Welcome to Colombia, a vibrant and diverse country nestled in the heart of South America. Renowned for its stunning landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and warm and friendly people, Colombia has become a popular destination for backpackers seeking an unforgettable adventure. With its bustling cities, captivating colonial towns, lush jungles, and beautiful beaches, Colombia offers a little something for everyone.
Colombia is a country of contrasts. From the towering peaks of the Andes to the mysterious Amazon rainforest and the pristine Caribbean coastline, each region offers its own unique charm and attractions. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie looking for thrilling outdoor activities, a history buff eager to explore ancient ruins, or a foodie craving delicious local cuisine, Colombia has it all.
One of the best things about backpacking in Colombia is the affordability. With a reasonable budget, you can experience the beauty and splendor of this incredible country. From affordable hostels and guesthouses to delicious street food, you can make your money go a long way in Colombia.
In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about backpacking in Colombia. From the best time to visit, tips for staying safe, popular destinations, transportation options, and must-try foods, we’ve got you covered. So grab your backpack, put on your walking shoes, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Colombia!
Best Time to Visit Colombia
Colombia is blessed with a year-round tropical climate, making it an attractive destination for backpackers no matter the time of year. However, it’s important to note that Colombia experiences two distinct seasons: dry season and rainy season. The best time to visit will depend on your preferred activities and destinations.
The dry season in Colombia runs from December to March and July to August. This is generally considered the best time to visit if you want to explore the coastal regions, including popular destinations such as Cartagena, Santa Marta, and the stunning Tayrona National Park. During this time, you can expect warm and sunny weather, making it perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling, and enjoying water-based activities.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in exploring Colombia’s lush and biodiverse forests and want to venture into the Amazon rainforest, the best time to visit is during the rainy season from April to June and September to November. The rainforest comes alive during this time, with vibrant green foliage and increased wildlife activity. Just be prepared for occasional showers and muddy trails.
It’s worth noting that Colombia’s highlands and cities, like Bogotá, Medellín, and the coffee region, have relatively stable temperatures year-round due to their elevation. However, it’s always a good idea to pack layers as the weather can vary throughout the day. Remember to check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
Additionally, keep in mind that Colombia has a diverse range of festivals and events throughout the year. If you want to immerse yourself in the vibrant Colombian culture, consider timing your visit to coincide with celebrations such as the Carnival of Barranquilla in February or the Flower Festival in Medellín in August.
In summary, the best time to visit Colombia ultimately depends on your preferences and the activities you wish to pursue. Whether you want to soak up the sun on the Caribbean coast or explore the lush rainforests, Colombia has something to offer year-round. Just remember to pack accordingly and be prepared for occasional showers if visiting during the rainy season.
Getting to Colombia
Colombia is well connected to major international airports, making it easy for backpackers to access this incredible country. The main international airports in Colombia are Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport (BOG), Medellín’s José María Córdova International Airport (MDE), and Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG).
If you are coming from North America or Europe, you can find direct flights to Colombia from major cities such as Miami, New York, Madrid, and London. Additionally, there are also several airlines that offer connecting flights to Colombia from various parts of the world.
Once you arrive in Colombia, there are several domestic airlines that offer affordable and convenient flights to different parts of the country. Avianca, LATAM Airlines, and Viva Air are some of the major airlines in Colombia that operate domestic routes.
Another popular option for getting to Colombia is by bus. Colombia has an extensive network of buses that connect major cities and towns. If you are coming from neighboring countries, such as Ecuador, Peru, or Venezuela, you can easily cross the border by bus and continue your journey into Colombia.
It’s important to note that some nationalities may require a visa to enter Colombia, while others may be eligible for visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival. It’s recommended to check the visa requirements well in advance and ensure that your travel documents are in order.
Once you have arrived in Colombia, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local transportation options. Public transportation, such as buses and taxis, is widely available in major cities. Motorcycle taxis, known as “mototaxis,” are common in smaller towns and rural areas. In cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali, you can also make use of the Metro system, which provides a convenient and affordable way to get around.
Whether you choose to fly directly to Colombia or opt for overland travel, getting to this beautiful country is relatively straightforward. With a bit of planning and research, you’ll be ready to embark on your backpacking adventure in Colombia.
