I don’t know about you, but I like to do some researches before visiting a country. But sometimes it can be complicated to find all the information we need. When I was Backpacking in Colombia, it was hard to get some answers on Google. So here I’m, with my Colombian Bible full of Colombia travel tips and advice to help you to spend fantastic holidays in Colombia.
Between these lines, there are two years of Backpacking experience in South America. The information below can make – I hope – the difference between a good and an Amazing Adventure. Read them carefully.
By reading the article, you will be able to improve your Colombia Itinerary by answering the following questions:
What should I know before backpacking in Colombia?
Is it simple to take any transport?
Should I fly instead of taking the bus?
In which region should I spend my holidays in Colombia?
I’m traveling alone, where are the best hostels?
I’m vegetarian, can I survive?
Why do they have ten thousand zeros on their bills, I’m lost!
Should I book a tour?
What are the six good lotto numbers? – I’m kidding I won’t share that with you. Do you think I’m dumb?
Perfect! Take your cup of tea, a comfy pillow for your butt and put the cat near the table because we gonna be together for a long time. In case you’re still wondering if Colombia is a country to visit, I have the perfect article to convince your mother to let you take holidays in Colombia.
- Before the departure to Colombia
- Weather and holidays in Colombia
- Backpacking in Colombia, which Regions?
- Mobile, Internet and Post office
- Money and currency when you’re backpacking in Colombia
- Transports in Colombia
- Accommodations in Colombia and a list of the best hostels
- Street food, vegetarian option, and drinks
- Safety when you’re backpacking in Colombia (Man and Woman)
- Organized trips and tours
- Colombian Culture
I’m the kind of person that prepares everything at the last moment. In the end, I always find a solution or someone to help me. However, older I become and wiser I am – Sometimes. I’ve realized that if you do your shits in advance, you will sleep better and you will avoid being stressed. Kill the procrastinator inside of you.
1. Send an email to your own email address
No, it’s not a sad technique to get an imaginary friend. On the email, you will write all the personal information that you consider essential like your social number, credit card number in case you would have to block it, passport number, mum’s number, etc. Add also the scans of your passport, yellow fever certificate, etc. Do it before backpacking in Colombia.
Your phone can be stolen or lost when you’re traveling, use your email.
2. Check if you have insurance with your credit card
Most of the time, your credit card ensure you three months abroad. The best things to do is to ask your banker. It will be a perfect occasion to take some information about your future bank fees. Remind him also that you’re backpacking in Colombia soon and that you will kill him if he blocks your credit card again without any reasons.
If you don’t have insurance, you can have a look here.
3. Colombia Visa
We are lucky, Colombia accepts many countries without asking a prior visa. They will give you the Touristic Visa once you pass the border. It’s 90 days.
If you’re Canadian, you will have to pay an extra 160 000 COP. I heard it’s because Colombians have to pay if they wish to go to Canada.
Also, you should think to check your passport:
- Minimum 2 blank pages
- A passport Valid for 6 months minimum
4. A flight return ticket
You have to prove that you will leave Colombia in the next 3 months. They can ask for an exit proof at the airport or sometimes at the border. If you don’t have one, you can purchase a flight ticket on an American website airline. They will refund you if you cancel within 24 hours. Read the conditions before buying ;). Don’t use Flyonward, it became a scam…
I heard you can also try with Returnflight.net
5. Photocopies of your Passport and your Face
When you go out, only take the photocopy of your passport. I know you, you will be drunk and lose your passport because it’s was in the same pocket than your money. Police will be happy with a copy, and nobody can steal it.
Also, it’s great to have some official ID pictures in your bag. Sometimes you need to do some papers (if you lose your passport) or if you want to give it to a girl with your number written on the back – If you do it, please let a comment so I could laugh or applause. I don’t know yet.
6. Keep some dollars in your dirty socks
As I said, nothing should happen to you. But it’s just something I’m doing everywhere – Except when I went to Barcelona and some dudes stole my pants and wallet in the dorm. It can be a problem if you’re without money and far from home. So keep 100 bucks somewhere in your bags (a secret pocket) just in case. I kindly remind you that it should not be a “Just one last glass emergency funds.”
There is a lush vegetation in Colombia. And it means lots of mosquitos and sand flies. There are not everywhere but be ready to fight!
TV loves to speak about Zika, Malaria, etc. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes there are exaggerating. I’m not a doctor, but I think that Malaria pills do more harm than good in Colombia – Except if you plan to marry Mowgli and live in the jungle. However, the vaccines below are recommended if you’re backpacking in Colombia:
- Yellow fever (Take the certificate with you)
- Tetanus (Obligatory)
- Hepatitis A (Obligatory)
- Hepatitis B
8. Useful gadgets to have if you’re backpacking in Colombia
First of all, even if you don’t have a tight budget, you should take a backpack. Your life will be easier everywhere, you will do some sports, and you will walk proudly down the street – Ok, maybe not always but it’s a great way to meet with the locals.
