Did you know that Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, is located at an altitude of 2,600 meters in the middle of the Andes Mountains, approximately on the equator? And that this makes it the second highest capital in the world after Quito and La Paz? And that because of the altitude there is about 30% less oxygen in the air? Normally, height differences are never that much of an issue when we go traveling. You also don’t normally fly directly from 0 to 2600 meters. But if you are traveling to Colombia and your plane lands in Bogotá, you do have to deal with that difference in altitude. What can you expect from a high altitude location?
6x What to expect when traveling around Colombia’s Andes mountains
1. Oxygen deprivation and altitude sickness
The higher you get, the thinner the air, as we always say. But what does that actually mean? A thin air has a lower air pressure with about 30% less oxygen (at 2600 meters altitude). People from lower elevations do not have enough red blood cells to control for this level of oxygen. Upon arrival in Bogotá, you will notice this particularly when you are going to exercise, such as taking a long walk, climbing a mountain or climbing stairs. After a period of acclimatization, the body has produced enough extra red blood cells and you don’t suffer from anything anymore. By the way, you can go even higher in Colombia, for example in Los Nevados. In that case, altitude sickness is a real risk and it is wise to prepare well for a climb.
Preventing altitude sickness
Although you are unlikely to get altitude sickness in Colombia, unless you go hiking in the highest mountain ranges of the Andes, you can certainly suffer from altitude. Some travelers notice nothing in Bogotá; others have headaches, insomnia and feel tired for days. This is how you deal with it:
- Acclimatization. Take it easy the first few days in capital Bogotá. For example, don’t go climbing Monserrate by foot, but take the little train or cable car.
- Drink enough. Drink plenty of water, tea, coffee or even soup. This helps against dehydration and headaches.
- Take it easy. Some travelers do not notice anything, but for those who do suffer from the altitude, it is recommended to start calm. Don’t immediately fill up your entire day and discover Bogotá at a leisurely pace.
2. Smog in Colombia
Because of that 30% less oxygen, gasoline does not burn completely, what you notice by the distinctive gasoline smell in town. The combination of less oxygen and the amount of exhaust fumes in traffic unfortunately make air pollution an even bigger problem in Bogotá and other high-altitude cities. I myself was quite unaffected by air pollution the first year I lived in Bogotá. Except that it’s annoying. But after that, it started to bother me more and more. A weird taste in my mouth, my skin and hair always oily and a constant feeling of not being able to breathe freely. That was one of the reasons I moved to Sopó .
3. High sun power
Bogotá is situated at high altitude and almost on the equator. This affects the sun power. While the sun strength in the Dutch summer does not exceed 8 (high), the sun strength in Bogotá is around 15 (very strong) every day. This not only results in very rapid skin burning, but also a higher risk of skin cancer. Therefore, my day cream is not a day cream, but sunscreen with factor 50. I apply this at least 3 to 4 times a day on my face and hands, the rest is covered by clothing.
4. Climate Colombia
The fact that Bogotá is the capital of a tropical country does not automatically make it 30 degrees. This is because of the many ecosystems in the country. Due to its high altitude, the average temperature in Bogotá stays around 18 degrees during the day and is around 7 degrees at night. Because of its location on the equator, Colombia has no spring, summer, fall and winter, but the weather is kind of the same all year round. Only two rainy seasons can be identified, in April and October. Its location also means that the sun rises and sets at 6 o’clock all year round. Read more about Colombia’s climate here + the best time to travel.
5. High in the mountains, the boiling point is lower
Something you may not immediately think about if you plan to cook in Bogotá (or anywhere else high in the mountains) is cooking time. Due to the lower air pressure, the boiling point of water lower and water already boils at about 90 degrees. So the boiling water is less hot, which means that what you want to cook is heated less. Therefore, a longer cooking time is needed to achieve the same results as in lower areas. For example, eggs I always cook for 15 minutes and then I have an egg that is just right for the salad. The same goes for vegetables and potatoes. So a quick boil doesn’t work here.
6. Mosquito bites and tropical diseases Colombia
Because of the high altitude, there aren’t many mosquitoes in Bogotá and in other high-altitude destinations. Mosquito-borne diseases that do occur in lower parts of the country, such as Malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya and Zika, you won’t find in Bogotá. Here you can see where in Colombia Malaria is most common. Dengue can occur, but very little in this area. So smearing with anti-mosquito cream is not necessary in Bogota, but it is advisable if you go to lower elevations (below 2200 meters).
If you don’t want to risk mosquito-borne diseases at all, for whatever reason, for example if you are pregnant and want to travel through Colombia, then you might consider one of these two travel routes in Colombia:
- From Bogotá to Honda (skipping the part after San Francisco to stay high)
- From Villa de Leyva to Barichara (skipping the part after Duitama to stay high)
Of course, this is true not only in Bogotá, but in every high area. Meanwhile, I lived in the village of Sopó in the countryside at an altitude of 2600 meters, and here too I have to deal with all these consequences of living high up.
Update: This article first appeared on March 27, 2015 and was updated May, 2023.