Thursday, September 7, 2023
Colombia travel guide - Travel S Helper


travel guide

Colombia is twice the size of France and almost twice the size of Texas, having extensive Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, as well as hilly regions and even some Amazon rainforest interior. Additionally, ethnic groupings and cultures are very varied. Almost every traveler will find something to like in the nation.

Choose a temperature and enjoy it—if you find Bogotá’s light jacket weather too chilly, travel an hour down into the mountains and sunbathe next to the pool of your rented hacienda. If you’re not up for sitting still, go into the Amazon or one of the country’s many other interior jungles, snow-capped mountains, rugged deserts, vast plains, lush valleys, coffee plantations, alpine lakes, or desolate beaches.

In terms of culture, intellectual Bogotá may lead Latin America in experimental theater, indie rock, and sheer volume of bookstores, but you can also get a completely alien education in an Amazonian malocca, or delve into the massive Latin music scene of salsa and cumbia, with the most exciting dance display being the enormous Carnival of Barranquilla.

For history buffs, explore the winding alleys of South America’s original capital, Bogotá; visit ancient Spanish colonial provincial getaways like as Villa de Leyva; and travel into the northeast’s dense jungle-covered highlands to the Lost City of the Tayrona Indians. Walk the walls of Cartagena’s achingly gorgeous ancient city, gazing out over the towering fortifications that shaped South America’s colonial history.

For nightlife, this is hot. Cali is now the global center of salsa, edging out Colombia’s other lively major city party scenes, which keep the music going into the wee hours of the morning. Not to overlook the hipster playground that is the El Poblado neighborhood in downtown Medelln.

Dining options range from common inexpensive, delectable Colombian home-style meals to world-class upmarket and contemporary culinary arts in the major cities, with cuisines from every corner of the globe represented.

And although there are beautiful tropical beaches throughout Colombia’s Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, the picturesque and unspoiled Caribbean island of Providencia offers even more relaxed and quiet getaways.

Political violence has significantly decreased across the bulk of the nation, and smart tourists from around the globe have already rushed here—come before everyone else does!

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Colombia - Info Card




Colombian peso (COP)

Time zone



1,141,748 km2 (440,831 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


Colombia | Introduction

Geography Of Colombia

Colombia’s geography is characterised by six major natural regions, each with its own characteristics: the Andean region, shared with Ecuador and Venezuela; the Pacific coastal region, shared with Panama and Ecuador; the Caribbean coastal region, shared with Venezuela and Panama; the Llanos (plains), shared with Venezuela; the Amazonian forest region, shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador; and the island region, which includes the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

Colombia is bordered by Panama to the northwest, Venezuela and Brazil to the east, Ecuador and Peru to the south, and has established its maritime borders with neighbouring countries through seven treaties on the Caribbean Sea and three on the Pacific Ocean. It lies between latitudes 12°N and 4°S and longitudes 67° and 79°W.

As part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the world prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Colombia is dominated by the Andes (where most of the country’s urban centres are located). Beyond the Colombian massif (in the departments of Cauca and Nariño, in the southwest of the country), they divide into three branches called cordilleras (mountain ranges): Cordillera Occidental, which runs along the Pacific coast and includes the city of Cali; Cordillera Central, which runs between the valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers (to the west and east); Cordillera Atlantic, which runs between the valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers (to the west and east); and Cordillera Arctic, which runs between the valleys of the Magdalena and Arctic rivers. East) and includes the cities of Medellín, Manizales, Pereira and Armenia; and the Cordillera Oriental, which extends northeast to the Guajira Peninsula and includes Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta.

The peaks of the Cordillera Occidental exceed 4,700 m, in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 5,000 m. Bogotá, at 2,600 m, is the highest city of its size in the world.

To the east of the Andes is the llano savannah, part of the Orinoco basin, and to the south-east is the jungle of the Amazonian forest. Together, these lowland areas account for more than half of Colombia’s territory, but are home to less than 6% of the population. In the north, the Caribbean coast, home to 21.9% of the population and the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, is generally composed of low-lying plains, but also includes the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country’s highest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar) and the La Guajira desert. In contrast, the narrow and irregular lowlands of the Pacific coast, surrounded by the Serranía de Baudó, are sparsely populated and covered with dense vegetation. The main port on the Pacific is Buenaventura.

The main rivers in Colombia are the Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, Atrato, Meta, Putumayo and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drainage, the Caribbean drainage, the Orinoco basin and the Amazon basin. The Orinoco and Amazon rivers mark Colombia’s borders with Venezuela and Peru, respectively.

Protected areas and the “national park system” cover an area of approximately 14,268,224 hectares (142,682.24 km2 ) and represent 12.77% of the Colombian territory. Compared to neighbouring countries, Colombia’s deforestation rate is still relatively low. Colombia is the sixth country in the world in terms of total renewable freshwater supply and still has large freshwater reserves.

Demographics Of Colombia

With an estimated population of 48 million in 2015, Colombia is the third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico. It is also home to the third largest number of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico and the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century, Colombia had a population of about 4 million. The birth rate remained high until the early 1970s, but since then Colombia has experienced a steady decline in fertility, mortality and population growth rates. It is projected that Colombia will have 50.2 million inhabitants in 2020 and 55.3 million in 2050. These trends are also reflected in the country’s age profile. In 2005, more than 30% of the population was under 15 years of age, while only 6.3% of the population was 65 years and older. The total fertility rate was 1.9 births per woman in 2014.

The population is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast; population densities are also generally higher in the Andean region. The nine departments of the eastern plain, which account for about 54% of Colombia’s land area, are home to less than 6% of the population. Traditionally a rural society, Colombia experienced a major migration to the cities in the mid-20th century and is now one of the most urbanised countries in Latin America. The percentage of the population living in cities rose from 31% in 1938 to almost 60% in 1973, and in 2014 it was 76%. The population of Bogotá alone has grown from just over 300,000 in 1938 to around 8 million today. A total of 72 cities now have a population of 100,000 or more (2015). In 2012, Colombia had the largest IDP population in the world, estimated at 4.9 million.

Life expectancy is 74.8 years in 2015 and infant mortality is 13.6 per thousand in 2015. In 2013, 93.6% of adults and 98.2% of youth were literate, and the government spends about 4.9% of GDP on education.

Ethnic groups

Colombia is ethnically diverse, with a population descended from the original indigenous peoples, Spanish settlers, Africans brought to the country as slaves and 20th century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, all of whom contribute to the diversity of the cultural heritage. The demographic distribution reflects a pattern influenced by colonial history. Whites live mainly in urban centres such as Bogotá, Medellín and Cali and in the emerging cities of the highlands. Mestizos also live in the larger cities. Mestizocampesinos (people who live in the countryside) also live in the Andean highlands, where some of the Spanish conquerors mixed with the women of the Indian chieftaincies. Mestizos include artisans and small traders who have played an important role in the urban expansion of recent decades.

According to the 2005 census, the “non-ethnic population”, composed of whites and mestizos (people of mixed white European and Amerindian descent), represents 86% of the national population. 10.6% are of African descent. Indigenous Americans make up 3.4% of the population. 0.01% of the population is Roma. According to an unofficial estimate, 49% of the Colombian population is of mixed European and Amerindian origin, and about 37% is white, mainly of Hispanic origin, but there is also a large population of Middle Eastern origin; among the upper class there is a significant proportion of Italian and German origin.

Many indigenous peoples declined in population during Spanish rule and many others were absorbed by the mestizo population, but the remainder now represent over eighty different cultures. The reserves (resguardos) established for the indigenous peoples occupy 30,571,640 hectares (305,716.4 km2) (27% of the total area of the country) and are inhabited by more than 800,000 people. Some of the most important indigenous groups are the Wayuu, Paez, Pastos, Emberá and Zenú. The departments of La Guajira, Cauca, Nariño, Córdoba and Sucre have the largest indigenous populations.

The Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), founded at the first national indigenous congress in 1982, is an organisation representing the indigenous peoples of Colombia. In 1991, Colombia signed and ratified the current international law on indigenous peoples, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989.

