Colombia is often equated to cocaine cartels, kidnappings and corruption. Despite its turbulent past, Colombia has become one of the safest countries in Latin America and likewise becoming one of the most progressive and developed in the region.
I first travelled to Colombia in the early 1990’s, a time in which car bombs, kidnappings and murders were a daily occurrence. Despite, those two years of high security threats and restricted movement throughout the country I became enamored with Colombia.
Why? Very simple….it is a country filled with beautiful cities, amazing views, succulent cuisine, warm people, music and utter happiness.
Over the next few weeks, I will write a series of Colombian city destination reports so I will keep my comments general as to peak your interest in this up and coming country.
Colombia is BIG…really BIG! The geographical diversity includes plains, beaches, rainforests, deserts and the highest coastal mountain range in the world. In summary, it has something for every personal interest or vacation flavor.
Although safety and security has improved significantly over the 15 years, Colombia is still in the early stages of a tourism phenomenon. Cartagena is the most visited tourist destination with its colonial city ambiance of open plazas, cafes, shops and beautiful beaches.
It varies from city to city. Having travelled throughout the country I will say that the way people dress varies depending on the region that you are in. As explained above, the geography defers immensely from one location to another. Additionally, each city has its most acceptable outfits. In Bogota, it’s best to dress in layers and a bit more business casual. On the coast, business attire is more like jeans and polo shirts during working hours and shorts and t-shirts for day to day. I will expand on the location specific attire as I write the city reports.
Colombia’s official currency is the peso, which is abbreviated as COP. Prices in Colombia are marked with a dollar sign, but the price you’re reading is Colombian pesos.
ATMs are everywhere and it’s your best option for obtaining local currency. Expect a high withdrawal fee but the hassle-free process will be worth it. Make sure to notify your bank and credit card that you will be travelling overseas to avoid any delays. In Colombia, many banks place limits on how much you can withdraw in a day regardless of the limit established by your financial institution.
At most restaurants, a 10 percent service charge is automatically included in the bill. Wait staff will normally ask you are required to ask you “Would you like to include the service in the bill?”. Of course, if the service is excellent, feel free to provide an additional tip.
Coffee is synonymous with Colombia. Ranked #3 in the world only after Vietnam and Brazil, its production focuses on the Arabica bean which is one of the harder crops to grow.
Safety and Security
Colombia is not as bad as it used to be but as in any country or metropolitan city, a little common sense will take you a long way.
Bogota, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Bucaramanga, Medellin, Cali and San Andres are the main cities in Colombia and common tourist destinations. All these cities are safe and well-developed.
When travelling to Colombia, the following techniques will heighten your awareness and reduce your chances of being targeted for crime:
- Only use approved taxis or uber.
- Maintain a low profile.
- Don’t flash money or valuables.
- Avoid the use of buses.
- Maintain the car doors locked.
- Always travel with someone.
- Remain aware of your drink in public events.
If you see police or military presence, don’t be alarmed. This is common and a very good indication that you’re in a safe area.
I guarantee you will fall in love with Colombia, its people, and the food. The only risk with visiting Colombia is that you will not want to leave.