Once upon a time, Colombia was sadly known as one of the most dangerous countries in South America. Luckily, that has changed. Are you interested in backpacking Colombia? Then let me present to you some of the highlights of this amazing nation that has caught my heart. Find here everything you need to know to plan your travel to this beautiful South-American country. Incredible landscapes, the friendliest people, and the best coffee in the world are waiting!
PASSPORT AND VISA (FOR SOME)
If you are from any of the following countries, you won’t need a Visa to enter Colombia as a tourist:
Germany – Andorra – Antigua and Barbuda – Argentina – Australia- Austria – Azerbaijan – Bahamas – Barbados – Belgium – Belize – Bolivia – Brunei-Darussalam – Bulgaria – Bhutan – Canada – Chile – Cyprus – South Korea – Costa Rica – Croatia – Denmark – Dominica – Ecuador – El Salvador – United Arab Emirates – Slovakia – Slovenia – Spain – United States – Estonia – Fiji – Philippines – Finland – France – Georgia – Granada – Greece – Guatemala – Guyana – Honduras – Hungary – Indonesia – Ireland – Iceland – Marchall Islands – Solomon Islands – Israel – Italy – Jamaica – Japan – Kazakhstan – Latvia – Liechtenstein – Lithuania – Luxembourg – Malaysia – Malta – Mexico – Micronesia – Monaco – Norway – New Zealand – Netherlands – Palau – Panama – Papua New Guinea – Paraguay – Peru – Poland – Portugal – Czech Republic – United Kingdom – Dominican Republic – Romania – Russia – Saint Kitts and Nevis – Samoa – San Marino – Saint Lucia – Holy See – Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – Singapore – South Africa – Sweden – Switzerland – Suriname – Trinidad and Tobago – Turkey –Uruguay – Venezuela.
If that’s your case, everything you need is a valid passport. And, if you are from a South-American country member of the Mercosur, like Argentina, you don’t even need a passport: a valid identification from your country will do.
You can stay in Colombia for 90 straight days, and request for an extension of stay, once you are inside the country. Extend your time it’s easy. You will need to access Colombia’s migration website and fill up a form. The procedure costs around 30 dollars and will allow you to stay up to 90 more days in the country.
The only vaccine that Colombian authorities might ask you when entering the country, is the yellow fever vaccine. It’s important to have it 10 days before arriving in Colombia, and it lasts for 10 years. Most times, nobody will ask you for proofs that you are vaccinated, but it’s still a good idea to be protected.
If you are heading to the jungle areas of the country, you should check if you have the anti-tetanic vaccine as well. Vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, Triple Viral, and diphtheria-tetanus are also recommended.
It’s not mandatory to acquire a travel medical insurance, but it’s also a good idea.
Colombian culture is born from the combination of three main cultures: the native indigenous culture, the European culture that came during the time of the Spanish conquest, and African cultures that were imported during the Colony time. They all interact to build the great cultural variety of this unique country.
The main and official language in Colombia is, of course, Spanish. But there are also many Spanish-like dialects spoken around the country, and some indigenous dialects as well. And even some regions, like the famous San Andres island, have English as its official language!
When backpacking Colombia, you will notice how much the accents can differ from one region to another. Is absolutely not the same hearing a “paisa” (person from Medellín) talking than hearing a “costeño” (someone from the coast) speak.
So if you are learning Spanish, it might not be as easy for you. But it will undoubtedly be fun!
The currency used in Colombia is called Peso Colombiano, and at the moment of writing this post, 1 US Dolar equals 3.622 Colombian Pesos.
I’m sure I’m giving you good news when I tell you that backpacking Colombia can be absolutely cheap. If you are planing your budget, here are some regular prices that might help you:
Colombia is a country located in the north-west extreme of South America. It shares land borders with Panama to the north, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil to the south, and Venezuela to the east. It is the only nation in South America that has access to the coast in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Colombia is really close to the Ecuador line, so its temperature is constant, and they don’t have such marked seasons. But it has different climates, depending on the altitude of each of its areas.
In warm lands, those less than 1000 meters above sea level, such as the Colombian Caribbean, the average temperature is 24 degrees Celsius all year long. 84% of the country enjoys this wonderful tropical climate. In the cold lands, which are high, as in the case of Bogotá, the temperature fluctuates between 11 and 17 degrees constantly.