Black Africans were brought as slaves mainly to the coastal lowlands from the early 16th century until the 19th century. Today, there are large Afro-Colombian communities along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The population of the department of Chocó, which stretches along the northern part of Colombia’s Pacific coast, is more than 80% black. British and Jamaicans migrated mainly to the islands of San Andres and Providencia. A number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including people from the former USSR during and after the Second World War.

Many immigrant communities have settled on the Caribbean coast, including recent immigrants from the Middle East. Barranquilla (the largest city in the Colombian Caribbean) and other Caribbean cities have the largest populations of Lebanese, Palestinians, Phoenicians and other Middle Easterners. There are also large communities of Chinese, Japanese, Gypsies and Jews. There is a strong trend of Venezuelan migration due to the political and economic situation in the country.


The National Statistics Administration (DANE) does not collect statistics on religion and it is difficult to obtain accurate reports. However, according to various studies and a survey, about 90% of the population profess Christianity, the majority of which (70.9%) are Roman Catholics, while a significant minority (16.7%) adhere to Protestantism (mainly Evangelicalism). About 4.7% of the population are atheists or agnostics, while 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow any particular religion. 1.8% of Colombians belong to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventism, and less than 1% to other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, indigenous religions, the Hare Krishna movement, the Rastafari movement, the Catholic Orthodox Church and spiritual studies. The remainder did not respond or responded that they did not know. In addition to the above statistics, 35.9% of Colombians stated that they do not actively practice their faith.

Although Colombia remains a predominantly Catholic country in terms of the number of baptisms, the Colombian Constitution of 1991 guarantees freedom of religion, and all religious denominations and churches are equally free before the law.

Language In Colombia

The official language of Colombia is Spanish. Some indigenous tribes in rural areas continue to speak their own language, but almost all people from these tribes will be bilingual in their own language and in Spanish.

If you have recently learned Spanish, you will be relieved to know that the Bogotá dialect is clear and easy to understand. However, Spanish varies from Cartagena to Bogotá and Cali. In general, Spanish is spoken more quickly on the coasts, and Medellín Spanish has its own peculiarities. Note that in cities like Medellín and Cali, the dialect of Spanish is the voseo form. This means that instead of the familiar second person pronoun vos is used. Although tú is also understood by everyone, vos is a friendlier form of address, while tú is reserved for intimate circles. The Spanish spoken on the Caribbean coast is similar to the dialects spoken in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Many Colombians know at least a few basic phrases in English, as English is taught in school and Hollywood films are usually in English with Spanish subtitles. In most cases, however, you should definitely invest in learning the basics of Spanish, as you will encounter many situations where no one will speak English.

Colombians from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to have learned English, and the majority of senior professionals, managers and government employees in Colombia speak an acceptable level of English.

Internet & Communications in Colombia


There is no government postal system in Colombia. However, the private company 4-72 is Colombia’s de facto postal service, although it tends to be somewhat slow and unreliable. Residents rarely use the 4-72 service and usually turn to courier services such as Servientrega, which has many more branches than 4-72, although they are very expensive for sending mail abroad.


It is quite easy to get a SIM card and even an unlocked phone at Bogotá International Airport, although the price is of course higher. They are not hard to find in any other city either, just ask the staff at your hotel or hostel where you can go. Recharging is also easy and can be done on just about any street corner.

The providers you are most likely to see are Claro, Tigo and Movistar. Claro is the most expensive (a little), but offers the most coverage in the country if you plan to go off the beaten track.

Virgin Mobile might be the best option if you want cheap internet, as you can pay 20,000 COP$ for a month and get 350MB (plus 50 minutes, 10 sms and unlimited use of WhatsApp, a chat app almost universally used in Colombia) without needing a contract. It may take a little longer to find a place that sells sim cards. It should cost between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos.

From a landline phone :

To call from a fixed line to another local fixed line, dial the normal seven digits. To call from a landline to a mobile phone, dial twelve digits, always starting with 03, followed by the specified ten-digit number.

It is much more complicated to make long-distance calls within the country or abroad. Ask the person who owns the phone to dial it for you. If this is not possible, buy a mobile phone. Seriously.

From mobile phones and from abroad :

To call a Colombian landline from another country or from a mobile phone in Colombia, use the country code +57, then the eight-digit number (the first of which is the area code). To call a mobile phone, dial +57, then the ten-digit number. You can also enter “00” instead of “+”.


Internet cafes are easy to find in any city. Expect prices between COP$1,250 and COP$2,500 per hour, depending on the level of competition (e.g. cheap in Bogotá, expensive in the rest of the world). The quality of the connection is directly related to the centrality of the location and therefore inversely related to the price.

Economy Of Colombia

Historically an agrarian economy, Colombia rapidly urbanised during the 20th century, resulting in a situation where only 17% of the active population was employed in agriculture, generating only 6.1% of GDP; 21% of the active population was employed in industry and 62% in services, responsible for 37.3% and 56.6% of GDP respectively.

Colombia’s market economy grew steadily during the second half of the 20th century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. In 1999, the country experienced a recession (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from this recession was long and painful. In recent years, however, growth has been impressive, reaching 6.9% in 2007, one of the highest growth rates in Latin America. According to International Monetary Fund estimates, Colombia’s GDP (PPP) was US$500 billion in 2012 (28th in the world and 3rd in South America).

Total public expenditure represents 28.3% of the national economy. Public debt represents 32% of gross domestic product. A strong fiscal climate was confirmed by an improvement in bond ratings. The annual inflation rate ended 2015 at 6.77% (compared to 3.66% in 2014). The average national unemployment rate was 8.9% in 2015, with informality being the biggest problem in the labour market (the income of formal workers increased by 24.8% in 5 years, while the labour income of informal workers increased by only 9%). Colombia has Free Trade Zones (FTZs), such as the Zona Franca del Pacifico in the Valle del Cauca, one of the most visible areas for foreign investment.

Colombia is rich in natural resources. Major exports include mineral fuels, oils, distilled products, gems, forest products, pulp and paper, coffee, meat, cereals and vegetable oils, cotton, oilseeds, sugar and sugar mills, fruits and other agricultural products, food processing, processed fish products, beverages, machinery, electronics, military products, aircraft, ships, automobiles, metal products, ferro-alloys, household and office supplies, chemicals and health-related products, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, inorganic salts and acids, perfumery and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastics, animal fibres, textiles and fabrics, clothing and footwear, leather, construction equipment and materials, cement, software and others.

Colombia is also known as an important global source of emeralds, and more than 70% of cut flowers imported by the US come from Colombia. Non-traditional exports have fuelled the growth of Colombia’s foreign sales, as has the diversification of export destinations through new free trade agreements. The main trading partners are the US, China, the EU and some Latin American countries.

Electricity generation in Colombia is mainly from renewable energy sources. 70.35% is obtained from hydroelectric power generation. Colombia’s commitment to renewable energy was recognised in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI), ranking among the top 10 nations in the world for greening efficiency sectors.

The financial sector performed well due to the good liquidity of the economy, credit growth and, in general, the positive performance of the Colombian economy. The Colombian stock exchange provides a regional market for trading shares through the Latin American Integrated Market (MILA). Colombia is now one of only three economies with a perfect score on the World Bank’s Legal Strength Index.

In 2015, the National Administrative Office of Statistics (DANE) reported that 27.8% of the population lived below the poverty line, of which 7.9% were in ‘extreme poverty’. 171,000 people were lifted out of poverty. The government has also developed a process of financial inclusion among the country’s most vulnerable population.

Recent economic growth has led to a significant increase in the number of new millionaires, including new entrepreneurs, Colombians with a net worth in excess of $1 billion.

Tourism in Colombia is an important sector of the country’s economy. The number of foreign tourist visits increased from 0.6 million in 2007 to 2.98 million in 2015.

How To Travel To Colombia

Get In - By air

Regular international flights serve the major cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Pereira and San Andrés, as well as other smaller cities on the borders with Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Brazil.

There are daily direct flights to and from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, France and South America.

