|COLOMBIA TRAVEL TIPS
A collection of important information that can make your trip more enjoyable.
Colombia is the only South American country to have coastlines on both the Pacific and the Caribbean. It is the 4th largest country in South America and is bordered by Panama to the north, Venezuela to the east, Brazil and Peru to the south and Ecuador to the southwest. 45% of all the land is mountainous. 50% of the land east of the Andes is lowland. If you plan to travel Colombia, take a moment to brush up on the travel tips that will help you be more prepared for travel anywhere in Colombia.
COLOMBIA GENERAL INFORMATION
Area: 1,141,748 sq km (440,831 sq miles).
Population: 44,583,577 (as of 2003).
Population Density: 39.0 per sq km.
Capital: Santa Fe de Bogotá. Population: 6,260,862 (1999).
Government: Republic. Gained independence from Spain in 1819. Head of State and Government: President Álvaro Uribe Vélez since 2002
Language: Spanish is the official language. Local Indian dialects and some English, French, German and Italian are also spoken.
Religion: Christianity, with 92 per cent Roman Catholic; small Protestant and Jewish minorities.
Electricity: Mostly 110 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style two-pin plugs.
GEOGRAPHY: Colombia is bordered on the northwest by Panama, on the east by Venezuela and Brazil, and on the southwest by Peru and Ecuador. Through the western half of the country, three Andean ranges run north and south. The eastern half is a low, jungle-covered plain, drained by spurs of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, inhabited mostly by isolated tropical-forest Indian tribes. The fertile plateau and valley of the eastern range are the most densely populated parts of the country.
COLOMBIA ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Passport and proof of onward/return ticket required for tourist stay up to 30 days. Minors (under 18), who are traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. Anyone suspected of being HIV-positive will not be admitted without a waiver from a Colombian consulate in the U.S. For additional information and information about other types of travel, contact the Colombian Consulate, 1875 Conn. Ave., N.W., Suite 218, Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/332-7476) or nearest Consulate General: CA (323/653-4299 or 415/495-7195), FL (305/448-5558 or 441-0437), GA (404/255-3038 or 256-2518), IL (312/923-1196), LA (504/525-5580 or 5582), MA (617/5366222), NY (212/949-9898), or TX (713/527-8919). Internet: www.colombiaemb.org
GETTING AROUND COLOMBIA
Colombia was the first country in South America to have an airline: SCADTA was founded in 1919 and later became Avianca. It now has a well-developed airline system and one of the densest networks of domestic flights in Latin America. In 2002, Avianca, the relatively new Aces, and Medellín-based Sam entered into an alliance known as Alianza Summa which now controls about three-quarters of domestic air traffic. Airfares are relatively high but some of the newly established airlines offer promotional fares that can be ridiculously cheap. Remember to reconfirm your reservations at least 72 hours in advance and be prepared for rescheduled or postponed flights. There is a 4.00 airport tax on domestic flights.
Buses provide the main means of getting around the country and are cheap, efficient and extensive. Unfortunately the roads, except for main routes, often defy description. Getting around the cities by bus can be slow and they are usually crowded, but taxis are excellent value and can 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). There is no train service within the country and independent travel (car or motorcycle) is not recommended as it is both expensive and dangerous. Water transport, especially along the Pacific coast where no roads exist, is irregular and primitive.
COLOMBIA DUTY FREE
The following goods may be taken into Colombia by people up to 18 years of age without incurring customs duty:
200 cigarettes and 50 cigars and up to 50g of tobacco; two bottles of alcoholic beverage; a reasonable quantity of perfume.
Prohibited items: Ammunition and firearms, unless prior authorisation has been obtained, and item(s) are declared on arrival. Vegetables, plants or plant material; meat and food products of animal origin.
Telephones - main lines in use: 8,768,100 (2003)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 6,186,200 (2003)
Telephone system: general assessment: modern system in many respects domestic: nationwide microwave radio relay system; domestic satellite system with 41 earth stations; fiber-optic network linking 50 cities international: country code - 57; satellite earth stations - 6 Intelsat, 1 Inmarsat; 3 fully digitalized international switching centers; 8 submarine cables
Radio broadcast stations: AM 454, FM 34, shortwave 27 (1999)
Television broadcast stations: 60 (includes seven low-power stations) (1997)
Internet country code: .co
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
Internet users: 2,732,200 (2003)
1: Vaccination is recommended for travellers who visit the following areas considered to be endemic for yellow fever: middle valley of the Magdalena River, eastern and western foothills of the Cordillera Oriental from the frontier with Ecuador to that with Venezuela, Urabá, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, eastern plains (Orinoquia) and Amazonia.