Safety Tips for Backpacking in Colombia
Colombia has come a long way in terms of safety, but it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings and take certain precautions while backpacking in the country. By following these safety tips, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip:
- Research your destinations: Before visiting any city or region in Colombia, do some research to understand the current safety situation. While most popular tourist destinations are safe, it’s always a good idea to know which areas to avoid.
- Stay informed: Keep an eye on local news and heed any travel advisories or warnings issued by your country’s embassy or consulate. This will help you stay informed about any potential risks or security concerns.
- Blend in: Try to avoid wearing flashy jewelry or displaying expensive items, as this can make you a target for theft. Dress modestly and blend in with the locals to minimize drawing attention to yourself.
- Use reliable transportation: Stick to licensed and reputable transportation options, such as official taxis or rideshare services. Avoid using unmarked taxis, especially at night.
- Be cautious with your belongings: Keep your valuables secure and never leave them unattended. Use a money belt or a concealed travel pouch to carry your cash, passport, and important documents.
- Be wary of scams: Like in any other destination, be cautious of scams targeting tourists. Be skeptical of overly friendly strangers offering unsolicited help or deals that seem too good to be true.
- Stay in well-lit and populated areas: Stick to well-lit and populated areas, especially at night. Avoid walking alone in unfamiliar or less crowded areas.
- Learn basic Spanish: Having some knowledge of basic Spanish phrases can be incredibly helpful for communication and navigating different situations.
- Trust your instincts: Trust your gut instinct and if a situation or place feels unsafe, remove yourself from it immediately. Your safety is paramount.
It’s essential to remember that while Colombia has made significant strides in terms of safety, crime can still occur. By being vigilant, using common sense, and following these safety tips, you can minimize potential risks and ensure a memorable and safe backpacking experience in Colombia.
Budgeting for Backpacking in Colombia
Colombia is known for being a budget-friendly destination, making it a great choice for backpackers looking to explore South America without breaking the bank. By following these budgeting tips, you can make the most of your money while backpacking in Colombia:
- Accommodation: Opt for budget accommodations such as hostels or guesthouses. These options are not only affordable but also provide opportunities to meet fellow travelers.
- Transportation: Utilize public transportation, such as buses, within cities and towns. It’s a cost-effective way to get around. Additionally, consider sharing rides or using rideshare services for longer journeys.
- Food: Embrace the local cuisine and try street food. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also often more affordable than dining in restaurants. Look out for “menu del día” options, which offer a set menu at a fixed price.
- Drinks: Skip the expensive cocktails at bars and opt for local beers or aguardiente, a traditional Colombian spirit. You can also save by purchasing drinks at supermarkets or local markets and enjoying them in your accommodation.
- Activities: Take advantage of free or low-cost activities. Many cities offer free walking tours, and exploring natural attractions like parks and beaches often have minimal or no entrance fees.
- Negotiate prices: Don’t be afraid to negotiate prices, especially when purchasing souvenirs or using transportation services. Bargaining is common in markets and with informal taxis.
- Limit unnecessary expenses: Be mindful of your spending on non-essential items such as souvenirs, luxury tours, or expensive experiences. Prioritize the activities and experiences that align with your budget and travel goals.
- Research and compare: Before booking any tours or activities, do some research and compare prices from different providers. Look for discounts or special offers to get the best value for your money.
- Stay hydrated: Carry a refillable water bottle and drink tap water in Colombia’s major cities, as the water is generally safe to drink. This will help you save money on purchasing bottled water.
- Save on currency exchange: Instead of relying on costly currency exchange services, withdraw cash from ATMs that offer fair exchange rates. Notify your bank beforehand about your travel plans to avoid any issues with your cards.
With a bit of budget-conscious planning and smart decision-making, you can stretch your money further while backpacking in Colombia. Enjoy the incredible experiences this country has to offer without putting a strain on your wallet.
Places to Visit in Colombia
Colombia is a country filled with diverse and captivating destinations that will leave any backpacker in awe. From vibrant cities to stunning natural landscapes, here are some of the top places to visit in Colombia:
- Bogotá: Start your Colombian adventure in the country’s capital, Bogotá. Explore the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, visit the famous Gold Museum, and hike up to the iconic Monserrate for panoramic views of the city.