Note that Medellín is the only Colombian city served by 2 airports: International and long-haul domestic flights go to José María Córdova International Airport (IATA: MDE), while regional and some other domestic flights arrive at Olaya Herrera Airport (IATA: EOH)

Bogotá has two airport terminals: Puente Aéreo and El Dorado. Outside the airport, beware of pushy men who will help you get your luggage into a taxi or car and then wait to be paid. It is best to politely decline any offer of help, unless it comes from a taxi driver you are about to hire.

Taxis are regulated, cheap and safe from the airports. A taxi ride from the airport to Bogotá’s central business district takes about 20 minutes.

Get In - By car

  • Entry is from Venezuela via the San Cristóbal-Cúcuta or Maracaibo-Maicao pass.
  • The entrance is from Ecuador through the Tulcan-Ipiales (Rumichaca) pass.
  • Important: There are no main roads from 3 neighbouring countries: Panama, Brazil and Peru. There are no roads at all from Panama, and there are tiny roads between Colombia and Peru or Brazil, but they do not lead to major cities or regions.

Get In - By boat

Entry is from Panama via the Puerto Obaldia-Capurganá pass. From Capurganá, another boat ride takes you to Turbo, from where you take buses to Medellín and Montería. From Panama City, you can take a ferry to Cartagena.

If you are coming from Brazil, there are weekly boats from Manaus to Tabatinga/Leticia across the Amazon. It takes about six days to leave Manaus and only three days to return (the reason for this difference is the river current). There are also weekly motorboats, which are more expensive but cover the distance in less than two days. Once in Leticia, there are daily domestic flights to several cities, including Bogotá.

Many cruise ships make one-day visits (mainly to Cartagena), especially during the cooler months in North America.

Get In - By bus

From Venezuela

From the main terminal in Caracas, connections can be made to most cities in Colombia. From the main terminal in Maracaibo (Venezuela) there are buses to the coastal cities (Cartagena, Baranquilla, Santa Marta). The Maicao border offers a relatively easy and direct entry into Colombia from Venezuela.

You can also enter from Venezuela via the busy road from San Cristóbal to Cúcuta, which passes through the border town of San Antonio del Táchira.

Crossing the border can be a little difficult and even dangerous, especially at night. Ask the locals.

From Ecuador

It is very easy to enter Colombia from Ecuador. Drive to Tulcan where you can take a taxi to the border. Get your exit stamps at immigration and take another taxi to Ipiales. From there you can continue to Cali, Bogotá,…

From Panama

You can’t take a bus from Panama to Colombia – the Darien Gap starts in Yaviza, where the Interamericana ends. Instead, consider a boat trip. There are often yachts that sail from Colombia to Panama and back, with a stopover in the beautiful San Blas Islands.

Airlines with flights between the two countries are: Avianca, COPA, LAN.

How To Travel Around Colombia

Get Around - By air

The main domestic airlines in Colombia are

  • Avianca (Colombia’s main national airline)
  • VivaColombia (the cheap Ryanair-type airline). This airline offers the cheapest fares, but the worst booking system for foreigners. For 2014, foreign credit cards are not accepted to book a flight. VivaColombia has no offices and hardly any tour operators offer a booking service for this airline. Therefore, you can either use the call centre, find someone who has a Colombian credit card (e.g. the hotel manager) or choose the payment option with VIA-BALOTO outlets. With the latter option, you will receive a code that you can use to pay at any VIA-BALOTO outlet.
  • COPA Colombia (formerly AeroRepublica)
  • LATAM Colombia (formerly Lan Colombia and Aires)
  • EasyFly (regional airline around Medellín, Bogotá and Bucaramanga)
  • Satena(ServicioAéreoaTerritoriosNacionales) (operated by the Colombian Air Force to provide transport to the remote areas of Los Llanos, Amazona and the Pacific coast from Bogota).
  • TAC (TransportesAeroColombiana) Charter carrier
  • ADA (AerolineaDe Antioquia) (new airline based in Medellín offering regional flights in Antioquia and neighbouring regions)
  • AEXPA (mainly a charter company to and along the Pacific coast)

They all have well-maintained fleets and regular connections to the main cities in Colombia. The main Colombian airports have been certified as “highly secure” by international organisations. The online payment process for some national airlines is complicated. Payments can be made at the airport or at official counters. Most airfares can be compared at

Get Around - By train

The metro in and around Medellín is the closest thing to a passenger train in Colombia. There are no other intercity trains in the country.

Get Around - By car

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road – most cars have a standard transmission. The Colombian car fleet consists mainly of 4-cylinder cars of European and Japanese manufacture. Foreign visitors are allowed to drive if they can show an international driving licence (a multilingual card issued by automobile and driving clubs around the world).

Insurance is cheap and compulsory.

The speed limit is 30 km/h in residential areas and 60 km/h in urban areas. The national speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph).

The country has a well-developed road network connecting all the major cities in the Andean regions as well as those on the Caribbean coast. During the rainy season (November to February), there can be major landslides on roads and highways, which disrupt traffic. This problem is usually resolved within 6 hours to 4 days. There are many toll booths; the price is about US$3. There are also many unpaved roads of varying quality. International land transport is only possible to Ecuador and Venezuela.

Get Around - By bus

Bus transport is widespread and of varying levels of quality. Long distance trips rarely cost more than USD 55 (one way). When purchasing bus tickets, it is common for the passenger to go to the terminal and purchase the next available bus to the desired destination. Depending on the company or terminal, it may not even be possible to buy a ticket 1 or more days in advance! It is therefore advisable to at least know when a particular service starts and ends on a given day. Long-distance buses usually travel very slowly, as the main roads are two-lane and there is a lot of truck traffic. For any journey that takes more than 5 hours, consider flying.

Some of the main companies operating north of Bogota and Medellin to the Caribbean coast and the areas between the two cities:

  • ExpresoBrasilia, toll-free number: +1 8000 51 8001. From Tigo and Movistar phones, call 501 or 502.
  • Copetran, +57 7 644-81-67 (Bucaramanga), free call: +1 8000 114 164, #567 or #568 from Claro mobiles.
  • BerlinasdelFonce. Trips between Bogotá, Tunja, Barbosa, Socorro, San Gil, Piedecuesta and Bucaramanga.
  • RapidoOchoa, +57 4 444-88-88. It connects Bogotá to Barranquilla, Cartagena and Tolu on three separate routes, passing through several cities and towns, and Medellin to Arboletes, Monteria and Tolu on three other routes, passing through several cities and towns.

Other companies serve several towns and villages in the southern part of the country, south of Bogotá and Medellin and in the areas between these two cities, as far as the Ecuadorian border:

  • Bolivariano, +57 1 424-90-90 (number in Bogotá). Operates buses from Bogotá to Manziales, Medellin, Pereira on three different routes; and from Medellin to Neiva and Mocoa on one route and from Medellin to Cali, Popayan and Ipiales on another route. They also offer international flights to Peru.
  • ExpresoPalmira, +57 321 890-35-97 (from a mobile phone), free call: +1 8000 936-662.
  • Fronteras- Continental Bus.
  • Coomotor.

Note: There are also many other bus companies and drivers’ unions in the country that operate more locally, at different distances from a particular town or department, or between neighbouring departments. Check the articles for each locality to see what is available. In the Amazon, Llanos and the remote southern regions towards Leticia and the Pacific coast, roads are limited or non-existent, as are bus services. In addition, some of these remote areas, especially near the borders with Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, as well as the Amazon rainforest in the southeast and towards the Pacific coast, may still be dangerous due to guerrilla activity. Check with local authorities before travelling.

Get Around - With the city bus

At the beginning of the century, very efficient and clean bus systems were set up in urban centres in Colombia and are spreading to other countries. In Bogotá there is the Transmilenio, in Medellín the Metroplusin Cali the Mio, in Barranquilla the Transmetro, in Bucaramanga the Metrolínea, in Pereira the Megabús. It is always advisable to keep an eye on your belongings and not to bring valuables, excess cash (more than 20,000 COP visible) or unnecessary items. Never accept food or drink from strangers. Avoid talking to strangers at bus stops or terminals. You can be stopped at police checkpoints. Calm behaviour is the best way to avoid inconvenience.

