Empty beach in Santa Marta region of Colombia

10 Takeaways from my Trip to Colombia

I recall some logic when I decided to take a trip to Colombia. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in Latin America. I wanted to go to an affordable destination with a round-trip flight for less than $1,000, and I wanted to experience nature without the intensity level of hiking Machu Picchu. That’s how I landed on Colombia, also spurred by recent curiosity after reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s surrealist book“100 Years of Solitude”. I wanted to see the hidden towns he described in Macondo, tucked within the thick jungle brush of Colombia’s mountainside. 

Colombia is a force of nature. A place where you can find empty beaches without rows of hotels, where you can pay someone for a dicey motorcycle ride from mountain towns with unpaved roads to desolate beachfront villages. It’s a place you never thought you would want to keep exploring as your trip comes to an end.

Whether you’re trying to choose your next travel destination or you’re already planning a trip to Colombia, the ten takeaways below from my 2-week visit will help you with what to expect from mi Colombia linda.

Be observant but not fearful.

I found Colombia was not the scary place the media makes it to be, but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings as you would in any big city. My cousin kept a DSLR camera in her backpack during our trip, and a few shop owners in Bogota told her to be careful with keeping it on her back and out of her direct line of sight.

The latest time I stayed out in Colombia was in Bogota until 11 pm. I was in a busy bar area with a group and felt fine. I suggest you do the same and keep a small group with you once the sun goes down.

Colombians are kind and helpful.

In local shops and on the streets, Colombians are quick to help if you look lost or have a question. I really can’t say enough about how generous they were.

On the last day at a hotel in Bogota, the manager asked if we had tried their local pastry, called the horseshoe, during breakfast. We hadn’t, and he went into the kitchen and came back minutes later with a fresh batch of them for us to try before we left.

Rooftop view of Bogota, Colombia

Colombia is affordable.

Currencies like the U.S. dollar, Euro, and British pound, among others, go a long way in Colombia. If there was ever a time to treat yourself, it’s here. You can find everything from stunning historic hotels to beachfront suites for a fraction of what you’d pay at home. 

That goes for dining, shopping, and other local experiences, too. Colombia is a great place to splurge on fine dining, and keep in mind that it’s still custom to tip here, unlike at most restaurants and cafes in Europe, for example. 

Colombia is full of diverse landscapes.

From north to south and east to west, Colombia is home to some of the most diverse landscapes in the world. The Pacific, Atlantic, and the turquoise Caribbean Sea all come together on Colombia’s northern coast. The result is wild beaches, with many that are still remote and mostly untouched by tourists. 

As you make your way inland, you’re met with deep green hues and a mountain backdrop. Further south, Colombia’s landscapes change again from the arid Tatacoa Desert to the Valley of Cocoa’s skinny wax palms reaching up to 200 feet tall. Any area you visit on your trip to Colombia will offer beautiful scenery.

Transportation is time-consuming.

I didn’t realize how big of a country Colombia was. When I started planning, I saw 9+ hour bus rides to get from one city to another. The other options were a mototaxi ride with all your luggage, hire a private car, or fly.

Unless you’re embarking on a months-long trip to Colombia, you should take flights to move from place to place as quickly as possible. That also goes for your travel planning; make sure you don’t rush your time in each location because the effort to get to the next area will be time-consuming and tiring. 

Path surrounded by palm and fruit trees leads to the beach in Santa Marta region of Colombia.

It’s impossible to see it all in one trip.

Not only because of Colombia’s hilly landscapes and spread-out destinations but there are also too many remarkable sites to visit during one trip to Colombia. The hardest part of your trip planning will be how to narrow down your must-see list. 

It helps to point out some places that spark your interest and pin them on a map. Are there a few places that are in the same region that you could realistically split your time between? It will be a challenge to pass up some places further out of the way, but it will be worth it to soak in the places you do visit.

Speaking Spanish is essential.

I don’t recommend going to Colombia if you’re not willing to communicate using basic Spanish. Aside from tourism workers, everyone will speak Spanish to you. It might sound intimidating, but Colombia is not a place to be a bystander. Colombians are happy to engage with you and give recommendations about what to see and do that you wouldn’t find on your own. 

For your safety, you also want to be able to communicate whether you’re lost, sick, or trying to find where something is.

Latte art in Bogota, Colombia

Locally-grown fruit and coffee are amazing.

Along Colombia’s northern coast there are fruit trees everywhere. I would hear a large thud on the ground and look to see a perfect mango had just fallen from the tree above me. Eat every fruit in Colombia; they are truly amazing fresh from the source.

I hope the second half of this advice was already part of your plan, too. If you like coffee, Colombia has some of the best in the world. You can stay at a hotel with a coffee farm nearby like I did at Casas Viejas, tucked amid Santa Marta’s jungle backdrop, or take a self-guided coffee tour around a big city like Bogota or Medellin.

The best coffee experience I had was at Arte y Pasion Cafe in Bogota, where the baristas recommended specialty coffee experiences in a stunning, high-ceiling historic building.

Be ready for bugs.

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and you will quickly notice that with lush foliage comes big insects. Unless you’re only staying in a big city for your entire visit, you should get comfortable with the idea of bugs being around.

Whether you’re in the mountains or near the beach, bugs hang around all of the plant life. You’ll see many accommodations have bug nets surrounding your bed. It may sound scary, but you won’t be swatting bugs away all night from within your room, it’s just for your awareness. Coming across colorful spiders and other insects I had never seen before was a fun experience. 

Prepare for minor health flare-ups.

Before you go to Colombia, you should check your country’s travel advisories. I know the U.S. recommend getting certain vaccines to visit Colombia, which help build up some tolerance for new bacteria you might not be accustomed to.

Other precautions like drinking bottled water, avoiding ice cubes in drinks, and staying away from foods that might be cleaned with unpurified water are safe ways to keep you from getting an upset stomach. Just in case, it’s great to have a plan if you or someone you’re traveling with starts to have these issues on your trip.

Purple and pink sunset over Minca, Colombia

Colombia is the perfect place to disconnect and recharge in some of the most profound nature in the world. And as much as it’s a natural haven, city dwellers visiting Medellin or Bogota have an equal amount to take in with cultural sights, art, and food. If you keep in mind the takeaways above, you can better enjoy your time in this magical country. 

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