Colombia is a spicy blend of Andean, Caribbean and Amazonian culture, a country with chic resorts and a whole host of natural attractions.
The capital Bogota, beachfront Cartagena, national parks and volcanic islands – all about Colombia: tours, photos and prices.
As you know, bad publicity is many times more enduring than good publicity. Colombia in the mass consciousness now primarily evokes associations with the “Colombian white man,” and only afterwards (and not everyone) will remember that there is also, it seems, a whole bunch of natural attractions, ancient and still poorly explored Indian cities, as well as luxury coastal resorts.
But those who have been to Colombia remember something else entirely. Cartagena with its colonial facades and small courtyards, the eclectic and contrasting Bogota, the fashionable beach resort of Santa Marta. And, of course, the Andes with their endless possibilities for ecotourism.
The capital is Bogota. Also, if you come to this country, you should visit at least the most interesting of its many national parks.
Visa to Colombia
You do not need a visa to enter Colombia if you stay in the country for less than 90 days. You are not required to obtain a medical insurance at the border crossing, but you should not fly to South America without it.
Import and export of local and foreign currencies is not limited. Amounts over USD 10,000 or equivalent in other currencies need to be declared.
Individuals aged 18 years and over may bring with them duty-free 250 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 50 grams of tobacco, 2 bottles of spirits, and perfume – up to their personal needs.
Importation of vegetables, plants or plant materials, meat and meat products, firearms and ammunition is forbidden (a permit from the local police authorities is required), as well as objects and things of historical, artistic or archaeological value.
It is prohibited to export drugs and narcotic substances, skins and stuffed animals, objects and things of historical, artistic or archaeological value. When exporting wool and leather products, jewelry, local souvenirs, jewelry and emeralds must present a receipt from the store where these products were purchased, as well as an export stamp (for emeralds and jewelry made of gold or platinum).
Fans of the underwater world should remember that the waters off the coast of the country are home to several varieties of sharks and many venomous sea creatures.
Tourist safety in Colombia
The security situation in the country is not easy. Colombia has for many years held the sad “record” of the country with the highest number of kidnappings in the world. On the other hand, many foreigners live in the country without fear for their lives.
The fact is that most local guerrilla groups kidnap people for political and economic reasons, so they have no use for kidnapping foreigners.
Still, to ensure personal safety when traveling in the country, it is advisable not to leave the city (especially at night), and not to travel in the country on evening or night buses.
When traveling around the city in the evening, it is better to use the services of officially licensed cabs. You should also avoid crowds and street demonstrations.
Drugs of all kinds are common throughout the country, so you must avoid at all costs “gifts” from strangers in the form of drinks or cigarettes: they may be filled with drugs or “borracero” – sedatives often used to sedate the victim for the purpose of robbery.
The easiest way to avoid dangerous areas in Colombia is to ask locals about them beforehand. Standard precautions do not hurt either: it is recommended to keep your passport and money in the hotel safe. Do not openly wear expensive jewelry or watches, do not show expensive photo or video equipment “in public”.
It is also necessary to check thoroughly all currency received at the exchange or change – the country prints an incredible amount of counterfeit dollars.
Finally, a few words about the natural dangers of Colombia, awaiting tourists. The climate in the country is quite hot, and the sun, especially in the mountains, is very intense. Therefore it is necessary to use sunscreen, wear hats and light clothing made of cotton.
Fans of the underwater world should keep in mind that in the waters off the coast of the country are several species of sharks and a lot of poisonous sea creatures. When swimming it is better to use wetsuits, and before entering the sea on the “wild” beach always wear special shoes.
Climate of Colombia
Most of the country has an equatorial and subequatorial climate, with little variation in temperature throughout the year. The climate is mountainous in the high Cordilleras, while in the foothills it is close to tropical (on the western slopes) and equatorial.
The average monthly air temperature in the lowlands and on the coast of the ocean is about +29 ° C almost all year round, in the mountainous areas (at altitudes of 2000-3000 m) – from +13 to +16 ° C, higher on the slopes of the Cordilleras – about +12 ° C in summer months (May to August), during the rest of the time from +16 to +9 ° C.
In winter, Bogota is quite warm (January temperature is about +20 ° C, at night it may drop to +11 ° C) and dry. Summer (from March to October) is relatively cool (+16 °C) and rainy. In late summer, frosts are not uncommon in the surrounding mountains, and in August – hurricane winds.
The water temperature on the Caribbean coast is +20 to +26 ° C all year round. The Pacific coast is slightly cooler – the average water temperature there ranges from +18 to +25 ° C, depending on the region.
Ocean waters (especially on the Pacific coast) are very choppy with strong currents and many areas of turbulence.
You should therefore choose your bathing spots with care. Tidal currents are also quite strong off the coast of Colombia. At low tide, there are gentle areas with a lot of shells, seaweed and just trash.
In the Caribbean Sea, tidal flats are usually quite narrow (0.5 to 4-5 m), but on the Pacific coast they can be 10-40 m wide.
The beaches of Cartagena and Santa Marta are characterized by dark silvery sand, the beaches of San Andrés and Providencia have fine white sand.
Hotels in Colombia
The country has hotels of various levels, almost for all tastes. It is best to choose from hotels that are members of the official Colombian Hotel Association (COTELCO, it uses a certification system similar to the European “stars”).
As a rule, hotels have two rates for accommodation: European (from May to November) and American (from December to April, higher by 25-30%).
The mains voltage is 110 V, 60 Hz. Outlets are usually of American type with two pins, in large hotels there are also outlets for 220 or 240 V.
