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Know Before You Go
General Information and Insider Tips
Visitors from the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Colombia and may remain in the country as a tourist for up to 90 days. For other countries, check visa requirements here.
Your passport needs to be valid at least three months after your return date from Colombia.
Insider Tip: Keep a photocopy of your passport on you at all times so you can show it if stopped by authorities. Be sure to include a copy of your entry stamp page as well as your cover page.
There are no particular requirements for Colombia, but make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc.). Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended, and Zika is currently a risk in Colombia. Check the latest information about Zika warnings. We recommend all vaccines be completed at least six weeks prior to travel.
The safety of our clients is of the utmost importance to us, and our local experts are always well-informed about the current situation in Colombia. For up-to-date information about safety, security and travel warnings, please refer to the US State Department, UK Foreign Travel Advice, or your local government resource.
Insider Tip: If you need police assistance, look for Policía de Turismo (tourism police) in larger cities. They often speak English and are more trustworthy than some local cops (federal and military police are safe). Plainclothes “officers” are not to be trusted.
Most sockets use the US-style two-pronged (Type A) or three-pronged (Type B) plugs. Power outages are not uncommon in Colombia, especially outside of the bigger cities, so a torch or flashlight is recommended.
The official national language is Spanish. Here are some helpful phrases to learn:
Hello = Hola
Goodbye = Adios (formal) Chao/Ciao (informal)
Please = Por favor
Thank you = Gracias
Excuse Me = Qué pena
Insider Tip: Colombian Spanish is very polite, so always use usted unless you know the informal tú is acceptable.
The local currency is Colombian Peso (COP).
Credit cards are accepted in higher-end hotels, restaurants and shopping centres. Cash can be obtained from ATMs with a Cirrus or Maestro logo. It’s usually only possible to take out 300,000 pesos at one time, and while it may be higher in some areas, it shouldn’t be relied upon. It’s advisable to carry US dollars in cash, which you can exchange at a Casa de Cambio, or exchange office.
- Restaurants – a 10% propina voluntaria is included on most bills. While it is technically voluntary, it is customary to pay it. Nicer restaurants may include a 15% service charge. If no service charge is added to the bill, 10% is standard. For exceptional service, leaving a little extra in cash is appreciated (and will go directly to your server), though not expected.
- Cabs – No tipping, but you can round up the change if you want.
- Hotels – Tip bellmen the equivalent of 1 USD per bag and housekeeping 1-2 USD per day.
When to go?
While much of Colombia is close to the equator, elevation affects climate and temperature. Cartagena and the coastal region is tropical, with a rainy season from May-November. Bogotá, at 2,600 meters/8,600 feet, is much cooler overall with crisp days and chilly nights, whereas the Amazon region is warm and wet year round. Medellin has the most temperate “ideal” weather. December-March and July-August are peak tourist seasons due to drier weather.
Insider Tip: Car hire is more expensive in Colombia than most other South American countries. If you do choose to rent a car, make sure you have an international driver’s license.
Table manners are important in Colombia, so don’t sit down and start eating until invited to do so. Please (por favor) and thank you (gracias) are also used quite often and eye contact is valued. Homosexuality is not widely understood or accepted so it may be best to keep a low profile and/or avoid homosexual comments. Showing up 30 minutes late is not uncommon or considered rude, although an explanation is always appreciated. Colombia has an impressive variety of tropical fruit, which is widely consumed as fresh-squeezed juice at stands on many city streets.
Insider Tip: While most Colombian coffee is exported, Juan Valdéz is a popular chain where you can find the usual coffee drinks made with quality beans.
Because climates vary from cool to tropical, layering is a good practice if you’re traveling to more than one location. Colombians aren’t afraid of bright colors, tight clothes or showing a little skin, particularly in the big cities where locals like to dress up when they go out. Shorts and flip flops aren’t common outside of coastal areas, whereas hiking pants and boots are recommended for treks in the Amazon or mountains. Jeans are very common, so pack a pair (along with comfortable shoes) for walking around the cities. Because of Colombia’s proximity to the equator, sunscreen is a must, even in cooler areas. Sunglasses and hats are also recommended.
Must-pack items by area:
Bogotá – Light coat or jacket, sweater and scarf
Cartagena – Shorts, dresses, flip flops, loose trousers and swimwear
Medellin – Jeans, casual tops and dress-up clothes for evening
Amazon – Umbrella, quick-dry clothing, waterproof jacket and water-resistant shoes
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