So, if you are wondering what you should pack for your trip, you should consider what are the Colombian destinations you want to visit. If you are backpacking the whole country, you should carry both items of clothing for the cold and for the warm.
AREA: 1.1M km2
TOP 5 TO DO:
1- Tayrona Natural Park (MAGDALENA)
2- Lost city (MAGDALENA)
3- Coffee axis (CALDAS, RISARALDA and QUINDIO)
4- Medellin (ANTIOQUIA)
5- Cartagena de indias (BOLIVAR)
Colombia is the 3rd largest producer of coffee in the world and it has the largest coffee research center. But besides, Colombia is responsible for over 95% of the emeralds in the world.
When I first arrived in Colombia I was planning to stay for two months. But I ended up staying for six, and every one of them was amazing. For backpackers like me, the longest in a country, the better! So I don’t want to simply offer you a pre-fixed itinerary and tell you exactly where to stay and for how long. What I do want is to share with you my impressions and experiences backpacking Colombia.
Here are some of the best backpacker’s destinations. Check them out!
Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia. It’s located at a high altitude, and therefore, it has really cold weather. But that won’t stop you from enjoying its multicultural nightlife and appreciate its beautiful landscapes.
While in Bogotá, make sure you visit the Candelaria Neighborhood – which is a top hostel location for backpackers in Colombia. Check out all the accommodations in Bogotá here.
Don’t miss the opportunity to go to the top of the Monserrat mountain, you will find the greatest view of the City from there.
Are you looking for some night fun? Go to Chapinero district and party real hard at Theatron, the biggest gay club in South America.
I know you probably never heard about it, but you have to go to La Chorrera, a least visited spot that is definitely worth the few kilometers you’ll have to travel from Bogotá. It is the highest waterfall in Colombia, a great adventure for those who love hiking and being surrounded by nature.
Check out everything you need to know to visit this amazing city in this travel guide to Bogotá we’ve written for you.
Cartagena is one of the most visited cities in Colombia, and no wonder why! It’s a port city by the coast of the Caribbean Sea, where you will be able to travel back in time just by looking at its amazing walled city, its colonial buildings, and its cobbled streets.
To find a backpacker hostel yo have two main options: inside the walled city or in the Getsemaní neighborhood. From there, you can move around to visit all the interesting spots. Check out all the accommodations in Cartagena here.
A complete day in Cartagena includes visiting the Tower Clock, taking a walk at sunset around the city walls, and going to the San Felipe Castle.
Don’t forget to visit Centenario Park and be amazed by its variated wildlife, which includes slots and monkeys. Why not buy some second-hand books in the street market?
At night, pretty much everything happens inside the city walls or in Getsemaní. It’s also a good idea to check out the Trinidad square, a young tourist and locals meeting point before going partying.
If you want to know more about this beautiful destination, check out our complete Cartagena travel guide for backpackers.
San Andres is a very well known Island, located in the San Andres archipelago, in front of the Nicaraguan Coast. It’s famous for the beautiful beaches it hosts, for its coral barriers, for the reggae music.
What should you do in San Andres? Spratt Bight is the most popular beach. San Luis Beach is famous for its beautiful coral reefs. La piscinita or Islote Cordoba are great spots to try snorkel. And don’t forget to try the acclaimed trout with coconut rice.
It’s true, San Andres is a paradise, but it can be a little more expensive than the rest of the country. There’s actually a tax to pay as soon as you arrive to the island!
So for people like us, backpacking Colombia on a budget, it might not be as economical to go. Unfortunately, due to those budget issues, we didn’t visit San Andres during our time in the country, but we will definitely go as soon as we can.
Baru Island is a paradisiac beach with no electrical power or running water. Despise its name, it is a peninsula. It is located 40 minutes by boat away from Cartagena or 2 hours by land.
Most tourists visit it by taking a one day tour by boat and come back before sunset. But if you are backpacking Colombia, you aren’t like most tourists, right?
So I recommend you to go to the port and buy a one-way boat ticket and spend at least one night in Baru. Check out all the accommodations in Baru here. You will be able to enjoy there one of the most beautiful sunsets in Colombia.
At night, you can sleep in a hammock watching an incredible starry sky. Another incredible tip about Baru: it has luminous plankton!
It’s always a good idea to go visit the Rosario Islands, even though I sadly didn’t! Daily tours are leaving from Baru or Cartagena to enjoy this 28-island archipelago famous for its white sand dazzling beaches.
