Image by momentcaptured1 via Flickr
Contributed by hiking aficionado and traveler Nate Alger of Live Outdoorsy.
Have you ever thought about visiting South America? If so, I recommend you check out Colombia.
Colombia is a gorgeous country located in the northern section of South America. It is known for its friendly hospitality, fun people, and unique culture and food that will make you want to extend your flight to a later date.
I am about to be going on 3 months living in Colombia and I still have so much I want to see! I have traveled to the beautiful beaches on the northern coast to the lush rainforests in the interior parts of the country. It is truly a magnificent place to visit.
In this Colombian travel guide, I am going to break down all the key facts and information you need to know about the country so you can be best prepared for your journey.
Sorry to state the obvious here, but Colombians speak Spanish. The good thing is in almost every tourist town there is plenty of English speakers. Major tourist spots have English speaking tour guides that can be paid a small price to be your navigator.
Beyond that, Colombia has incredibly friendly locals; if you need help, just ask someone. They are a very patient people so if you try to communicate with them, the natives will be happy to hear what you have to say and guide you the best they can.
If you understand some basic Spanish, you can navigate fairly easily. In case your wondering, here’s some simple Spanish travel phrases that you can look over before you head out.
Safety is always very important no matter where you go. Colombia is regarded as safe for visitors, but there are a few neighborhoods that are not safe to wander off into. Just as in any major city, you should be on watch for pickpocketers or scammers that would love to con a local tourist.
Generally, I don’t flash my iPhone around in public and I haven’t had any issues with people trying to take anything from me. But that is not to say it hasn’t happened to others. If you act confident and are aware of your surroundings 999 times out of 1,000 you won’t have an issue.
Try to stay away from places that you are not familiar with. If locals advise against certain places, do not go there. Crime happens mainly at night so it is important to keep from wandering out late unless you are with someone familiar with the area.
When choosing where to visit and what to see, consider that Colombia has recently come out of a somewhat violent past. It’s less than 30 years ago that Pablo Escobar was wreaking havoc all over the country with his violent Medellin cartel. Much of this action has cooled down significantly in recent years and only slight exists in the remote areas which no one ever visits.
All this to say, I believe this country is very safe for foreigners. The country has beefed up security, particularly in hot spots, in recent years and I can honestly say I have never felt threatened here.
If you know where you are headed and make smart decisions, you will almost certainly not have any issues whatsoever.
Good news, you do not need a visa to enter Colombia. In case you want to be 100% sure your country doesn’t have any Visa requirements, you can do so here by selecting your country from the dropdowns.
You just need a valid passport and to show that you have a place to stay and as always you must prove that you will be leaving the country in time.
As an American citizen, I have never had any issues going in and out of the country as long as I stay for less than 90 days. I am coming up on that now so I am going to have to see if I can extend it or leave the country briefly.
Where to Visit?
Major cities like Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena are filled with classic attractions of the country that many people come to see.
These are the three main ones that I will focus on, but there are also other excellent outlying cities like Salento, Santa Marta, and Boyacá which have a lot to offer.
Image by Mario Carvajal via Flickr
Cartagena is a beautiful city on the northern coast of the country. With beautiful beaches and a historic town square it is a popular tourist spot and for good reason.
The old town square has preserved its historic architecture and become a major site for those wanting to know more about the country’s heritage. Exploring can be done entirely on foot and there are multiple places for tourists to stop at like restaurants and shops.
In case you have visited Spain, Cartagena has a lot of history dating back to the time where the Spanish fought off the English in the local fort. It is spectacular to visit and walk around where they fought off the English.
The city is often very busy, especially the old colonial side, and very crowded in the winter months starting in December. However, it is a very inspirational place to start your trip and get a real feel for Colombian history.
Image by Pedro Szekely via Flickr
Bogotá is known as a world class urban destination. Bogotá has quickly advanced to be one of, if not, the most developed city in the country.
The northern part of the city has the most appeal, filled with clubs, shops, restaurants, boutiques, and a large business center. Tourists are very drawn to this side with much to offer those looking for a familiar atmosphere.
The city has been booming with businesses as of late and that means there is plenty of reason for visitors to want to stop here to experience Colombian city life. Bogotá can be traveled by foot, taxi, or Uber.
A quick aerial tramway gets you to the majestic overlook of the city at Monserrate. Monserrate will provide you with a spot to take fantastic photos overlooking the city. I went at sundown and was blown away by the sunset overlooking the city.
It is a major spot for international business, so there are many foreigners working and living in and out of the city. This is a popular city for visitors who want to stay among the international community while visiting another country.
If you want to see a nice modern city, with great museums and parks, I suggest you check out Bogotá.
Image by Pedro Szekely via Flickr
Another very popular selection for visitors is the city of Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia. I love this city because I love hiking. I’ve hiked in many of the major US National Parks and the hikes surrounding Medellin are some of my favorites.
I traveled here in Colombia with friends in December and loved this city and its outlying parts. Medellin is ideal to see because the city has a vibrant nightlife and is home to the Botero Museum, showcasing art by the city’s most famous artist.
His sculptures are featured around the city and in front of official buildings. They are a bit unique, to say the least, as they are overly proportioned (fat) sculptures. Quite the site to see.
The city has multiple universities, which means there is a very youthful and energetic vibe to it. Coffee shops and dance clubs can be found everywhere you look. The bars and dancing opportunities are endless, but there are also many theaters in which to see performances like operas and ballets if you are looking for a quieter scene.
Medellin also has a beautiful park system. The Botanical Gardens feature flower showcases and the “Zoologico Santa Fe” has over 1,000 animals to see!
Visitors to the city can travel via the metro system, the only one available in the entire country.
However, my recommendation is to take the aerial tramway which goes to the bottom to the top of the city. You can overlook the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor that survive with houses that are pretty much laid on top of each other.
Medellin has plenty of culture and lots of flair to it. If you get a chance to see it, you will love it!
Where Should You Visit First?
Tourist attractions aside, make sure you choose to stay somewhere you feel comfortable with and that speaks to what you are most passionate about.
If you are looking for a beautiful old tourist town with plenty of history and great beaches, my first recommendation is Cartagena. If you want to see the vibrant nightlife, do some hiking, and see where coffee is processed my recommendation is Medellin.
Finally, if you want to see some beautiful museums and parks while in a comfortable, developed city my recommendation is Bogota. My own preference leans towards Medellin although I almost always recommend Cartagena first to friends and family.
Colombia is a truly beautiful country with an engaging culture that its citizens are very devoted to preserving. There are plenty of sights to see and much to try out while you are in this beautiful land. Get outside your comfort zone and make an unforgettable journey in Colombia.
Do you have any questions about traveling to Colombia? I am happy to answer any questions or concerns in the comments below.
BIO: Nate Alger hiking aficionado and traveler that writes killer hiking tips and gear recommendations over at Live Outdoorsy. He currently resides in Bucaramanga, Colombia.