 feet) increase in altitude.
In the Paramo, temperatures average around 5ºC and drop below freezing at nighttime.
Again, variations depend on geography.
Nationals of the UK and most of Western Europe, the Americas, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, do not need a visa to enter Colombia.
It’s a good idea to check this before your planned trip, because visa regulations change frequently.
Please check your passport is current and make a photocopy that you can carry with you at all times.
All visitors get an entry stamp or print in their passport from DAS (the security police responsible for immigration) upon arrival at any international airport or land border crossing. The stamp says how many days you can stay in the country.
The maximum allowed is 90 days.
We strongly suggest that everyone planning to travel to Colombia visits their local doctor/travel clinic prior to departure for the latest vaccination information.
Official name: Republic of Colombia
Capital city: Bogotá (7.8 million)
Largest cities: Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla
Languages: Spanish (official) + 68 more recognised.
Latitude/Longitude: 4º S, 72º W
Official currency: Peso (COP)
Major industries: Finance, minerals, emeralds, oil
Time zone: GMT-5
Festival: Barranquilla Carnaval
4 days of parades, music and dancing.
March / April
Festival: Semana Santa / Easter
2 Km procession.
Festival: Salsa Festival
Week of dance and music events.
Festival: Feria de Las Flores / Flower Festival
Concerts, shows, parades and celebrations.
Festival: Festival of Cali
5 day festival between Christmas and New Year with music , horses, classic cars and salsa.
Good kit is vital for every trip.
Book with Andean Trails and get 15% off Páramo’s fantastic ethical and high performance outdoor gear.
Bogotá is a city high in the Andes Mountains (2625 metres) and has a spring-like climate, when the weather is generally cool and variable. It can rain, the sun can shine and it can be foggy and chilly.
Bogotános like to say that in Bogotá you can experience the four seasons all in one day.
On the Carribean coast it is usually hot and humid. In general you’ll need cool clothes. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is very hot most of the time and your change in altitude during the trek isn’t a lot. Whilst you’ll be kept a little cooler by the surrounding water and dense vegetation you will be pretty hot and sweating during most if not all of the trek.
Give plenty of thought to kit selection, and try to keep weight down.
Below is a more detailed guide.
Detailed kit list
Andean Trails has 25 years of experience of putting together the best South America holidays.
We pay a fee to the CAA for every licensable passenger we book since we hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. In the unlikely event of our insolvency, the CAA will ensure that you are not stranded abroad and will arrange to refund any money you have paid to us for an advance booking.
We also offer ATOL (Civil Aviation Authority) protected holidays to give our customers peace of mind when booking and travelling.
When you buy an ATOL protected air holiday package from Andean Trails Ltd you will receive a Confirmation Invoice from us confirming your arrangements and your protection under our Air Travel Organiser’s Licence number 6275.
You can read more about ATOL, who is covered and what protections you have if not ATOL-covered, on our ATOL page.
What is ATOL?
The CAA’s ATOL scheme offers protection to your money and your holiday if you book with us. Not everybody is covered (see ‘Who is covered?’ for more), as you must purchase an ‘air package holiday’ with Andean Trails to be protected.
And ‘air package holiday’ is defined as including a flight and some ground services (hotel, transfer, trek etc). This is also known as an ‘ATOL-protected holiday’.
Who is covered?
To be covered by ATOL, you must book a flight and some ground services with us and be from the UK. If you are from the UK and only book ground services and no flights, you are not covered by ATOL (see below for more on how non-ATOL clients are covered).
If you are outside the UK and buy flights with us, you will be ATOL protected IF any of the flights booked with Andean Trails touches/stops in the UK at any point during your holiday package booked with us.
If you buy your flights elsewhere, please check with that agent if you are ATOL protected. Be careful with online flight purchases and make sure you know what protection you have, if any, before paying for flights.
Not all holiday or travel services offered and sold by us will be protected by the ATOL scheme. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking.
For land only holidays not involving any air travel, in accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992”, all UK passengers booking with Andean Trails Ltd. are fully protected for the initial deposit and subsequently the balance of all money paid to us, arising from cancellation or curtailment of travel arrangements due to the insolvency of Andean Trails.
I’m not ATOL covered, what protection do I have?
If you are not ATOL covered, any payments you make to us go to a Trust account.
