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Colombia’s bloody history has long been in the forefront of people’s minds, and has acted as a deterrent against travel there. Stories of kidnappings, rebel guerilla activity, and warring cartels have painted Colombia as a country to steer clear of when planning a vacation. Times have changed in Colombia, however. In fact it’s one of the best kept secrets that Colombia is a vacation hotspot with something for just about everyone to enjoy. The best part is that even for those looking to travel in luxury, Colombia is a relatively inexpensive destination.
Colombia is the king of salsa dancing throughout the world. If you like to dance, you’ll find a soul mate in the Colombian people. But salsa is not the only attraction in this country. A wide array of architecture styles permeates throughout the big cities such as á, making every view a breathtaking one. Ruins from ancient pre-Columbian cultures sit deep in the tropical jungles, and Colombia is one of the few places in the world where you can see snow-capped mountains from your vantage point, relaxing on a sandy beach. For a country that lies almost entirely in the tropics, Colombia has diverse climates throughout. Pack for both cold and warm weather and everything in between.
Getting in, out, and about
In order to enter Colombia, you will need a US passport that will remain valid for the duration of your stay, a return ticket home or a ticket to another country, and a clear idea of your planned length of stay. Passport stamps include a date of return, usually after 30-90 days. If you stay over the allotted time, you may be required to stay in the country until you have paid a fine. However, Colombia, unlike other South American countries, allows you to apply to extend your stay for an additional 90 days provided you do so before your initial stay is up.
If you have ever had Colombian citizenship or are traveling with minors who have or have had Colombian citizenship, please see the travel website at the US Department of State for additional information before making your travel plans: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/colombia.html
In addition to the standard vaccinations, which should be up to date, most travelers should also consider getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and typhoid. If your plans take you into the jungle areas, you may also consider vaccines for malaria, yellow fever, and rabies. In addition to these precautions, also apply liberal amounts of insect repellant to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitos carry another communicable disease called dengue fever, for which there is no vaccination. Before taking any vaccines, always consult your local doctor regarding your vacation plans and activities to determine which vaccines you should get.
Although there is no tax that you have to pay upon your arrival to Colombia, the country does charge an exit tax, usually when you are departing via air travel. Usually, this fee is included in the purchase of your plane ticket, but double check with the airline company and consult the website listed above for specifics.
Although crime and violence have declined substantially in the past decade, the US State Department maintains a travel warning for those coming to Colombia. US diplomats and their families are limited to travel within two regions. In the northern part of the country, you’re advised not to leave the Highway 90 corridor that proceeds from the cities of Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. The other safe zone is the area around the capital city of Bogotá, a square area marked by the towns of Anolaima, Bogotá, Cogua, and Sesquile.
This is not to say that you can’t travel outside these areas, although since bus travel can be dangerous, and since this country is rather large – twice the size of Texas – making bus travel slow and time consuming, you should fly into cities that are outside of the area that the State Department recommends.
While these precautions might make Colombia seem like the scary place it once was, the truth is that it is fairly safe as long as you exercise caution and avoid unnecessary risks.
The traveler’s tongue
The official language in Colombia is Spanish, but some great news for beginners is that Colombians tend to speak it more slowly and clearly than in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. This makes it a great place to learn and practice your Spanish. English is also spoken, particularly in the cities and by younger Colombians, but it’s not spoken widely enough to presume upon it. Learning at least a few Spanish words and phrases will be vital to enjoying your vacation.
Keep in mind that Colombians tend to be more formal than other Latin Americans. Using por favor, gracias, Senor, and Senora liberally will get you a long way in your dealings with the locals.
Money matters in Colombia
Colombia is a fairly inexpensive country. Travelers looking for mid-range to high quality food and accommodations can expect to spend anywhere from $60 to $150 USD per day, but if you are a traveler on a budget, you can easily get by on $25 to $30 USD a day. The Colombian unit of currency is the Colombian peso, although it’s usually indicated with a $ sign, much as it is in the US. For safety reasons avoid changing money using street vendors. Banks, hotels, and ATMs offer much safer options.
Tipping is optional, although up to $1 at all but high end restaurants is usually appropriate. At the more expensive restaurants, a 15% gratuity is usually included in the bill. While tipping taxi drivers is not common, tipping your porter and cleaning service at your hotel is often appropriate.
Highlights of a Columbian vacation
The great aspect of Colombia is that its rehabilitation as a tourist destination is relatively new, so you won’t have to face nearly the crowds that other popular destinations feature. Start making your plans today and remember to stay safe.
C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.