I’ll not make an exhaustive list of what you should take. Everyone is different.
I wrote down some cool gadgets or tips you could be happy to use when you’re backpacking in Colombia:
- Zipper bag – To keep dry your important papers and cables
- Rubber band
- A sleeping bag cover to keep your dirty and smelly clothes
- Empty Tic Tac boxes for the spices
- A Hat – Even if you think you’re ridiculous with it
- Packing cubes can be great to organize your clothes and gain some space – It’s magical
- A Sarong to use on the beach or as a towel
- A Lifestraw – It’s perfect if you’re going on a trek for few days. You can even think about a bottle with a filter to save the planet from all the shitty plastic bottles that we are using (and you will save money too).
- Sunscreen – It’s expensive in Colombia
- Repellent – Take a good one, especially if you’re planning to do the lost city trek, the Pacific coast, the Amazon, Palomino, Minca, etc.
- Dr. Bronner liquid soap. You can use it for everything (washing, soap, shampoo, etc.) and you need a few drops only. You will save a lot of space in your bag!!
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9. Two seasons
First, you have to stop looking at the weather on your phone. It’s humid and the iPhone -and others – are lost. They gonna tell you it’s raining non-stop. And you know what? It’s bullshit.
It’s near the Equator, so there are two seasons: Windy and Rainy.
During the windy season, it’s not raining at all from Mid-December to the end of March. The Caribbean sea is rougher in this period. Chilling at the beach or hiking mountains should be perfect. There is less visibility for the snorkeling and less water in the rivers/waterfalls.
During the rainy season, it’s not raining all day long! The weather will often change. It’s sunny in the morning, cloudy or rainy in the afternoon.
Would you like more details about the weather in Colombia? Download my FREE Ebook with more than 200 TIPS by subscribing to my Newsletter. You will be part of our great Colombia Lovers Clan!
10. The touristy Period
Colombians have only one day off a week, on Sunday. It means they don’t have enough time to travel far from the cities. But as they love discovering the country, they will go on a trip as soon as it’s possible. They love the Caribbean coast and the famous colonial town (Salento, Jardin, Villa de Leyva). But you will find them everywhere, except in the capital.
- There are 18 public holidays. Most of them have to be a Monday. You should think about it if you to take a flight or a bus. Here is the list
- Between Christmas and NYE. For Colombians, the family is very important. They are all meeting somewhere on this occasion
- Easter holidays. Most of the Colombians are religious. There are four public holidays for Easter. It’s two weeks with a huge influx of tourists
- The high season (for accommodations) is from December to February
There are 6 natural regions in Colombia. The climate, the landscapes, and the people are different from each other. It’s like 6 different small countries. Do you imagine??
Also, here is the page where I have collected all the best destinations in Colombia.
11. Backpacking in the Andean Region of Colombia
Three Andean branches go through Colombia. They are occupying a big part of the country. In this region, you will find four of the biggest cities (Bogota, Medellin, Bucaramanga, and Cali). The landscapes change from huge mountains to lush vegetation to Coffee plantation to a desert. There are many lovely colonial towns, interesting ruins, and fantastic hikes.
Here are some secluded places you can/should visit:
- Jerico (Colonial town near Medellin)
- Paramo de Oceta (Landscape)
- Guatape and El Peñol (Near Medellin)
- Cocuy (Mountains)
- Tierradentro (Ruins)
- Santa Rosa de Cabal (Thermal baths)
- Quebrada Las Gachas near Guadalupe (River with natural Jacuzzis!)
12. Backpacking in the Orinoquia Region of Colombia
There are not a lot of touristy sites in this area. It’s mainly for the culture, and there are a few inhabitants. This part of Colombia is also called Los Llanos because it’s flooded during the rainy season. It’s the best place to observe wildlife and fantastic rivers.
Here are some secluded places you can/should visit (with a tour):
- Cerro de Mavecure
- San Jose de Guaviare (River)
- Caño Cristales (River)
- Serranía de Chiribiquete (Mountains)
If you’re an adventurer, you can go to La Macarena (Caño Cristales) and San Jose de Guaviare by yourself. You will find many tours there. However, it can be expensive if you’re traveling alone. Or, you can book tour. I highly recommend you De Una Colombia.
13. Backpacking in the Amazon Region of Colombia
There is a lush vegetation and almost nothing else. Almost nobody is living there, but it’s a perfect spot to discover the Amazon and to organize some expeditions. Some travelers are coming by boat from Brasil and Peru.
