My mailbox is regularly filled with questions about traveling around Colombia. Living and working in this South American country is also popular and raises questions. Often the same questions, with a creative burst here and there. So time to put the most frequently asked questions on paper. This way you can easily find the answer and I can easily refer to this without having to type whole texts each time. Pretty convenient. Living or traveling in Colombia? Check out the FAQ!
1. I want to go to Colombia in *month*, will I have good weather?
If I got a euro for every time I get this question in my mail, I would be very rich right now. The answer is very simple. A: read again carefully this article about the climate in Colombia . And B: this is just really unpredictable. In the rainy season, the sun can also shine and in the dry season, it can also rain. Especially in recent years, as the seasons have become less and less defined than “before”. In addition, it just depends on where in Colombia you are. So asking this question in a Facebook group for travelers also makes no sense, because then you will all get answers from people who have been to Colombia once in that particular month.
For example, I sometimes hear that it only rains in Bogotá, which is just really not true. That person just got unlucky then. Or that in Cartagena the sun always shines. Also not true unfortunately. Even in the desert, it can rain. I have lived here for over 8 years and really: no year (and place) is the same.
The best answer is:
- For the best chance of nice weather you should be in Colombia between mid-December and February, these are the official dry seasons, but these days it is not so black and white anymore. So it can also rain during these months.
- In addition, you are going to suffer from mass tourism during those high seasons;
- Colombia is not a country where the sun always shines, just go when you want and hope for nice weather. So you can travel to Colombia all year round. Want 3 weeks of guaranteed sunshine? Then find another destination;
- Colombia is so big that there is always rain somewhere and there is always sun somewhere, the climate is not the same anywhere. Should you be in a place with bad weather, fly to the other side of the country for nicer weather. For example.
Can I also travel through Colombia during the rainy season?
Is then often the next question. Yes! The rainy season means it rains more, but even that depends on the place and the year. There are years when there is really heavy rainfall with flooding, while in other years the rainy season is not too bad. If you plan to hike in the mountains during the rainy season (or really in any month outside December and January), it does come in handy to bring good hiking boots, a rain jacket and quick-drying pants. Up to your ankles in mud is no exception.
And in July and August?
Often this question is fully explored. Yes in July and August you can also travel through Colombia just fine. The whole year actually. July and August are not a dry period, but neither are they a rainy season. So you have to be a little lucky with the weather. By the way, in terms of tourism, I personally do not find this the most pleasant period. Read about that here .
When it rains does it rain all day?
No, not usually. Can be, if you’re unlucky. But mostly they are showers. Once or a few times a day. The chances of having rain all day long are not very high.
2. What clothes should I pack for a trip through Colombia?
Colombia is second to Brazil the most biodiverse country in the world. Among other things, this means that just about all ecosystems occur in Colombia. And relatedly almost all types of weather. Thus, in Colombia you can both shiver in the snow and melt away in the desert, and everything in between. People who claim that Colombia is a warm country where it is 30 degrees all year round have clearly never been here.
Where will you travel?
So what to bring depends on where in Colombia you will be traveling. Staying on the standard tourist route (Bogotá, Salento, Medellín, Cartagena and Tayrona), then you especially need clothes for warm to hot weather. Only in Bogotá (and Salento at night and depending on the month) do you need a jacket, long pants and a warm sweater.
Going to the Amazon, you can expect clammy weather, so light clothing that dries quickly is recommended.
Or maybe you’ll explore the surroundings of Bogotá. This itinerary off the beaten path for example, goes through the department of Cundinamarca. In which I myself live. You start in 35 degrees and end at 16 to 20 degrees (and 10 degrees at night). Or vice versa.
Clothing and safety
So before you leave for Colombia, it may make sense to think about where you want to go. Don’t forget the safety aspect either: walking around Bogotá with shorts and flip-flops is not only quite cold, but also very inappropriate. Which makes you stand out tremendously as a tourist and thus easy for pickpockets and other criminals to find. The same goes for all high altitude regions, where it is chilly and no one walks in shorts.
3. Can you also speak English or is learning Spanish a must?
Colombia is a Spanish-speaking country where little English is spoken. The number of people who speak English is increasing, especially among young people and those working in tourism. That doesn’t mean you can just go anywhere with English. Even in tourism, very often you still can’t get by with English.
Personally, I always enjoy being able to speak with locals when I travel. That way you get to know the country and the people better, travel goes a lot easier, makes traveling more fun, and you can make contacts from it, too.
Who speaks English in Colombia?
To speak with locals in Colombia, you do need real knowledge of the Spanish language. As mentioned, there are more and more people who speak a little English, but still limited and often not to a degree that you can discuss everything in English.
