COLOMBIA - a complete guide

(Updated December 2018)

Colombia, still suffering from the stigma of being a dangerous place torn between drug barons and guerillas, is actually a beautiful and interesting place - with wonderful, honest people. On just one visit, it became one of my favorite countries on earth.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: My trip to Colombia - a complete guide. Goldmuseum Bogota
Treasures at the Gold Museum in Bogotà - by far not Colombia's only treasure...

I travelled with my adult daughter to a dozen places - mostly by bus, sometimes we flew - and felt perfectly safe.

My Early Encounter with Colombia

Almost three decades ago when I worked in Public Relations and one of my most important customer was the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, part of my job was putting together a press map with articles published on Colombia in Germany.

Believe me, besides one or two short notes on Gabriel García Márquez and Fernando Botero, this was not pretty: whether FARC, whether the cartels, the government or the paramilitaries - kidnapping and bloodshed everywhere. And this is the stigma the country is still suffering from. Over the years the country changed for the better a lot, but in the heads of most of us, it's still this dark place where you cannot take a bus without ending up in a dark hole somewhere in the jungle while your relatives are collecting money for your ransom.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: My Trip to Colombia. A Complete Guide.Fernando Botero
Fernando Botero The Killing of Pablo Escobar.
Both men are key figures in Colombia's recent history - obviously in very different ways.

I don't know whether it's because people are still suffering from the stigma of the past or because they are simply super-friendly by nature, but I was impressed again and again how they try to help and support you instead of tricking and cheating and taking advantage - which I experienced a lot in other countries where people are also very pleasant - cheating with a friendly smile.

Colombian people are grateful that you 'dare' to visit their country that has so much to offer. It's very touching when an old lady in the streets of Cali greets you "Bienvenida en Colombia". So if you wanna go, go. And go now, before flocks of travellers' spoil the people's warm and welcoming attitude.

Colombia's Early Years

Before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in 1499, conquered and colonized the region, oppressed the native population and sucked out as many treasures as they were able to get their hands on, this part of the world had been inhabited by various indigenous peoples.

In 1819, these people achieved independence from Spain and formed together with Panamá the Republic of New Granada. Only in 1886, Colombia was declared a republic - Panama then followed in 1903. Like most South American countries and Caribbean islands, today's population reflects the mix of European, African, indigenous, and Arabic heritage; yes, Arabic: Shakira is Colombian of Lebanese descendence.

Since the 1960s, the country was troubled by terrible violent conflicts - between left-wing guerillas fighting for more equality, right-wing paramilitaries, some weak and some stronger governments - and as if this didn't have enough potential to make people suffering, drug cartels ruled entire regions.

Beginning of the 21st century, things slowly cooled down, Colombia is recovering and finally has the opportunity to prove to the worlds its treasures: nature and people.

Hiking in Salento, Colombia's sumptuous coffee region.

The country has a population of 49 millions. From the highlands of the Andes mountains to the coasts of the Caribbean as well as the Pacific Ocean, from lush rainforest to sugarcane and coffee growing in abundance - this country has so much natural wealth and beauty to offer.


For a while now, namely since 1810, Colombia's currency has been the Colombian Peso. What might be confusing for the newbies is the official symbol which is $, sometimes COL$. So don't let anybody fool you, this sign in Colombia is not the US$.

The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 3,15 COP current rate resp. 1 €UR = 3,58 COP current rate (as for December 2018). Credit cards are widely accepted.


Obviously, the official language is Spanish, but Amerindian languages, as well as Creole, is spoken in certain areas - and on the Caribbean islands, English is really popular.

If you want to learn some basic Spanish or just brush up your knowledge, there are various apps and online tools. I personally like to practice with babbel.

Getting There and Around

Even relatively small town such as Santa Marta have at least domestic airports - and flights are more frequent than buses in some US-areas. When booking through their pages, Avianca and Latam have really good prices, another site that has great on flights within South America is

Colombia from above.

Travelling by bus in Colombia is easy and fast - whereby latter is not necessarily a compliment; if you don't have a very strong nerve, try not to sit close to the driver but rather somewhere on the bus where you can see as little as possible of what's going on on the road.
Also, some say it is not recommendable to travel overnight.
I avoided it and if the trip was more than six hours, I rather booked a flight since I didn't want to lose too much time.

Besides the regular national bus companies there are also private door to door shuttle services such as Marsol that are not much more expensive, but more comfortable; already because they pick you up on time. Unfortunately, Marsol is only catering to the departamentos Bolívar and Magdalena on the north coast.

This is the route I travelled.....

....and these are the places I visited

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Guide to Bogota. Mural Graffiti Streetart




Read my Colombian Diary - thoughts and stories along the way:

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  1. I've yet to go Colombia but I'd love to! I've heard such great things and your diary confirms a lot of them

  2. My dad has spent some time in Colombia and I've been wanting to go! Your guides look so helpful!

  3. Thanks for sharing about Colombia. I am gradually getting a greater appreciation for it the more I research and read. Your description of the people and the prevailing attitudes encourages me to come and see it for myself.