We can only access this money once your tour has been completed, meaning that if anything happens to Andean Trails Limited while you are on holiday, then your money is secure and you can either complete the trip or be able to make it home.
If you pay for your holiday with a credit card, some offer payment protection – please check with your cardholder.
You also should have cancellation protection written into your insurance (which we recommend you have at the time of booking) in case you need to cancel.
Although Colombia is relatively safe, we strongly recommend checking with the Foreign and Commonwealth office about safe travel areas before you depart.
Many areas are safe for travel but other areas are not. Our tours pass for through safe areas.
General advice for anywhere in Colombia is:
Empanadas Fried meat ( pork or beef ) pasties.
Pandebono Traditional Colombian cheese bread.
Papa rellena Stuffed potatoes usually with meat).
Picada A platter of fried meats and vegetables.
Pan de Yuca Bread made with yuca flour and cheese.
Bandeja Paisa Beans, white rice, chicharrón, beef or pork, chorizo, fried egg, ripe plantain, avocado and arepa
Puchero Santafereño: Stew that usually includes beef, chicken, pork, plantain, yuca, potatoes, corn, chorizo, and cabbage.
Tamales Cornmeal mixed with meat, chicken or fish wrapped in a banana leaf.
Sudado de Pollo Chicken stew served with rice.
Pescado frito A whole fried fish, usually served with green plantain, coconut rice and a tomato salad on the side.
Salpicón de Frutas Fresh fruit cocktail with watermelon juice and sometimes a scoop of ice cream.
Cocadas Blancas Sweet sticky shredded coconut balls.
Flan de Coco Coconut milk pudding.
Arroz con Leche Sweet, and creamy rice pudding.
Dulce de Brevas Figs cooked in a sugarcane syrup, served with cheese.
Jugo de Tamarindo Tamarind juice.
Aguardiente Sprit made from anise and sugar cane.
Limonada de Coco Coconut limeade.
Chocolate Santafereño Hot chocolate with a touch of cinammon.
Tinto Strong, sweet black coffee.
Currency & Money Exchange
Colombia’s monetary unit is the “Colombian Peso”.
Most businesses (unless a tourist shop/restaurant) will only accept Colombian pesos. Note that the Peso comes in very high denominations (see below), so you’ll need to get used to very big numbers on bills that are not worth very much.
ATM debit/credit cards are widely used in major restaurants, hotels and shops (with fees) in major towns and cities. There are plenty of ATMS (hole-in-the-wall) cash machines throughout the country, although in rural areas there are none.
There is often a limit on the amount you can withdraw in one go (around USD 100), and your bank as well as the Colombian bank may charge you for withdrawals.
If you do take foreign currency to change take US dollars. These should be new notes, or at least unmarked and undamaged notes, in smaller denominations of 10s, 20s and maybe some 50s. Do not take USD 100 bills as they are unlikely to be accepted.
When changing money, don’t change with street changers (cambistas). Use a bank or casa de cambio (bureau de change). Count your bills carefully before handing over your US dollars, and look out for forged notes.
Exchange rate: USD 1 = 2800 Colombia Peso (approx.), June 2018.
Peso banknotes: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 pesos
Peso coins: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 pesos
Eating and drinking
Colombia has a proud culinary history, with a wide variety of ingredients now being fused with international styles to create exciting new menus.
There are more and more high quality restaurants in most towns and cities, albeit it more rural areas there are very local eateries.
Prices vary greatly, below is a rough guide to what you can expect to pay in Colombia.
Beer/soft drink: USD 1-2
Menu del dia: USD 3-7
Coffee: USD 1
Tourist style restaurant
Beer/soft drink: USD 2-4
Main dish: USD 10 upwards
Coffee: USD 2
Tipping is entirely voluntary and how much you give depends on how you feel about the service you have received.
This is a rough guideline:
Colombia uses 110 volts, with a frequency of 60 Hz.
Most cameras, phones and computers are dual or multi voltage and probably won’t need a convertor – please check before leaving.
Some items you may bring, such as hairdryers, may need a convertor. They may short if you use them without the correct convertor.
Colombia mainly uses two-pin, flat-pronged Type A plugs and some sockets take Type B plugs.
Type A plug
Type B plug
The international code for Colombia is +57.