The people who speak English are often, for example, guides on a tour or owners of a hotel. If you are going to travel by bus, you don’t have to expect an English-speaking bus driver. The same goes for other things: in any restaurant, in many stores, especially off the beaten path and in villages, people speak no to very limited English. And suppose you want to report to the police in case you get robbed, or if you need a doctor, that’s a challenge without Spanish. There are English-speaking doctors, but you have to look for them.
Language and security
Then security. You can probably imagine that if you speak little Spanish the cab driver can easily rip you off. Speaking some Spanish can also be a lot safer in other situations.
In short, you can travel Colombia just fine without Spanish, but don’t expect too much from the English of Colombians. Some knowledge of the Spanish language simply makes it much easier, more fun and safer to travel through Colombia.
What is your goal?
Is your goal to complete (at a fast pace) all the highlights, hang out mostly with other backpackers and stay in backpacker hostels in the most touristy places? Then you will get there with some basic English and hand and foot work. Want to really get to know the country, interact with locals and travel off the beaten path? Then knowledge of the Spanish language is really recommended.
4. I would like to go to Colombia, but my parents say it is very dangerous with lots of drugs and crime. Is that so?
And I also get this question the other way around: my child wants to go to Colombia, but I’m afraid something will happen to him/her. I understand the fear, especially since Colombia unfortunately continues to be in the news negatively on a regular basis. Indeed, when hundreds of people go missing or die in demonstrations here and there is a complete crisis, not a letter is written about it in the Dutch news, but when another few thousand kilos of cocaine from Colombia has turned up somewhere the newspapers are immediately full of it.
The news simply shows the most intense and sensational news that people want to watch. Saying that things are going so well in Colombia or that there are some protests does not generate the desired number of readers. So you are being fooled.
Doesn’t mean nothing is going on in Colombia. There is political instability, Colombia is one of the countries with the most refugees and displaced persons in the world, also, Colombia tops the list of cocaine producers, there is (serious) crime in major cities, hundreds of environmental and human rights activists are still murdered each year and guerrillas are still active. Robberies on buses are also still frequent, slightly more so now with the pandemic. Sometimes tourists have to deal with that.
However, Colombia is also a huge country. With 50 million inhabitants and a size 27 times larger than The Netherlands, you can imagine that these problems do not take place in every square meter. The chances of having to deal with a robbery or other crime are not that great, at least if you don’t seek it out and take unnecessary risks. In Colombia, they call it: don’t give papaya. Read all about the biggest risks of traveling through Colombia.
- not to go to red areas;
- when in doubt, always ask at your hotel if something is safe;
- not to think there is no danger because other travelers say it is super safe because nothing happened to them;
- never ever visit a cocaine plantation;
- never buy and use cocaine or other drugs;
- don’t do things you wouldn’t do in your own country either;
- read up well on the safety situation and observe the safety recommendations;
- ask about the situation at your hotel and to the locals at the destination where you are.
The first 6 in this list are extremely easy not to do, the challenge is in the last one. Colombia is simply not a western country where you can simply make a call on the street with your expensive phone in your hand. You can do it in, say, Bogotá, only the consequences may just be a little different. The Corona crisis has unfortunately increased insecurity, including in tourist spots and outside major cities. Just not everywhere in the country. You can read more about that in the link above. Read well, adhere to safety advice and most of all enjoy this beautiful country.
5. Is it safe to travel alone through Colombia?
Yes, it is safe to travel through Colombia alone. Heed all the advice in the previous section.
6. What is the best travel itinerary Colombia for 3 or 4 weeks?
Well, how many blogs have been written that claim to have the very best travel itinerary Colombia for you? Unfortunately: there is no such thing as the best itinerary. First, most travelers (and therefore travel bloggers) make the exact same round trip, so nothing new and especially the tourist destinations. Second, this depends entirely on your own needs and preferences. And third, Colombia is so big that most tourists have no idea what there actually is to see. For example, did you know that you can also go on safari in Colombia and stand with both feet in the snow a few days later?
What are you looking for?
Of course, your own desires are also quite important in this. Some like beach vacations, others just want to see the highlights of Colombia in a few weeks, and others prefer traveling off the beaten path.
Travel routes along the highlights in Colombia
Here I have 16 itineraries Colombia from various travel bloggers for you. Which one is best for you is entirely up to you. I did highlight some that describe a very nice route, maybe you can get something from that.
