Travel Tips for Colombia

Highlights

Colombia is and will always be one of the top places to visit in the world, in our humble travel opinions. This country has something to offer everyone and you could spend years here exploring all its unique geography has to offer. Picking highlights are more difficult in this country than perhaps anywhere else, as it has boundless corners of beauty.

You can enjoy the beautiful coastlines of either the Pacific or Caribbean Oceans, or even take a quick flight up to the center of the Caribbean, to San Andres and Providencia. If you prefer mountains, there are a number of different options, from snowcapped peaks to areas where the mountains run right down to the ocean, like in Tayrona National Park. You can soak in the largely untouched, desert area of La Guajira, travel to the famous Amazon or spend time in the bustling cities of Bogota and Medellin. There are small towns, or pueblos galore, each with a unique charm and major historical landmarks, such as the walled city of Cartagena.

The food and drinks are almost as great as the scenery and the people of Colombia will not let you leave without showing you a good time. We cannot recommend Colombia enough, for everyone. This country has moved past its historically bad reputation and deserves all the praise in the world.

Acceptance

While Colombians have a reputation for being some of the friendliest in the world, there are certain complaints as to their acceptance of different groups, which are certainly worth pointing out.

As with many Latin American countries, there is a noticeable and blatant class disparity in Colombia. Classism is a huge problem in the country and there is a noticeable disrespect between members of different classes, particularly in the way that the wealthier classes treat poorer classes. This is a problem that seeps into everyday life and, in the opinion of our Dunia Unificada team, something that is greatly hindering the ability of the country to advance as much as it should. This is also something that can be quite uncomfortable for visitors and something that is worth taking note of when traveling to the country.

In addition, racism, which is more likely than not also directly linked to the issue with classism, is also a noticeable problem. Several individuals visiting or living in Colombia from different African countries have noted to us that they often feel as though they are being looked poorly on or disrespected, because of their race. There are few opportunities given to black Colombians, referred to as “Afro-Colombians” and the bias that is felt against them is also reflected on the way that black individuals from other countries will be treated when visiting.

While this racism is not so extreme that it is generally demonstrated violently, nor will there typically be disrespectful comments made, there is a definite unease and rudeness in the way many, of course not all, people will treat black individuals. This seems to be worst in Bogota and less true in cities such as Medellin, Cali and Cartagena, where the black Colombian population is significantly larger.

Certain regions of Colombia do remain overly traditional and conservative in their thoughts on homosexuality and, in many cases, women and feminism. While homosexuality has become widely accepted across most of the country and Colombia is one of the first countries in the world to allow for same-sex marriage, there are certain pockets where homosexual individuals are looked poorly upon. This does not generally impact day to day activities, particularly if only in the country for a short period, but is something that we at Dunia Unificada is important to keep in mind.  

 

Annoyances

Your annoyances while in Colombia will vary based on your travel experience. In comparison to places like the United States or Europe, Colombia can sometimes feel overly relaxed and the people a bit too nonchalant about life, as well as disorganized. However, in comparison to many other countries, it may feel fast-paced and well-developed.

The biggest annoyances we have found tend to be centered around Bogota, which can be viewed as an overly crowded city, which is reflected in many aspects of daily life. Trying to get onto public transportation can be quite the task, with people pushing and shoving to get a spot in the sardine-packed buses, particularly during rush hour. Moreover, traffic in the city can be atrocious and during peak hours it can be very difficult to get around. People in this city can also come across as much ruder than in other cities. There are a number of theories as to why Bogota is this way, but the leading theory seems to be that it is a second home and not the first of a large percentage of the city’s population and there just does not seem to be as much respect for the city itself as you find in places like Medellin. Whatever the reason, there are certain big city annoyances that you will come across when in Bogota.

The hot, hot weather can also be annoying to certain travelers, particularly when trying to explore the streets of places like Cartagena, where travelers who are not used to the heat will struggle to stay cool. That said, some people love this kind of weather and prefer it to other climates.

The highlights and absolute beauty of this country make up for any annoyance you may face. Learn to take a deep breath, step back and soak it all in, because some of these annoyances actually add to the charm of this incredible country.

Capital City

The capital city of Bogotá, Colombia is unusually situated in the middle of the country, rather than on any one of the country’s many coastlines. The city is surrounded by mountains and is situated at an altitude of 8,660 feet (2,640 meters), which means it is wise for visitors not accustomed to altitude to make sure that they stay hydrated and take it easy for a bit, so as to allow their bodies to adjust.