Regions have single digit dialling codes.
Colombia’s landlines have 7 digits, and to call landline-landline in the same city, simply dial the 7 digits.
If calling landline to another regional landline/city, start with a 0 then the city area code.
If using your own mobile phone to call a landline, dial the country code, the regional/city code without the 0, and then the number, e.g. +57 1 1234567.
Mobiles have 10 digits.
If you are dialling mobile to mobile, simply dial the 10 digits.
If using your own mobile phone to call a Colombia mobile, dial the country code then the 10 digit number e.g. +57 1 12345-67899.
You will see many street vendors selling minutos (minutes). You can make local calls from their pre-paid mobiles at a cheap rate.
Almost all unlocked phones will work in Colombia with a local SIM, and 3G coverage is excellent. Check with your provider before arrival if your phone will work.
Roaming charges may be high – again, best to check.
Most hotels, cafes, restaurants and airports offer free and generally good Wi-Fi. Lots of plazas, libraries and more public spaces also have free Wi-Fi – Colombia is a very connected country.
Internet cafes are slowly disappearing, but most towns and cities will have some in the main centres.
Head to the official postal service, oddly named ‘4-72’, for postal services.
Learning a few words of Spanish can really ingratiate you with the locals you’ll encounter, adding to the enjoyment of your holiday.
Below are some basics to get you started.
Good morning Buenos días
How are you? ¿Cómo estás?
Good afternoon Buenas tardes
Good bye Adiós
Most frequently asked questions (theirs):
Where are you (plural) from? ¿De dónde eres (son)?
What time is it? ¿Qué hora es?
Where have you come from? ¿De dónde vienes?
Give me (frequent, unwelcome question) Dáme / regálame
Most frequent questions (yours):
How much is it? ¿Cuánto vale?
What is this place called? ¿Cómo se llama este lugar?
What’s your name? ¿Cómo te llamas?
Do you have a map? ¿Tienes un mapa?
In the street / places:
Where can I find a currency exchange? ¿Dónde encuentro una casa de cambio?
Where is there a cash machine? ¿Dónde hay un cajero automatico?
Where is the underground/subway station? ¿Dónde esta la estacion de metro/subte(Buenos Aires)?
Where can I find a taxi? ¿Dónde puedo encontrar un taxi?
Where can I find a Supermarket? ¿Dónde puedo encontrar un supermercado?
Where is the hospital? ¿Dónde esta el hospital?
Where can I find a restaurant? ¿Dónde puedo encontrar un restaurante?
In the hotel:
What floor am I on? ¿En qué piso estoy?
Where are the elevators/lifts? ¿Dónde están los ascensores?
How do I access the Internet? ¿Cómo puedo acceder a Internet?
How do I call for room service? ¿Cómo llamo para el servicio de habitación?
How do I call down to the front desk? ¿Cómo llamo a la recepción?
In the restaurant:
A table for two/four please Una mesa para dos/cuatro, porfavor
I would like to drink… Me gustaria tomar….
May I see a menu? Puedo ver la carta/menu?
I would like to order.. Me gustaria pedir…
Can you bring me the check/bill please. Me trae la cuenta por favor
I need help. Necesito ayuda.
I have lost my passport. He perdido mi pasaporte.
Someone stole my money. Alguien robó mi dinero
I have been robbed. Me han robado
I need to call the police. Necesito llamar a la policía
I need to call the (country) Embassy Necesito llamar a la embajada de (country)
Andean Trails believes in Responsible Travel and actively supports several community projects.
Please see Our Advice and Our Ethos for more, and learn about the Projects We Support.
We operate the Inca Trail, our treks and tours with local firms.
We make sure that on our tours and Inca Trail we employ local staff, who are paid fair wages.
With the Inca Trail, We provide free life insurance to all of our porters. Tented accommodation and meals are provided for all trekking staff as well as foam mats, sleeping bags and rain ponchos. We have also provided the staff with trekking shoes. We ensure our porters carry a maximum of only 20kg. We offer them backpacks and they generally use back supports.
Clean burning fuel is used to cook the meals on the Inca Trail and porters carry gas stoves and butane bottles. We use biodegradable detergents when washing the cooking and eating utensils. If any part of our tour or trek is operated by another company, we try to ensure that high standards are maintained.