Off the beaten path
Instead, do you want to see the unknown places of Colombia and get to know the real Colombia without mass tourism? Then those 16 itineraries won’t work out for you. Check out this itinerary from Bogotá to Honda and this one from Villa de Leyva to Barichara for scenic routes off the beaten path. And here you can find all destinations off the beaten track in Colombia. Take advantage of it.
7. I only have 2 weeks, is that enough for a tour of Colombia?
As mentioned earlier in this article, Colombia is 27 times larger than the Netherlands. If you are going to travel 300 kilometers by road by car or bus it will easily take you 8 to 10 hours. So no, 2 weeks is not enough for a tour of Colombia. It can be done, but then you have to rush across the country and visit only a few highlights. If that’s your thing, then you can see quite a bit of Colombia in 2 weeks.
How long do you need?
In order to travel in a relaxed manner, get to know the country and also see something other than the tourist destinations, you need at least 4 to 5 weeks and preferably more. In Colombia you can be fine for 2 to 3 months.
This can be done in 2 weeks
In 2 weeks you can see some of Colombia. Like only the north coast, only Medellín and its surroundings or only Cundinamarca. For example, these itineraries (separately) fit nicely into 2 weeks.
That may sound crazy, going to Colombia and visiting only one region, but is actually quite normal. When you travel to the US or to Canada you don’t visit the whole country at once either. For example, most travelers do California and come back later for the East Coast. Same in Canada: usually travelers visit either Eastern or Western Canada.
You can do that in Colombia, of course; the country is big enough for that. And really: it’s not a punishment to come back for more. That way, you get to know the country a lot better, too. Is your goal to see as many countries in the world as possible and you are short on time? Then you have to settle for just an impression of a few places in the country.
8. Can you drink water from the tap in Colombia?
It depends on where you are. I myself drink water from the tap in Colombia. But not everywhere. In Bogotá, for example, you can drink water from the tap just fine, yet I would not recommend this if it’s a tap in a very old building. Things are less likely to be kept clean there.
Also in villages, such as Sopó, where I lived for 4 years, you can drink water from the tap. However, it happens occasionally that dirty water comes out of the tap due to a malfunction somewhere, then I boil the water beforehand. Many residents also have a water filter on their faucet.
All the times my parents visited they drank water from the tap at my house.
In major cities
In general, you can drink water from the tap in Colombia in the 5 major cities: Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla, Medellín and Bucaramanga. I myself also drink the water from the tap in Bogotá. Even in the higher elevated areas, drinking water from the tap is often not a problem, but again, it depends a bit on where exactly you are and in what kind of house or building that tap is.
In the hot areas, take more caution. In Cartagena and Montería for example, even locals do not drink water from the tap.
When in doubt ask
Having doubts? Then ask at your hotel if it is safe to drink the water from the tap. They will answer that honestly. Some hotels and hostels have water filters or barrels of drinking water.
You can also bring a water filter. When I travel (including within Colombia to hot areas), I always bring my water filter from Water-To-Go.
9. I am pregnant, can I travel through Colombia without worry?
A question I get frequently. Colombia is a tropical country where there are also tropical diseases, the most well-known of which are various mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and Malaria. In addition, food poisoning or other infections also lurk. Especially in hot areas. Tropical diseases are already a risk if you are not pregnant, let alone if you are expecting a baby or want to become pregnant. In addition, medical facilities are not universally good either. If something happens to you and you need acute care, but you are somewhere far away from a big city where there is that care, it becomes very difficult.
If you’re pregnant and don’t want to take any chances, it’s best not to travel through Colombia. If you became pregnant after you have already booked your flight or you do want to travel during your pregnancy, read up carefully before you go.
Reduce the risk of disease
To reduce as much as possible the chance of tropical diseases, mosquito bites and infections, it is wise to stay in higher-elevated areas. Again, not so high as to cause altitude sickness, but around 2,100 meters altitude. That, however, does mean that you have to skip popular destinations, such as Tayrona and Cartagena. Fortunately, Colombia above 2,100 meters is also hearty fun. For example, follow this itinerary , only don’t go to Honda. Also Villa de Leyva and Lago de Tota are great to visit. Like Pasto and the surrounding area and the coffee area.
If you are pregnant and do go to lower elevations, you are taking an extra risk.
Prepare properly and consult a physician
Find out in advance what your insurance will cover and see where good hospitals can be found on your itinerary. Also, make sure you have the proper vaccinations and visit a tropical doctor beforehand for more advice.
If you are pregnant and want to go on vacation to a tropical country, it is always a good idea to visit your doctor beforehand. This one can advise you and tell you what to consider. Also, the doctor can tell you which months of your pregnancy are the best months to travel. If you have a pregnancy with risk factors (such as previous miscarriage or pre-eclampsia), consult a doctor beforehand anyway; he or she may advise against traveling to South America (at all).
