Colombia

Bogota, Columbia   Columbian beaches

Why Colombia?                                                               Click here to view video

No longer a destination only for daredevils, this extraordinary country has battled decades of civil turmoil to emerge as one of South America's hottest destinations. It is jammed with unspoilt mountains, coastline and jungle, not to mention stunning archaeological sites and vibrant culture. Travel in, out of and around Colombia has become prolific, with tour operators rushing to fill a new demand, and there has never been a better time to visit.  Ten years ago, Colombia was famous only for its drug dealers, left-wing guerrilla groups and paramilitaries. But with the militant groups now at their weakest point in decades, this beautiful country is enjoying a travel renaissance with more and more tourists emboldened to visit. And they are finding much to explore.
 
Natural attractions include rippling mountains, expanses of the Amazon Basin, large lakes, vast plains and a Caribbean coastline that twinkles with azure water. Those who like to hike can find jungle treks galore, such as to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) on the Caribbean coast, or walks through the rolling hills and mountains of the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Zone). Those who prefer beach life will love the stunning tropical islands off colonial Cartagena, or the wild beauty of Tayrona National Park.  Meanwhile man-made wonders include fabulous pre-Columbian sculpture and colourful colonial houses. Chilly Bogotá is a fabulous mix of old and new, where quaint and historic La Candelaria contrasts nicely with swish and shiny Zona Rosa. A visit to the fabulous Gold Museum will dazzle your eyes and make you marvel at the skills of long-lost civilisations. For those who prefer a bit more heat, Cartagena provides historic beauty mixed with a bit of laid-back Caribbean flavour, along with the chance to visit stunning tropical islands off the coast. Energised Cali, on the other hand, is the salsa dance capital of the country and provides a young and vibrant look at modern Colombia.
 
Throughout Colombia you’ll see endless evidence of colonial Spanish culture, but in among that you’ll also find the fascinating remains of the various pre-Columbian civilisations which ruled the land at one time or another. Visit the eerie statues of a lost civilisation in San Agustín by galloping around on horseback, or spend the day hiking from one tomb site to another in Tierradentro National Park from the base of a tiny village deep in rural Colombia. Colombia is starting to establish its own tourist trail, a path for travellers to follow which is accepted as being safe, along which is a series of excellent hostels and other forms of accommodation. You can expect to stay anywhere from tiny little farm lodges in the hills to grand, luxury hotels in Bogotá.  Until recently, Colombia has received relatively few travellers in comparison with other South American nations, and visitors can expect an unfeigned welcome and genuine curiosity from its people. Colombians are developing a reputation for being the friendliest nation in South America, and are glad to help and chat to tourists. Don’t be put off by reputation – Colombia has been working hard to overcome its past, and is succeeding. This is one destination thoroughly worth another chance, and no one is disappointed by what Colombia has to offer.

  • When should I travel?
The climate is very warm and tropical on the coast and in the north, with a rainy season from May to November. Though the temperature varies little throughout the year due to Colombia’s proximity to the equator, it does vary according to altitude. It is cooler in the upland areas and cold in the mountains, and in the cooler times of the year the nights can be freezing. Bogotá is always spring-like, with cool days and crisp nights, though when the sun is shining the days can get quite hot. The Amazon region generally stays warm and wet year round.  The best time of year to visit is at either of the drier times: December to March or July and August. This is a good time for hiking, too; getting caught out in a storm is not ideal, especially if you can’t dry out for several days because you’re on a multi-day hike. Bear in mind that major religious holidays will also play a part in the best time of year to visit: Santa Semana is a stunning time to travel to Colombia due to the ostentatious celebrations, but the hotels book up fast and double their rates.

  • Is it safe to travel and are there places to avoid?
Though the overall security situation in Colombia has improved considerably in recent years, the threat of terrorism is still high in many parts of the country. In many areas of Colombia, the security situation can change very quickly. In general, the more remote the area, the greater the potential threat to your safety. Kidnapping remains a serious problem and Colombia continues to have a high rate of kidnapping for ransom.

  • What money should I take?
The currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). US Dollars are sometimes accepted, but be aware that you may be viewed as a rich tourist if you try to pay with dollars and you might find that the prices go up. Also be aware that there are a large amount of counterfeit US dollars in Colombia, so if you need change, get it in Colombian Pesos. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, American Express and Diners Club less so. There are ATMs throughout the main cities; some will allow cash withdrawals using Visa, MasterCard or Cirrus. Ensure you know the number to call to cancel your card quickly if it is stolen, and inform your bank beforehand that you will be travelling to Colombia in case your accounts are frozen upon use. ATMs can be temperamental, run out of money and not work for you when they worked perfectly well the day before. The most commonly accepted traveller's cheques are those issued by American Express and Citicorp. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at banks, hotels or bureaux de change. They are generally not accepted as a form of payment, other than at major hotels. While safe, generally traveller’s cheques should be avoided in case you can find nowhere which will take them; ATMs are a much more efficient way of handling your money. If you do choose to bring traveller’s cheques, make sure you take them in US Dollars.

  • What language will they understand?
The official language is Spanish, though there are more than 80 other languages and dialects recognised in the country, belonging to various indigenous peoples. In the San Andrés and Providence Islands, English is also an official language.

  • How about my health?
Health facilities in the main cities are good, and pharmacies stock most drugs at prices that tend to be lower than in Europe. Travellers are strongly advised to take out full medical insurance – Colombia has many adventurous activities on offer and you should ensure that your travel insurance covers you for all of them.

  • Public Holidays

2012
01 January New Year's Day
06 January *Epiphany
19 March *St Joseph's Day
05 April Maundy Thursday
06 April Good Friday
01 May Labour Day
17 May *Ascension
07 June *Corpus Christi
30 June *Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart)
03 July St Peter and St Paul
20 July Independence Day
07 August Battle of Boyacá
15 August *Assumption
08 October *Columbus Day
01 November *All Saints' Day
11 November *Independence of Cartagena City
08 December Immaculate Conception
25 December Christmas Day

2013

01 January New Year's Day
06 January Epiphany
25 March St Joseph's Day
28 March Maundy Thursday
29 March Good Friday
01 May Labour Day
09 May Ascension Day
30 May Corpus Christi
10 June Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart Day)
01 July Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
20 July Independence Day
07 August Battle of Boyacá
15 August Assumption
12 October Día de la Raza
01 November All Saints' Day
11 November Independence of Cartagena City
08 December Immaculate Conception
25 December Christmas Day

  • Do I need a visa?
South African passport holders do not require a visa for visits to Columbia for less than 3 months.

  • Will I need any innoculations before I depart?
Yellow Fever innoculations are required.