Here are some secluded places you can/should visit:
- Leticia (City). You have to fly from Bogota if you wish to visit the Amazon
- Puerto Nariño (Town). The green lungs of Colombia
14. Backpacking in the Pacific Region of Colombia
There is again a lush vegetation, and it’s humid. With one of the highest rainfall in the world, you can understand why it’s green. Most of the inhabitants have African origins as their ancestors came to the coast when the slavery was ended. They are happy people, and they’re playing many kinds of music!
You have to take a flight or a boat to get access to the coast. It’s more expensive for traveling as it’s not very touristy. And you can forget the WIFI!
Here are some secluded places you can/should visit:
- San Cipriano (Tubing)
- Juanchaco (Black beach)
- Parque National Utria (National Park)
- Bahia Solano
- El Valle
15. Backpacking in the Caribbean Region of Colombia
It’s the favorite spot for the Colombians, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s the Caribbeaaaaaaan baby! Blue water, palm trees, white beaches – not everywhere – and a calm vibe of “I’m on holiday, and I don’t care about tomorrow.” Most of the tourists travel to Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Tayrona only.
But you know what? There are many others secret spots ;). It’s the most expensive part of Colombia, especially during the high season.
Here are some secluded places you can/should visit:
- Capurgana and Sapzurro (Darien Gap)
- Isla Fuerte (Snorkelling)
- Isla Mucura (San Bernardo Islands)
- Palomino (Tubing)
- Minca (Town in the Sierra Nevada)
- Punta Gallinas (Desert)
- Mompox (Town)
16. Backpacking in the Insular Region of Colombia
Many islands belong to Colombia, and some of them are far from the coasts. It will be your best option if you want to dive.
Here the most famous islands you can/should visit:
- Gorgona (Diving)
- San Andres
- Providencia (Snorkeling/diving and amazing beaches)
So, What are you waiting for?
OTHER FANTASTIC DESTINATIONS IN COLOMBIA
17. Different internet mobile options while backpacking in Colombia
There are 3 important phone operators in Colombia:
They all have the same prices (Around 13$ for 2 Go), but I have a preference for Claro – It seems more “compatible” with foreigner’s phones. Regarding the Sim Card, you can buy them everywhere for less than 5$!
Before going on holidays in Colombia, you should check if your phone accepts any sim card. Indeed, this one can be in a selfish relationship with your phone operator at home. If it’s the case, you should call them and ask for a magic number to make your phone opens to a new “Relation Chip” – Because of my shitty English, I don’t make any play on words. I’m fucking proud when it’s happening. CHAMPAGNE!!!
Would you like more information – with probably better quality and without any stupid jokes? Click here
18. The internet in Colombia
I will answer fast to this point so you can breathe and stop being worried.
YES! There is the internet. However, you will be able to Skype your mum in big cities only. It can be more problematic if you are a digital nomad – In this situation, your best chance is to stay in Medellin.
The internet is shit on the Pacific coast and the Amazon. And it’s slow on the Caribbean Coast.
19. Post office
Guys, I have the perfect excuse to avoid sending postcards to your family. In Colombia, there is no National Post office. You need to use a private company like DHL. If you wish to send back some stuff to home – Sleeping bag, Poncho, cute baby cat -, you should do it from Panama or Perou.
Otherwise, 4-72 will be your cheapest option – I used them for the sleeping bag and the Poncho.
20. Currency – Colombian Pesos
I’m a billionaire, and it is not even real money. Let’s spend it all!
It’s often what we think when we have bills for the first time with many zeros. Calm down and listen to me before starting to play as a Monopoly gambler.
Colombians are using Colombian Pesos (COP). To make it simple, keep in mind that 3 000 COP = 1 Dollar
There are plenty of small bills.
- 1 000 COP: 30 Cts
- 2 000 COP: 60 Cts
- 5 000 COP: 1.5 $
- 10 000 COP: 3 $
- 20 000 COP: 6.5 $
- 50 000 COP: 16 $
Yes, it’s not the exact conversion, but it’s easier to remember.
Now, let’s see the Colombia travel cost:
Coffee (Tinto): 1 000 COP – 30 Cts
Beer (Aguila): 3 000 COP – 1 $
Avocado: 3000 COP
Fantastic fruit juice: 3 – 4 000 COP
Breakfast: 7 000 COP – 2 $
Cocktail: 7 000 COP
Menu del dia (Menu of the day): 10 000 COP – 3 $
Good Dinner: 25 000 COP – 8 $
Hostel in a dorm: 25 – 30 000 COP: 8 – 10 $
Most of the time, the Colombian won’t use the “Mile” (Thousand) – If it costs you 20 000, they will say “twenty.” Also, you should save your small bills. Sometimes, it can be hard to pay with a 50 000 COP bill because they can’t give you back the change.