2: Following WHO guidelines issued in 1973, a cholera vaccination certificate is not a condition of entry to Colombia. However, there may be a risk of cholera in this country; autochthonous cases were reported in 1996, and precautions should be considered. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding whether these precautions should include vaccination as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness. See the Health appendix.
3: Typhoid immunisation or boosters are recommended.
4: Malaria risk exists throughout the year in rural and jungle areas below 800m. There is high risk in the following municipalities: Urabá-Bajo Cauca, Amazonia, Orinoquia and Pacífico. The highest risk is in the following departments: Amazonia, Chocó, Córdoba, Guainía, Guaviare, Putumayo and Vichada. The malignant falciparum form of the disease is reported to be highly resistant to chloroquine in Amazonia, Pacífico and Urabá-Bajo Cauca. The recommended prophylaxis is chloroquine plus proguanil in Amazonia and Pacífico, and in Urabá-Bajo Cauca, mefloquine.
Food & drink: All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated outside major cities. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk may be unpasteurised in places and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised, but make sure that it is reconstituted with pure water. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Pork, salad and mayonnaise may carry increased risk. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Other risks: American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), as well as cutaneous and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis occur in Colombia. Hepatitis A, B and C occur. Dengue fever and TB are also found. For further details, see the Health appendix.
Rabies is present. For those at risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay.
Health care: Health facilities in the main cities are good. In rural areas, services can be very limited. Travellers are strongly advised to take out full medical insurance. There are nine firms in Colombia offering prepaid medical care and medical insurance which may be purchased from travel agents, a list of which is available from the Embassy.
COLOMBIA BUSINESS PROFILE
Economy: Agriculture is extensive and varied; it accounts for 75 per cent of export earnings. Coffee has traditionally been the principal crop (Colombia is the world’s second-largest producer) but as production has declined and prices fallen, other products have partially replaced it, including sugar, bananas, cut flowers and cotton. Illegal farming of cocoa is also widespread in the more remote parts of the country. The country is self-sufficient in consumer goods and exports of manufactured goods – textiles, leather goods, metal products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and cement – have been steadily increasing. Colombia has sizeable oil reserves, which are now on stream. Coal deposits are the largest in Latin America, although development of these has been slow. Recent economic performance has been moderate, with annual growth of just over 1 per cent during 2002. In the same year, inflation was 7 per cent, although official unemployment is still close to 20 per cent (the true figure is probably rather higher). The ongoing internal conflict, which shows little sign of resolution at present, is a huge millstone around the country’s neck, as far as prospects for economic development go. Colombia is a member of the Andean Pact and of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración (ALADI), which is seeking to regularise tariffs throughout South America. In addition, Colombia is establishing a three-country free trade zone with Venezuela and Mexico; by 2002, these two, plus the USA, were Colombia’s largest trading partners.
Business: Business suits and business cards are standard. Appointments should be made well in advance. Do not depend on you counterpart to speak fluent enough English to carry your discussions well. Best if you speak Spanish or have an interpreter available.
COLOMBIA SOCIAL PROFILE
Food & Drink: Restaurants offering international cuisine and table service is the norm. Local dishes are varied and tasty, with a touch of Spanish influence. Recommended dishes are ajiaco (chicken stew with potatoes, served with cream, corn on the cob and capers); arepas (corn pancakes made without salt, eaten in place of bread); bandeja paisa (meat dish accompanied by cassava, rice, fried plantain and red beans), served in the area of Medellín. Seafood (mariscos) is plentiful on the Caribbean coast -lobsters in particular are renowned for their flavour. It is safest to drink bottled water. Colombians rarely drink alcohol with meals. Gaseosa is the name given to non-alcoholic, carbonated drinks. For a small black coffee, you should ask for a tinto, but this term is also used to describe red wine or vino tinto. Colombian wines are generally of poor quality. Chilean and Argentinian wines are available in restaurants at reasonable prices. Colombia produces many different types of rum (ron). Canelazo, a rum-based cocktail taken hot or cold, is recommended. There are no licensing hours.
Nightlife: Bogotá’s Colon Theatre presents ballet, opera, drama and music, with international and local groups. There are many nightclubs and discos in the major towns of Colombia.
