With dramatically beautiful rainforests, mountains and beaches, lovely cities and enchanting people, Colombia should be among the world's most attractive and amazing destinations. Unfortunately, the current guerrilla war, combined with ongoing activities of cocaine cartels, has made much of Colombia - dubbed 'Locombia' (the mad country) by the press - off limits to all but the most foolhardy travelers.
The good news is that it's still possible to enjoy Colombia's colorful swirl of myth and mysticism. As long as you avoid all overland travel and stick to major cities and touristed areas, pay attention to the news, and keep your wits about you at all times, you'll get a safe and healthy dose of what is arguably the most underrated travel destination on the continent.
INFORMATION ABOUT OUR COUNTRY
Full country name: Republic of Colombia
Area: 1,141,748 sq km (440,830 sq mi)
Capital city: Bogotá (pop: 5 million)
People: 58% Mestizo (of European-Indian descent), 20% European descent, 14% mulatto (African-European descent), 4% African descent, 3% African-Indian descent, 1% indigenous
Language: Castilian Spanish, plus over 200 indigenous languages
Religion: Catholic 95%, with the remainder a mixture of traditional, Episcopal and Jewish faiths
President: Alvaro Uribe Velez
GDP: US$254 billion
GDP per capita: US$6,200
Major industries: Textiles, coffee, oil, sugar cane, food processing
Major trading partner: US, EU
Visas: Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, most European countries and the USA do not need visa if staying less than 90 days as a tourist. Other passport holders should check visa status with Colombian consular representation before departure.
Health risks: Altitude sickness, cholera, hepatitis A, B and D, malaria, rabies, tetanus and typhoid
Time: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
Electricity: 110V, 60 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
The most pleasant time to visit Colombia is in the dry season, but there are no major obstacles to general sightseeing in the wet period. Most Colombians take their vacations between late December and mid-January, so transport is more crowded and hotels tend to fill up faster at this time.
The Colombian calendar is awash with festivals, carnivals, fairs and beauty pageants. Some of the biggest events include: Carnaval de Blancos y Negros (Pasto; January); Semana Santa (Holy Week) (most prominent celebrations are in Popayán and Mompós; March or April); Feria de las Flores (Medellín; August); and Reinado del Coco (San Andrés; November).
Currency: Peso ($) Meals Budget: US$2-5 Mid-range: US$5-10 Top-end: US$10 and upwardsLodging Budget: US$5-10 Mid-range: US$10-15 Top-end: US$15 and upwards
Colombia is not an expensive country. Budget travelers can get by on around US$10 per day; while those staying in more comfortable hotels and eating at restaurants will spend around US$20-30 per day. Splurgers should budget on US$50-70 a day.
Some banks change cash and/or travelers' checks, but others don't. Some branches of a bank will change your money while other branches of the same bank will refuse. This seems to vary constantly from bank to bank, city to city, day to day, and can be further complicated by a myriad of local factors, eg the bank may have reached its daily limit of foreign exchange. On top of that, the banks usually offer foreign exchange services within limited hours, which may mean only one or two hours daily; your best chances are in the morning.
You can change cash dollars on the street, but it's not recommended. The only street money markets worth considering are those at the borders, where there may be simply no alternative. You can use credit cards (Visa is the most widely accepted) for car rental, air tickets and in most top-end hotels and restaurants. Plastic money is also becoming popular for purchasing goods and payment for services in many other commercial establishments. There are an increasing number of cajeros automáticos (automatic teller machines); these accept Visa and MasterCard and pay out in pesos.