TIP: With 50$ a day, you will be able to live as a “Rich” Backpacker. Going to the restaurants, going out at night, changing place regularly, doing the main activities, etc.
21. ATM and credit cards in Colombia
The ATM is your best option to get Colombian Pesos – You’ll get a better exchange rate. Visa and Mastercard are working well, and there are many ATMs in Colombia. However, they can be out of service in tiny towns lost in the jungle like Bahia Solano. You should always have some cash with you when you’re backpacking in Colombia.
Places where the credit card is useless:
- Capurgana/ Sapzurro
- Cabo de la Vela
- Isla Mucura
- Isla Fuerte
- Palomino (some hostels accept the Credit cards)
If your bank doesn’t give you an interesting exchange rate or applies big bank fees, you can use a credit card from a mobile bank. You will save money by avoiding to pay bank fees.
Colombia Travel TIPS: Banco Colombia is one of the best banks to withdraw money. They don’t charge extra bank fees. You should always look for the national bank of the country.
When I was backpacking in Colombia, I never had the feeling that Colombians were trying to rip me off with the prices. They usually give you the local price – Or sometimes with a little Tourist “tax.” But I think it’s fair.
You can and should bargain with the taxi driver if they don’t have the taxi meter. And with the different activities offered by the local agency (Especially if you’re a group of 3-4 people).
It’s also usual to ask if there is a discount for long bus drives and accommodations: “Hola, hay una descuenta?”
In any case, keep the bargaining process fun and with a big smile 😉
It’s crucial to avoid money disasters when you’re traveling. You should read the useful article that Ruth wrote recently.
23. How to fly to Colombia
24. How To Fly Within Colombia – Domestic Flights
They are amazingly cheap. I’m not kidding, if you don’t have much time in Colombia, don’t hesitate to use them.
There are many flights per day in big cities. You can still be flexible during your backpacking in Colombia. I advise you to book your flight 3-4 days in advance (After the prices can double).
A typical flight should cost you around 50 $ (1 way) and A flight to Leticia (Amazon), Bahia Solano (Pacific Coast), Capurgana (Darien Gap) cost around 100 $ (1 way).
Unfortunately, The smallest airline companies don’t have reliable websites (often offline) – It’s better to call them or to go to their office (Satena, etc.).
In case you can’t complete the payment procedure online – Because your credit card has been denied -, you should call your bank and ask them to check. Sometimes they can authorize the payment manually.
There are 3 leading airline companies:
a – Latam
Basic airline but the quality is more than enough for the domestic flight.
- 1 Checked Baggage NOT included: Max 23 Kg [Except for tariff “Plus” and “Top”]
- 1 Cabin Baggage included: Max 10 Kg. Size: 55 cm x 35 cm x 25 cm
- 1 Personal Item included: 45 x 35 x 20 cm
b – Avianca
Nice plane but they seem to have some delay issues regularly. It’s not a problem for a direct flight but make sure to have enough time for the connexion if you’re booking two separate flight tickets.
TIP: It’s Colombia. You should always plan your itinerary with possible delays in mind.
- 1 Checked Baggage included: Max 23 Kg
- 1 Cabin Baggage included: Max 10 Kg. Size: It must measure at most 115 centimeters (height+length+width)
- 1 Personal Item included
c – Viva Colombia
The cheapest and shitiest airline company in Colombia. As any low low low cost, don’t expect high standards and a great customer service. But you can fly almost for free if you’re booking your flight ticket in advance and without a checked Baggage. Check and book directly on their website.
Viva Colombia is making money thanks to optional services and mistakes from the customers. Below some useful information you should keep in mind:
- Only 1 cabin baggage is included: 6 Kg and 40x35x25 cm
- You have to do the check-in online max 45 min before the departure
- You have to print your boarding pass
- There is no reimbursement if you can’t take your flight
- Extra cabin baggage: 12 Kg and 55x45x25 cm – Price: 44 000 COP
- Check baggage: 20 Kg and 158 linear cm – Price: 42 900 COP
Before paying for the ticket, check if they didn’t try to add an option to your basket sneakily
It’s the easiest and the fastest transport in Colombia. They are everywhere, and they honk to seduce you – I don’t know why they’re doing that, it’s as much tenting than kissing a drunk girl who is vomiting.