Our additional support helps the Huchuy Yachaq project which supports children and families in one of the poorest communities in the district of Cusco.
Responsible Tourism – Code of Conduct:
All our activities are governed by our respect for the environment and the people who live in it. We aim to make a positive impact both in the UK and in the Andean countries we work in (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina).
We agree with the principals of sustainable development and specifically promote environmentally aware tourism in the Andean countries, in order to preserve the heritage of the people who live there and to help protect their environment.
In the UK we use recycled paper where possible, recycle what we can and attempt to keep waste to an absolute minimum.
Throughout South America we work together with local people, paying them a fair price, and putting money into the local economy. We do this by using local agents, local trek staff and experienced and qualified local mountain and cultural guides who have an in-depth knowledge of their own country. Our porters on the Inca Trail are fairly paid, carry a maximum load of 20kg and are supplied with tents and food. In other areas we use donkeys or horses to carry loads.
We use locally owned services such as hotels and restaurants, wherever possible. We buy fresh local produce for all of our treks from markets in each departure town. We use public transport whenever possible and feasible.
We have ongoing contact with the teams that we work with and also with local families in the areas we trek through, developing relationships with them and donating goods such as clothes and shoes to their communities, through appropriate local agencies. We also support local Peruvian charities, specifically NIÑOS in Cusco, and CARE in the Huaraz area, plus Huchuy Yachaq.
If you have any suitable (warm) clothes and shoes that you would like to donate to Peruvian children please take them with you and give them to your tour leader, who will ensure they go to a suitable organization.
When out on tour we encourage learning about the countries we travel in, the local culture of the teams we work with and the areas we pass through. Our guides hold informal talks with groups to inform about and discuss with them all aspects of local life. This helps understanding of the area and appreciation of the people who live there.
Our group sizes are kept to a maximum of 16 people, and we encourage smaller groups where possible. This minimises the negative impact we make on the local people, the wildlife and the environment, and increases the quality time spent in contact with the local people and environment.
When trekking we adhere to a responsible tourism code of practice and are also involved in ongoing training of our trek staff.
A full Health and Safety document will be sent to you at the time of booking and before you travel.
You can also read it on our website, or contact us for more information.
It is a condition of booking any of our holidays that you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover you for trip cancellation (by you), activities involved and destination. This cover should include repatriation costs, air ambulance and helicopter rescue.
We work with Travel Nomads, who offer insurance solutions to people in more than 140 countries across the world.
Should you decide not to purchase this insurance, you must provide us with details of your alternative insurance with or before your final payment.
Ask a question and our expert in this area will have your answer.
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Our bike tour was very good we had an excellent guide
Rio Claro was absolutely wonderful - the fact that there were many people there meant we mixed a lot and loved it. Amount of time there was just right.
Our private taxi to Rio Salento was with a lovely taxi driver, very safe, very polite.
Snorkelling was magnificent, a very nice place.
On The Lost City trek - the guide was Camacho, who was great. We were given fresh sheets on the beds at camp, the washing facilities are poor and toilets very basic. Camacho did a great job at looking after our diets. We had a big downpour one day and the path became a mud bath - Camacho was great at helping us along safely. The weather cleared and next 3 days were amazing.
Overall we loved Colombia - it was a lovely place to go and the people were really friendly. We had lots of laughs and were reassured knowing there was help at the end of the phone if need be.
C Crowther, UK, 2016
» Colombia’s Lost City Trek and Highlights
I only made a flying visit to the Colombian Pacific Coast around Nuqui.
This is certainly a place to get away from it all as the area is like an island surrounded by tropical jungle.
Lodges with limited electricity, no mobile phone reception nor internet, masses of wildlife, whales, white sandy beaches, surf, jungle trails, canoe rides, lots of seafood and tranquility.
To many, heaven.
A Lyall, UK, 2015
Students Study Food Insecurity & Climate Change in Peru University of Edinburgh students and teachers report back from Peru, where they learned how traditional farming techniques could help prevent climate change and reduce food insecurity. The team visited coastal Lima, the Cusco Highlands, and the cloud forest. For Andean Trails and our local team, it was a chance to showcase a side of Peru that many visitors may not see when passing through. It went so well that the University has already signed up its team to another Food Security tour in the spring of 2024. Learning About …
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