Colombia Travel Advice: What to Bring and Other Essentials

This collection of travel advice is geared to the Colombian traveler interested in exploring jungles, waterways, and cities. Casual travelers will benefit from most of these tips as well, as preparing for the weather is always a good idea and you never know when you’ll want to venture further afield.

What to Take

For those interested in jungle exploration, waterproof hiking boots and possibly some collapsible trekking poles are musts. If going to the Amazon, Capurganá, or to the Pacific coast, a waterproof camera bag and silica gel may prevent the heartache of a ruined camera. For caving, visiting the tombs of Tierradentro, and for finding your way at night, a small flashlight will be of great use and comfort. To spot humpbacks, anacondas, and birds, binoculars will be great to have. If you plan on spending much time on the coast, bringing your own snorkeling gear is a good idea.

To protect against the sun, pack a wide-brimmed hat; against the rain, a lightweight rain jacket and compact umbrella; against the cold, a sweatshirt and lightweight sweaters; against mosquitoes, lightweight and light-colored long-sleeved shirts and some strong repellent. For long bus rides, earplugs, eye masks, and luggage locks will make the trip more relaxing. Finally, a Latin American Spanish dictionary will help you get your point across and make friends.

Casual attire is fine at most restaurants, theaters, and religious venues. Some restaurants in Bogotá and Cartagena may expect more of an effort. In large cities, you’ll want to dress to impress in bars and clubs. Shorts are generally frowned upon in interior cities.

A felt hat rests on a vintage map of South America.

A hat will help protect you from the sun and rain, but this vintage map might need to be updated. Photo © Marek Uliasz/123rf.

Passports and Visas

Travelers to Colombia who intend to visit as tourists for a period of under 90 days will need only to present a valid passport upon entry in the country. You may be asked to show proof of a return ticket. Tell the immigration officer if you intend to stay up to 90 days, otherwise they will probably give you a stamp permitting a stay of 60 days. Language schools and universities will be able to assist those who may require a year-long student visa.

Vaccinations

There are no obligatory vaccination requirements for visiting Colombia. However, proof of the yellow fever vaccine may be requested upon arrival at the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona or at the Leticia airport in the Amazon. This vaccination can be obtained at Red Cross clinics throughout the country. If you are traveling onward to countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, or Peru, you may have to provide proof of the vaccine upon entry to those countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends travelers to have all of the basic vaccinations updated. In addition, for most travelers to Colombia, the CDC recommends the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations. Hepatitis B, rabies, and yellow fever vaccinations are recommended for some travelers. If you plan to go to the Amazon region, antimalarial drugs may be recommended.

Transportation

Intra-country flights are easy, safe, increasingly more economical, and, above all, quick.Most travelers arrive by plane to Colombia, with the vast majority arriving at the Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado in Bogotá. There are numerous nonstop international flights into Bogotá from the eastern seaboard of the United States and one flight from Toronto. From Florida and New York there are nonstop flights to Cartagena and Barranquilla. There are flights from Florida to Medellín, Armenia, and Cali.

There are overland border entries from Venezuela (into Cúcuta) and Ecuador (to Ipiales) and by boat from Peru or Brazil to the Amazonian port of Leticia and from Panama to Capurganá or Cartagena.

Intra-country flights are easy, safe, increasingly more economical, and, above all, quick. Taking the bus to just about anywhere in the country is an inexpensive, popular, and slower option. Renting a car is a viable option in the coffee region where roads are good. In the major cities, there are extensive rapid bus networks, and in Medellín there is a clean and efficient Metro. Private buses and taxis are ubiquitous in cities, although cabs should be ordered by phone. The best way to see the sights of most cities is usually on foot.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

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