In most of the cities, they don’t use a taximeter. Agree on a price first
In the airports and important terminal stations, you can book your taxi at a welcome desk. It’s better if you have lots of luggage
You can also use the app EasyTaxi
UBER is illegal, but everyone is using it in the big cities. It’s cheaper and often better. You will have to say you’re the taxi driver’s friend if the police stop the car
To have access to secluded places, you can take moto-taxis
During your backpacking in Colombia, you will have the choice between plenty of buses as it’s the favorite way of transportation for the Colombians. They drive like crazy, but you should survive.
a – The long bus drive
- Best way to travel in Colombia
- Night buses are safe and useful
- A fridge is warmer than a night bus. You won’t be allowed to make a fire. Take a blanket
- Semi-Cama means that it’s an inclinable seat
- You can bargain and ask for a discount
- You don’t need to buy your bus ticket in advance when you’re backpacking in Colombia – Except during Christmas time, easter and public holidays. Check the schedule on the internet and just show up 1 hour before
I like the bus companies below:
Sometimes, they don’t show you all the buses available on their websites (Brasilia’s website loves to do that)
To know the schedules, you can also check on the bus terminal’s website – “Terminal de Transporte + name of the city (departure).” Example for Bogota
Your best option is to ask the reception of your hostel to call the bus company and confirm the bus schedule
Another website to help to organize your bus drive – I don’t trust them at 100% as bus schedules are often changing.
b – Collectivo
If the places and activities are outside of town, you have to take the “Collectivos.” It’s a private shuttle which usually leaves when it’s full, and it’s the best way of transportation in the countryside
- It’s not easy to take a ride with your backpack, but it’s doable. Colombians always find a way
- You don’t need to bargain. You just say your final destination, so they know where they have to drop you. No worry, they have a great memory
- Don’t need to care about the bus schedule – Except for the last departure
- Most of the time, you pay when you go out of the bus
- You will be impressed by how many people can fit inside
- It’s fun
- I don’t use them as public transport in big cities as I have no ideas where they are going
c – Chiva
It’s a large colorful bus driving on small roads to reach different close towns. You should try once when you’re backpacking in Colombia.
d – Private shuttle
There are private companies that offer a door to door service. It’s faster but not very comfortable (small). It’s frequent on the Caribbean Coast. You can check on Marsol Facebook
They are using many speedboats on the Pacific coast, the Caribbean Coast (Capurga, Sapzurro, San Bernardo Islands, etc.) and in the Amazon.
On the Caribbean Coast, it’s bumpy during the windy season and you should always put your stuff in plastic bags
28. Other public transports
Colombie has a sophisticated bus system in the main cities.
In Bogota (Transmilenio), Barranquilla (Mio), and Cali (Mio). You need to buy a bus card (1$) and add some credit to it. You should avoid using them after 10 pm and keep your day bag in front of you.
In Medellin, use the metro.
In Cartagena, all the touristy districts are close to each other.
29. Where to sleep in Colombia
There are many different sleeping options in Colombia. It depends on your budget and the region you’re visiting. As you know, Colombia is near the Equator, so there is no much temperature variation. It means you can sleep outside all year long – It would be better with a roof over your head during the raining season.
They are many hostels in the countryside which accept that you set up your tent (You still have to pay a little).
On the Caribbean and Pacific coast, it’s possible to sleep in hammocks. I recommend you to try the Chinchorro one in La Guajira. Average price: 10 – 15 000 COP.
The inhabitants can also rent a room. It often the case when there are no many accommodations around (La Guajira, Pacific coast).
If you’re backpacking in Colombia, there are hundreds of hostels, and it’s the perfect solution to meet other travelers. You have the choice between a private room or a dorm and the prices vary quite a lot. However, to keep it simple, be ready to pay around 50 – 60 000 COP for a basic private room (2 pers) and 25 – 30 000 COP for a bed in a dorm.
If you prefer to sleep in a hotel, it’s not a problem either. The price can vary from 30 000 to 300 000 COP. Be aware that hotel standards are not the same than in Europe/USA. It’s not because it’s 4 stars ranking that you will have the feeling to be at the Hilton. However, some of them are fantastic!
In the department of Antioquia, the coffee region and around Popayan/ San Agustin, you can sleep in a Hacienda (huge estates surrounded by lands) or a Finca (coffee farm most of the time). It’s a perfect experience if you’re looking for tranquility.
30. Best Hostels in Colombia
As it became a serious business, you can book hostels in some amazing spots. Here is the list of the hostels you should check out when you’re backpacking in Colombia:
- La Playita in Isla Fuerte
- Casa En El Agua in San Bernardo Archipelago
- Casa Loma in Minca
- El Rio near Palomino
- The dreamer in Palomino and Santa Marta
- Renacer hostel in Villa de Leyva
- The Wandering Paisa in Medellin
- Casa En El Aire near Medellin
- La Serrana and Yambolombia in Salento
- Hacienda Venecia Near Manizales
- Humpback turtle in Bahia Solano
31. How to book an accommodation
As Colombia is not touristy yet, you shouldn’t have a problem to find an accommodation (Even without booking in advance).
If you’re a backpacker, you can do a quick check on Hostelworld first. If almost all the accommodations seem to be full, you should book in advance too. However, keep in mind that the hostels don’t put all their availability online. So you can still try to contact them on their Facebook page.