Santa Marta is worth staying a day or two. It has a great nightlife and some cultural spots to visit, as the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, where Simón Bolivar spent his last days; or the Museo del Oro Tairona, a gold museum similar to the one in Bogotá, but focused on indigenous pieces.
If you are in the mood for a beach day, go to Rodadero beach, one of the main destinations on Santa Marta.
But don’t just stay there, grab your backpack and get going to Taganga, a small fisherman’s village 20 minutes outside Santa Marta, and a great destination for those backpacking Colombia. You will find a lot of hostels in town, and it’s a great starting point to visit some of the Tayrona Park beaches. Check out Taganga’s accommodations here.
Palomino is another place that you should not miss, a small quiet town that seems lost in time. It’s surrounded by beautiful beaches and the Palomino River, where you can practice “tubing”, a two-hour tour on a giant tire. It’s also one of the best beaches to party hard in South America! If you are looking for some more party beach destinations, we have written this post for you.
If you love nature, waterfalls, and trekkings, Minca is a must for you. This small 500 inhabitants town is located on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You can arrive by bus from Santa Marta, and stay for a few nights in one of its many backpacker’s hostels. Check out all the hostels in Minca here. I’m sure you will enjoy this magical place as much as I did.
Tayrona Park is one of the biggest attractions in Colombia. It’s a national natural park, located by the coast of the Caribbean Sea at the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Its abundant biodiversity, cultural history, and wonderful beaches make this place a must when backpacking Colombia.
You can arrive at Tayrona Park from Santa Marta or Palomino by taking a short bus. Once in the Park’s entrance, you will have to pay an entry fee.
I recommend you to stay at least 2 nights, as it’s a huge place with a lot to see. Get ready, because you will have to walk a lot to get to Cabo San Juan, the main beach, from the entrance. Once in there, you can rent a hammock or a tent to spend the night. If you bring your sleeping elements, you can save some money by negotiating the rate at some of the camps inside the Park.
Make sure you take enough water and food: everything is much more expensive inside Tayrona Park.
If you are into history, ancient civilizations, and hiking adventures, the Lost City is definitely for you. We are talking about a complex of indigenous ruins in the middle of the Sierra Nevada jungle. It’s considered one of the principal archeological sites in Colombia, and it’s a great destination for the adventurous people backpacking Colombia.
Now, a little warning: arriving at the Lost City won’t be easy and won’t be cheap. The only way to reach this place is after a 3 to 5 days trek following an authorized guide through the jungle.
There are only 6 agencies in Colombia authorized to sell the trekking to arrive at the ruins. They all charge the same, around one million Colombian pesos. You should know, however, that this value includes the service of the guide, all the night accommodations, and all the meals during the long trek.
Cali is a cheerful Colombian city located at de Cauca Valley. It’s known for being the Salsa capital of South America. Salsa is a characteristic dance style that reflects the happiness of the Colombian people. So if you love dancing or want to learn how to dance, Cali is a mandatory stop on your trip.
When in Cali, take a walk in the San Antonio neighborhood and breath the bohemian atmosphere surrounding this historical place. Don’t forget about the Bulevar del Rio, a beautiful touristic walking tour by the Cali River shore. If you are in the mood for cultural activities, there’s a lot of museums you can visit. La Tertulia museum or the Aereo Fenix museum are two great options.
If you are looking for an amazing view, make sure you go to the Cristo Rey. It’s similar to the famous one in Rio de Janeiro and you will enjoy a great city view from the highs.
Medellin is called the “City of the eternal Spring“. This is because it has privileged warm weather most of the year. It is also the second most populated city in the country, and definitively one of the best destinations in Colombia.
El Poblado is the best neighborhood to find a backpackers hostel. There, you will find a rich and varied nightlife, and it’s going to be a great tactical point for you to reach all the interesting spots.
One of the main attractions at Medellin is Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a typical Antioquia town, on the top of Nutibara Hill.
Don’t miss the chance of visiting Comuna 13, the most colorful and vibrant community in the city. As it is easy to get there, you can either join a Graffiti Tour or wander its streets by yourself.
If you are about to visit this amazing city, make sure you read our travel guide to Medellín for backpackers first.
You can also Check out all the accommodations in Medellín here.