Bogotá is a crowded city that is exploding with people more and more each year. The city is the center of Government, as well as business and many Colombians from around the country, have moved there to pursue higher salaries and greater opportunity. The north of the city is much wealthier than the south and there are noticeable differences between both ends. The proper city center, Candelaria, is the original city, with many buildings remaining untouched since Spanish rule.  

While the weather is often viewed as much more agreeable to travelers from the north, particularly those who like things a little cooler than the hot, hot coasts, many Colombians complain that the city is the “freezer” of Colombia, as temperatures can dip substantially at night and the unpredictable weather, resulting from its mountainous location, makes dressing in layers essential.

The city does offer some definite worthwhile sightseeing, as well as a vibrant nightlife, however, a few days is generally sufficient for any visitor.

Holidays worth traveling for

As we have mentioned, Colombians love to party and they fully enjoy time off. This makes holidays a great time to visit the country, as there are always tons of different events taking place throughout the country and there are parties galore.

The two best holidays to visit for are Christmas/New Year and Easter. Most Colombians are given a good amount of time off during these times of the year and they almost all travel, either to their home towns or to hot climates, to get away and enjoy the beach or pool. This means that Bogota is empty, but places like Cartagena, Santa Marta and Cali are full and lively.

Many different cities offer festivals during the Christmas week, including a spectacular light display in Medellin that takes over the city; a week-long fair in Cali full of dancing and food and fun; and a similar fair in Manizales. Other smaller towns also offer different events and festive displays and the coast offers an almost non-stop party. Cartagena in particularly is really go, go, go during this time and is the place to be if you like to party.

Colombians have almost the entire Holy Week leading up to Easter off and they take full advantage, by heading to the beach or pools. This week is great for finding good food and good fun. There are also a number of smaller towns that offer more traditional celebrations, which can be really amazing to experience firsthand.

When traveling to Colombia for these two holiday periods, be sure to book far in advance, particularly if you are headed to Cartagena or Santa Marta, as places will fill up quickly.  

 

Safety

Once a world capital for kidnapping and homicide, Colombia has commendably become an increasingly safe place to visit. This is likely to become even more true, as the recently signed peace agreement, between the Colombian Government and the notorious guerrilla group, the FARC, enters into force, so long as both sides can abide by the agreed cease fire. Dunia Unificada will continue to provide users with updated information related to this situation, as prior to this agreement, there are certain areas of Colombia, although not high tourist areas, which we would caution avoiding. None of our recommended places to visit fall into this category.

Parts of the Pacific Coast of Colombia, particularly the port city of Buenaventura and its surrounding areas, can be highly dangerous, as there is significant gang activity and little police control. This area of Colombia can offer absolutely incredible experiences, but travel should be booked with caution and using only recommended, experienced guides, as foreign travelers do need to be more careful when traveling to this region. Dunia Unificada has included only recommended guides in its database and is happy to help arrange safe travel to this area.

When traveling in cities, it is important to be street smart, just as it is in cities anywhere in the world. Certain neighborhoods in each city are considered rougher than others and in areas frequented by tourists, pickpockets and other small level thieves are common. Using a bit of caution can go a long way and, as with most countries, these annoyances should not make you completely avoid visiting the cities. Use extra caution at night, particularly by avoiding walking alone at night.

While the numbers have been greatly reduced, Colombia does have an issue with taxi drivers robbing passengers, sometimes using drugs or other methods for reducing the passenger’s ability to act on their own. We highly suggest that when traveling by taxi, you used taxis from authorized stands, or that you have the people at the hotel, restaurant or bar you are at can call a taxi for you. There are also easily downloadable apps, such as Easy Taxi, which you can use to have a taxi come pick you up directly from your location. Uber is also available in the major cities.

Finally, when using public transport, such as buses or the Medellin metro, use caution, as there are a number of pickpockets and people are frequently robbed while riding. Careful crossing the streets in cities as well, as the drivers in this lovely country can often time be not so lovely and motorcycles often weave in and out of lanes of traffic.  

Should you, and this is unlikely, come face to face with someone trying to rob you, we do highly suggest that you give whatever is being asked, as the violent crimes are few and far between when the victim does not resist. Your life and well-being are a far greater concern than material goods. This is true wherever you travel and is a piece of advice we would offer you, no matter where you are going.