You should book in advance (few days) for the most famous hostels, as there is a higher demand. Do it early for Casa En El Agua.
Did you hear about Couchsurfing? It’s very common in Colombia Ania Travels wrote a great article about it
32. Water, Juice, and Alcohol
a – Water
Colombia is the paradise for fruit juices and cheap beers but unfortunately not for the water – Nobody needs water anyway, no? – Please don’t take this joke seriously, don’t be stupid and drink water.
You can drink the tap water in principal cities and many towns in the Andean Region. You should avoid doing it on the Carribean Coast, Pacific coast, Amazon, etc. The best is to ask in your hostel – Or you can offer a glass of water to another traveler and check his reaction for the next hours.
A bottle of 1 L will cost you around 3 000 COP.
Question in Spanish: Es la agua potable aqui?
b – Juice
Regarding fruit juices, welcome to paradise. Vendors are everywhere. Don’t hesitate to ask in every restaurant. They have plenty of choices, and it’s perfect to start the day. Most of the time, you will have to choose between Water or Milk – Con Agua o con Leche.
Colombians love sweet stuff, so don’t hesitate to ask with less sugar – Con un poco de Azucar por favor
Read the list to know about the many unusual fruits you can find when you’re backpacking in Colombia.
c – Alcohol
What is the most common beverage you can buy everywhere? BEER. In any events, outside of a club, on the beach, you will always find someone to sell you a cold beer. It’s the best way to save money 😉
Local beers don’t have many flavors (except the ones made in artisanal breweries), so don’t expect to drink a good beer when you’re backpacking in Colombia. Your best shot will be “Club Colombia” beer.
Another great alcohol is Aguardiente. It’s with an aniseed flavor, and you drink it cold with shots. There are two types, the blue one, and the red one. It’s without or with sugar. Colombians say the blue one is less painful the next morning for the hangover;)
TIP: The party district is called Zona Rosa in the big cities
33. Vegetarian survival kit, street food, and restaurants
To find or cook a good meal with local ingredients is one of the most important activities of any travelers. It’s one of the 3 questions I’m asking myself each morning when I’m on the road:
- What should I do today?
- Where do I sleep tonight?
- What do I eat?
When you’re traveling, all your worries about your daily life stay at home. You have to answer to essential needs only.
- Don’t be scared to try the street foods when you’re traveling to Colombia. The country doesn’t have a great reputation for its food, but you can still find some interesting meals.
- Arepas [ground maize dough]. It’s like their Bread. They give it to you for breakfast with your eggs; they make sandwiches or pizzas. There are also many Arepas 2.0 – It means they add some cheese or egg directly inside when it’s cooking. For each Colombian’s department, there is a new Arepas’ version.
- Empanadas [Bread or pastry cooked with a different kind of filling]. They love to fry them in Colombia. It can be with meat or veggie or cheese, etc.
- Salchipapa: Sausage + French fries + Lots of sauces. It’s great!
- Yucca [woody schrub]. If you’re vegetarian, you will love that. You can boil it then fry it. Awesome results.
- Plantains [Sweet Banana]. Delicious. You can eat it like chips, or it can be sweet. Don’t hesitate to cook it by yourself – It’s a pain in the ass to take of the skin. Cut into pieces, boil it then smash it with a plate. Once you have a thin circle, fry it.
Do you want to get more food information? Download my Free Ebook.
Now, I’m trying to read your mind. And my answer is…
…Yes, they love to eat fried food, especially for the street food. If you want to save money and eat more healthy, you can ask for the menu del dia.
In the majority of the restaurant, they have a menu del dia (Menu of the day) even if it’s not written on the menu.
It’s a basic meal with:
- Entrance: Soup
- The main dish: Beans + Rice + 1 leaf of Salad + 2 slices of tomatoes + 2 plantains + Meat
- A juice of the day: AguaPanela – it’s Panela (made with sugar cane) + water
Yes, Vegetarian people won’t be excited by the menu del dia in basic restaurants. You can ask to get some eggs instead of the meat. – Don’t be surprised if they ask you if you want to switch your meat with fish. In small towns, they have no idea about what is a vegetarian.
-Hi! Sorry, I’m vegetarian. I can’t eat it Chicken.
-Ah ok. I’m Catholic, I can.
However, a vegetarian will be fortunate in big cities. There are some big supermarkets with lots of products. But be ready to pay the price, it’s expensive.
Evewhereplease explains how it’s possible to eat vegan when you’re backpacking in Colombia.
34. General Colombia Travel Safety tips
I’ve written many times the following sentence on blogs, Facebook posts, Instagram comments, articles. I should tattoo it on my left buttock too.
