A huge variety of mountains, views, flowers, colors, islands and coffee.
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- Find yourself rating
- Female solo traveler rating
- Touristy or authentic rating
- Getting around / Transportation
- How to save money
- WiFi access
- SIM cards/cell phone service
- Insects, rodents and reptiles
- Passport and visa
- Health, water, etc.
- What to pack
- How to make friends
- What to do and see
- Where to stay
Excellent. First, you can have practically any experience you want – from remote beaches, to populated beaches to sitting alone on a remote mountain, to sprawling colors. Whatever kind of traveler you are, you an find something that will suit your style. Because of all the rumors of danger contradicting the probable experience you’ll have, Colombia can offer you a very deep experience of separating other people’s judgments and opinions from your own. So, if you’re looking to figure out what YOU want in life and wanting to shed everyone else’s guidance for you, this is a great place to start having the understanding of what IS your experience versus everyone else’s judgmentsand perceptions of what’s best for you.
Moderate. Despite my own personal experience being excellent, it’s still prudent to be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you don’t show off expensive jewelry or carry wads of cash. If you’re on your own, be sure to ask your hostel or hotel whether there are any dangerous areas nearby. If you stay in a touristy part of town you are more likely to be safe at night. Use Uber instead of local taxis. Most important, be very alert when crossing streets! Unless a car has seen you and slowed down or stopped, assume they will not, and if there is a space in traffic, run across!
Authentic. Because of rumored danger Colombia is less touristy than some other places. However, some places are more touristed such as Cartagena and the nearby islands. Nonetheless, the feeling is that you are getting a true experience of the culture rather than one that’s been created for you. You will definitely be asked many, many times, on beaches if you want a massage, or your hair braided, or fresh food, or sunglasses and keychains and even tattoos! Go with the flow. Also timing in Colombia may be slower than you are used to – things just take longer. It may sometimes be harder to pay with a credit card.
Planes and buses. The easiest way to get around Colombia is to fly. Prices are very affordable and flights are relatively short, in-country. Airports are fairly small (apart from Bogota) so getting in and out is pretty easy. In fact, the airport might not even open before 6am, so just wonder in, you’ll be checked through very quickly, and out as fast. Local buses also offer transportation – research companies that can take you around as there are public and private companies.
Yes – do it. Especially if you’re buying anything on the street all the prices are marked up. You should pay around half the asking price, or less. Start by offering around a third the asking price and negotiate up. Even an AirBnB can be negotiated and if you buy multiple items someplace, even a store, ask if they can reduce the price.
Affordable. Much of Colombia is affordable. In Cali even clothing was pretty cheap as long as you avoided expensive stores. Food is also very affordable – you can eat for under $10 (or you can go all out.) Bigger cities, like Cartagena, have more pricey lodging and the prices may be closer to US and Europe. Make sure you look at prices and convert to your currency – places like Isla de Rosario are pretty expensive for delectable seafood. Obviously, touristy locations will be more expensive, so if you go off main streets you can find places that are more geared to a budget. Surprising fact – at least in Cali the downtown market (a bit like a flea market) was NOT a good deal for clothing. Unless you are looking for cheap-o t-shirts you’re better off looking elsewhere for higher quality and similar prices.
Excellent. WiFi is just about everywhere – just ask the local restaurant, cafe, hotel, etc what their password is. Sometimes it’s “12345678” and other times it’s the name of the place. Either way, you should be able to make use of it, though in some places it’s a shared connection of bandwidth which can slow you down if you’re posting to your blog.
Claro or Movistar or Tigo or Virgin Mobile. You can get a SIM card at any telecom or electronics store. I found that the telecom stores (meaning the Claro or Movistar, etc office) had better deals than if you bought the card in, say, a supermarket. I used Claro and I’d say it wasn’t what I thought I paid for. The store did help me set up the card, however it was impossible to pay with a credit card, cash only. I was told I got a 2-week plan with 2 Gigs of data and 23,000 pesos of voice. The data turned out to be 600Megs and the voice ran out before I used it all up. I also got text messages every day telling me to buy more, which I’m sure ate up a lot of my plan.
Excellent. All toilets are Western, clean, have toilet paper and soap. 🙂
Insects, Rodents and Reptiles
Not bad. In Cali and Cartagena I got a few bites but I think from No-see-ums rather than mosquitos. I didn’t see any rodents, but lots of dogs and cats!
Passport, Visa and Entry/Exit Rules
Easy. It’s always a good idea to check the US government website (or your country’s local government if not the US) for in-depth information as well as the embassy of Colombia website or the US Government travel website. You’re allowed 90 days in the country, but at immigration I found they wanted proof I was leaving. In fact, even though I had purchased a flight to Argentina prior to boarding my Colombia flight in New York, the flight attendant called over a colleague because I didn’t have a return ticket to the US. Once in Colombia they also asked to see my flight info departing Colombia.
Health, Water, etc.
Moderate. I didn’t drink any of the tap water, but I did brush my teeth with it and was fine. I drank filtered water and ice in my drinks, no problem. I didn’t have any issues with food, either – I ate meat, poultry, fish and salad, all fine.
Varies. Depends where you are. If you’re going into the mountains it will be cooler, especially at night when the wind can pick up. In places like Cartagena it is hot! Not like in Asia, but it can get pretty hot and you’ll be grateful for the beach.
Essentials to Pack
Sunglasses for sure for all that Colombian blue sky and sun! a wallet that stays clipped to your bag can be helpful and you may want to wear a money belt. Colombian women tend to look good and wear makeup, so you should bring some makeup with you and at least one or two nice outfits if you plan to go out in the evening.
How to Make Friends
The locals are really nice, and sitting at a cafe one day, the table next to me asked where I was from and were very sweet and happy I chose to come to Colombia and wished me a wonderful trip.
What to Do and See
Each town will offer different experiences, but the Cristo Rey in Cali is fantastic, as is the butterfly garden, called Anoke. The zoo is unbelievable! Definitely go there and spend at least half a day – they’ve got flamingos and all sorts of animals from around the world. Near Cali are some amazing places to visit within several hours, so it’s a good base. Cartagena is gorgeous and there are many walking streets making it easier to explore. Cartagena is also on the coast so you should look into boats that can take you to some of the nearby islands, like Isla de el Rosario which is a cluster of about 36 islands, many of them private, that will blow your mind.
Where to Stay
AirBnB can offer you some of the best prices – and note that the prices can be negotiated!