Special Events: For a complete list, contact the Colombian Embassy (see Contact Addresses section). The following is a selection of special events occurring in Colombia in 2005:
Jan Festival of Blacks and Whites, Pasto. Feb Barranquilla Carnival. Feb-Mar cartagena Film Festival. Mar International Caribbean Music Festival, cartagena; Latin American Bogotá Theatre Festival. Mar 21-28 Easter Week in Popayan. Jun Cumbia Festival, El Banco; Porro Festival, San Pelayo. Aug Medellín Flower Fair; Colombiamoda (fashion event), Medellín; Sea Festival, Santa Marta; Guabina and Tiple Festival, Veléz. Oct Rock in the Park, Bogotá. Nov National Folk and Tourist Festival, San Martín; Colombian National Beauty Contest, cartagena. Dec 25-Jan 6 2006 Cali Fair.
In Bogotá, the open-air Media Torta presents music, plays and folk dances on Sunday afternoons and holidays. An amateur theatre group gives frequent performances in English.
Social Conventions: Normal courtesies should be observed. It is customary to offer guests black Colombian coffee, well sugared, called tinto. Spanish style and culture can still be seen in parts of the country, although in Bogotá, North American attitudes and clothes are becoming prevalent. Casual clothes can be worn in most places; formal attire will be necessary for exclusive dining rooms and social functions. Smoking is allowed except where indicated. The visitor is advised that many of the main cities in Colombia are notorious for street crime, particularly at night. Drug-related crimes are a serious problem throughout the country and the visitor should be wary of the unsolicited attention of strangers.
COLOMBIA MONEY & BANKS
Banking: Banks are open weekdays from 8: 30 am to 11:30 am and then 2 - 4 pm. On Fridays banks are open one half hour longer in the afternoons. Banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
Currency: Peso ($)
Money Exchange: Allow plenty of time to exchange money in banks. You may have to stand in several different lines and have photocopies taken of your passport. If cashing a Travelers Check bring along proof of their of purchase. "Casa de Cambios" will change money immediately but will not change travelers checks.
Credit cards: Visa, Master Card are most accepted in Colombia. They can be used at ATMs. American Express and Diners Club are also honored in many places especially hotels and upscale shops.
Special purchases include local handicrafts, cotton, wood and leather goods, woollen blankets, ruana, and travelling bags. Hotel shops carry excellent gold reproductions of ancient Colombian jewellery. Colombia produces first-grade stones, and the emeralds are among the most perfect in the world. Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 0900-1200 and 1400-1830.
Taxi drivers expect 10 per cent tips. Porters at airports and hotels are usually given c. pesos500 per item. Many restaurants, bars and cafes add 10 per cent service charge to the bill or suggest a 10 per cent tip. Maids and clerks in hotels are also tipped. Bogotá’s shoeshine boys live on their tips and expect about 1000 pesos.
About 60% of Colombia's population are mestizos, and some one fifth are of European descent. Indigenous peoples, who account for only about 1% of today's population, live on the edge of some of the major cities and in remote areas. About 15% of the people are of mixed African and European descent. The small (less than 5%) black population is concentrated along the coasts and in the Magdalena and Cauca valleys. Spanish is the official language. The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. There are universities in all the major cities.
COLOMBIA CLIMATE & CLOTHING
Climate: The climate is very warm and tropical on the coast and in the north, with a rainy season from May to November. This varies according to altitude. It is cooler in the upland areas and cold in the mountains. Bogatá is always spring-like, with cool days and crisp nights.
Clothing: Colombians were the exactly same types of clothing as do North Americans. In rural regions, sometimes farmers wear "ruanas" which are heavy fleece sheets with a hole in the middle, through which the head goes. Lightweight cottons and linens with waterproofing during rainy season in coastal and northern areas. Medium to heavyweights are needed in upland and mountainous areas.
COLOMBIA SPORTS & ACTIVITIES
Watersports: Water-skiing, boating, sailing and skindiving can all be practised on the coast (check with authorities before diving, as sharks and barracudas have caused fatalities). Fishing is excellent all year round; a licence is required.
Other: Football is Colombia’s main sport, with major league games played throughout the year. Tennis is popular; most hotels have facilities. Mountain climbing begins 48km (30 miles) east of Santa Marta, with peaks of up to nearly 6000m (19,000ft). A major cycle race, the Tour of Colombia, takes place every March and April. Boxing and bullfighting (the latter at Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Manizales and cartagena) are popular sports. Golf clubs allow visitors to use their facilities. Good skiing can be found on the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz (5400m/ 17,700ft), 48km (30 miles) from Manizales.
COLOMBIA TIME ZONE
Time Zone Colombia Time UTC/GMT -5 hours
Change from UTC* UTC-0500