Yes, Backpacking in Colombia is safe.
I’m a little lazy – and the article is already long – so I won’t explain it again why. Did I mention that I’ve written a free Ebook – Rhetorical question -? There is a more in-depth explanation inside. You can download it here.
I also did a survey online to know the opinion of the travelers who went to Colombia. You can read the results at the end of this article
During my last two years of backpacking in South America, some of my stuff has been stolen. It was mainly my fault. I’ve also heard plenty of stories from people who have been robbed. I guess you don’t speak as much to people if your trip was perfect. We all love to complain about our misadventures – We all have a little French in our heart, even the Dalai Lama I’m sure.
Here is a list of what I’ve learned about safety:
- If there is a locker in your dorm, don’t be lazy and use it.
- You have more chance to be robbed if you’re playing the stupid tourist. What is a stupid tourist?
- A drunk dude walking at night in a dark alley because he wants to save 3 $ – instead of taking a cab
- A dude who accepts a drink from a beautiful and sexy girl and who wants to have sex with him after 5 min 30s.
- A dude walking with his iPhone 14 in his back pocket
- Don’t take your phone or credit card at night. Be Rain Man to remember a phone number or use a pen. I’m sure the girl will be impressed by your old school manners
- At the end of a party, take a taxi.
- In a bus, don’t put your day bag above your head or below your seat. The best is to keep it on your knee or against the wall
- Don’t be wasted alone – Classic one
- Touristy areas can be more dangerous at night
- Small towns are safe
- Night buses are safe
- Subscribe to travel insurance
Brittany (LeavingGringolandia) lived in different cities of Colombia. She wrote a cool article about the safety in Colombia.
If Volunteering in Colombia
There are many volunteering programs in Colombia. I would recommend you to avoid the south near the border with Ecuador and the Orinoquia Region (east of Colombia). The government has less power and control in those areas.
35. Backpacking in Colombia as a Solo Female Traveler
I’m seeing and receiving many questions about this topic. And oh my gosh I’ve read some colossal bullshit answers – The kind which makes you laugh and being sad at the same time.
Yes, ladies, you can solo travel in Colombia and going out in the streets after dark. And you will meet many Colombians who want to bring your home at night for extra safety- And it will be for this purpose only.
Finally, you will have the same safety problem than men – or maybe even less as :
- You’re less stupid when you’re a drunk
- You don’t want to have sex with everyone
- You’re not looking for hookers and wake up naked in a hotel room without pants and wallet
I’ve gathered some information and Colombia travel tips that can be useful for you:
- Colombians are romantic. They love to listen to songs with Corazon / heart / Amor / Love – as lyrics
- They will probably “fall in love” with you. Take it as a compliment and break their hears with delicacy
- Always trust your guts and leave if you don’t trust the person
- If a man has an inappropriate behavior, don’t be scared to say it to clarify the situation
- They will ask you why you’re not married. You can lie and say your husband is at home taking care of your kids – girl powa!
- “Mono” means white girl
- Try salsa, try bachata and other dances! Colombians love to dance, and they are great teachers
- You’re beautiful, never forget it
Ladies! Would you like to read more advice about traveling in general? Her Packing List wrote a massive list of 99 things that every Female traveler should know.
If you are still reading my article, it means that you want to travel by yourself. You’re collecting all the information you need to realize the trip of your dream.
You’re passionate about each step, and you’re already traveling in your mind even if you will fly to Colombia the next month only.
And It’s why I prefer to organize trips by myself. You create your own path, you’re more excited about the adventure, and you’re proud of it when you arrive at your destination. It’s also a way to travel slower with less planning.
However, you need time. You have to create an itinerary and be sure that all the information is correct and updated. It’s hard to make decisions when you don’t know the country at all – But don’t worry, you can still fix the mistakes once you arrive.
There are places in Colombia where you have to book a tour because you don’t have access otherwise. The closest from the final destination you arrive, and the cheapest you will pay. If you don’t have plenty of times and the budget, it’s quicker and easier to depart from a big city.
You can have a look at the two agencies below:
35. Places where you have to book a tour
a – Punta Gallinas
It’s the northernmost point of South America, and it’s a desert. You can’t go by yourself because it’s far from everything and there is no road. The cheapest option is to book a tour from Cabo de la Vela. They will organize a two days trip with jeeps to show you the area.
Price: Between 100 – 150 000 COP per pers. Only for the transports.