Get Around - With the metro

The only metro system in Colombia is located in Medellín, in the department (state) of Antioquia. It connects the outlying suburbs to the barrios of Medellín – line A runs from La Estrella to barrio Niquía, line B from barrio San Antonio to barrio San Javíer. The metro system also has two cable car lines: Metrocable line K, from Barrio Acevedo to Barrio Santo Domingo Savio, and Metrocable line J, which runs from Barrio San Javier. Riding the cable cars is a unique experience as passengers ride up the mountains in gondolas. The MetroCable has six stations and an extension to the Parque Arví ecopark. The ride to Parque Arvi costs about 4USD (3500 COP). There, after a 20-minute gondola ride, you reach an altitude of 2500 metres above sea level.

Get Around - By taxi

In large cities such as Bogotá, taxi networks are very extensive. Prices vary considerably from city to city. Bogotá, for example, is relatively cheap, while Cartagena is expensive. A taxi ride (bright yellow) through Bogotá can take up to a day, but costs less than $15.

When you order a taxi by phone, the company will give you the number of the taxi. The taxi will then be waiting at the address given. You may have to provide a three or four digit code that was given to you when you ordered the taxi. During the day, some taxi ranks in front of hotels, office buildings and government offices only allow certified drivers and companies and also take your name and contact details when you get into the taxi. It is easy to get a taxi from one city to another by phoning ahead and agreeing the price. The taxi will always be cheap by Western standards and it is safe and quite pleasant.

The meter in all taxis starts at 25 and then increases with distance. The number it arrives at corresponds to a fare displayed on the front seat of the taxi. Taxi and bus fares increase on Sundays, public holidays, early mornings and late evenings. There are also additional charges for luggage and for advance booking by telephone.

Unlike many other countries, it is not customary to tip the taxi driver. It depends on the individual.

Many taxis are not allowed to travel outside Bogotá with their licence due to border restrictions. You should always make arrangements in advance to travel by taxi outside Bogotá.

In some places (e.g. Las Aguas in the Candelaria district of Bogotá), you will find a person who acts as a “rabatteur” for taxi drivers – he or she will suggest a taxi and guide you to a specific taxi. You will then receive a small tip from the driver.

In large cities it has become very common to use apps to hail taxis. Tappsi and EasyTaxi seem to be quite popular. Uber is available in Bogotá and Medellín.

Get Around - With the cable car

With most of Colombia’s population living in the Andes, cable car systems are becoming increasingly popular, both for commuting and for tourist travel. You can use the ones in Manizales and Medellín, which are integrated into the metro system, as well as those in the small rural towns of Antioquia: Jardín, Jericó, Sopetrán and San Andrés de Cuerquia. You can also enjoy the magnificent views from the new cable car over the Chicamocha River Gorge in Santander.

Destinations in Colombia


  • Andino
    Rugged Andean landscapes and altiplanos with Colombia’s two largest cities, Bogotá and Medellín, as well as beautiful national parks and coffee plantations.
  • Costa Norte
    Colombia’s vibrant Caribbean has much to offer, with both historic and modern coastal towns and opportunities for diving, trekking and exploring the jungle and desert.
  • Orinoquía
    The endless eastern plains with unique tropical savannahs, gallery forests and wetlands, little visited by tourists.
  • Pacific
    Colombia’s Pacific coast combines the rainforests of Chocó, the uniqueness of marine life, Colombia’s best party town and the country’s religious culture to create a potential tourist hotspot.
  • Amazon
    The beautiful, vast and remote Amazonian jungle.
  • Colombian Islands
    Remote and idyllic tropical islands with great diving opportunities.


  • Bogotá – the capital, a cosmopolitan city of about eight million people that sprawls across the Andes, where you’ll find excellent museums, world-class restaurants and just about everything you’d expect from a big city.
  • Barranquilla – the gold port and fourth largest city in the country – may not be very exciting most of the time, but its carnival is the second largest in the world after Rio and is both an incredible cultural experience and a great party!
  • Cali – the third largest city in Colombia, known as the salsa capital of Latin America.
  • Cartagena – the heroic city, capital of the department of Bolívar, is Colombia’s tourist city par excellence. Colonial architecture and skyscrapers rub shoulders in this city that offers a unique experience of festivals, historical attractions, restaurants and hotels.
  • Manizales – the centre of the Zona Cafetera offers the possibility to visit the Los Nevados National Park and to discover the coffee plantations.
  • Medellín, the city of eternal spring and capital of the department of Antioquia, is famous for its important textile industry, which produces high quality clothes that are shipped all over the world. It is also the birthplace of the master painter Fernando Botero, and is therefore home to the vast majority of his works.
  • Pereira – the beautiful city, capital of the department of Risaralda and capital of the coffee region, important and modern city, commercial and tourist. The famous “nu Bolívar” and the Matecaña zoo. Very close to the hot springs of Santa Rosa and the national park “Los Nevados”.
  • Popayán – this beautiful whitewashed town is the religious centre of Colombia. It hosts the second largest Easter celebration in the world (after Seville, Spain), and the city has given birth to more Colombian presidents than any other. It borders Puracé National Park and is the gateway to the archaeological sites of San Agustín and Tierra Dentro in nearby Huilla.
  • Santa Marta – a popular base for adventure tourism in a beautiful and unique environment in that it offers beautiful beaches one day and a hike to the foot of a snow-capped mountain, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest in the country, the next.

Other destinations

  • Amacayacu National Park – Far, far away from civilisation, in the Amazon rainforest, a huge national park that can be explored by boat, filled with strange islands inhabited by monkeys and pink dolphins.
  • Catedralde Sal – A colossal church built underground in a former salt mine, with exquisitely carved walkways and a radiating cross rising above the altar in the cavernous nave.
  • Ciudad Perdida de Teyuni – A pre-Columbian city located in the Colombian jungle near Santa Marta. Built between the eighth and fourteenth centuries by the Tayrona Indians. Today only circular stone terraces remain, covered by the jungle.
  • Corales del Rosario – a picturesque archipelago a short boat ride from Cartagena.
  • Isla Gorgona – This former prison island in the Pacific Ocean is now a nature reserve open to visitors. It is home to an abundance of wildlife, including monkeys, snakes, whales and sea turtles. It offers excellent diving conditions.
  • Los Nevados National Park – Colombia’s high altitude volcanic park offers great trekking opportunities.
  • Providencia – an idyllic and secluded Caribbean island located halfway to Jamaica. With the second largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the beautiful island of Providencia has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
  • San Agustín and Tierradentro – Archaeological sites in southwest Colombia.
  • Tayrona National Park – Some of the most beautiful coastlines in all of South America.

Food & Drinks in Colombia

Food in Colombia

In many parts of Colombia, it is common to eat buñuelos (fried cornmeal balls with cheese in the batter) and arepas (fairly thick corn tortillas, often made with cheese and served with butter) with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Bogotá and the central region have their own breakfast speciality, tamales – maize and minced pork or chicken with vegetables and eggs, steamed in banana leaves, often served with home-made hot chocolate.

Empanadas, made of potatoes and meat and with a yellow exterior like a pocket, are delicious and completely different from their Mexican and Argentine counterparts. Pastries are widespread, both savoury and sweet, including pandebono, pan de yuca, pastel gloria and roscon. They vary in quality – ask locals where the best niches are to enjoy them.

For lunch, especially on Sundays, try a sancocho de gallina (rich chicken soup served with some of the chicken itself, rice and vegetables/salad). Sancocho is common throughout the country, with countless regional variations. On the coast, it is served with fish and is highly recommended. Another soup served in Bogotá and the surrounding area is Ajiaco (chicken soup with three different types of potatoes, vegetables and herbs (guasca), served with rice, avocado, corn, cream of milk and capers).

The “Bandeja paisa” is common in most places, (the “paisas” are the natives of some departments in the northwest, like Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío). It includes rice, beans, fried plantains, arepa, fried egg, chorizo, chicharrón (pork) with the meat still attached. It’s a very fatty dish, but you can leave out what you don’t like, and if you’re lucky, you can find a gourmet bandeja paisa in a good restaurant in Bogotá or Medellín. They are lighter and smaller.

