Colombia Travel: Visiting Colombia for Backpackers

Taylor McIntyre / TripSavvy

Want to Go to Colombia?:

Want a way outstanding stamp in your passport and and perfect place to put in your memoirs? How about Colombia? Cartagena... Bogota... Medellin... just the names evoke romance, intrigue, interesting days and nights... and yeah, crime and craziness. Colombia's terrible years as a world crime capitol are dead as disco, though, and its time in the sun as a tourist destination and beautiful, vibrant, va-voom passionate place is right now. Let's see about visiting Colombia and travel to Colombia...

Before You Travel to Colombia:




  • Do I need a passport for Colombia travel?
  • Do I need a tourist visa in Colombia?
    • U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less. You may have to show evidence of return or onward travel, like a round-trip plane ticket. You may get fined if you overstay a visa. See the US gov's Colombia visa, entry and exit info.
  • Do I need shots before I travel to Colombia?
    • Probably not. Read more about travel immunizations, and ask your doc about yellow fever documentation.
      • Read about all travel documents.



How should I pack for Colombia?:

Bring a jacket and socks if you're going anywhere other than the coast -- though some of it's on the equator, much of Colombia is also mountainous! Think Rocky Mountains in spring -- Bogota's average temp is in the 60's, for instance; always stick a hoodie in your day pack while touring anywhere inland. The coast, though, is hot and often humid -- remember that the northrn part of Colombia is bordered by the Caribbean Sea. No need for an electrical converter. Comfy walking shoes are a must - many museums to march through in this country.



Getting to Colombia:

You'll find the best airfare to Colombia from student airfare agencies like Student Universe. Watch for specials and you can save a bundle. Don't be fooled by some airlines' "student airfares" -- student airfare agencies have the real deal. Airfare sales do happen, though -- check student airfares against an aggregator's roundup of regular ticket prices.


Air to Cartagena may be cheaper with an air/hotel package, but those stays are usually very short.



 Taylor McIntyre / TripSavvy

Where should I travel to in Colombia?:

Very safe, very scenic, very accessible cities providing perfect bases for traveling in Colombia are Bogota (center), Medellin (Northwest), and Cartagena (Caribbean coast). Bogota's sophisticated, Medellin eternlly springlike and lovely, and think Pirates of the Caribbean to be on the way to what Cartagena is like. See city photos for more:


  • Bogota Photos (by Bonnie Hamre)
  • Cartagena Photos (by Bonnie Hamre)
  • Medellin Photos (by Bonnie Hamre)


Getting Around in Colombia:

Colombia's a big country (439,735 square miles) and getting around by bus is thus slower than flying, but efficient enough and pretty cheap (read a Bogota-Medellin bus trip report); figure on eight hours from Bogota to Medellin, and 12-14 hours from Medellin-Cartagena (and the days when criminals ruled the Colombian roads are over). EasyFly is the big low budget airline; Avianca has tons o' flights. Inside cities, buses are plentiful and cheap; Medellin has a massive, modern metro.


  • How to take a foreign cab



Colombian Money and Colombian Budget:

Colombia's currency is the peso: subtract zeros to keep your cash straight -- in fall 2009, $1USD is roughly 2000 Colombian pesos. Exchange rate is usually decent; don't count on total shoestring travel in Colombia, though it's not pricey. Clubs are not exorbitant (and there are some hot ones); some museums are free, and food is downright cheap -- lots o' carbs. Though traditional Colombian cuisine's experiencing some serious nouvelle treatment from chefs like Harry Sasson, god of back-to-origins Colombian cooking, most daily fare is seriously simple and unspendy.




Colombia Travel Safety - Is the Only Risk Wanting to Stay?:

How safe is Colombia travel? I've been there, and I felt as safe as I ever do anytime I'm traveling -- more so, in fact, than in some European capitols. Colombia is hard at work showing the world what a safe and easy, passionate and pretty paradise it is -- believe the ads, amigos. The days of narco-terrorist thugs cruising the streets in Hummers are over in Bogota and Medellin. Read more:



Health and Travel in Colombia:

Water in the cities is perfectly safe; in rural areas, you may want to carry bottled water or your own water purification method. You may have to pay for doctor visits in advance (like before getting care). Malaria's possible, and dengue fever does happen. You can buy most prescription medicine that you actually *need* in pharmacias, or farmacias, where the pharmacist can be enormously helpful in helping you diagnose minor ailments.



See and Read More About Colombia:

See lots of Colombia photos and get some mini city guides meant for backpackers and student travelers:


  • Discover Colombia's Heart -- A fabulous traveling exhibition is showing what really lies at Colombia's heart -- passion, people, poetry, music, and a lovely land of mountains and sea. Check it out:
    • DIscover Colombia's Heart



  • Cartagena
    • Cartagena Photos


  • Medellin
    • Medellin Photos
      • Medellin Flower Festival
      • Silleteros at the Medellin Flower Festival
      • Panormaic Photos of Medellin
      • Medellin Library Parks
      • Botero Sculpture Park

Backpacker's Guides to Colombia

Colombia's really moving into its own on the backpacker radar, meaning it's still relatively undiscovered by the rest of the travel world but intrepid independent travelers have made some fabulous exploratons into this gorgeous land, meeting its friendly folk and dancing to its wonderful tune. See for yourself what they've got to recommend:


• Poor But Happy is a website providing info for travelers by travelers, and Colombia is well covered by locals, visitng backpackers and expats:



• HostelTrail is a network of South American hostels and tour companies, with a website devoted to compiling current reviews and travel articles. Following the "trail" through Colomba makes for some easy travel planning:


  • HostelTrail Colombia

• Paisa Tours is a for-profit outfit with some good advice for backpackers, including info on Park Tayrona:



Enjoy Colombia's discovery, amigos!


In case it's relevant, know that cocaine is not something backpackers are gonna want to do in Colombia. Colombian cocaine is almost all shipped to the United States -- Colombian locals don't do that dope, in no small part because the devastating effects of the cocaine trade nearly destroyed their country while killing thousands over a deadly quarter century. Hans, owner of Casa Viena hostel in Cartagena, says it very well: "Consuming cocaine means not less than to have somebodys blood on one's hands...". See Casa Viena's Colombian cocaine advice.



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