The currency used throughout the country is the Colombian peso (COP). US dollars are not accepted in Colombia. ATMs are the best and easiest way to get cash and are available everywhere except in small towns and more remote areas. There are also several exchange houses in bigger cities where you can trade US dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, and many other currencies at a favorable exchange rate. Credit and debit cards are accepted in most major shops, hotels, and restaurants in larger cities, but it is recommended to have cash on hand when visiting smaller towns and remote areas.
The official language of Colombia is Spanish with 68 ethnic languages and dialects. English is not widely spoken in Colombia although you may encounter some locals who speak English in tourist spots.
Best Time to Go
Typically, the best time to go is the dry season as it allows for more activities and regions that can be visited and enjoyed. Colombia has two seasons: summer (December to March and July to August), which is the dry season, and winter (April to May and October to November), which is the rainy season.
Due to its proximity to the equator (tropico) and its geographic and atmospheric conditions, Colombia has a number of micro-climates with varying seasons. Located 2,600m above sea level, Bogota has a cooler climate, with temperatures that rarely fall below 10°C/50°F or get higher than 20°C/68°F. Bogota’s dry season runs from December to January and July to August while its wet season is April to May and September to November. Cities such as Medellin and the coffee region enjoy temperatures ranging from 17–25°C/62.6–77°F with frequent rainfall. The Caribbean area (Cartagena, Santa Marta, Barranquilla), which is at sea level, experiences more heat and humidity with less rain (although the wet season is from September to October) with temperatures averaging between 24–33°C/75–91°F. In the Amazon region, the rainforest naturally experiences a great deal of rainfall annually (the wettest months are January through May) and temperatures in the high twenties with extreme humidity.
Colombia is a beautiful country which has plenty to offer many types of travellers. Foodies and coffee lovers will enjoy regions like the Coffee Triangle or Bogota with its great gastronomic scene. History buffs and culture lovers will enjoy touring the sites in Cartagena, the historic Villa de Leyva, and the art culture in Medellin. Thrill seekers, adventure lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, and photographers have plenty to see and do in Tayrona National Park. Beach lovers will enjoy the peaceful beaches, crystal blue waters, and white sands of the Rosario Islands.
Getting There From North America
Colombia's airport infrastructure is quite good with most major cities having international airports. In Bogota, El Dorado International Airport is located 15 minutes west of the city centre. Medellin Airport is located in the town of Rio Negro, about one hour away from the city. In the Caribbean, the three major cities (Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta) each have airports that receive international flights throughout the year. In the Pacific region, the Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport is located 14km/8.7mi away from both Cali and Palmira.
Major Air Routes from the United States
In the United States, most major cities like New York, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, and Boston have direct flights to Bogota, Cali, Medellin, or Cartagena.
Major Air Routes from Canada
In Canada, most direct routes go through Toronto Pearson directly to Bogota. During the Canadian winter, there is also a direct flight from Toronto to Cartagena.
Essential Sights in Colombia
Bogota is the capital city of Colombia and is located at the height of the Andes mountain range. It is a cosmopolitan city with great activities like museums and parks, and has a great gastronomic scene. It also has a variety of places to visit like the historical center with colonial neighborhoods such as La Candelaria and Monserrate Hill, where you can enjoy incredible panoramic views. Bogota is also a great starting point to visit other areas such as the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira or the town of Villa de Leyva.
Medellin is known as the city of "eternal spring" due to its mild climate throughout the year and is filled with colourful streets and very friendly people. Medellin has plenty to see and do. You can tour the center where you will see statues of the famous sculptor Fernando Botero, visit a variety of museums, climb the hill, and see the small town paisa. Another option is to visit the nearby famous Guatape Dam or the Stone of the Penon.
The Coffee Triangle is a geographical region located in the Andes and made up of three provinces: Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindio. It is said to be the home of the best coffee in the world, which is due to the altitude where the plant is grown, which gives it its distinct flavor. You can do many activities in this region, such as visiting an animal farm like Panaca or the Coffee Park or going to coffee farms to learn about the coffee production process. You can also head to the beautiful Cocora Valley to see wax palms or visit the Nevados National Park, which has three volcanoes topped by glaciers.
Cartagena is considered the Queen of the Caribbean Coast. It's a historic city with stone walls surrounding its old centre of colonial architecture with cobbled streets and colourful balconies, churches, and monuments that will leave you speechless. Don’t forget to visit the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (San Felipe de Barajas Castle), an incredible fortress built in 1536.Cartagena in addition to being a colonial city is also a modern city with modern infrastructure perches to show itself across the Caribbean coast.
Other Highlights of Colombia Off the Beaten Path
Villa de Leyva
Designated a national monument and located 2.5 hours northeast of Bogota, Villa de Leyva is a 16th-century architectural gem that has undergone very little development in the last 400 years. With its whitewashed colonial buildings, cobblestone lanes, red tiled roofs, private courtyards and a variety of many historical sights, this beautiful town has retained its Spanish colonial essence. It’s also home to the Museo El Fosil, which features a 120-million-year-old fossilized Kronosaurus. If you go a little out of town there is also plenty more to explore such as El Infiernito, a pre-Columbian archaeoastronomical site, and the natural cave, Cueva de la Fábrica.
