Colombia is the most popular country in South America for us backpackers. Long covered in cloud of mystery since its days as a no-go zone for tourists due to civil and drug wars, Colombia is now wide open and prime for exploration and adventure. Whether you opt for the concrete jungles of Bogota and Medellin, the natural beauty of Minca or the hardcore hike to The Lost City, Colombia will leave you coming back for more.
UK citizens do not require a visa to visit Colombia. So long as your passport is valid for 6 months you will be granted an initial stay of 90 days. You may be asked to provide proof of onward travel before being granted entry but this is highly unlikely. Even if you are, you can explain your plans or simply go online and book a cheap a bus ticket. We've heard of people being asked to show a valid yellow fever certificate when arriving from Central America.
Entry fee: N/A
Exit fee: N/A
From Ecuador (Tuscan) - A very simple crossing with the immigration offices for both countries separated by a bridge. Since early March 2018 to the current day there have been severe delays at the crossing between Tuscan, Ecuador and Ipales, Colombia due to the large number of Venezuelans making their way to Peru. We arrived late morning and it took us the best part of 9 hours to get through so you're guaranteed a pretty lengthy crossing no matter what the time of day.
To read more about other border crossings in South America and tips on how to cross like a pro click here
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Mention Medellin to some people and you will see a look of fear on their face. They may tell you it’s too dangerous and not safe for tourists. Well let us set the record straight. These people have been watching too much Narcos and need to get with the times. Medellin has come a long way since being known as one of the deadliest places on the planet during the drug cartel’s reign of terror in the 1990’s. Now, Medellin is the beating heart of Colombia. With so much charm and charisma, it’s easy to see why Medellin’s backpacker scene is thriving.
The Lost City or Ciudad Perdida (as it's known in Spanish) can only be reached during a gruelling 4 day hike through the sweltering heat of the Colombian jungle. You'll want to prepare yourselves for this one, it's seriously sweaty business.
Minca is one of Colombia's worst kept secrets. Set in the idyllic hills of the Sierra Nevada, this tranquil little village is a haven for backpackers looking to lose themselves in its beauty. Minca is full of incredible bio-diversity, rivers, waterfalls, hikes and coffee and cacao farms.
Nestled in the luscious rolling foothills of the Colombia countryside, Salento is a popular tourist spot for both travellers and locals alike. This adorable little town is the perfect place for a break from the bustling Colombian cities. If you're a lover of nature, coffee and photogenic Andean towns, then this is the perfect place for you.
Santa Marta is the holder of the title of Colombia's oldest city. Set near the northern tip of the continent Santa Marta enjoys all-year-round good weather to a backdrop of the Caribbean Sea and Sierra Nevada mountain range. It may be a little rough around the edges but it's easy to see why so many travellers are drawn to Santa Marta.
Lots of people, big buildings and busy roads. It’s just another capital city, right? Wrong! Bogota is welcoming, engaging and draped in charm. The population is a mix of white and blue collared workers, artistic street performers and young families. There’s a vibrancy and energy in the air that just can’t be explained. For such a big city with so many people, Bogota somehow makes you feel so connected to it all.
BUDGET & MONEY
Colombia isn't exactly one of the cheaper backpacker destinations but it's by no means that expensive. But, the cost to enjoyment/quality ratio is second to none. Fellow travellers in Colombia are typically very sociable so you can expect to spend a bit more than usual on beers and whatnot. On average, for the 2 of us we were spending 174,000 COP (£49.70) per day. That figure includes accommodation, transport, activities, food and, of course, beers.
Colombia uses the Peso (COP) and its exchange rate to GBP is currently around £1=3,500.
A private double room in a hostel or cheap hotel will run you around 60-80,000 COP (£17.15-22.85) and dorm beds start at 20,000 COP (£5.70).
You can pick up meals from street vendors for as little as 3,000 COP (£0.85), a set menu meal in a local restaurant will cost around 8,500 COP (£2.45) and for a meal in a tourist-targeted restaurant you can expect to pay a minimum of 15,000 COP (£4.30).
Buses in Colombia are of a pretty decent standard considering the price. All the tourist destinations are serviced efficiently by the bus network. There are many bus companies to choose from which helps keep the costs competitive.
The average price per hour of bus travel in Colombia is 5,300 COP (£1.50).
- Ipiales to Cali - 11 hours - 40,000 COP (£11.45)
- Cali to Armenia - 3.5 hours - 20,000 COP (£5.75)
- Armenia to Salento - 1 hour - 4,500 COP (£1.30)
- Armenia to Bogota - 8.5 hours - 35,000 COP (£10)
- Bogota to Medellin - 10 hours - 70,000 COP (£20)
- Medellin to Guatape - 1.5 hours - 14,000 COP (£4)
- Santa Marta to Cartagena - 5 hours - 25,000 COP (£7.15)
Unfortunately, crime is a big problem in Colombia. Muggings, armed robbery and violent crime towards tourists is a very real threat. The best thing you can do is to not make yourself a target or put yourself in risky situations in the first place. Don't be flashy with cash, jewellery or electronics, avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.
Drugs are all over the country and you will, inevitably, be offered them at some point. Steer well clear of drugs altogether as dealers and police often work together to extort/rob tourists.
As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern.
Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -
- Police: 112
- Ambulance/Fire: 125/119
- Tourist Police: +57 1 337 4413
- Your Embassy (UK): +57 1 326 8300