where to travel in colombia cartagena city old church caribbean

Travel Guide: Colombia

In Travel by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

Summers are eternal in Colombia thanks to its ideal equatorial location. If that’s not enough to tempt you, the country is also home to some of South America’s most vibrant and fun-loving cities as well as a dramatic and beautiful landscape. We’ll cover where to travel in Colombia, when to go, how to get around, how to stay safe, and how much it’s likely to cost you.

When should I go?

While the location of Colombia means you can visit year round; December, January, and February are likely to be the driest (and most pleasant) months of the year. Of course, this comes with an increased amount of travelers both foreign and domestic – so expect crowds to be slightly larger. Overall though, just visit whenever you have the chance and it’s likely to be an enjoyable endeavor.

map colombia south america ocean

How do I get around?

Your best bet for getting around Colombia is generally flying (if you have a lot of ground to cover) or busing. Driving is not recommended for a variety of reasons, namely carjacking and poor road quality in some areas.

Where to travel in Colombia

Bogota | Caribbean Coast | Cartagena | Medellin | San Agustin | San Gil | Tayrona National Park | Zona Cafetera

Bogota

bogota city buildings colombia bullring

We start our journey in Colombia’s capital and largest city – Bogota. With a stunning location high in the Andes, it might surprise you to learn that the city has developed into one of South America’s largest and trendiest metropolises. Begin in the past with a visit to historic La Candelaria before spending the night in one of the city’s many bumping bars and clubs. There are still areas of the city best avoided, but you’ll find that most of the place has come a long way in recent years. They’ll be no shortage of things to see and do; it’ll just be up to you to decide what strikes your fancy.

Cartagena

cartagena colombia caribbean old new skyscrapers church

While Bogota might be the undisputed hub of activity in Colombia, it’s arguably Cartagena that is the must-see locale. The old town is the city’s premier sight, with Cartagena itself having a long history as one of the region’s major ports. Be sure to take a stroll through the cobbled streets and explore the remnants of the old fortifications if you have a chance. Move beyond the old town and Cartagena shows a different face, with all the bustle of everyday life you’d expect from a major South American city.

Medellin

medellin night colombia city

Once associated with Colombia’s most infamous criminal and the violence that he wrought, the country’s second largest city has worked hard to put these dark days behind it. It begins with the ideal Andean location and continues with the fun-loving personality of the people that call Medellin home. This is certainly a working city, so don’t expect a living museum of sorts – but if anything the way of life here gives Medellin an extra charm.

San Agustin

san agustin pre-columbian statue face indigenous

If you want to step back even further in time, the town of San Agustin offers one of the best windows into pre-Columbian life in the Americas. One of the first things you’re likely to notice are the statues, almost reminiscent of the fabled Easter Island. Beyond that, you’ll find sculptures, monoliths, and more that date back almost 2000 years in some cases – a truly staggering number in this hemisphere. Of course as with much of Colombia, we have to mention the stunning landscape that is just waiting to be explored outside the town limits.

San Gil

colombia san gil mountain city adventure

The town of San Gil caters to a different sort of tourist – namely those who might be seeking a bit more adventure in their lives. As the country’s de facto extreme sports and outdoor capital, San Gil is a great place to start a wild ride – whether it is white water rafting, hiking, paragliding, or so much more. The town’s motto is “La Tierra de Aventura” which translates to “The Land of Adventure” – so you should know what you’re getting into here. The town itself also offers some sights and friendly locals, though it may not be as photogenic a place as some of the above municipalities.

Zona Cafetera

zona cafetera colombia coffee roast hot beans

Around the city of Medellin you can find a large region known as Zona Cafetera. So what is it that makes this stunning region a must-see (besides the, you know, ‘stunning’ nature of it)? While France, Italy, and many other countries might have their renowned wine regions, Colombia has coffee – and Zona Cafetera is the heart of this age-old operation. Here you can visit bustling plantations and sample the drink from the source. Many of the farmers and businesses cater to tourists, all without losing sight of the authenticity that makes them among the most renowned crafters in the coffee world.

Caribbean Coast

caribbean colombia island coast beach tree

This is pretty much a no brainer. We all love the beauty and warmth of the Caribbean Sea, so it should make sense that Colombia’s coast is among the marquee sights in the country. Besides the city of Cartagena, the coast offers an abundance of places to see – both urban and remote. Hike in the isolated Cuidad Perdida, travel inland a bit to visit the rainforest, or simply relax along the clear blue waters of the sea. You really can’t go wrong no matter what you do.

Tayrona National Park

tayrona national park colombia beach sand trees hills

If you need a specific destination along Colombia’s northern coast to visit, Tayrona National Park should be taken into consideration. The beaches are the most popular asset the park has – and should be the first and perhaps last place to visit. That’s not all though. You can observe Colombia’s biodiversity first hand with a wealth of animals (especially birds) that call Tayrona home. It really is a beautiful place, and all the beachside activities you’d expect are here – and easy to access for most visitors.

How much does it cost?

You can usually get a flight down to Colombia for a pretty affordable price. Round trip flights between Pearson and Bogota start around the $600 Canadian mark – but can be found for less. Be sure to shop around to find the best possible deal!

Once you arrive, you’ll find that you can get by very cheaply. On average, expect to spend about $32 a day with a budget of $13 for accommodation and $10 for food. Really cutting down your spending can put you at about $12 a day while dropping a bit extra for more comfort will cost you closer to $90 a day.

bogota street colombia shopping people rainy

Health and Safety

While there is no nationwide advisory in effect, the Canadian government still recommends a high degree of caution throughout the country due to potential security threats. In addition, there are several areas where travel is advised against altogether. These are (source):

  • “Most rural areas of Colombia due to the presence of illegal armed groups and the evolving security situation. The exceptions are some parts of the coffee-growing area southwest of Bogotá (Risaralda, Quindío and Caldas) and resort areas with established tourist industries, such as the islands of San Andrés and Providencia, the Rosario Islands off of the Atlantic Coast and the Amazon resorts near Leticia.
  • The Departments of Antioquia (excluding Medellín), Arauca, Cauca, Caquetá, Chocó, Cordoba (excluding Monteria), Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Nariño (excluding Pasto), Norte de Santander (excluding Cúcuta), Putumayo, Santander (excluding Bucaramanga), Tolima, Valle del Cauca (excluding Cali), Vichada and southern parts of La Guajira due to the presence of illegal armed groups.”

Armed anti-government groups (such as FARC) are often a threat in rural areas. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going if you plan on visiting more remote places outside of the cities so you don’t unwittingly stumble into these groups areas of operation. In addition, these guerrilla groups have been known to initiate terrorist attacks throughout the country. Be sure to check the news and always follow the direction of local authorities.

Crime remains a problem throughout Colombia, though it has recently subsided somewhat compared to before. Be on the lookout for perpetrators of petty crime in busy areas. You should be vigilant at all times and avoid certain areas after dark. Kidnapping is also a problem here, especially those committed by the armed rebel groups. Driving is very dangerous and is not recommended for those visiting the country. While buses are useful, they are not always considered safe, with criminals sometimes targeting them.

Visit the Canadian government’s travel advisory website for more specific, up-to-date information about how to stay safe in Colombia HERE.

These are just a few examples of where to travel in Colombia, there’s tons more to see and do. If you think somewhere else should be on the list, let us know in the comments.

Check out our Country of the Week for more general information about Colombian history and culture.

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