  4. Thanks for your comments, everybody! Yes, it was easy and pleasant to travel Colombia and people tried to make us feel very comfortable and safe.
    If you have any questions - you know where to find me (at least online...).
    Happy travels to you guys,

  5. In Europe, people often think Columbia as a dangerous country but as you mention, the people is super friendly. At the moment I will travel to SEA but South America is on my bucket list. Columbia is one of the countries. Thanks for the post.

  6. Yes, that's right, but like I explained at the beginning - because of the dreadful past I also had this image in my head. Then I reconsidered: when was actually the last time that I've heard something really bad about Colombia?! It's bad that stigmas stay for so long. Happy travels to you!

  7. Its true. We shape our opinions based on what we learn and hear from others. People do carry a certain impression about Columbia, but articles like yours can change what people feel. Bogota is a fascinating place, from whatever I have read about it.

  8. Thank you so much for your comment, it would actually make me very happy if I could ease a little the stigma Colombians are still suffering from.

  9. I'm glad to hear that the people are so great and that it's safe to travel there. One of my biggest dreams is to visit Medellin soon. I would even consider living there for a while. I have heard such great things so hopefully I will visit and get to travel around like you as well!

    1. Yes, but to be honest, particularly the center of Medellin had a sketchy vibe to it. We stayed close to San Joaquin and that was much cooler. However, I hope your dream soon comes true. Happy travels to you! Renata

  10. I agree that there is a bias. The media I think can really skew an opinion. You just have to remember that people are just out living their lives like the rest of us. Great post!

  11. You couldn't have written this better. I was speaking to a friend about Colombia while reading your post, and viola, she thinks traveling to Colombia is a bad idea. We need substances like this to educate the world.

  12. Thank you, Kate, thank you, Lydia, your comments encourage me to not limit myself to write only on a country's happy go lucky touristy aspects and where to get the best deal for accommodations and food.

    As a matter of fact the media were right about Colombia about 30 years ago - it was a very tough time, even Colombians remember it with a shiver. The problem is that nobody writes an article "Big news: nothing bad happened in Colombia", so the old image never gets corrected and sticks in our heads for a long time.

    This fact should be a warning to take the blooming phenomenon of fake and 'alternative' news lightly. Once it's out there, it's difficult to correct it.

    Have a great weekend, ladies!

  13. I've not thought of going to Colombia indeed because of those old stigma. But yes I've read and hear more and more good things about Colombia in recent years. Would love to see the country and Latin America in general in the future!

  14. Colombia - like every other Latin American country - is certainly not Switzerland: There are social and economic problems and you have to look after your stuff - and yourself. But as long as you behave carefully, don't hang out at certain times in certain places, do not get involved in drug matters you probably have nothing to be afraid of. Since Colombian people are happy that they slowly get rid of the stigma, they are extremely friendly and helpful.
    Happy travels - to Latin America or elsewhere - Renata

  15. You know, you're completely right, the stigma of Colombia's past really has stuck to many around the world and it's not until you go and see it for yourself that you see just how much this country has tried to shed it's old skin and re-invent itself. I spent 3 months in Colombia in 2016 and I love this country so much.

  16. Oh wow! Really? I hosted a couple of Argentinians and they also said that Colombians are so polite - almost formal-polite. I confess that I still feel a little nervous about visiting Colombia, and I think my mom would have a heart attack if I did!

    1. This is so funny! I almost had a heart attack when my daughter told me she was going to Colombia. But then she went and had a great time and I realized that I haven't heard anything bad forever - so I went, too. Maybe that would make things better: Take your mom with you! Anyway, happy travels, Nuraini!

  17. You hit some great spots in Colombia. I especially like the intro about visiting now before the charm is spoiled. You're spot on. Where was your favorite Colombian destination?


  18. I very much enjoyed reading about Columbia. I remember learning about Columbia in my history classes and the dark past that it had. It is good to see that the country seems to be doing better and that it is becoming a place that people want to visit. I have always been interested in visiting that part of the world, hopefully I will get to soon.

  19. Reading your post filled me with wanderlust for Columbia! I haven't traveled to any country in South America and I dream of doing so someday! I would love to experience a cup of authentic Columbian coffee right at its source!

  20. Kristine Nicole AlessandraDecember 11, 2018 at 7:22 PM

    I would love to travel to Columbia someday. Your photos are so lovely, especially the one showing the beautiful landscape. My Spanish is quite rusty but I know I can get by. Thanks for sharing your travel experience in this beautiful country!

  21. I have heard a lot about Colombia, especially Medelin and Cali. I would like to visit one day. Great post.

  22. It's good to hear a different perspective/opinion of Columbia... I have heard it being dangerous, so it's nice to get more info on the country to really get an overall view. Lovely pix, it would be awesome to visit all the beautiful places in the world... if only I were

  23. Very interesting. The stigma does seem quite deep rooted, it's good to hear a different voice. I'd like to visit one day...

  24. I know 1 person who has visited, and 1 who was born and raised there. One person loves it (the visitor) and the other doesn't... they have very different perspectives.

  25. It looks like it was an amazing journey out there. I have a coworker from there and she tells me about how beautiful it is. Someday I will have to visit.

  26. Such an amazing blog post….very informative also…. I gain a lot of information from this..thanks for sharing it..
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