There are a few chains throughout the country. Apart from the global franchises (McDonald’s, Subway, T.G.I.F., which focus specifically on Bogotá and other major cities), the Colombian chains are very strong and present in almost every city. Presto and especially El Corral serve excellent burgers, Kokoriko does fried chicken and Frisby specialises in fried chicken. Gokela is the first choice for people looking for healthy options like wraps, salads, superfoods and supplements, making it one of the only options for vegetarians, vegans and organic eaters. Pancakes and Waffles is, as the name suggests, an upscale breakfast/brunch restaurant with great food and… Pancakes, waffles and ice cream. There are many international restaurants, including Rodizios (Brazilian steakhouse style), paella houses, etc.

There is a wide variety of tropical fruits and a corresponding variety of juices, from the strangest you can find in the world (really) to the sweetest. You just have to know how to find and prepare them. In any case, anyone will be happy to teach you. Some examples of these exotic fruits are: Tamarinds, mangoes, guanabanas, lulo, mangosteen (really great and rare even for Colombians) and a wide variety of citrus fruits. In addition, you can find some of these rich and strange flavours in processed foods such as brands of ice cream or restaurant juices. Most Colombians drink juices at home and in restaurants, they are cheap and natural everywhere.

Colombia has a wide range of tamales if you like them, but be aware that they are very different from their more famous Mexican cousins. They vary from region to region, but they are all delicious. They are called “envuelto”, the sweet corn-based tamales.

As far as coffee is concerned, there are many products, both commercial and artisanal, made from this very famous Colombian product, such as wines, biscuits, sweets, milk-based desserts such as “arequipe”, ice cream, etc.

Colombians are known to have a sweet tooth, so you’ll find plenty of local desserts and sweets such as the guayaba-based “bocadillo” (guava fruit) or the more famous milk-based “arequipe” (similar to its Argentinian cousin “dulce leche” or the French “confiteure du lait”). This only covers the basics, as each region of Colombia has its own fruit, its own local products and therefore its own sweet offerings. If you are a fan of rare sweets, you can get handmade sweets in the small towns near Bogota and Tunja.

The “Tres Leches” cake is not to be missed – a sponge cake soaked in milk, topped with whipped cream and served with condensed milk is for the great milk lovers. Another delicious dessert is the “leche asada”, like roasted milk.

Organic food is a current trend in big cities, but in small towns you can get all-natural, fresh fruit and vegetables. Colombians are not used to storing food for the winter, as there are no seasons in the traditional sense. So don’t ask them for dry goods like tomatoes or dried fruit. Just shop in the small grocery shops nearby and get the freshest produce from the month’s harvest (almost everything is available and fresh all year round). As for pickles and similar preserves, you can find them in supermarkets, but they are not common in family households.

Pre-Columbian civilisations cultivated about 200 varieties of potatoes. Colombia, as an Andean country, is no exception. Even McDonalds recognises the quality of this product and buys it. Try local preparations such as “papas saladas” (salted potatoes) or “papas chorriadas” (steamed potatoes).

In short, in Colombia it can be fun to have the ingredients and preparation of many exotic recipes explained to you.

Drinks in Colombia

Take a homemade hot drink with you to breakfast. The choices are usually coffee, hot chocolate or “agua de panela”. The latter is a drink made from panela (dried sugar cane juice), sometimes with cinnamon and cloves added, which gives it a special taste. In Bogotá and the surrounding area, it is customary to prepare the drink with cheese, so that small pieces of cheese are placed in the cup, which, after melting, are picked up with a spoon and eaten like soup. Hot chocolate is also drunk in the same way.

Colombia’s national alcoholic drink, aguardiente (also known as guaro), has a strong aniseed flavour and is usually bought by the bottle, half-bottle or litre. It is usually drunk in shots. Each region has its own aguardiente, “Antioqueño” (from Antioquia), “Cristal” (from Caldas), “Quindiano” (from Quindío), “Blanco del Valle” (from Valle del Cauca) and “Nectar” (from Cundinamarca). There are also a variety of rum drinks, such as “Ron Santa Fe” (also from Cundinamarca), “Ron Medellín Añejo” (also from Antioquia), “Ron Viejo de Caldas” (also from Caldas), among others.

Water is drinkable directly from the tap in most major cities, but be prepared to buy bottled water if you are going to the countryside. Agua Manantial bottled water is recommended, from a natural spring near Bogotá. A word of advice, make sure you don’t use ice cubes or drink drinks that don’t contain distilled water, ask if the drink is made with tap water or bottled/boiled water.

If you are lucky enough to stay at a family-run “finca cafetera” (coffee farm), you can ask your Colombian friends not only about the exquisite coffee (a quality export), but also about the leftover coffee that the farmers leave for their own use. It is picked, washed, roasted in rustic brick ovens and ground by hand. It has the most exquisite and rare taste and aroma ever found.

In Bogotá and the rest of the country, black filter coffee is called “tinto” – which is confusing if you were expecting red wine.

There are also specialised places where you can drink coffee with many different combinations (such as Juan Valdés Café or Oma), hot or iced preparations.

Commercially, there are also many products made from coffee, such as wines, ice creams, sodas and other drinks.

Money & Shopping in Colombia


Colombia’s currency is the Colombian peso, but the symbol you will encounter is the $. Most banks and exchange offices accept major world currencies such as the US dollar and the euro.

ATMs are widely available, with different withdrawal limits. The banks with the highest limits are Citibank, (1,000,000 COP, but charges extra, so gives the same effective rate as) Bancolombia (600,000).


Typical prices: modest but clean (and sometimes charming) hotel: US$25 for a good meal: US$15 for two; beers: US$0.60-1.00 in “tiendas” or similar shops, US$1.5-3.00 in bars; bus: 100 km approx. US$6 (cheaper per km on longer routes, more on dirt roads); city transport: US$0.50-0.90.


In nice restaurants, a 10% service charge is usually added to the bill (otherwise you have to add it yourself). Tipping taxi drivers is not common. Most “tips” are simply rounded up to the nearest thousand pesos (e.g. rounding up a coffee bill from 6,700 to 7,000). Tipping private tour guides is not mandatory, but it is customary to do so if you appreciate the guide.

Note that in some restaurants and bars that include the tip (propina) in the bill, this extra money often does not end up in the hands of the staff serving you. Instead, it is simply kept by the owners. This is why many Colombians pay the bill without tipping (in cash or with a credit card) and then give a cash tip to the staff member (waiter, bartender, etc.) who served them.


The Colombian textile industry is well known and renowned throughout South America and Europe. Clothing, including underwear, is particularly well regarded as being of high quality and very affordable. Leather clothing, shoes and accessories are also of interest to foreigners. The best place to buy both is Medellín, known as the country’s fashion capital, where you can buy very high quality products at very low prices.

Colombian emerald and gold (18k) jewellery can also be very attractive to visitors. A typical Colombian style of jewellery is a copy of pre-Columbian jewellery made with gold, silver and semi-precious stones.

The “mochila”, which means “backpack” in Spanish, is also a traditional, indigenous, hand-woven Colombian bag, usually worn on the shoulder. They are often sold in shopping centres, especially in the Santa Marta/El Rodadero area. Mochilas generally come in three sizes: a large one for carrying large items, a medium one for carrying personal items and a small one for carrying coca leaves. Coca leaves are carried by local tribesmen to reduce hunger, increase energy and combat altitude sickness.

Handicrafts, such as intricately designed jewellery, are often sold in markets and on street corners. Many street vendors approach people and sell T-shirts, shorts, glasses, bracelets, watches, necklaces, souvenirs and humorous pictures. If you want to buy something, this is a good time to practice your bartering skills. In general, you can get down to around 2,000 to 3,000 pesos, but 10% to 15% is the generally accepted rule. For example, if someone is selling a shirt for 10,000 pesos, ask if you can pay 8,000 pesos. Go from there.

If you are not looking to buy anything, a simple “gracias” (“thank you”) and a noncommittal wave of the hand will deter potential sellers.

