A prelude to understanding Colombia and visiting during the holidays
Spending Christmas and New Years in Colombia is a trip you must experience for yourself!
I went to Colombia on a girls trip during the December holidays. Our trip came around the time that the Netflix show Narcos hit the mainstream and Colombia’s disruptive and corrupt image from the 90's resurfaced. On top of that, zika virus was all over the media and Colombia came on the radar as a possible hotbed of infections.
My girls and I were discouraged by friends and family on visiting the country and these setbacks caused us to feel a sense of discomfort about traveling to Colombia. All we had heard throughout much of our upbringing about were the same overblown allegations that most Americans are exposed to about Colombia: that it's poorly developed, laden with violence, rife with drug trafficking, and particularly unsafe for female travelers. We all started the trip with a decent amount of concern for our safety and health. At the same time, our curiosity and desire to understand the country emerged. Regardless of the discouragement, we set out to experience Colombia on our own terms for what it is and not what it is perceived to be. Luckily, our fears and misconceptions were squashed and remained so during the entirety of this trip. The four of us women came to realize how incredibly misunderstood and poorly portrayed Colombia is. We let go of the stigmas and immersed ourselves in what Colombia is ACTUALLY about: a warm and insanely colorful culture, educated and polite people, rhythm and dance, and gorgeous scenery. As we ventured between Colombia's three ranges of Andes to the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts, this trip wound up as one of our most memorable on record.
If you are planning a trip to Colombia, my itineraries for Bogota, Medellín, Cali, and Cartagena will allow you to experience Colombia's local flair and enthusiasm for the good life. I hope you feel a similar endearment towards South America's second most populous country--enjoy and viva Colombia!
Things you should know before visiting Colombia:
Is there a visa requirement for U.S. Citizens when visiting Colombia?:
- No Visa is needed for U.S. citizens when entering Colombia for 90 days or less.
What is the recommended travel group for visiting Colombia?:
Colombia is an attractive option for traveling couples, friends, and families alike. While single travelers in particular might appreciate the sexy local flavor and energetic nightlife of Cali, Medellín and Bogotá, families and couples stand to have a terrific experience surrounded by nature opportunities in cities like Bucaramanga, and all of the regional capitals alongside the Caribbean Coast--Cartagena and Santa Marta in particular.
What is the recommended length of stay when visiting Colombia?:
Two weeks will allow you to explore several of Colombia's main cities. You can find on this site itineraries for Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena. Now, Colombia's intense regional diversity means there are MANY gems in Colombia worth visiting. If you want to do true justice to the country, get two know spots on each of the three culturally distinct cordilleras (sub-ranges) of the Andes, as well as visit both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, I would easily recommend at least a month!
What is the language spoken in Colombia?:
Most people only speak Spanish in Colombia. English may be more common amongst the highly educated or elite classes, but as Colombia is one of the most socially unequal countries in the world, you might need to target specific neighborhoods and regions to have more frequent contact with it. In general, for non-Spanish speakers, it can be challenging to communicate and navigate. I would recommend at least a basic Spanish speaker join your trip. If not, Google Translate could very well become one of your best travel companions.
Are there any vaccinations required for U.S. Citizens when traveling to Colombia?:
No vaccinations are commonly required of visiting U.S. Citizens.
Is Uber available in Colombia?:
- Depending on the city, you will be able to find Ubers in Cartagena, Cail, Medellín, and Bogota. They are plentiful and affordable. UberEnglish, an Uber feature providing English-speaking drivers, is even offered in some cities.
What is the value of the dollar in Colombia?:
- You will need to exchange USD to Colombian Pesos (COP). Colombia is quite affordable compared to U.S. standards.
You’ll find yourself eating at fine dining establishments and paying an average of ~$15USD for a cocktail, appetizer, and meal.
Rates fluctuate but $1USD ~ $3,000 COP
Download the XECurrency app to see conversion rates. Great travel app and works offline
A decent number of places don’t accept credit card, make sure to carry cash
Can you drink the water in Colombia?:
- It's not advisable to consume the tap water in Colombia--with the exception of Medellín, which is widely known across the Andean region for having first-class public works and sanitation services. In general, when you order at restaurants, be clear you want mineral water, not tap.
What is the dining experience like in Colombia?:
- Do not expect U.S. Standards when it comes to restaurant service. Meals will take on average 1.5-3 hours. Enjoy the company of your travel partners and try to converse with the super friendly and inviting locals. If you need a refill or want to order/request the check, you will most likely need to call over your waiter. Tips are usually included in the check.
Traditional Colombian cuisine tends to consists of a lot of meat, beans, soups and several fried dishes. If you like spice in your food, I would recommend traveling with your own hot sauce #noshame
What is it like flying within Colombia?: Book domestic tickets in advance. The prices are steep compared to flying in Europe, especially during the holidays. You'll realize in certain parts of Colombia, particularly in Medellin, while a certain drive might be 7-10 hours long due to the intensive, mountainous terrain across much of the center of the country, the corresponding flight could take only an hour. There is a local joke that Colombia is the country that went "straight from the donkey to the airplane," and although somewhat of an exaggeration, it lays on a fundamental layer of truth. So do as the locals do and exercise some patience when traveling around the country. Surely if you open up and converse with the super engaging locals, you're bound absorb their sense of tranquility and vibrancy, and have a time filled with smiles and laughter--two of the country's most distinctive characteristics of all.