10. I want to live and work in Colombia for a while, how do I arrange a visa?
To live and work in Colombia, you need a visa, even if you only want to stay for a few months. Upon entering Colombia, you will be given a tourist visa for 90 days, which you can then extend for another 90 days. However, this visa is not for working or staying in Colombia for more than 180 days.
You need a cédula (ID card) for almost everything in Colombia, so if you want to stay longer, it is useful to arrange this properly.
However, a visa is not so easy to get. Certainly not these days.
To obtain a visa to Colombia, you must have something to do with the country. Most common situations:
- Finding a job where your employer arranges your visa;
- Making an investment;
- Going to college;
- Marry a Colombian (or sign a registered partnership);
- Having a child with a Colombian.
Don’t recognize yourself in any of these 5 points? Then getting a visa becomes difficult. The easiest paths are studying, working or getting married. And working involves other things. A job is not always easy to find and salaries are low. And unless you find work at an international company you will also have to speak Spanish.
So you don’t “just” arrange a visa to Colombia. How I obtained my visa, the different types of visas, tips and links to apply for your visa can be found in this article.
11. Through the Internet, I met a Colombian. We fell in love, but I still wonder if it is safe and sincere. Can you tell something about that?
A difficult subject to write about, in my opinion. Because the situation is always different and there are also so many honest people. It does not at all mean that online dating is wrong or that it always goes wrong, really. But since I get this question so regularly, there seems to be a need for this information.
These are often people from western countries who have found a love in Colombia online, make (video) calls with her or him and want to go visit their loved one. Yet there is apparently sometimes some doubt. Is it even safe? Does my boyfriend or girlfriend just wants money? And how do I find out if it is safe or not?
This is a very logical question, since foreigners are regularly ripped off by their, what they thought, loved one. It is also, unfortunately, a very difficult question to answer. After all, you can’t say it’s never reliable and just lump everyone together. But at the same time, wrong intentions do occur frequently. Meanwhile, things also often go just right and a serious love relationship develops.
Ask more questions
The best tip I can give is to ask through and learn more about your loved one:
- Don’t just make phone calls, but video as well;
- Ask about the person’s background: what does he/she do for work, where exactly does he/she live, what do the parents do, where did he/she study and what is the family situation. From the information about exactly where someone lives (i.e. not simply Cartagena, but really ask about the street) you can already know a lot. Also, ask to meet the parents and/or siblings via video;
- Does your loved one ever ask for money? If so, be careful;
- Ask about social media channels, such as Facebook and Instagram. If someone does not have it or does not want to give it, that is cause for suspicion. In Colombia, social media is very popular, especially Facebook. Especially with a young person, it is a little weird if this person is not active on social media;
- Is there a big age difference between you? In particular, if you are an older man and have met a Colombian twenty or thirty years younger on the Internet, that is reason to pay attention. It does not mean that the woman in question always has wrong intentions! Absolutely not. But it is unfortunately common.
Now, of course, it could be that someone is lying about everything, but with these questions you will still find out more and you will notice more quickly if someone is telling the truth or not. There are huge cultural differences between Colombians and other cultures, and in Colombia people treat each other differently than in other (western) countries. That can make communication and belief in each other quite difficult, especially if you don’t yet know each other’s culture.
Follow your gut
Again: very often nothing at all happens and something beautiful just emerges. However, in these cases, I don’t get this question either. If you are already suspicious I would always say to follow your gut. Often when your gut feeling is already giving signs that you don’t trust it, it can just be true.
No one can answer this question
Although I always try to help you the best I can, this is really a very difficult question to answer. Which I therefore cannot answer either. Nobody doesn’t. After all, no one knows the situation and the person. Saying whether something is sincere or not is always difficult. Most of all, I hope this information will help you move forward, but you ultimately have to assess and determine for yourself whether or not it is safe.
12. Is renting a car in Colombia safe?
Yes, it is! At Rentalcars for example, with which you immediately have all insurance properly arranged. It is useful to keep in mind that driving in Colombia is really different and much more dangerous than in other countries, the rules are different and also the roads are not as you are used to. If you dare, it is all fine. It also very much depends on where you are going to drive. There are mountain roads that are really terrifying to drive on, while the road between Bogotá and Tunja, for example, is very good.
Anyway, in this article you will read all about driving and renting a car in Colombia, including routes for a road trip.
What would you like to know about living or traveling in Colombia?
Also check out my travel tips Colombia, you may find the answers to your other questions there.