Things To See in Colombia

A large part of Colombia is located in the Andes, which means that there are beautiful mountain landscapes. On the other hand, there are also beautiful beaches in the lowlands. The height of some of the peaks allows you to see snow even though they are in the tropics.

There is a lot to do in Colombia and you can find parties and celebrations everywhere you go. Colombians especially love to dance, and if you don’t know how, they will be happy to teach you. Colombia is known for its exciting nightlife.

There are many groups and agencies that offer ecotourism, and it is very common to find trekking plans (locally called “caminatas” or “excursiones”) on weekends; many groups (“caminantes” as they are called) offer cheaper day trips, special trips (on long weekends or during the holiday period (January, Holy Week, July, August, October, December) to different places in the country. Recommended groups based in Bogotá include: Viajar y Vivir, Fundación Sal Si Puedes, Caminantes del Retorno; there are many others. Patianchos in Medellín; Rastros in Bucaramanga. They usually offer a guide and transport to the site; for longer visits, accommodation and other services. It is advisable to ask if the guide has official certification.

Festivals & Holidays in Colombia

Colombia has 18 public holidays (12 Catholic and 6 civil), plus Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. The city of Barranquilla has two additional holidays to celebrate Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

The following days are public holidays in Colombia:

  • Año Nuevo / (New Year’s Day) (1 January)
  • Día de los Reyes Magos / (Epiphany) (6 January)
  • Carnival Monday (48 days before Easter Sunday. Only valid for the city of Barranquilla).
  • Carnival Tuesday (47 days before Easter Sunday. Only valid for the city of Barranquilla).
  • Día de San José / (Feast of Saint Joseph) (19 March)
  • Jueves Santo / (Holy Thursday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday) (the Thursday and Friday before Easter Sunday, dates vary in March or April).
  • Primero de Mayo / (Labour Day) (1 May)
  • Ascensión del señor / (Ascension of Jesus) (39 days after Easter Sunday)
  • Corpus Christi (60 days after Easter Sunday)
  • Sagrado Corazón (68 days after Easter Sunday)
  • San Pedro y San Pablo / Saint Peter and Saint Paul) (29 June)
  • Declaracion de la Independencia de Colombia / Declaration of Independence (20 July)
  • Battle of Boyacá (7 August)
  • La Asunción / (Assumption of the Virgin Mary) (15 August)
  • Día de la Raza / (Columbus Day) (12 October)
  • Dia de los Santos / All Saints’ Day (1 November)
  • Independencia de Cartagena / Independence of Cartagena (11 November)
  • La Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception) (8 December)
  • Navidad (Christmas Day) (25 December)

Traditions & Customs in Colombia

Colombians are aware of their country’s bad reputation, and any indelicate remark about the history of violence may earn you a derogatory remark (probably about your country of origin) and an abrupt end to the conversation. However, Colombians are eventually willing to talk about these topics if they feel comfortable with someone.

Colombians are more formal than many other Latin Americans. Make a point of saying “please” (“por favor” or “hágame el favor”) and “thank you” (“muchas gracias”), no matter what and to whom. (“muchas gracias”), no matter what happens and to whomsoever. If you are addressed, the correct response is “¿Señora?” or “¿Señor? In some parts of the country (notably Boyacá), Colombians can be formal to the point of anachronism, addressing strangers as “Su merced” (your grace!) instead of “usted”. The only (much) more informal part of the country is along the Caribbean coast, where it is more common to simply call people “chico” – but follow the lead of those around you.

Race is not a hot topic in Colombia because whites, criollos and mestizos (mestizos) mix naturally with indigenous and Afro-Colombians in everyday life (education, housing, politics, marriage). The differences between white foreigners are not discussed: Expect to be called “gringo” even if you are, say, Russian. Unless the context involves anger, it’s not meant to be offensive. If you are black, you will probably be called “negro” or “moreno”, which is also not considered offensive at all. Asians are usually called “chino” (Chinese), regardless of their actual origin. Colombians in the interior also sometimes confusingly call children ‘chinos’ (‘children’); this usage comes from the indigenous Chibcha language. More confusingly, Colombians call blondes and redheads ‘monos’ (monkeys). This may sound insulting, but in fact it ranges from neutral to affectionate.

Colombians have a habit of pointing at objects with their chin or lips; pointing at a person or even an object may be considered impolite or less than discreet.

Avoid giving the height of a person with the palm facing downwards, as this is considered to be reserved for animals or inanimate objects. If you must, use your palm facing sideways, with the bottom of the hand expressing height.

Colombians dance a lot. Everyone will be happy to teach you to dance, and they won’t expect you to do it well because they have been practising every weekend for most of their lives. Colombian nightlife is mainly dance-oriented, and sit-down or stand-up bars are less common outside the big cities. Despite the sensual moves, dancing is not generally meant to be a means of flirting. It’s the same as in Brazil: an almost naked “garota” dancing the samba at carnival is not inviting you to have sex, but to have fun, to be happy, to join the party, to shed your inhibitions in an exuberant way.

Gay and lesbian travelers

Most Colombians are Catholic, but you will find that young people are quite relaxed about religion, especially when it comes to social issues. Public displays of affection are rare, however, and can provoke awkward looks. Verbal and physical homophobic violence is not necessarily unknown, and unfortunately less aggressive homophobia may be more prevalent than politeness masks. Overall, Colombian attitudes towards homosexuality are quite similar to those in the United States.

More liberal areas (at least as far as LGBT issues are concerned) can be found in Bogotá’s Chapinero neighbourhood. It is home to perhaps the largest LGBT community in Colombia and is the focal point of Bogotá’s (and indeed the country’s) community nightlife, with explicitly gay-friendly establishments such as Theatron (arguably one of the largest discos in South America). LGBT pride parades are held in some of the larger cities in late June and early July.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Colombia since April 2016.

Culture Of Colombia

Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the wider Americas, and as such has been affected by a wide range of cultural influences. Amerindian, Spanish and European, African, American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American cultural influences are all present in modern Colombian culture. Urban migration, industrialisation, globalisation and other political, social and economic changes have also left their mark.

Many national symbols, whether objects or themes, are derived from Colombia’s diverse cultural traditions and are intended to represent what Colombia and the Colombian people have in common. Cultural expressions in Colombia are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture.

Visual arts

Colombian art has a history of over 3,000 years. Colombian artists have reflected the country’s changing political and cultural context through a range of styles and media. Archaeological evidence shows that ceramics were made in Colombia earlier than anywhere else in the Americas, as early as 3000 BC.

The earliest examples of goldsmithing are attributed to the Tumaco people of the Pacific coast and date from around 325 BC. Between 200 BC and 800 AD, the San Agustin culture, masters of stone carving, entered its “classical period”. They built elevated ceremonial centres, sarcophagi and large stone monoliths representing anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms in stone.

Colombian art followed the trends of the time. For example, from the 16th to the 18th century, Spanish Catholicism had a major influence on Colombian art, and the popular Baroque style was replaced by Rococo when the Bourbons took over the Spanish crown. More recently, Colombian artists Pedro Nel Gómez and Santiago Martínez Delgado founded the Colombian Murial movement in the 1940s, which has the neoclassical characteristics of Art Deco.

Since the 1950s, Colombian art has begun to have its own vision and has reinvented the traditional elements among the concepts of the 20th century. Twentieth century art has been reinvented. The Greiff portraits by Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo are an example of this. They show what Colombian art was able to achieve with new techniques applied to typically Colombian subjects. Carlos Correa’s paradigmatic “Naturaleza muerta en silencio” (still life) combines geometric abstraction and cubism. Alejandro Obregón is often considered the father of modern Colombian painting and is one of the most influential artists of this period, due to his originality, painting Colombian landscapes with a symbolic and expressionist use of animals, (especially the Andean condor). Fernando Botero, Omar Rayo and Oscar Murillo are some of the Colombian artists represented internationally.

Colombian sculpture from the 16th to the 18th century was mainly devoted to religious representations of ecclesiastical art, strongly influenced by the Spanish schools of sacred sculpture. At the beginning of the Colombian Republic, national artists concentrated on the production of sculpted portraits of politicians and public figures, in a purely neoclassical trend. During the 20th century, Colombian sculpture began to develop bold and innovative work, with the aim of better capturing the national sensitivity.