- Cartagena: Wander through the enchanting streets of Cartagena’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Admire the colorful colonial buildings, indulge in delicious Caribbean cuisine, and soak up the lively atmosphere of this coastal gem.
- Medellín: Known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” Medellín offers a perfect blend of modernity and natural beauty. Ride the cable cars to get breathtaking views of the city, visit the Botero Plaza to see iconic sculptures, and explore the vibrant nightlife of the El Poblado neighborhood.
- Tayrona National Park: Located on the Caribbean coast, Tayrona National Park is a paradise for nature lovers. Hike through lush jungles, relax on pristine beaches, and snorkel in crystal-clear waters. Don’t miss the famous Cabo San Juan viewpoint for a stunning coastal panorama.
- Coffee Region: Immerse yourself in Colombia’s coffee culture in the picturesque Coffee Region. Visit coffee plantations, hike through verdant valleys, and enjoy the charming towns of Manizales, Armenia, and Salento.
- San Andrés and Providencia: These stunning Caribbean islands offer white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and fantastic snorkeling opportunities. Swim with colorful fish, explore coral reefs, and relax on the idyllic beaches.
- Amazon Rainforest: For an unforgettable encounter with nature, venture into Colombia’s Amazon rainforest. Take a guided tour to spot exotic wildlife, learn about indigenous cultures, and explore the enchanting waterways of the Amazon River.
- Villa de Leyva: Step back in time in the charming colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Admire the well-preserved architecture, visit the fascinating Paleontological Museum, and explore the nearby El Infiernito archaeological site.
- Guatapé: Marvel at the colorful town of Guatapé, famous for its vibrant zocalos (colorful painted murals) adorning the buildings. Climb the iconic El Peñol rock for panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and islands.
- Lost City (Ciudad Perdida): Embark on a challenging trek through the dense jungle to discover the ancient ruins of the Lost City. This archaeological site offers a glimpse into the pre-Columbian history of Colombia.
These are just a few of the many remarkable places to visit in Colombia. Each destination offers a unique experience and showcases the country’s beauty and cultural richness. So, make sure to include these must-visit places in your Colombian itinerary and create memories to last a lifetime.
Popular Backpacking Routes in Colombia
Colombia offers a multitude of backpacking routes that cater to different interests and travel styles. Whether you’re seeking cultural immersion, adventure, or natural beauty, here are some popular backpacking routes in Colombia:
- The Caribbean Coast Route: Start your journey in the vibrant city of Cartagena, then make your way to the charming town of Santa Marta. From there, venture into the stunning Tayrona National Park for beach hopping and jungle treks. Continue eastward to explore the idyllic beaches of Palomino and end your journey in the picturesque colonial town of Santa Cruz de Mompox.
- The Coffee Region Loop: Begin in the city of Manizales, nestled in the heart of the Coffee Region. Visit coffee plantations, hike through the enchanting Cocora Valley, and explore the colorful town of Salento. Continue on to Armenia and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Quindio region before looping back to Manizales.
- The Andean Discovery Route: Start your adventure in the capital city of Bogotá, then head north to the historical town of Villa de Leyva. Continue exploring the northern Andean region with stops in Tunja, Barichara, and San Gil, known as the adventure capital of Colombia. Finally, end your journey in Bucaramanga or return to Bogotá.
- The Amazon Rainforest Expedition: Begin in Leticia, a city in the Colombian Amazon region. From there, embark on a multi-day guided trek or boat tour deep into the rainforest, exploring the lush jungle, spotting unique wildlife, and visiting indigenous communities. Return to Leticia to conclude your Amazonian adventure.
- The Southern Highlands Circuit: Start in Bogotá and head south to the city of Neiva. From Neiva, visit the Tatacoa Desert, known for its unique rock formations and stargazing opportunities. Continue south to San Agustin, famous for its mysterious ancient statues. Finally, travel to the colonial city of Popayán before looping back to Bogotá.
- The Pacific Coast Route: Begin in Buenaventura, a major port city on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. From there, journey north to explore the stunning beaches and biodiverse ecosystems of Nuquí and Bahia Solano. Immerse yourself in Afro-Colombian culture, enjoy whale-watching opportunities (in season), and relax in the tranquil coastal settings.
