Though Colombia has had a historically bad reputation, these days, it's recognized more for its amazing landscapes and cultural vibes than for its shady past. And the truth is that Colombia is a gorgeous destination for travelers, and it can be just as safe as other South American (and global) travel.
There's so much to see and do in Colombia, you need a comprehensive guide to navigating it all. Here are 11 things to plan your trip around when you're heading to Colombia.
Take In Nature (& Culture) Throughout Colombia
One of the huge draws with Colombia is that it's home to so much diverse geography, culture, and wildlife. You'll find a biodiverse rainforest, ancient ruins, archaeological sites, water sports and snorkeling, epic bioluminescent beaches, pink dolphins, over 1,900 species of tropical birds, and gorgeous underwater reefs and shipwrecks.
One notable highlight for caffeine fiends is the coffee trade. You can visit coffee plantations (and taste-teste, obviously) while in the country, and you can even watch the entire process, all the way down to brewing a fresh cup of joe, explains CNN Travel. Clearly, you'll have no trouble tracking down quality café in Colombia!
Visit Anytime After December For The Best Weather
Colombia's climate is tropical, which means the potential for thunderstorms lingers year-round. But the drier season is the best time to travel since you can explore (and see) more. As Culture Trip explains, December and January tend to be the best in terms of dry weather. At the same time, this is the peak tourist season, which may leave you in a lurch when it comes to finding great deals on accommodations and excursions.
The good news is that traveling to the coast is ideal just about all year, as the temperatures don't fluctuate as much as in the Andean region of Colombia.
Choose Your Home Base For Culture Or Beaches
Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and also the largest city, by far. World Atlas pegs it at a population of over 7.5 million people—so clearly you'll get the full cultural experience. Bogotá lies at a high altitude and has colonial vibes, and it houses art and history museums, gardens, tons of restaurants, markets, and salsa dancing.
If beaches are your thing, Cartagena—a smaller city with a population under one million—may be the ideal home base. Cartagena has its own colonial-style appeal, especially in the Old Town (which is walled in), with cobblestone roads and colorful buildings perfect for your Insta backdrops.
Stay At The Grand Hyatt Bogota Or Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique In Cartagena
In Cartagena, Claudia at My Adventures Across the World recommends staying at Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique. It's a great value, is in a trendy neighborhood, has a pool, and offers an excellent breakfast.
Claudia also highlights Grand Hyatt Bogota as being one of the best available—and it has a pool. So, if you don't plan on venturing to the coast while staying in Bogotá, you may be interested in this spot. Plus, the recommendation comes with access to restaurants, bars, and more—all of which are open late to accommodate tourists.
Don't Miss Bandeja Paisa While In Colombia (Or The Coffee)
The traditional dish of Colombia is the Bandeja Paisa, which is a platter that features white rice, red beans, meat, pork rinds, chorizo, a black pudding called morcilla, fried egg, avocado, arepa, and plantains, says Medellin Colombia. Arepas are also a noteworthy menu item on their own; these are flatbreads made from cornmeal and are traditional sides to a lot of Colombian plates.
You'll also find delicious empanadas (like tiny pies) and buñuelos (fried dough fritters) for dessert—ideal for pairing with your epic Colombian coffee. Speaking of which, if you can't make it to a coffee plantation to get your fix, try Azahar Café 93 in Bogota (and skip the Starbucks, this is Colombia!). In Cartagena, Ábaco Cafe y Libros is a popular spot with tons of great reviews (and good reads).
Figure Out How To Navigate Via Car Or Bus
While you can hop on a "Willy car" (CNN Travel explains that these are American cars used during WWII) to catch a ride to local coffee plantations, getting around the rest of Colombia can be a bit uncomfortable. You'll find colectivos (minibusses/taxis that are packed to the brim) but also buses in nearly any city. One of the perks of staying in Bogota is easy access to transportation (though traffic is often congested).
There's no metro in Bogota, so buses and taxis are pretty much your only options. Or, you can plan your stay to visit the more walkable destinations (and charter a ride to see the sights).
Check Out Must-See Spots & Landmarks Around Colombia
One must-experience excursions is visiting Isla Múcura, where the bioluminescent plankton will give you the most epic nighttime experience ever. The nearby Punta Faro hotel runs eco-friendly ferries to the mangroves, so you don't get to party it up on the island, but it's so worth the trip.
You can also visit Calanoa Jungle Lodge (it's literally in the Amazon Rainforest) to see if you can catch a view of the pink dolphins (botos) in the river. And if you have time, head over to the Lost City; it's older than Machu Picchu and a far more in-depth adventure. CNN Travel says it's best to select a four-day hiking package where you can enjoy history and epic views of the ancient site.
Pay Attention To Your Currency & Cash Flow
The exchange rate is favorable for most travelers, and Colombia is an affordable destination for most folks. In fact, some hostels cost less than $10 per night. That said, depending on where you stay, you might need more spending money. The more touristy areas often have higher prices.
Make sure you exchange your USD for Colombian pesos and check all your bills carefully. Most include a 10 percent propina voluntaria (a recommended tip) that most people accept without a fuss, says Who to Tip. You can add extra, of course, but this is a base amount that's perfectly reasonable.
Aim For Flight Deals In November, February, & March
As Culture Trip notes, the drier months tend to be the busier months in tropical Colombia. But the "shoulder seasons"—the ones leading up to and after peak times—also make for decent weather. The highlight, though, is the cheaper prices you'll find.
Don't Ignore The History Of The Region
Many travelers wonder whether Colombia is safe. And while the country finally became independent of outside influence in 1905, explains World Atlas, it's experienced a ton of political unrest, guerrilla wars, and drug issues. After all, Pablo Escobar became internationally infamous for a reason...
That said, Colombia has more recently embraced its tourist offerings and can be just as safe as any other world destination. You should exercise caution no matter where you travel, of course, but Colombia can be enjoyed without worry.
Do Visit The Beaches Around Cartagena
The coastal city of Cartagena has many beaches to explore and lounge on. There's Punta Arena, Playa Blanca, Castillogrande, La Boquilla, and Manzanillo del Mar, plus many others! Then again, you may only be interested in those bioluminescent waters off Isla Múcura—and we wouldn't blame you.