Colombia is blessed with a coastline along the Atlantic as well as the Pacific Ocean. Although the country is characterised by natural and cultural diversity, Colombians tend to stick together. Their family ties are very strong, which makes it easy to explain why the world’s most (in)famous cartels belong to Colombia. When it comes to terrain there is even more diversity as you have the mountains, valleys, deserts, lowlands, and jungles all rolled into one country!
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COLOMBIA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Bogotá
- Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)
- Area: 1,138,910 km²
- Population: 49,650,000 (estimate 2018)
- Language: Spanish (official), indigenous native languages
- Religion: Roman Catholic 70.9%
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COLOMBIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 6 January, Epiphany*
- 19 March, San José Day*
- 1 May, Labour Day
- 29 June, St. Peter & St. Paul Day*
- 20 July, Independence Day
- 7 August, Battle of Boyacá
- 15 August, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary*
- 12 October, Día de la Raza*
- 1 November, All Saints*
- 11 November, Independence of Cartagena*
- 8 December, Immaculate Conception
*If date does not fall on a Monday, observed on following Monday.
Also, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Ascension Day, Corpus Christi, and Sagrado Corazon, the last three of which are observed as public holidays in Colombia on the Monday following their actual dates, if they do not fall on a Monday.
BEST TIME TO VISIT COLOMBIA
Colombia has a rich and diverse climatic variation resulting from its complex topography. In most of the Pacific lowlands, precipitation exceeds 7600 mm annually making this one of the wettest regions in the world. Rainfall averages decrease as one moves east along the country, to levels as low as 2540 mm. The eastern slope of the Andes experiences high rainfall rates (~ 5,000 mm per year) due to its topographic diversity. Northern areas have a single long rainy season, from May through October, with an annual average rainfall of 1070 mm. Extensive areas of the Caribbean interior are permanently flooded during this time due to poor drainage and land degradation.
Sporadic rainfall can be seen at any time of the year and the weather is somewhat unpredictable at times. The coastal areas become very humid and hot while the higher regions have relatively cooler temperatures. Regions above 2000 meters are by and large warm during the day, with the nights tending to get chilly.
The peak tourist time for Colombia is the dry season from December to February and from June to August. The dry season in Colombia however, doesn’t specifically mean “no rain at all,” but showers are less regular during this period. Although best weather-wise, you are bound to find a heavy holiday crowd during these months, with accommodation and transport rates on the higher side as a result. The maximum influx of tourists to Colombia is typically between mid-June to mid-July, and also during the Easter period.
To avoid busy beaches and the heavy holiday crowds, plan your vacation during the wetter season of Colombia, which occurs between the months of March to May and September to November. Although it can rain heavily, you will have the advantage of lower accommodation rates and fewer tourists during these months.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN COLOMBIA
While Colombia does not have any ski lifts, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of the most northerly snow-capped mountain ranges in South America and it is technically possible for experienced ski mountaineers to hike up and ski down.
HIKING & CYCLING IN COLOMBIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Colombia is from December to March. July to August can also be quite pleasant but with occasional showers.
BEACH OPTIONS IN COLOMBIA
The beaches in Colombia are best enjoyed during the dry season from December to April.
SURFING IN COLOMBIA
The best time for surfing in Colombia is from December to March, during the dry season, and along the Caribbean coast. Waves tend to be bigger during the wet season from April to December, along the Pacific coast.
KITESURF IN COLOMBIA
The season with the most consistent wind in Colombia for kitesurfing is from December until April or May, which is also the dry season, but you stand a good chance of wind throughout the rest of the year too. The most popular spots are Santa Veronica, a versatile spot with waves and freeride and Cabo de la Vela, which is a lovely flat spot.
For more details on kite surfing in Colombia expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN COLOMBIA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
COLOMBIA TRAVEL COSTS
Travelling around the country is fairly easy as there is an excellent internal air network. You should be prepared for rescheduled or postponed flights.
Buses provide the main means of getting around the country and are cheap, efficient, and extensive. Unfortunately, the roads, except for main routes, defy description. Getting around the cities by bus can be slow and they are usually crowded, but taxis are excellent value and can also be chartered for long distances. Other forms of transport include chivas (an old-style, wooden bus used primarily on outback roads) and collectivos (a cross between a bus and taxi, used on fixed routes). Independent travel (car or motorcycle) is not particularly recommended.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF COLOMBIA
National parks in addition to private reserves in Colombia are a dream for wildlife lovers. There are 43 National Nature parks and Flora and Fauna Sanctuaries in Colombia with the larger ones along with the forests of the eastern lowlands and smaller ones like the island of Corota in the Laguna de la Cocha.
