Is it safe to travel to Colombia? Which Colombian cities are the best to visit in 2019? What is there to do? What do you need to know before traveling to Colombia? This is your ultimate guide to traveling to Colombia! You will see why I think this a top travel destination.
I asked myself all those questions a few months back when my boyfriend, our dog Brodie and I decided to spend 2 months in Mexico, the holidays in the Dominican Republic, and then start our South America trip in Colombia!
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We weren’t sure how long we would stay here. We figured 2 weeks was a good starting point. It’s now 3 months later and we’re forcing ourselves to move on to Peru so that we can explore more of South America! I can honestly say that the only risk to visiting Colombia is not wanting to leave.
Is it safe to travel to Colombia?
Three months in Colombia and my conclusion is YES, it is a safe destination with an endless amount of things to do and wonderful welcoming people.
I’ve met solo female travelers along the way, travelers that do not speak Spanish and retired Americans living here. Safety in Colombia speaks for itself when you find such a variety of people in this country!
As with any destination, we always research which neighborhoods are best to live in. I can tell you that near Parque El Virrey in Bogotá, Bocagrande in Cartagena, and Laureles in Medellín were great choices. These are all well developed neighborhoods, pet friendly for Brodie, full of restaurants & cafes for work, and safe to walk in at night.
Which Colombia cities are the best to visit in 2019?
These are the places we have visited throughout the country marked in the map below: Bogotá, Zipaquirá, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Parque Nacional Tayrona in Santa Marta, Guatapé and Medellín.
I have to add that the Colombian coffee triangle was a strongly recommended stop: Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales, found in the western end of the Andes where you can find the world-recognized coffee. In the essence of time, we did not make a stop there and decided to explore the coffee plantations around Medellín instead.
Other stops worth mentioning:
– The Lajas Sanctuary located in Ipiales close to the border with Ecuador.
– Visit to Salento to hike Cocora Valley and find nearly 200ft tall palm trees.
– San Andres Island, a Caribbean paradise that’s 1.5h flight from Cartagena.
– Trek to the archeological site of The Lost City (Cuidad Perdida) in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
While we really wanted to visit those places too, we finally booked our next flight to leave Colombia and continue our trip to Peru as we make our way down to Argentina. It leaves quite enough of things left to do here for us to return to Colombia one day ;).
What is there to do in Colombia?
Where do I even begin. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I’ll share with you some of my favorites!!
3 weeks in Bogotá:
This city surprised us with how much we genuinely loved our stay there! Things to do in Bogotá include visiting the largest collection of gold at Museo de Oro, seeing Fernando Botero’s famous oversized artwork, and getting lost through bohemian alleys by Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo.
We stayed in the neighborhood around Parque El Virrey – very active and dog-friendly, full of international restaurants and bars around the Zona Rosa, and a good hub to connect to the rest of the city’s main stops via uber or Transmilenio (their public transport system).
To book this experience with city transfer from Bogota to Zipaquirá, I can recommend this tour:
3 weeks in Cartagena de Indias:
Cartagena de Indias is a special place because it has the best of both worlds: historic walled city with cobble streets and the most extensive fortifications in South America, and the Caribbean coastline with the white sand Rosario islands a short boat ride away.
We stayed in Bocagrande, also known as little Miami, full of sky high apartment buildings and rooftop hotel bars.
For tour with 1h roundtrip transportation and lunch included:
*Side note: We could not take any photos but the Rosario Islands is home to a bioluminescent plankton – a phenomenon that makes the waters “glow in the dark” as you swim in them. This tour is most recommended when there it NOT a full moon, to see the colors more clearly. Let me know if you need help arranging this experience! Definitely a bucket list check for us and very unique only found in few places in the world!
3 days camping in Parque Tayrona:
We had the most incredible experience in this National Park close to Santa Marta and along the Caribbean coastline. This is a place to hike and disconnect from the world while enjoying incredible views and virgin beaches. There are many options as far as traditional campsites, glamping on the beach, or staying at the ecohabs inside the park. I recommend a minimum of 2 days to see the most of Parque Tayrona!
Thanks to the awesome advice from my Colombian friend Diana and our Argentinian friends Joe & Belu – it really helped talking to someone who had already been there to plan properly! (Definitely no wifi at the park!).
Carnaval in Barranquilla:
This is a recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. We met people from all over the world and celebrated with over 12 hours of parades! This is the second largest Carnaval after Rio’s – not to be missed if you are in Colombia in March!
3 weeks in Medellín:
This is our last stop in Colombia before heading to Peru! Medellín is a city found in a valley, and its also known as the City of Eternal Spring. Its metro cable connects the city’s inhabitants and provides a panoramic view of the city. We’re staying in Laureles, in the heart of the city in a very walking-friendly neighborhood full of coffeeshops and expats.
A full day tour is the best way to see Guatapé, the reservoir and Piedra del Peñol. We calculated a “do it your own option” and it was most cost effective and much more convenient to book an organized tour instead, breakfast and lunch included!
What do you need to know before traveling to Colombia?
COLOMBIA TODAY: First things first, Colombia’s past has tainted others’ perception of the country, however this country has been basically “reborn”. This is not the same place that we saw in the news in the 80s and 90s. It has evolved significantly with the help of sustainable modernization and urbanization projects, investment in tourism, and decline of the war on drugs after the death of narcoterrorist Pablo Escobar in 1993.
DIVERSITY: It is rich in diversity and ecology, you can find the Andes mountains, cities in valleys, cities at 10,000 ft above sea level, dense rainforests, white sand Caribbean beaches, colonial towns, coffee plantations, and much more! There’s a destination for all kinds of travel.
TOURISM: In the last couple of decades, this has turned into a fast growing travel destination with visitors from Europe, North America and other South American countries. Over 6.5 million people visited Colombia in the last year!
CURRENCY: If you’re traveling with USD or Euro, the currency exchange to Colombian peso is definitely in your favor. You can find national beer for $1 (Club Colombia and Bogotá Beer Company being my favorite), Airbnbs in the best areas of the city starting at $30/night, & Ubers usually range from $2-6 depending on the distance.
FOOD: Basically Colombia is every foodie’s paradise. You can find AMAZING restaurants, specially in Bogotá and Medellín (shoutout to our friend Tu for the foodie recommendations!). There are international restaurants everywhere and you can find good places and order an appetizer, entree, and drink for under $10.
The local food is also a must try – this includes the bandeja paisa, arepas Colombianas, pan de queso con bocadillo, queso panela con arequipe, and many local fruits and juices such as lulo, atemoya, pitahaya, corozo and more.
After reading this, can you see now why we have LOVED Colombia and why we have lived here for 3 months?! Honestly we don’t want to leave!
Are you adding Colombia to your travel bucket list? I’m always happy to help you if you have questions on traveling here. This is an incredible country and I hope you get to experience it too one day.
Signed after booking our Inca-rail to Machu Picchu (!)
Salma Travel Guru
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10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Travel Guide to Visiting Colombia”
Great post-Salma! Do you stay the whole 4 days for Carnival in Barranquilla?
John and Susan
I think 2 days minimum is a requirement! We missed the parade on Monday but in two days we had 12 hours of parade – if you want more than that, it’s totally up to you. Hope you guys get a chance to go next year!