Colombia Holiday Planning Guide
Diverse in terms of landscapes, climates, and cultures, Colombia remains one of South America's least explored tourist destinations, overshadowed by its more popular southern neighbors. Combining the best of what the continent has to offer, a vacation in Colombia allows you to blend outdoor adventures with tours of picture-perfect cobblestoned towns dating back to the colonial era. Tourists on a Colombia holiday can easily hop from sun-kissed coastal spots to the hilly coffee-growing region, where thriving plantations quickly give way to a landscape of snow-covered volcanic peaks and the paramo--alpine ecosystems sheltering some of the rarest plants growing above the continuous forest line.
Places to Visit in Colombia
Regions of ColombiaMagdalena Department
: Home to the tourist haven of Santa Marta and the birthplace of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this department remains one of the most popular places to visit in Colombia.Quindio Department
: Renowned for its world-class coffee, Quindio boasts scenic landscapes and a booming eco-tourism scene.Antioquia Department
: Home to one of Colombia's largest cities, Medellin, this province boasts numerous natural and historical attractions.San Andres and Providencia Department
: The islands of this remote archipelago, closer to Nicaragua than the Colombian mainland, offer pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs.Bolivar Department
: The sunny Caribbean coast, colonial-era villages, and the lively city of Cartagena make this department a must-see on tours of Colombia.San Andres Island
: Constant sunny weather, sandy beaches, and world-class coral reefs make San Andres a prime destination for a relaxing vacation in Colombia.
Cities in ColombiaCartagena
: A blend of old and new, this heritage-rich city reveals historic architecture, glittering beaches, and a buzzing, urban atmosphere.Santa Marta
: Known for its tropical beaches, this sprawling tourist haven serves as a gateway for exploring Caribbean attractions in Colombia.Medellin
: Once infamous as a dangerous urban center, Colombia's second largest city has transformed itself into a popular destination for tourists, renowned for its vivacious nightlife and pleasant climate.Bogota
: The country's vibrant capital attracts crowds of travelers with its wealth of heritage sites, colonial architecture, and cultural attractions.
Popular Colombia Tourist AttractionsWalled City of Cartagena
: A World Heritage Site since 1984, this historic area of Cartagena dates back to the 16th century and boasts a trove of colonial-era architecture.Gold Museum (Museo del Oro)
: One of the most popular tourist attractions in Colombia, the museum features thousands of pre-Hispanic golden objects from various indigenous cultures.Mount Monserrate
: This mountain overlooks Colombia's lively capital, providing expansive vistas of the sprawling city.San Felipe de Barajas Castle
: Dominating the skyline of Cartagena, this colonial fortress dates back to the 16th century and reveals a complex web of strategically constructed tunnels.Museo Botero del Banco de la Republica
: This oft-visited Bogota museum houses the works and private collection of Fernando Botero, whose art often depicts chubby men, women, and children.Johnny Cay
: The islet of Johnny Cay is widely renowned for its unspoiled natural beauty, often topping lists of popular places to see in Colombia.La Piscinita
: This rugged stretch of beach surrounded by vibrant reefs is reputedly one of the best spots for snorkeling on San Andres Island.Tours in Rosario islands
: Island hopping on Rosario Islands, a nature reserve known for its scenic beaches, can be a good option for a day trip from Cartagena.Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
: Incorporating everything from pristine Caribbean beaches to verdant rainforest, this popular national park attracts crowds of hikers, snorkelers, and nature enthusiasts.La Candelaria
: Bogota's historic center and its narrow cobblestone streets house many of the principal city attractions and old colonial buildings.
Planning a Colombia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Colombia with Kids
Since the country has shed its reputation as a potentially dangerous destination and its inhabitants are known for being welcoming to children, there's no reason why you shouldn't consider a family vacation in Colombia.
One of the most diverse countries in the world, Colombia offers an array of memorable experiences your kids will enjoy.
While big cities such as Bogota
can keep you busy with restaurants, parks, and museums, there's plenty of natural attractions to explore from the Llanos plains to the lush Amazon rainforest and the towering Andes.
For sunny days on the beach, opt for a holiday in Santa Marta
on the Caribbean coast, or head to the tropical island of San Andres
Things to Do in Colombia with Kids
You'll easily find attractions and activities to add to your Colombia itinerary, from adventurous rafting and snorkeling tours, to exploring tropical beaches
of the Caribbean coastline.
An assortment of amusement parks
offer hours of family-friendly fun and can be found all over the country.
Learn while having fun at Parque Explora
, a scientific exploration park, meet the local wildlife at Zoologico de Cali
, or splash around a swimming pool at Parque de Las Aguas
Tips for a Family Vacation in Colombia
Although a family trip to Colombia may not seem like everyone's cup of tea just yet, you won't have trouble finding child-friendly hotels and restaurants while in the country.
While the happy-go-lucky Colombians will usually go out of their way to accommodate and fawn over cute kids, visiting out-of-the-way places could present a few serious challenges for tourists on a family vacation.