Photography in Colombia began with the arrival of the daguerreotype, brought to the country by Baron Gros in 1841. The Piloto Public Library has the largest negative archive in Latin America, containing 1.7 million old photographs covering Colombia from 1848 to 2005.

The Colombian press has promoted the work of cartoonists. In recent decades, fanzines, the Internet and independent publishers have played a fundamental role in the growth of the comic strip in Colombia.


Over time, there has been a variety of architectural styles, from those of the indigenous peoples, through colonial (military and religious), republican, transitional and modern to contemporary styles.

Ancient dwellings, longhouses, cultivation terraces, paths, cemeteries, hypogeums and necropolises are part of the architectural heritage of the indigenous peoples. Among the most important indigenous structures are the pre-ceramic and ceramic site of Tequendama, Tierradentro (a park containing the largest concentration of pre-Columbian monumental tombs with shafts and side chambers), the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America, located in San Agustín, Huila. The Lost City (an archaeological site with a series of terraces carved into the mountainside, a network of cobbled streets and several circular plazas) and the large villages built mainly of stone, wood, reeds and clay are notable.

The architecture of the period of conquest and colonisation is mainly the result of the adaptation of European styles to local conditions, where the Spanish influence, especially from Andalusia and Extremadura, is easily recognisable. When Europeans founded cities, two things were done simultaneously: to size the geometric space (town square, street) and to establish a tangible landmark. The construction of forts was common in the Caribbean and in some inland cities because of the dangers posed by hostile indigenous groups and pirates roaming the seas. Churches, chapels, schools and hospitals belonging to religious orders exert a great urban influence. Baroque architecture is used in military buildings and public spaces. Marcelino Arroyo, Francisco José de Caldas and Domingo de Petrés are great representatives of neoclassical architecture.

The National Capitol is a great representative of romanticism. During the colonisation of Antioquia, wood was widely used for doors, windows, balustrades and ceilings. Caribbean architecture is marked by a strong Arab influence. The Teatro Colón in Bogotá is an elaborate example of 19th century architecture. The Quintas houses, with their innovations in volumetric design, are among the best examples of Republican architecture. Republican action in the city focused on the design of three types of spaces: parks with forests, small urban parks and avenues. The Gothic style was most often used in the design of the churches.

The Deco style, modern neoclassicism, folk eclecticism and the fundamental resources of Art Deco have considerably influenced the architecture of Colombia, especially during the transition period. Modernism brought new building technologies and materials (steel, reinforced concrete, glass and synthetic materials) and the topological architecture and the system of facilitated panels also have a great influence. The most influential architects of the modern movement are Rogelio Salmona and Fernando Martínez Sanabria.

The contemporary architecture of Colombia focuses on the importance of materials. This architecture takes into account specific natural and man-made geographies and is also an architecture that appeals to the senses. The preservation of Colombia’s architectural and urban heritage has been promoted in recent years.


Over time, there has been a variety of architectural styles, from those of the indigenous peoples, through colonial (military and religious), republican, transitional and modern to contemporary styles.

Ancient dwellings, longhouses, cultivation terraces, paths, cemeteries, hypogeums and necropolises are part of the architectural heritage of the indigenous peoples. Among the most important indigenous structures are the pre-ceramic and ceramic site of Tequendama, Tierradentro (a park containing the largest concentration of pre-Columbian monumental tombs with shafts and side chambers), the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America, located in San Agustín, Huila. The Lost City (an archaeological site with a series of terraces carved into the mountainside, a network of cobbled streets and several circular plazas) and the large villages built mainly of stone, wood, reeds and clay are notable.

The architecture of the period of conquest and colonisation is mainly the result of the adaptation of European styles to local conditions, where the Spanish influence, especially from Andalusia and Extremadura, is easily recognisable. When Europeans founded cities, two things were done simultaneously: to size the geometric space (town square, street) and to establish a tangible landmark. The construction of forts was common in the Caribbean and in some inland cities because of the dangers posed by hostile indigenous groups and pirates roaming the seas. Churches, chapels, schools and hospitals belonging to religious orders exert a great urban influence. Baroque architecture is used in military buildings and public spaces. Marcelino Arroyo, Francisco José de Caldas and Domingo de Petrés are great representatives of neoclassical architecture.

The National Capitol is a great representative of romanticism. During the colonisation of Antioquia, wood was widely used for doors, windows, balustrades and ceilings. Caribbean architecture is marked by a strong Arab influence. The Teatro Colón in Bogotá is an elaborate example of 19th century architecture. The Quintas houses, with their innovations in volumetric design, are among the best examples of Republican architecture. Republican action in the city focused on the design of three types of spaces: parks with forests, small urban parks and avenues. The Gothic style was most often used in the design of the churches.

The Deco style, modern neoclassicism, folk eclecticism and the fundamental resources of Art Deco have considerably influenced the architecture of Colombia, especially during the transition period. Modernism brought new building technologies and materials (steel, reinforced concrete, glass and synthetic materials) and the topological architecture and the system of facilitated panels also have a great influence. The most influential architects of the modern movement are Rogelio Salmona and Fernando Martínez Sanabria.

The contemporary architecture of Colombia focuses on the importance of materials. This architecture takes into account specific natural and man-made geographies and is also an architecture that appeals to the senses. The preservation of Colombia’s architectural and urban heritage has been promoted in recent years.

Popular culture

Theatre was introduced to Colombia during the Spanish colonisation in 1550 by the zarzuela societies. Colombian theatre is supported by the Ministry of Culture and a number of private and governmental organisations. The Ibero-American Theatre Festival in Bogotá is the most important cultural event in Colombia and one of the largest theatre festivals in the world. Other important theatrical events include: The Puppet Theatre Festival “Fanfare” (Medellín), the Theatre Festival of Manizales, the Caribbean Theatre Festival (Santa Marta) and the Popular Culture Arts Festival “Cultural Invasion” (Bogotá).

Although Colombian cinema is a young sector, the film industry has developed recently with the support of the film law passed in 2003. Many film festivals are organised in Colombia, but the two most important are the Cartagena Film Festival, which is the oldest film festival in Latin America, and the Bogotá Film Festival.

Some important newspapers with national circulation are El Tiempo and El Espectador. Television in Colombia has two private and three state television stations with national broadcasting, as well as six regional television stations and dozens of local television stations. The private stations RCN and Caracol are the stations with the highest ratings. Regional stations and regional newspapers cover one or more departments and their content is produced in those particular areas.

Colombia has three major national radio stations: Radiodifusora Nacional de Colombia, a state-owned national radio station, Caracol Radio and RCN Radio, private networks with hundreds of affiliates. Other national stations include Cadena Super, Todelar and Colmundo. Several hundred radio stations are registered with the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications.


Colombia’s varied cuisine is influenced by the diversity of its flora and fauna as well as the cultural traditions of its ethnic groups. Colombian dishes and ingredients vary greatly from region to region. Some of the most common ingredients are: Cereals such as rice and corn, tubers such as potatoes and cassava, various legumes, meats including beef, chicken, pork and goat, fish and seafood. Colombian cuisine also offers a variety of tropical fruits such as cape gooseberry, feijoa, arazá, dragon fruit, mangostino, granadilla, papaya, guava, mora, lulo, soursop and passion fruit.

The most representative starters and soups are patacones (fried green bananas), sancocho de gallina (chicken soup with root vegetables) and ajiaco (potato and corn soup). Representative snacks and breads are pandebono, arepas (corn cakes), aborrajados (sweet plantains fried with cheese), torta de choclo, empanadas and almojábanas. Representative main dishes are bandeja paisa, lechona tolimense, mamona, tamales and fish dishes (such as arroz de lisa), especially in the coastal regions, where kibbeh, suero, costeño and carimañolas are also eaten. Representative side dishes are papas criollas al horno (roasted Andean potatoes), papas chorreadas (potatoes with cheese) and arroz con coco (rice with coconut). Organic food is a current trend in the big cities, although in general, throughout the country, fruit and vegetables are very natural and fresh.