More picture on my Instagram
b – Caño Cristales
It’s an amazing five colors river. I bet it will be one of the most beautiful things you saw in your life. For a long time, it’s was not accessible to the tourists because of the FARC. Now it’s possible!!! There are many tours from Bogota. However, you can reduce the price by going by yourself to La Macarena and look for an agency there. You need to have a guide to visit Caño Cristales. It can be expensive if you’re alone because you can’t share the price for the guide. It will be one of the highlights if you’re backpacking in Colombia
- You can fly to La Macarena from Villavicencio
- Or by land from San Vicente
Price for the tour: Around 250 – 280 000 COP per day per pers. It will be cheaper if you book more than 1 day as you pay the entrance fee only one time.
c – San Jose del Guaviare
It’s the “Caño Cristales for the small budget”. The river is still amazing (same plants in the water), and there are some fun expeditions to do around like rock painting, birds, ruins, etc. You can take a bus from Villavicencio to get there.
Price for the tour: 250 000 COP for 2 days (entrance, lunch, guide, transport)
Tempted to go to San Jose del Guaviare by yourself? Read the fantastic article written by Gloups Chloe
d – Leticia
Leticia is the most significant city in the Amazonas province of Colombia. It’s the starter for all the expedition in the Amazon. You have to fly from Bogota to get there. Then you can look for a tour. There are many different prices as some are more or less legal (No insurance, etc.). So it depends on you and your budget.
You don’t have to book a tour in this area. You can observe lots of animals by yourself if you’re visiting the parks and the small towns around. I’ve written examples of days you can spend in Leticia and around.
But if you wish to go deeper into the jungle, you have to book a tour.
Price with a good company: Around 300 000 COP per day per person (All included)
e – Lost city trek
Lost city trek is the most famous trek in Colombia, and it’s easy to access because it’s directly on the Caribbean Coast. The tour lasts 4 or 5 days into the jungle. You aimed to some ruins – More terraces than ruins – then you come back. You can book the tour from Santa Marta, Palomino, Minca, etc.
There five certified companies. I recommend you Magic tour, Wiwa tour, and Expotur.
GreyWorldNomads tells us about her 5-day Ciudad Perdida tour
Price: Around 750 000 COP per person (All included)
f – Many national parks
You have to know that Colombia puts some efforts to protect its National Parks. If you wish to visit them, you sometimes need to book them in advance. And some are not open to the public. It’s also possible that guards require that you hire a guide for hiking in the national parks of Colombia (As it’s the case with Cocuy).
There is all the information you need on their official website (In Spanish).
I also recommend you to check Wikiloc website if you’re a hiking lover.
36. Some other cool free tours
Have you ever heard about the Free Walking tour? If the answer is no, you should think to check this out every time you’re arriving in a big city. It’s very popular in Colombia.
It’s a great way to discover the city, learn about the history and meet other people. Sometimes you have to book in advance on the internet. And it’s free! – But don’t be cheap and let a tip.
There are also plenty of other variants like Food tour, bike tour, beer tour, graffiti tour. It’s often a lot of fun! I gave some examples for Bogota in this article.
If it’s your first time in South America, you can be a little shocked at the beginning. But not worry, you will be used to it very fast!
Here is a list of fun and useful information about Colombia:
- Don’t speak about drugs and Pablo Escobar except if they start speaking about it. It’s like if you were asking about Hitler to a German. What’s the point?
- They have another relationship with time. Don’t panic and breath if you don’t arrive in time or if you’re waiting 30 min at the check out of a supermarket.
- Don’t slam the taxi’s door
- They are kind and curious so don’t be scared
- They love sharing their bottle of alcohol
- You have to dance with them if they friendly ask, there are no sexual attempts in that
- They are not the best to deal with organization and logistic problems
- They don’t speak English, except youths in the big cities. But they will try to understand you
- Don’t say Columbia, it’s COLOMBIA
- If they give you a shot of aguardiente, you have to drink it
- You’re a foreigner, it’s not legal to have drugs on you
- They are tactile when they’re speaking to you (Man and Woman)
- They are religious, avoid speaking about religion if you’re not a believer
If you’re still reading, congratulation, you’ve arrived at the end of my article. As you can see, Colombia is a big and wonderful country. You can let go of the small fears that you have in mind.
During your adventure, you can learn some valuable lessons like “family is important” or “each day is unique, you should spend it with a smile on your face.”
It’s a perfect playground for the backpackers as there are many cheap accommodations and lots of buses. If you have months in front of you, you don’t even need to plan too much.
However, it’s also a developed country. Don’t imagine that Colombians are people leaving in the jungle with a bone through their nose and have donkeys as cars. Medellin was elected the most innovative city of the year in 2013. You can travel quickly and comfortably if it’s what you’re looking for. If you have only 2 weeks, I recommend you to focus on 4 – 5 places maximum. To truly appreciate backpacking in Colombia, you have to experience it and not being a spectator only.
Use as many Colombia travel tips and ideas that you wish and live the adventure on your own. And remember one thing
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde
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All the places have been personally tested by myself or approved by very close friends. I will do my best never to disappoint you.