Suitcase of Knowledge
What kind of details do you think about before you go traveling to a country? I asked around, and came up with the 5 most frequently asked questions. Let me help you to pack your metaphorical suitcase of knowledge you may find useful when travelling to Colombia.
The basics that everyone packs when travelling: clothes. This will represent the kind of weather you can find here in the main cities of Colombia. Most people believe that Colombia has a very hot climate, because of its proximity to the equator. Which is true for most places. Cartagena and Santa Marta are right on the coast, and you’ll normally see the locals wandering around in shorts, tshirts, and tanktops. Luckily though, since it’s on the coast, there is a very refreshing breeze that drifts by very often. Pereira is maybe just a tad bit cooler than Santa Marta, but without the ocean breeze. Cali is one of the hottest cities that you’ll find in Colombia, and plus it does not have your fresh breeze. There’s definitely a need to pack light clothes and water bottles for Cali! Then we’ve got the very opposite; Bogotá is one of the coldest cities in Colombia. I would definitely suggest packing warms clothes, such as jackets, scarves, maybe even boots. Bogotá’s weather is also very inconsistent, it can rain for a week straight, and then be super warm and sunny the next week!
Which brings me to the next item you should always pack if travelling to Colombia: an umbrella. Whether it’s for the rain of Bogotá, or the strong sun of Cali, an umbrella will always come in handy. But in this situation, it will represent the protection and safety of Colombia. Safety is one of the biggest questions foreigners ask before travelling to Colombia. Everyone knows about the shows of Narcos and Pablo Escobar. Yes, these things did really happen. Yes Colombia used to be known as a dangerous country, but things have changed, and Colombia is quickly losing that stereotype and becoming one of the most beautiful places to visit. In Bogotá, you can find a police station every few blocks. Medellin actually won an award for how much it’s improved its safety and structure. It’s only about being smart. In Colombia we have a saying “No dar papaya”, and no this doesn’t mean don’t give fruit. It means don’t put yourself in a risky situation. Just be smart about what roads you take, what you have in your pocket, and what kind of people you hang around with! Just like in any other place, if you see a dark empty street, and you’re alone, maybe it’s best not to walk down that road.
Do you guys ever think about what kinds of shoes you should take with you? In this case I’m not talking about physical shoes, but this with represent the transportation in Colombia. There are three main transportation methods: water, air, or land. It is actually possible to sail into Colombia, since it is bordered by both the pacific and Caribbean seas. The most popular way is to sail from Panama into Cartagena, but this turns out to be quite expensive. The fastest way to travel, whether it’s entering the country or just going from city to city, will be airplanes. The locals suggest using LAN, Avianca, or Copa airplanes. They are some of the cheapest ones, while maintaining good quality. On land, there is a very big range of options for transportation. If you’d like, renting a car is an option, but not recommended. It is very expensive, plus driving a car in Colombia is very dangerous and just not fun. The most common means of transportation are buses. They are very affordable, and more or less fast (because of the crazy way people drive here!). You can find buses inside of the cities, for example transmilenio and SITP in Bogotá, or the metro in Medellin, Mio in Cali, Metrolinea in Bucaramanga, and then there is the MegaBús in Pereira, plus there are plenty of buses that travel all over the country! In some places in the coast, for example Cartagena, you’ll even find taxi motorcycles! These are mostly illegal, but everyone uses it anyway. Uber or taxi is always a decent option if you find yourself lost, or at night. You can always catch a cab in the streets, but it’s better to do it through an app such as Tappsi or EasyTaxi. Some Taxi drivers may try to rip off foreigners. For this, make sure that when you get in, the meter is set to 25, and make sure they have the card that says all the fares. And there are others that are very nice! Just keep in mind, that during holidays, including Sundays, and every day after 7 pm there is any extra charge of 2,000 COP; this is normal.
One of the second most common questions people ask is about the money/budget to travel in Colombia. So, let’s talk about your wallet that you should pack! First, the currency is called Colombian Pesos, COP, and has an exchange rate of about 2,800 COP for every US dollar, 2,300 COP for every Australian Dollar, or 3,900 COP for every British Pound. The bills/notes come in 1.000, 2.000, 5.000, 10.000, 20.000, and 50.000; coins come in 50, 100, 200, and 500. The common banks in Colombia are Bancolombia, Davivienda, Banco De Bogota, Banco Santander, Grupo Aval, Banco Agrario, Banco Occidente, Banco Pichincha, and City Bank. In US dollars, food can range from 3, 10, or even 40 for meals in restaurants, it all depends on how you want to eat. Housing in a hostel can be from 15-20 USD per night, or 50 USD per night in hotels or Airbnb. Depending on where you want to go in Colombia, Buses in the country side, taking you from country to country, can range from $15 USD to $50 USD. I’ve taken a bus from Bogotá to Medellin round trip, for about $40 USD.
Last, but absolutely not least, is the places you should see in Bogotá. So let’s pack your glasses! We have all types of terrain here in Colombia, ranging from dessert, to rainforest, to snowcapped mountains. The snowcapped mountains you can find in Nevado del Ruiz; over there you have the option to go hiking through those mountains! Then there is the archeological park of San Agustin in Huila, is similar to Machu Pichu in Peru, where you can find a lot of culture. Close to San Agustin, is the dessert of Tatacoa. There is also a beautiful river called Caño Cristales, in La Macarena. They are known for their colors, taken from the plants, sand, fresh water, and rocks. If you’re traveling to Bogotá, going to the mountain Monserrate, to see the large expanse of the city. There is a boat that will take you on a 10 day journey through the Amazon. In Cundinamarca, there is Salto de Tequendama, which is a beautiful waterfall. Then of course there are the beautiful beaches of Santa Marta, specifically in Parque Tayrona.
So know with your Mental Suitcase packed, you’re ready to head to Colombia!