These popular backpacking routes in Colombia offer a mix of cultural experiences, natural wonders, and adventure. Consider your interests, time available, and preferred mode of transportation when planning your backpacking route. Whether you choose to follow a specific route or create your own, Colombia’s diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage are sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.
Accommodation Options in Colombia
Colombia offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every backpacker’s budget and preferences. From budget hostels to luxurious resorts, here are some popular choices for accommodation in Colombia:
- Hostels: Hostels are a popular choice for backpackers and budget travelers. They offer affordable dormitory-style rooms with shared facilities such as bathrooms and common areas. Many hostels in Colombia also provide private rooms for those seeking more privacy. They are not only budget-friendly but also provide opportunities to meet fellow travelers.
- Guesthouses and B&Bs: Guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments are a great option for travelers who prefer a more intimate and personalized experience. These accommodations often offer private rooms with shared or ensuite bathrooms. They provide a comfortable and cozy environment, and some may even include homemade breakfast.
- Budget Hotels and Mid-Range Hotels: Colombia has a wide range of budget hotels and mid-range hotels that provide comfortable accommodation at affordable prices. These hotels usually offer private rooms with ensuite bathrooms and basic amenities. They are a good option for travelers who desire more privacy and a higher level of comfort.
- Apartments and Vacation Rentals: For longer stays or larger groups, renting an apartment or vacation home can be a cost-effective option. Platforms like Airbnb offer a variety of apartments and houses that cater to different budgets and locations. Renting an apartment allows you to have more space, a kitchen to cook your meals, and a home-away-from-home experience.
- Eco-Lodges and Nature Resorts: If you’re seeking a unique and immersive experience amidst Colombia’s natural beauty, eco-lodges and nature resorts are worth considering. These accommodations are often located in remote and eco-friendly settings, providing opportunities for activities like hiking, wildlife spotting, and enjoying sustainable tourism practices.
- Luxury Hotels and Resorts: For those looking for a luxurious and pampered experience, Colombia offers a range of upscale hotels and resorts. These accommodations provide top-notch facilities, beautiful surroundings, spa services, and gourmet dining options.
Whether you’re on a tight budget or looking to splurge, Colombia has a wide range of accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs. It’s recommended to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure the best options that align with your preferences and budget.
Transportation in Colombia
When it comes to getting around Colombia, there are several transportation options to suit different travel preferences and budgets. Here are the main modes of transportation you can utilize while exploring this beautiful country:
- Internal Flights: Colombia has a well-developed network of domestic flights connecting major cities and tourist destinations. Airlines such as Avianca, LATAM Airlines, and Viva Air offer regular flights at reasonable prices. Internal flights are a convenient option for long distances and can save you travel time.
- Buses: Buses are an affordable and popular mode of transportation in Colombia. The country has an extensive network of buses that connect cities, towns, and even remote regions. There are different types of buses, ranging from local buses to luxury coaches with reclining seats and air conditioning. It’s advisable to check the departure schedules and book your tickets in advance for long-haul journeys.
- Taxis and Ride-hailing Apps: Taxis are widely available in major cities and towns in Colombia. It’s important to only use licensed taxis and negotiate the fare or insist on using the meter before starting your journey. Alternatively, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Beat are also popular and offer a convenient and often safer option for transportation.
- Motorcycle Taxis: In smaller towns and rural areas, motorcycle taxis, locally known as “mototaxis,” are a common mode of transportation. They are usually cheaper than regular taxis but come with their own safety considerations, such as ensuring the drivers have helmets for passengers.
- Public Transportation: Colombia’s major cities have comprehensive public transportation systems. Bogotá, for example, has an extensive network of buses and a reliable metro system, including cable cars reaching the outskirts of the city. Medellín and Cali also have efficient metro systems, making it easy to navigate the urban areas.
- Car Rental: If you prefer the freedom and flexibility of having your own vehicle, car rentals are available in most major cities and airports. It’s important to have a valid driver’s license and familiarize yourself with the local driving rules and regulations. Keep in mind that traffic in cities like Bogotá can be congested, so plan accordingly.