Representative desserts are buñuelos, natillas, Maria Luisa cake, bocadillo de guayaba (guava jelly), cocadas (coconut balls), casquitos de guayaba (candied guava peel), Torta de Natas, Obleas, Flan de Arequipe, Roscón, Milhoja and the Tres Lech cake (a sponge cake soaked in milk, filled with whipped cream and then served with condensed milk). Typical sauces (salsas) are hogao (tomato and onion sauce) and ají Colombian style.

Representative drinks are coffee (tinto), champús, cholado, lulada, avena colombiana, sugar cane juice, aguapanela, aguardiente, hot chocolate and fresh fruit juice (often with sugar and water or milk).


Tejo is the national sport of Colombia. It is a team sport where you shoot projectiles to hit a target. But of all the sports played in Colombia, football is the most popular. Colombia won the 2001 Copa America, in which they set a new record: they went undefeated, did not concede a goal and won every game. It is interesting to note that Colombia was twice voted “young hopeful of the year”.

Colombia is the Mecca of roller skaters. The national team is always a force at the world roller skating championships. Colombia is traditionally very good at cycling and many Colombian cyclists have triumphed in major cycling competitions.

In baseball, another sport with roots on the Caribbean coast, Colombia was world amateur champion in 1947 and 1965. Baseball is popular in the Caribbean, especially in the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. From these cities come good players such as: Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Rentería, who was World Series champion in 1997 and 2010, and others who have played in Major League Baseball.

Boxing is one of the sports that has produced the most world champions for Colombia. Motor sports also feature prominently in the sporting preferences of Colombians; Juan Pablo Montoya is a racing driver known for winning 7 Formula 1 races. Colombia has also excelled in sports such as BMX, judo, shooting sports, taekwondo, wrestling, high diving and track and field, and also has a long tradition in weightlifting and bowling.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Colombia

Stay Safe in Colombia

WARNING: Although security in Colombia has improved considerably, drug-related violence is still evident in some, mainly rural, areas of the country. In particular, the kidnapping of foreigners for ransom – although not as great a problem as at the beginning of the millennium – still occurs from time to time. Visitors are advised to remain vigilant, particularly outside the major cities, and to keep abreast of the latest government travel advice. Updated November 2016.

Colombia suffered from a terrible reputation as a dangerous and violent country, but the situation has improved considerably since the 1980s and 1990s. Colombia is on the mend, and Colombians are very proud of the progress they have made. Today, Colombia is generally a safe country, with a lower violent crime rate than Mexico or Brazil, provided you avoid the poorer parts of the cities at night and do not venture off the main road into the jungle, where guerrillas are likely to be hiding.

The security situation is currently very different throughout the country. Most of the jungle areas are not safe to visit, but the area around Leticia is very safe, and Santa Marta is OK. Do not visit the Darien Gap, on the border with Panama (in northern Chocó), or Putumayo and Caquetá, which are active and very dangerous conflict zones. Other departments with significant rural violence are the Atlantic departments of Chocó, Cauca and Valle del Cauca, the Eastern departments of Meta, Vichada and Arauca in the East, and all the Amazon departments except Amazonas. This does not mean that these departments are completely off limits. Just make sure you travel with locals who know the area or stick to towns and tourist destinations. In general, if you stick to the main roads between the major cities and don’t wander into the remote jungle areas, you are unlikely to run into problems and are much more likely to run into a Colombian army checkpoint than a guerrilla roadblock.


Colombia is currently one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. So don’t walk lightly in the countryside without asking the locals. Landmines exist in 31 of Colombia’s 32 departments, and new ones are being laid every day by guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers.


In 2005, an agreement with the government disarmed some of the paramilitaries. However, they are still active in the drug trade, extortion and as a political force. They do not specifically target tourists, but it is possible to come across an illegal rural roadblock in more dangerous departments.


At the beginning of the millennium, Colombia had the highest kidnapping rate in the world, as it was one of the cheapest sources of funding for the FARC and ELN guerrillas and other armed groups. Fortunately, the security situation has greatly improved and the groups involved are now much weaker, with the number of kidnappings falling from 3,000 in 2000 to 229 cases in 2011. Today, kidnapping is still a problem in some southern departments, such as Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Caquetá. Under Colombian law, paying ransom is illegal, so the police may not be informed.


Guerrilla movements, which include the FARC and ELN guerrillas, are still active, although they are much weaker than in the 1990s, as the Colombian army has killed most of their leaders. These guerrillas operate mainly in the rural areas of southern, south-eastern and north-western Colombia, although they are present in 30 of the country’s 32 departments. The guerrillas are hardly active in the big cities these days. Even in rural areas, you are much more likely to encounter Colombian army soldiers than guerrillas if you stick to the main roads between the big cities and don’t go off the beaten track. River police, road patrols, newspapers and other travellers can be a useful source of information off the beaten track.


Crime rates in Colombia have declined considerably since their peak in the late 1980s and 1990s, with police arresting or killing many of the major drug cartel leaders. However, Colombia’s major urban centres and rural areas still have very high rates of violent crime, comparable to neglected cities in the United States, and crime has increased in recent years. Violent crime is not uncommon in the urban centres of most cities (which rarely correspond to affluent neighbourhoods); poor neighbourhoods can be quite dangerous for someone unfamiliar with their surroundings. Taxi crime is a very serious risk in big cities, so you should always call a taxi by phone or app rather than hailing it on the street – it costs the same and your call will be answered quickly. Official taxi ranks are also safe (airports, bus terminals, shopping centres).


Local consumption is low and penalties are draconian due to the country’s well-known and largely successful fight against some of the most powerful and dangerous drug traffickers in history. It should be remembered that drug trafficking in Colombia has ruined the lives of many innocent citizens and dragged the country’s reputation into the mud.

Buying and selling marijuana is illegal, although you can officially carry up to 20 grams without being prosecuted. The police tolerate carrying a few grams of the drug, but you are flirting with danger if you carry much more. Especially in small towns, you don’t always have to deal with the police, but with vigilantes. They often keep the peace in the towns and have a very strict way of dealing with problems.

Scopolamine is an extremely dangerous drug made from an Andean flowering tree. It is used almost exclusively for criminal purposes, and almost all such incidents in the world take place in Colombia. It is essentially a mind control drug (which the CIA once experimented with as an interrogation tool). Victims become extremely open to suggestion and are ‘persuaded’ to withdraw bank notes, hand over property, let criminals into their homes, etc., while maintaining an appearance of varying degrees of sobriety. Side effects include near total amnesia of what happened and potentially serious medical problems. The most commonly reported method of getting high on scopolamine is blowing the powder, which involves someone coming up to you (with cotton wools in their nose to prevent blowing) and asking you for help with a card before blowing the drug in your face. But by far the most common method is to drug the drinks in a bar. To be safe, leave the drinks if they have been left unattended. This is a fairly rare but very scary problem, more common in strip clubs or other establishments catering for sex workers.

Stay Healthy in Colombia

Drink only bottled water outside the big cities. Water in big cities is safe. Most people drink water at home, either by boiling it or purifying it in giant, gallon-sized plastic bags (which you can find in any small grocery shop). But coffee is delicious, so why not make it a habit?

Tropical diseases are a problem in the lowlands of the country, especially outside the major cities. Mosquitoes transmit malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever, and infection rates are similar to those in other lowland areas of South America (i.e. much lower than in sub-Saharan Africa). There is a yellow fever vaccine, so get vaccinated – it is a condition of entry to many national parks anyway. Dengue fever is not preventable, except by avoiding mosquito bites. It is therefore advisable to use regular mosquito spray in lowland rural areas.

Malaria being a potential problem, travelling outside Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and the Andean region justifies the use of anti-malarial drugs, which can be bought very cheaply and without a prescription in a drugguería, and which are available everywhere in all cities of any size in the country. Ask for doxycicline 100 mg tablets, the number being 30 days plus the number of days spent in a malaria area (so you can start 1-2 days in advance and continue to take the drug daily for up to 4 weeks after the end of the trip). The desired formulation is: doxyciclina, cien miligramos, [nombre] pastillas. The use of a mosquito spray in the evening provides additional protection.



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