Backpacking Colombia has a high chance of falling in love with it!
This backpacking Colombia guide covers:
General costs, things to know, tips, transport, accommodation options, budgeting help and my overall experience of backpacking the country for 3 months.
Be honest now, when you think of Colombia what pops into your mind?
…Netflix original Narco’s? Pablo Escobar and Drug cartels? Cocaine? Violence? Political unrest? Guerrilla groups like the FARC? A country with a history of bloody violence civil wars? …
Yes narcotics are readily available at the drop of a hat, yes there are some areas still controlled by guerrilla forces and yes there is some violence still but it’s a country that’s reinventing itself. Tourism in Colombia is growing and it’s showing the world what it truly has to offer. It is so diverse, colorful and full of beauty, from the Caribbean beaches, dense jungles, coffee farms, modernized cities. Colombia is also a gateway to the Amazon Jungle and the start of the Andes.
Colombia has taken leaps and bounds to move away from its bloody, violent past and really cleaned up. This is a country that in only a matter of years is completely different to the one the world used to know. It’s growing reputation can be seen by the number of tourists and travelers that fall in love with the countries charm…And it’s one I fell in love with!
A few tips for backpacking Colombia:
- – Only get into official taxis with meters. Be careful At Bogotá Airport, touts will try to get you to use private taxi’s – Don’t! Only use the official ones that line up outside the airport.
- – Street art is everywhere in Colombia, places like La Candelaria have streets and alleys full of amazing street art.
- – It’s good to learn some basic Spanish, Colombians do speak English in the cities but still comes in handy with locals.
- – Colombians love any excuse to party – Don’t be surprised at random street parties and carnivals to just pop up.
- – If you want to visit the Tayrona national park, check beforehand as it closes every year for a certain amount of time.
- – Be prepared for the color and charm of Colombia to suck you in.
- – Colombia is trying hard to move away from it’s past and Pablo Escobar, outside of Medellin they don’t like his name mentioned.
- – Even though Colombia is a lot safer nowadays there are still some rough areas you should stay away from.
- – If there is a sign telling you not to go out alone at night, or not to go down certain streets, listen to them. Do not think you’re an exception the signs are there for a reason.
- – In Bogotá don’t be surprised to see armed police officers with guard dogs on every street corner. No need to be concerned though, it’s just protection against any possible threats from guerrilla groups, they never engage with tourists.
- – Colombian food is very diverse, do try Tamales, Arepas, Empanadas, Sanchocho and Ajiaco’s. If you like plantain they will come served with most food.
- – If you love coffee, try to visit Salento in the coffee region.
- – Cartagena is the most expensive part of Colombia, a holiday hotspot for wealthy Colombians and Americans. However, it’s an amazing historically significant city. (Ask locals why that old Spanish boat is still docked in the jetty.)
- – Drinking alcohol on the streets is legal and very common to find groups gathering and entertaining themselves. Don’t be afraid to join in.
- – Flying around Colombia is almost the same price as long bus journeys.
- – You will find some incredible waterfalls in the jungles and forests all over Colombia.
- – Doing a trip to the Amazon from Colombia is much cheaper than doing it from Brazil.
A few things to be wary of:
- – Even though Colombia is a very safe country to travel now, there are some violent homeless people in places like Bogotá, do not engage with them.
- – Don’t go flashing your cash in public, you will get targeted.
- – Bogotá is up against the Andes and gets very cold even when the rest of Colombia is hot, so take warm clothes.
- – Water isn’t safe to drink out of taps in most areas but is fine in certain cities like Bogotá.
- – Try not to take taxis on your own at night, always ask your hostel or accommodation to provide a taxi for you.
- – Police will regularly board buses to check ID’s, you might get an overzealous officer who wants to know more than he needs to. (Happened to me on my way to Medellin, with the help of google translate it was worked out)
- – Certain police departments in Colombia are still corrupt, so be careful if they try to extort you.
- – Stay away from areas still controlled by Gorilla groups (they still control some jungle areas)
- – Drugs will be pushed on you in the streets, do not buy them as they could be undercover police and you don’t know what they are selling. In places like Medellin, dealers will sell to you and then tell the police they sold to you. (Yes It’s a setup, saw it happen to plenty of people with my own eyes.)
Basic things to know:
- – Language spoken: Spanish
- – Is English spoken: Yes
- – Currency: Colombian Peso
- – Backpacking through Colombia is – Fair
- – To check live rates click here XE.com
- – No visa needed for British tourists can for stay of up to 90 days. GOV.UK for more information
- – Check if your nationality needs a visa for Colombia here
Things to know when budgeting for traveling Colombia:
I was expecting Colombia to be a lot more expensive than it turned out to be. I was able to travel Colombia and live in Bogotá within my budget. Unlike other countries where prices can fluctuate depending on the region, Colombia has similar prices nationwide. That is except for areas of Medellin like Poblado (Hipster and backpacker area) and Cartagena where the prices are higher because of the growth in tourism in these areas.
Cartagena is a popular holiday destination for Americans and wealthy Colombians so the prices are jacked up. If you’re on a tight budget you don’t have to skip it, your purse strings will just be a little tighter. To save money it’s a good idea to find accommodation outside the walled city, eat the amazing street food for next to nothing and buy alcohol from stores and not bars. (Drinking in public is legal)
Activities are fairly priced throughout Colombia but as with every country, you will need to shop around to get the best price and value for money for you.