You can arrive at Guatapé by taking a two-hour bus from Medellín. It’s a small colorful town worth staying a day or two. La Piedra del Peñon is its main attraction. It is an amazing 220 meters high rock, from where you can admire the incredible view this small town has to offer. But let me warn you: it may not be the easiest thing in the world. You will have to climb almost 700 steps to reach the top.
Guatapé is known as the “skirting boards town”. As you imagine, this is because colorful skirting painted boards are shown in almost all facades.
In any of the Guatapé many restaurants, you will have the perfect chance to try for the first time a “bandeja paisa“, a local – well supplied – typical dish. It contains meat, eggs, beans, rice, chorizo, pork rind, patacones, and arepas. So, yes, I recommend you to share it with someone!
Moving on with our backpacker route in Colombia, you can’t forget to visit the Coffee Axis. Remember how Colombia has the best coffee in the world? Well, here is where it’s from.
I recommend you stay in Salento, in my opinion, the most beautiful town in the region. While you are there, you can visit its coffee farms and some of the many thematic parks in the region. You can also go to the nearby cities of Finlandia and Armenia.
And finally, don’t miss the chance to visit the Cocora Valley, one of the best destinations in Colombia. It’s a beautiful natural landscape covered with typical trees of the area, the Quindio palm wax.
Ipiales is a small city located on the border with Ecuador. It’s a good spot for a quick technical stop when you are backpacking Colombia and heading to Ecuador, or maybe just arriving in the country if you are going in the opposite direction.
The main attraction in town is the Las Lajas Sanctuary, a spectacular church baroque style, build on the edge of a canyon. Whether you are religious or not, it’s totally worth visiting. The view will leave you speechless.
Leticia is a city in the Colombian south, located on the shore of the Amazonas River, in the border with Brazil and Peru. It’s known as the gateway to the Amazon forest.
Getting to Leticia can be challenging. Normally, if you are backpacking Colombia, you can take a plane from Bogota. If you are in Brazil or Peru, you have the option of going by boat and enjoying the adventure, from Manaos or Iquitos respectively; or take a plane from Manaus to Tabatinga, the border city of Leticia on the Brazilian side.
Between the main attractions, in Leticia, you will find the “Mundo Amazónico” Ecological Theme Park, the “Tanimboca” Natural Reserve, and the “Marasha” Natural Reserve.
Leticia is a great starting point to discover the wonders of the Amazon jungle. From there, you can hire different tours that will take you deep into the jungle, allowing you to get to know indigenous cultures and observe fantastic animals.
Finally, let me give you some tips that will help you make the most out of your adventure backpacking Colombia. I hope you will find them useful, and that you can enjoy your time there as much as I did!
Traveling around Colombia is going to be a lot faster if you choose planes over buses. So the good news is, when you book plane tickets with some anticipation, it cost you pretty much the same! So don’t hesitate and plan ahead. You won’t want to spend almost 24 hours on a bus to get from Bogotá to Santa Marta when you could arrive in a few hours for the same price.
Have you ever tried auto-stop while being in a foreign country? Well, if you are an experimented hitchhiker, you will love Colombia. You will find it’s pretty easy to get someone to pick you up from the road. Of course, you will need to be careful when doing this and take some precautions. In my case, I never hitchhike alone. Also, I send a text to a trust-worthly friend telling him where I am, where I am going, and the license plate number, before hopping on a stranger’s car or truck.
I said it before and I will say it again: Colombia is a cheap country for backpackers. But if you don’t want to be scammed, you need to learn how to bargain. You will find that sometimes when you try to buy something, the first price you get won’t be the real price. This can happen when buying from street markets or informal sellers. However, keep in mind that not everything can be bargained.
Get ready to deal with some pushy sellers anywhere. Whether you are trying to relax at the beach or taking a walk in a touristic city, many sellers won’t take a no for an answer. You should keep in mind they don’t do it to bother you, it’s just the way they are used to sell. I know this can be annoying when you are a backpacker and you are trying not to buy much stuff. Just gently refuse and maintain a firm “not interested, thank you.”
Arepas, patacones, chinchurria, and coconut rice are some of my favorites dishes from Colombian culinary. Don’t miss the opportunity to try local food anywhere you go. When backpacking in Colombia, you will expand your gastronomy culture and get to taste some incredible flavors. Street food is cheap and I highly recommend it!
So there you go! Now you have all the information you need to plan your travel to Colombia. If you have any questions or suggestions, use the comment section below. Feel free to share this post with fellow travelers. Thank you so much for reading.
Have a great adventure!