Colombia, a country of spectacular natural beauty, will surprise visitors with an incredible landscape filled with warm, friendly locals, a fascinating history and an abundance of culture and nightlife. Enjoy the big cities of Bogotá and Medellin, the lush scenery of the Coffee Triangle, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cartagena and the natural wonders of the little known regions of southern Colombia.
Colombia Facts & Tips
Did you know?
- Colombia was named after the famous explorer, Christopher Columbus.
- Colombia produces 60% of the world’s most expensive emeralds.
- The highest peak in Colombia is Pico Cristobal Colon, and is 5,797 metres above sea level.
- Sharing a land border with 5 other countries, Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, Colombia is also the only country in South America to have shorelines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
- A national sport is called Tejo – a game that involves throwing projectiles at a target, closest to the target wins! Colombia is also known for its skill in roller skating, soccer and cycling.
- Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, sits at 2,647 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest capital cities in the world. It’s also the second most populated city in South America.
- Due to its proximity to the equator, Colombia doesn’t really have any particular seasons, and it enjoys sunshine all year round.
- Per square metre of land, Colombia is the most bio diverse country on the planet. Its unique location and environment means it has an amazing array of fauna and flora – for example, over 3,000 of the world’s 14,000 species of butterfly are found in Colombia
- 12% of the world’s coffee comes from Colombia, and it is the world’s second largest exporter of fresh cut flowers.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Colombia do not need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
Australian Embassy in Colombia:
Edificio Tierra Firme
Avenida Carrera 9 No. 115-06
Ph. +57 601 657 8030
The official currency of Colombia is the Colombian Peso. Notes come in denominations of 50,000; 20,000; 10,000; 5,000; 2,000 and 1,000.
The recommended currency to take to Colombia is USD. Once in Colombia, you will be able to change some dollars into the local currency Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have Colombian Peso’s with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Colombia is approximately 1.20USD
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately 3USD
- The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately 10USD
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately 2USD
As would be expected of a country with such incredible biodiversity and terrain, the food of Colombia is as exotic and varied as the country itself. Flour tortillas and empanadas in many forms make up a big part of the diet of Colombians, and they are well known for their penchant for sweets, so be prepared to be blown away by the amazing array of cakes and candies on offer. Well worth a try is sancocho de gallina (a rich chicken soup that may or may not have part of the chicken in the broth), sancocho (a Colombian specialty with many variations – along the coastal areas for example, sancocho features fresh fish), and bandeja paisa (full of rice, beans, fried egg, arepa and fried plantains). Due to its coastal plains, and position on the equator, Colombia has many delicious tropical fruits and also specialises in rich, dairy based desserts.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
Colombia enjoys a tropical climate, due to its proximity to the equator. The temperature generally doesn’t change much during the year and the only thing that does affect the temperature is how high up in to the mountains you go. Also, being so close to the equator, Colombia has a dry season that runs between December and March and a wet season that lasts from April to November.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
Colombia is one of the cheapest and easiest places to get around and the taxi networks in the larger cities are extensive. For added safety, book a taxi by telephone and the taxi company will generally give you the registration number of the taxi and a four digit code to give to the driver.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Colombia…
If you have the urge to splash out, Colombia is most famous for its exquisite emeralds. Gold and other handcrafted pieces of jewellery are often sold at the markets along with handmade mochila, a woven bag, generally worn over the shoulder, and other souvenir items, such as t-shirts, glasses, watches and postcards. The Colombian clothing industry is also widely known for its high quality goods, especially lingerie, leather garments, shoes and other accessories. Bargaining is often practiced in the markets.
- At some point on your trip, you are likely to be referred to as ‘gringo’ – it’s a slang word for foreigner, and is not meant to be insulting.
- Be cautious when speaking about drugs. Colombia has a big drug problem, and although they are working hard on this issue, it is still a sensitive topic for many locals.
- It is considered rude to motion to someone with your index finger so another way to do it, would be to turn your palm down and wave your whole hand.
- When eating, hands should be visible on the table, and do not rest your elbows on the table.
- Most Colombian’s would consider themselves Roman Catholic, and as such, the parish church is considered the centre of the community.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Colombia is the home of many colorful festivals and traditions taking place throughout the year, with many Colombia holidays largely dictated by the Catholic calendar. Carnivals are a major focus, with most cities and towns having at least one at some point in the year, that feature costumes, parades, music, food, wild parties, and dancing.
Carnaval del Diablo
The town of Rio Sucio hosts the Carnaval del Diablo (Festival of the Devil) on odd numbered years biannually, in a party to ward off sadness. The event is a synthesis of indigenous pagan and Catholic beliefs and features feasts, costumes, dancing, music, and poetry under the spell of sugar cane liquor. Festivities end with the reading of the testament, a burning of the devil and the burying of the gourd.