Must see places in Colombia include the Archaeological sites of San Agustin, Tierradentro and Ciudad Perdida, Cartagena and Popayan. Another interesting place to visit is the Museo del Oro in Bogota, which is known as the best gold museum in the world.
Bogotá — the capital, a cosmopolitan city two miles high, with some eight million people sprawling outwards from Andean mountains, where you'll find excellent museums, world-class dining, and almost everything one wants from a big city.
Medellín — the City of Eternal Spring and capital of the Antioquia department is famous for having a large textile industry, which produces top-quality clothing that is sent all over the world. It's also the birthplace of master painter Fernando Botero and houses the majority of his works.
Cali — Colombia's third-largest city, renowned as the salsa capital of Latin America.
Barranquilla — the Gold Port and fourth-largest city in the nation isn't necessarily that exciting place to be most of the year, but its Carnival is the second biggest in the world after Rio's.
Cartagena — the Heroic City, Capital of the Bolívar department is Colombia's tourist city par excellence. Colonial architecture and skyscrapers can be seen together in this city which offers a unique combination of festivals, historic attractions, restaurants, and hotels.
Manizales — the center of the Zona Cafetera offers the opportunity to visit Los Nevados National Park and to engage in the coffee plantation experience.
Pereira — the capital of the Risaralda department and a major city of the coffee region. It's near to Santa Rosa hot water springs and the National Park of "Los Nevados" and also contains the famous "naked Bolívar" and Matecaña Zoo.
Popayán — this beautiful, white-washed city is Colombia's religious center. Home to the second largest Easter festival in the world (after Seville, Spain), this town has contributed more Colombian presidents than any other. Bordered by the Puracé National Park and gateway to the archaeological sites of San Agustín and Tierra Dentro in nearby Huila.
Santa Marta — a popular base for adventure tourism in the beautiful areas surrounding it, and unique in the sense that it offers you beautiful beaches one day, and the next a walk to the foothill of a snowy mountain, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest in the country.
Amacayacu National Park — Far from civilization in the Amazon rain forest, a huge national park only explorable by boat, filled with monkey-infested islands and pink dolphins.
Catedral de Sal — A colossal church built underground in a former salt mine, with passages lined with exquisite sculptures, and a radiant cross rising over the altar of the cavernous nave.
Ciudad Perdida de Teyuni — A pre-Columbian city located in the Colombian jungle close to Santa Marta. Built between the eighth and the fourteenth century by the Tayrona Indians. Nowadays only stone circular shaped terraces covered by jungle remain.
Corales del Rosario — a scenic archipelago just a short boat journey from Cartagena.
Isla Gorgona — This former prison island in the Pacific Ocean is now a nature reserve open for visitors. There is abundant wildlife like monkeys, snakes, whales, and sea turtles, and offers excellent diving conditions.
Los Nevados National Park — Colombia's high altitude volcano park offers great trekking opportunities.
Providencia — an idyllic, remote Caribbean Island found halfway towards Jamaica. With the Western hemisphere's second-largest barrier reef, beautiful Providencia Island has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
San Agustín and Tierradentro — Archaeological sites in south-western Colombia.
Tayrona National Park — Some of the most incredible coastlines in all of South America.
WHAT TO EAT IN COLOMBIA
Colombian food has a distinctive Spanish influence and the local fare includes arepas (eaten instead of bread), bandeja paisa (meat dish with rice, cassava, and other accompaniments), and ajiaco (chicken stew with potatoes, served with cream, corn on the cob and capers). Colombians rarely drink alcohol with food and prefer aerated drinks or coffee. Colombian coffee is superb!
LGBTQ IN COLOMBIA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Colombia are among the most advanced in Latin America and have substantially progressed since consensual homosexual activity was decriminalised in 1981. Between February 2007 and April 2008, three rulings of the Constitutional Court granted registered same-sex couples the same pension, social security and property rights as registered heterosexual couples. In 2011, Congress passed a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, and on 28 April 2016, the Constitutional Court legalised same-sex marriage, making Colombia the fourth South American country to legalise it.
Today same-sex relationships are predominantly accepted and Colombia also hosts an annual Pride Parade in Bogotá.