- Walking and Cycling: Many cities in Colombia, especially in tourist areas, are pedestrian-friendly, making walking a convenient and enjoyable way to explore. Cycling is also popular, with bike rentals available in certain cities. Just be aware of traffic and follow safety guidelines.
When planning your transportation in Colombia, consider the distance, time, and comfort level you prefer. Remember to research and compare options, and book in advance for long-haul journeys or during busy travel seasons. Embrace the different modes of transportation to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and make the most of your journey through Colombia.
Food and Drinks to Try in Colombia
Colombian cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors and influences from indigenous, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cultures. From hearty dishes to tropical fruits, there is a wide array of food and drinks that you must try while exploring Colombia:
- Arepas: Arepas are a staple in Colombian cuisine. These savory cornmeal patties are often filled with cheese, meat, or eggs and are enjoyed as a snack or a meal.
- Bandeja Paisa: Bandeja Paisa is a popular and hearty dish originating from the Antioquia region. It typically consists of rice, red beans, ground beef, chicharrón (fried pork belly), fried egg, avocado, plantain, and arepa.
- Empanadas: Empanadas are a beloved street food in Colombia. These golden, deep-fried pastries are filled with various ingredients such as meat, cheese, potatoes, or vegetables.
- Cazuela de Mariscos: As Colombia has a long coastline, seafood dishes are abundant. Cazuela de Mariscos is a delicious seafood stew made with a variety of fish, shrimp, clams, and coconut milk.
- Chicharrón: Chicharrón is a popular dish made from crispy fried pork belly or pork rinds. It is often enjoyed as a snack or served with beans, rice, and arepas.
- Ajiaco: Ajiaco is a traditional Colombian soup that originates from Bogotá. It is made with chicken, potatoes, corn, capers, and herbs, resulting in a hearty and flavorful dish.
- Colombian Coffee: Colombia is renowned for its high-quality coffee. Enjoy a cup of freshly brewed Colombian coffee, known for its rich flavor and aroma. Visit a coffee plantation in the Coffee Region to learn about the coffee-making process firsthand.
- Lulo Juice: Lulo is a tropical fruit native to Colombia, and its juice is a popular refreshing drink. It has a tangy and citrusy flavor that is both thirst-quenching and delicious.
- Aguardiente: Aguardiente is Colombia’s national alcoholic beverage. It is an anise-flavored liquor that is often enjoyed during celebrations and social gatherings. Sip on aguardiente with friends while experiencing the vibrant Colombian nightlife.
- Postre de Tres Leches: Indulge in the famous Postre de Tres Leches, a classic Colombian dessert made with a moist sponge cake soaked in three types of milk (evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream), topped with whipped cream and served cold.
These are just a few of the many delicious dishes and beverages that Colombia has to offer. Exploring the local cuisine is a delightful way to immerse yourself in Colombian culture and experience the unique flavors of the country.
Backpacking in Colombia is an adventure like no other. From its stunning landscapes to its rich cultural heritage, Colombia offers a diverse range of experiences for every traveler. Whether you’re exploring the bustling cities, relaxing on beautiful beaches, trekking through lush jungles, or immersing yourself in the vibrant local culture, Colombia has something to captivate everyone.
With its affordable prices, Colombia is a budget-friendly destination that allows you to make the most of your money. From budget hostels to luxury resorts, there are accommodation options to suit every traveler’s needs and preferences. And when it comes to food, Colombia’s culinary scene is a delight, offering a variety of flavorful dishes and tropical fruits to satisfy your taste buds.
While safety is always a consideration, Colombia has made significant strides in improving its security situation, and with proper precautions and awareness, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip. Researching your destinations, staying informed about current events, and trusting your instincts will go a long way in ensuring a positive experience.
Transportation in Colombia is diverse and accessible, with domestic flights, buses, taxis, and public transportation options available to help you navigate the country. Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the local culture by using public transportation, explore the heartland in a rented car, or venture off the beaten path by taking an internal flight, there are options to suit every travel style.
In conclusion, backpacking in Colombia offers a rich and rewarding experience. From its vibrant cities to its breathtaking landscapes, this country will leave you with unforgettable memories. So pack your bags, prepare for adventure, and get ready to experience the warmth, beauty, and diversity of Colombia!