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos
The Carnaval de Negros y Blancos, or Festival of Blacks and Whites, is one of the major events in Southern Colombia, celebrated in Pasto over a week in early January. It has earned UNESCO designation for being a masterpiece in oral and intangible heritage of humanity. The first day of the celebration involves the Colonies Parade, a rock concert where farmers offer tributes of flowers and songs to the Virgin of Mercy in return for a good harvest. Day two is the Children’s Carnival followed by the Arrival of the Castaneda Family on the third, a colorful cartoon with all the stereotypes including a pregnant bride and a drunk priest. Day four and five are Blacks and Whites Day respectively followed by a Grand Parade on the fifth. The final day is devoted to Rural Culture and a Cuys Festival.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year’s Day
- Epiphany Holiday
- St. Joseph’s Day
- Ascension Day Holiday
- Saints Peter & Paul’s Day
- Day of the Races
- Independence of Cartagena
- Christmas Day
Pasto is a pretty town in southwestern Colombia, 2 hours above the border with Ecuador. A nature lovers paradise, Pasto is the gateway to Laguna de la Cocha, a beautiful lake setting, usually surrounded in mist and the island that sits in its centre, Isla Corota. The island itself is a national park, an exceptional example of an evergreen cloud forest with a biological research station on its banks.
Famous for its white washed walls, Popayán or ‘La Ciudad Blanca’, the White City, was founded in 1537 and was a major stop between Cartagena and Quito. It has an impressive display of colonial architecture and its beautiful churches and cathedrals mean that it is one of the prettiest towns in Colombia. The central plaza, called Parque de Caldas, and streets surrounding the square are well worth a wander to truly appreciate the beauty of the city.
The much loved capital of Colombia, Bogotá is one of the highest capitals in the world, sitting some 2,600 metres above sea level. It is gaining quite a reputation as one of the cultural leaders of South America, with over 60 different museums and art galleries, 29 religious temples, 4,500 parks and one of the largest cycling road systems in the world, offering cyclists over 300 kilometres of cycling tracks. Bogota’s nightlife is impressive, with many different restaurants and nightclubs, inviting both locals and visitors to try whatever takes their fancy!
Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is undoubtedly one of Colombia’s most picturesque villages. Founded in 1572, the town sits high up in the mountains and away from most trade routes, and missed major developing. Many of its buildings remain from the 16th century and the main plaza, Plaza Mayor, and streets are still laid with cobblestones. It was declared a National Monument in 1954, thereby preserving its wonderful whitewashed buildings and cobblestone streets. At 14,000 square metres, Plaza Mayor is believed to be the biggest town square in Colombia. Villa de Leyva is a wonderful town to take a wander and soak up the charming atmosphere.
Coffee Triangle (Pereira)
The town of Pereira is a central point of the region known as the Coffee Triangle. This region produces most of the Colombian coffee beans, and a wonderful way to see this in action is to visit a coffee plantation. The Coffee Triangle delights visitors with its lush, green scenery and the aroma of the coffee plantations in the air.
Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin is located in a fertile valley and spreads up the surrounding mountains. Called the City of Eternal Spring because of its pleasant all year round spring-like temperature, Medellin is home to Colombia’s large textile industry.
Cartagena, one of Colombia’s most celebrated tourist cities, is also known as the ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’. Much of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which offers visitors an incredible insight to colonial Spanish architecture and features a delightful old city, with quaint cobblestone streets and wonderful shops and restaurants. Cartagena, as with most Colombian cities, is said to come alive at night, where the locals come out on the streets to dine and enjoy each other’s company at the end of a busy day.
South & Central America Destinations
From the sub-tropical jungles and steamy falls of Iguazu to the frozen Antarctic water of Tierra del Fuego, it is incredible to believe that one country can contain so much.
Landlocked and sharing borders with Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay, Bolivia is an intriguing country to visit with a diverse natural environment.
Containing some of the most diverse flora and fauna, Brazil is home to the largest rainforest, one of the world’s longest rivers, and the biggest and most exuberant festivals on the planet.
A land of extremes from the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the southern icebergs of Patagonia, there are few countries on earth that could claim such diversity and so many varied attractions than Chile.
Costa Rica is a pleasure to explore with the country’s lush and rugged natural beauty, stunning coastlines and fascinating history.
Enjoy incredible scenery at Cienfuegos, discover the rich history at Habana Vieja and immerse yourself in the culture of Trinidad.
Ecuador, the smallest Andean country in South America, offers a wealth of vibrant indigenous cultures, colonial architecture, volcanic landscapes and dense rainforests.
As the birthplace of the ancient Maya civilisation, Guatemala is an intriguing mix of history and culture with an incredible array of natural scenery thrown into the equation.
Mexico is a country of many different identities and jungles, mountains, deserts and beaches all make up Mexico’s rich flora and fauna.
The rich history, archaeology, wildlife and enduring indigenous cultures of Peru all add up to make it one of South America’s most popular destinations.