Banks and exchange offices in Colombia
The currency unit of the country is the Colombian peso (COP), with 1 peso being 100 centavos. The current exchange rate: 1 COP = 0,02 RUB (1 USD = 3745,16 COP, 1 EUR = 4443,39 COP).
Currency can be exchanged at numerous exchange offices, at the airport, banks, hotels, stores and transport agencies. Most places charge a fee – usually 4% of the transaction amount. The exchange rate in hotels is usually not much different from the bank rate, and in exchange offices, as a rule, coincides with it. Many places accept USD, but it is more profitable to pay in local currency. Always have your passport when exchanging money!
Bogota banks are usually open Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 15:00. In other cities in the country – Monday to Thursday from 8:00 to 11:30 and from 14:00 to 16:00, on Fridays from 8:00 to 16:30.
Credit cards of the main payment systems are accepted in the capital and major tourist centers, in the province “credit cards” are practically useless. Traveler’s checks can be cashed at branches of the Banco de la Republica in the capital (a photocopy of your passport is usually required), it is difficult to use traveler’s checks outside Bogota. It is recommended to bring checks in USD.
Tipping in bars and restaurants is usually 10-15% depending on the level and location of the establishment. In most hotels the service charge is included in the bill.
Shopping and Shopping
Colombia leads Latin America in gold and silver mining. The country is also the world’s largest exporter of emeralds. Accordingly, you can bring back from Colombia gold and silver jewelry with emeralds for a long time to remember.
In addition, very interesting original souvenirs “in the Colombian way” – the symbols of the ancient tribes of Tumaco, Nariño and Maya, as well as various ritual masks, folk musical instruments, things made of clay. Also from the country bring high-quality textile products and aromatic Colombian coffee.
Cuisine and Restaurants of Colombia
The national cuisine of Colombia still keeps the culinary traditions of the peoples who lived here before the man stepped on the continent, which gave the country its present name. These, of course, are laced with the specialties of European settlers and natives of the Asian continent.
As in most neighboring countries, beans and maize (corn), rice, potatoes, and many vegetables and spices, often used in the most unimaginable combinations with meat and seafood.
Worth trying are ajico (soup with chicken, potatoes and vegetables, popular in Bogotá), arepa (maize pancakes), arroz con coco (rice cooked in coconut oil, a coastal delicacy), bandeja paisa (a dish of ground beef, sausages, legumes, rice, bananas and avocado), casuela de mariscos (seafood stew).
Hot chocolate is considered a traditional drink in the country. Rum, beer, cane vodka “agaurdiente” and “refresco” – various fruit waters – are also common.
Colombia’s Entertainment and Attractions
The calling card of the Caribbean coast is the vast plains, often swampy and overgrown with sparse forests, and the ancient volcanic laccolith of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (5,794 m). There, on the coast, are the most fashionable beach resorts – Santa Marta and Cartagena, as well as the “resort islands” San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
Colombia’s Andean mountain system is divided into three parallel Cordillera mountain ranges, forming a rare variety of natural conditions. There are snow-capped mountain peaks, verdant valleys, dense forests, and high-mountain steppes. Another treasure of the Andes – a great many monuments of ancient Indian civilizations, many of which are still very poorly studied.
The colonial town of Gatavita (50 km from Bogota) is known for its ancient ritual center and the sacred lake of the Muisca Indians. Bucaramanga is both one of the most historical and one of the most modern cities of Colombia. Because of its many parks and picturesque surroundings, it is often referred to as La Ciudad Bonita, the “Cute City.”
In the mountainous areas of Colombia some villages, cut off from the “big land” by rivers or cliffs, are connected to it only by a system of steel cables. Both adults and children who need to get to school use them.
Popayán is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved colonial towns in Colombia, founded in the late 16th century. Many churches have survived there: Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia de Santo Domingo, the church and convent of San Agustín, Iglesia de la Hermit and others, as well as several interesting museums: Museum of Colonial Art, Museum of Religious Art, Contemporary Art Museum, Guillermo Valencia Museum of Poetry, Museum of Natural History.
Cali is the third largest city of Colombia, located in the southwestern part of the Western Cordillera, at an altitude of 995 meters above sea level. Its attractions include the Iglesia de La Merced Church (the oldest in Cali), the Iglesia de San Antonio Church, the Plaza de Toros de Canaberalejo (site of traditional corridas), as well as numerous museums. In the outskirts of the city you can see the Monumento de las Tres Cruzas, one of the most beautiful colonial houses of the country, the Casas Gordas Hacienda, the Farallones de Cali National Park and the Reserba Natural Ato Biejo Reserve, as well as numerous old haciendas of sugar barons, in which small museums are now open.
Leticia is the main tourist center in eastern Colombia. It is a small town, on the banks of the Amazon, near the border with Brazil and Peru. The main local attraction is the Isla de los Mikos, an island of monkeys, where more than a thousand of these restless animals live freely.
Developments in Colombia
Colombians have much in common with other Spanish-speaking nations in Latin America and Spain itself. Bullfighting is extremely popular in the big cities, and the locals are fervent fans of all kinds of popular spectacles, especially the colorful and noisy costume carnivals.
The most interesting events are the Coconut Coronation Ceremony in San Andrés and the National Beauty Contest in Cartagena (November), the Cali Fair in the city of the same name (early December to late January), Carnival in Pasto (January), Carnival of Barranquilla (February), Cartagena Film Festival (February to March), International Caribbean Music Festival and Latin American Theater Festival in Cartagena (March), Colombian Tour Cycling Race (March to April).