Tayrona National Park
Located in the northern region of Colombia, Tayrona National Park is a large protected area covering the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as it meets the Caribbean Sea. It is a splendour of mangroves, forests, and white sand beaches with crystal blue waters. You can also trek through the Colombian jungles and explore the Ciudad Perdida, a pre-Columbian city built 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu, but with only a fraction of the tourists.
Santa Marta is a city situated on the Santa Marta Bay of the Caribbean Sea. It was the first Spanish settlement and the oldest surviving city in the country as well as the second oldest city in South America. It may not have the same fame as Cartagena, but it is a historically significant city. It is also the gateway into Tayrona National Park.
Top Activities and Experiences in Colombia
Museo del Oro in Bogota
The Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogota is one of the most important museums in Latin America. It has a collection of pre-Hispanic goldsmithing with more than 60,000 pieces, making it the largest gold museum in the world. All of its exhibited pieces date back to the pre-Columbian period, coming from the various Indigenous cultures that populated Colombia before colonization, such as the Muiscas, the Calima, the Nariño, the Quimbaya, the Tierradentro, and the Tolima.
Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao
Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao (Paloquemao Market Square) in Bogota is a massive local farmers market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and all manner of native Colombian foods. It’s a great place to try the immense variety of fruits and dishes unique to Colombia.
Islas del Rosario
The Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands) are located two hours by boat from the city of Cartagena. These islands are famous for the beauty of their waters and white sand beaches. As the only national park in Colombia that is mostly underwater, the Islas del Rosario let visitors snorkel, dive, and jet ski, visit Isla de Cholon, or just relax on one of many stunning beaches such as the beautiful Agua Azul Beach.
The Coffee Park
The Coffee Park is a themed amusement park located in the Coffee Triangle that is dedicated to the culture and history of coffee with many informative and interactive attractions. It has two cable cars, several shows, a world coffee garden, three roller coasters, coffee-based food stalls, Colombian folk architecture, and many other attractions. It’s a coffee lover’s wonderland with fun to be had for all ages.
The Salt Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church built underground within the tunnels of the salt mine in the halite mountain near the town of Zipaquira, one hour from Bogota. The cathedral is within a larger complex called the Salt Park, which includes a museum of mining, mineralogy, geology, and natural resources with the main attraction being the cathedral as it is considered a “Jewel of Modern Architecture.” Inside the cathedral is a rich collection of art, especially salt and marble sculptures. In addition to its beauty, it remains a functioning church with many visitors, both religious and non-religious.
Essential Colombian Foods to Try
The Bandeja Paisa is the representative dish of the area of Antioquia (Medellin). This delicious dish is made up of meat, rice, pork rinds, fried egg, plantain slices, regional sausage, arepa (grilled dough), beans, and avocado. This delicious dish is easily found in any region of Colombia with every region having its own variation.
Ajiaco is the typical dish of the Central region (Bogota). It’s a soup made with a special herb called guasca that gives it an unique smokey flavor. It also has chicken and a variety of potatoes and is accompanied with avocado, capers, corn, and cream.
Sancocho is a traditional Colombian soup that locals consider a comfort food. It consists of a variety of meats such as pork ribs, chicken, beef ribs, fish, and oxtail with large pieces of plainatin, potato, and cassava. Depending on the region it can sometimes include tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, and corn. In most regions it is accompanied with sliced avocado, white rice, and patacones and topped with a cilantro, onion, and lime pico de gallo.
Arepas are an iconic street food in Colombia that is flat, round, and made with a ground maize dough that can be grilled, fried, baked, boiled, or steamed. Typically in Colombia, arepas are grilled or fried and used like bread, as they can be stuffed with many delicious fillings. Oftentimes, locals can be seen walking around with arepas in hand as they’re easy food for on-the-go.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
When visiting Colombia, you should always try to support the local economy by buying local products and helping local businesses. Use reusable water bottles and avoid producing waste during your visit. In some cities such as Bogota, you can rent small electric scooters to tour the city, which reduces your carbon footprint. Also make sure that when you’re buying local souvenirs and other goods, you do not buy objects made from animal skins, shells, and other precious natural products, so as not to encourage potentially-destructive industries.
Where to Go Next
Colombia is the gateway to all of South America. After visiting Colombia you can continue your trip to Ecuador and visit the beautiful Galapagos Islands, or you can connect to Peru and see the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. You can also head north and visit Panama and the Panama Canal.
Most Popular Itineraries for Colombia
Essential Colombia is an 11-day tour that takes you throughout Colombia and explores the most popular sights in the country. It includes a city tour of Bogota, the Zipaquira Salt Mine, Medellin, and Cartagena. Bogota Stopover is a quick 3-day tour taking you to historic sites such as la Candelaria, Plaza de Bolivar, the Salt Cathedral, and the Gold Museum as well as to the lookout on Monserrate Hill. Cafe Colombia is a 3-day tour focusing on the coffee culture of Colombia with a visit to the Coffee Triangle. Cartagena: Jewel in the Stone offers a 3-day tour that includes a city tour of Cartagena visiting some of the most interesting sites in the city.