If you're going to be exploring remote locations or coastal national parks, bring plenty of mosquito repellent and get immunized against yellow fever before you embark on your Colombia holiday.
While tap water is safe to drink in Colombia, stick to bottled options in isolated, rural areas to avoid unpleasant stomach problems and potential delays on your itinerary. You'll easily find basic amenities and childcare supplies in the larger cities, which you can use as base camps for your trip.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Colombia
Cuisine of Colombia
The diverse cuisine of Colombia varies greatly depending on the region, but staple ingredients such as rice and corn, as well as various types of meat, fish, and exotic fruit are used all across the country.
While the inland regions and the Llanos plains remain known for utilizing plenty of meat and freshwater fish in their cooking, the Caribbean shore boasts numerous specialties that incorporate seafood and coconut milk.
The department of Tolima
is renowned for its tamales, plantain leaves wrapped around a mixture of corn, meat, and vegetables, while the traditional dish of Bogota
is a type of chicken and potato soup.
On a tour of Colombia, you'll be able to sample an array of delicacies, from street foods such as arepas, corn flour patties, to delicious pudding-like deserts and rare fruit varieties. Popular beverages in Colombia include sugarcane liquor, hot chocolate, freshly squeezed juices, and, of course, world-famous coffee.
Shopping in Colombia
Big cities in Colombia are home to plenty of shopping malls
, boutiques, and marketplaces.
Check out Bogota's La Candelaria
district for independent and specialty stores, or head to Cali's Parque Artesanal
for affordable handicrafts from all over the country.
If you're looking for a quality keepsake or gift to bring home from a vacation in Colombia, the country's famous coffee and emerald-clad jewelry are always good choices.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Colombia
Interesting Facts About Colombia
● Colombia is classified as a "megadiverse" country, ranking second in the world in wildlife diversity
● Colombia is the only South American country with both Caribbean and Pacific coasts
● The country was named after legendary explorer Christopher Columbus
● Colombia is renowned for its exquisite emeralds
Things You Should NOT Do in Colombia
Although the country's reputation has changed over the years and crime rates have dropped significantly, you should still carry out basic precautions on a trip to Colombia.
Always refrain from flashing expensive jewelry or accessories while sightseeing, and avoid carrying large amounts of money on your person.
Don't engage in discussions on topics such as drugs, local politics, and religion, unless you're asked for your opinion directly--even then, use discretion and common sense to avoid offending someone or appearing poorly informed.
Never try to summon someone by whistling or beckoning with your finger, as these gestures are considered rude in Colombia.
Holidays & Festivals in Colombia
Holidays, carnivals, and festivals fill up the calendar year in Colombia, often accompanied by lively music, dancing, and parades. Catholic holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are observed nationwide, while many cities have their own annual celebrations.
Head to Barranquilla
in February to participate in four days of parties, parades, and live performances.
Dance enthusiasts should not miss Cali's annual Salsa Festival in August. In December, the city comes to life for five days of live concerts.
If you're planning a late summer or early autumn trip to Colombia, you can visit Medellin
and its vivacious Flower Festival, a multi-day event marked with upbeat live performances, processions, and parties.
Useful Colombia Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Colombia
In Colombia, a handshake is the appropriate gesture when meeting someone for the first time, often accompanied by plenty of smiling, eye contact, and small talk.
When greeting someone familiar, Colombians will usually kiss once on the cheek, or, if both participants are male, engage in a light embrace with a pat on the back.
While on a holiday in Colombia, it's useful and will be particularly appreciated if you learn a few basic phrases in Spanish to ease your communication. To greet a person in Colombia, you can say "buenos dias" (good day), "hola" (hi), or the informal "buenas," which is most commonly used.
Climate of Colombia
Colombia's location near the Equator allows for very little variation in temperature throughout the year, although the warmth of destinations differs with altitude.
While the Caribbean coast is perennially hot, with average temperatures ranging from 24 C to 30 C (75 F to 86 F), the Andean regions, including the capital city, enjoy a cooler climate, averaging 10 C to 23 C (50 F to 73 F).
The Amazon area and the Pacific coast have a constant tropical climate, with the temperature hovering around 23 C (73 F). The best time for a Colombia holiday would be the dry season, lasting from December to March in most regions.
Transportation in Colombia
As there's no comprehensive passenger railway and the road quality varies across the country, the easiest way to get around on a tour of Colombia is via bus or airplane.
Long-distance bus lines can be expansive but use comfortable, air-conditioned vehicles, while the more affordable minibuses and vans provide a good option for short trips and travelers on a limited budget.
Domestic airlines are abundant and can be especially useful for reaching remote destinations, such as the island of San Andres
, or going between the two major cities.
Tipping in Colombia
When eating out during your trip to Colombia, remember that tipping is customary, especially in fine dining establishments.
Ten percent is the usual amount and is often voluntary, but some restaurants might add a service charge to your bill. While not mandatory, tipping taxi drivers, bellhops, hotel cleaning staff, and tour guides will be appreciated and could ensure equally good or better service on your next visit.