However, there will be certain tours offered to you in hostels which can actually turn out to be more expensive. For example the Pablo Escobar tour in Medellin, the price will vary depending which hostel you book from and how in-depth you want the tour to be.
Colombia does well in offering a number of free tours as-well, In Bogota, you can choose from a free walking, bicycle or graffiti tour. They are good ways to find out more about the city but also get your bearings too.
If you are not heading to other South American countries, Colombia also offers tours into the Amazon Jungle.
Food and drinks are very inexpensive, eating street food, eating local food, buying set menu meals and cooking for yourself are the cheapest options. Buying alcohol in shops rather than bars will save you a lot on your budget.
If you’re a smoker like me then you’ll be glad to know cigarettes are very cheap and actually work out cheaper than buying a pouch of tobacco.
As you can see I haven’t gone into specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant.
However to give you a little idea I was living on $15-$25 per day when traveling. And, there was a month period I just stayed in Bogotá and I was living on $10 a day (more if I went out drinking or for meals)
As Colombia re-built itself into a modernized Country, the country’s infrastructure was also hugely improved with numerous private and public transport systems put in place throughout the country so traveling Colombia is easy in that sense. However due to its terrain, sometimes what looks like a small trip can actually be a long arduous trip.
Flying domestically is a cheap alternative which saves time and your sanity. Getting around the coast and intercity is no problem with public transport. It’s only when you want to travel through the heart of the country you need to make the choice of long bumpy bus journeys or a short flight.
For Example, Medellin to Bogotá is a horrible 9-hour journey by bus, a flight takes an hour and only costs a few pesos extra.
- – Bus – Reliable public buses running.
- – Collectivos – Mini-vans that wait until they are filled up and run certain routes
- – Taxis – Can be expensive and not always the safest option if not a registered taxi
- – Uber – Growing in popularity in Colombia
- – Trains – metro/subway operating throughout most major cities
- – Trams – Operate in a few cities
- – Cable carts – Used in Cities like Medellin to get in and out of the favelas
- – Private bus companies – 2nd class, 1st class and VIP services available depending on your budget.
- – Shuttle buses – Minivans available for trips between towns and cities that are in close proximity.
- – Domestic flights – reasonably priced and efficient. Viva Colombia is your best option.
Popular tour Companies:
There are Lots of local tour guides to choose from when in Colombia and work out much cheaper.
Accommodation options for backpacking Colombia
With tourism on the rise in Colombia and rapidly growing in popularity with backpackers there are plenty of budget options for travelers and while it’s not the most expensive it will be a constant expenditure. If you’re looking to stay in a hostel I highly recommend you looking around in the general area once you arrive as many hostels offer cheaper prices at the door.
- – Hostels – Hostels range from quiet home like to party hostels. A mix of dorms and private rooms available. Comfort ranges from bare basic to hotel like quality.
- – Hospedajes – smaller than hostels run by families.
- – Budget hotels – Great to have some privacy and some much-needed air-con.
- – Couchsurfing – Join the site and check whats available.
- – Air BnB – Lots of Colombians renting rooms out.
- – Workaways – Live with locals in exchange for work.
- – Camping – A great option for national parks like Tayrona.
My Overview of backpacking Colombia:
I really didn’t know what to expect when arriving in Colombia. I had heard good things, I’d done my research, read blogs but I didn’t know if they were fluffing it up. But after just one day, I had found a great hostel, a good group of people and felt at home as soon as I walked around La Candelaria in Bogotá.
La Candelaria became my home and hub between my travels through the country. I just loved the amazing street art, the bohemian lifestyle of the area, the nightlife and how it’s pushed right up against the Mountains.
Traveling Colombia was amazing, a friend of mine actually flew out from Australia to join me while I traveled around the country. I had some great experiences traveling through the country, a few downs but mainly it was all good.
It wasn’t just Bogota, I fell in love with the whole country, the people are polite and friendly, there is so much diversity in the country and it firmly sits within my top 3 countries I’ve ever traveled too.
The biggest disappointment about my time in Colombia was that the Tayrona national park was closed while I was there.
Colombia has an infectious atmosphere, they are laid back and find any excuse for a ‘fiesta’ just like how I like it…I want to go back!
Some of my highlights backpacking Colombia:
The people I met.
Discovering Colombian jazz clubs.
The street art.
The amazing street food.
How it was cheaper than I expected.
Exploring the walled city of Cartegena.
The Colombian landscape and wilderness.
Getting lost in the jungle.
The nightlife in Poblado.
Pablo Escobar tour.
Walking through favelas.
Some of my dislikes backpacking Colombia:
Long bus journeys through the heart of the country.
Not being able to see Tayrona National park (it was closed)
Corrupt Colombian Police looking for payoffs.
My route backpacking Colombia:
If you are wondering where to go in Colombia, this map shows my route starting and finishing in Bogota with the rest of the country sandwiched in between.
Did you find this backpacking Colombia guide helpful? Let me know in the comments below if there is anything else you would like to know.
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