“It’s like America, but South!” is what Ellie the adventurer from the movie “Up” says about South America. However, the truth is that South America is way more than that, and what you experience depends on which country in South America you are visiting. Here, we’ve gathered important information you need to know before landing in one particular country in South America (whether on a plane or on a flying house with balloons), Colombia.
First things first: Visa
According to Wikipedia, visa holders of 99 countries in the world can enter Colombia without a visa and are free to stay up to 90 days (link provided below). It is a simple process through immigration at the airport. You only need to show your passport and state your purpose of visit.
If you’re not from any of the 99 countries, you can apply for eVisa online. A 90-day tourist visa costs approximately 82 USD (in 2019). Usually, on top of regular travel documents such as passport and tickets, they will also ask for financial documents to prove you have sufficient funds during your visit.
Colombia's Visa Policy
Website: Cancilleria de Colombia
Arriving at the airport
Flying into Colombia, you would most likely land in Bogota, its capital. It can be tricky to find your way around this airport on your own, so please check the airport map which is available at each airport’s section to make sure you are going in the right direction.
The first thing you would notice as you walk around the airport is that trolleys are not free. After paying 2 USD (don’t worry if you have no small change, the officer has small change prepared) you will be given one trolley and a deposit card. Do not lose this card, as you have to give it back to the officer when you return the trolley. The 2 USD payment is a deposit that will be given back to you if you return the trolley to designated spots mentioned on the back of the deposit card.
In case you do not have any US Dollars or Colombian Pesos with you, there is a money exchange by the baggage claim area. Keep in mind that they will ask you some questions about your work and your purpose of visit.
Insider tips: 1 USD is equal to approximately 3,425 COP, however, the exchange rate at the airport is slightly lower. You can get a better exchange rate at the bank. Use BBVA which does not charge any ATM withdrawal fee for non-Colombian debit cards.
What kind of food should you expect?
When you look at the food menu in Colombia, it’s probably not as cheap as you would expect. However, the portions are generous. Most restaurant offers a “Menu of the Day” or “Menu del Dia” which is a set meal, from soup as an appetizer, main, to drink and even dessert. Menu del Dia will only cost you around 15.000 COP (less than 5 USD). That is a great deal!
If you plan on exploring local restaurants, you will see a lot of Bandeja Paisa. This dish is not just huge in portion, but also a great way to get acquainted with the Colombian culture. There’s history behind it. Literally, it means “Plate of the Country”. Back in the day, day laborers made this their daily meal in between a long day of hardworking. Why? Just take a look at the Bandeja Paisa photo I took!
One plate of Bandeja Paisa consists of coconut rice and beans (most commonly found in Colombian dishes), sunny-side-up egg, three kinds of meat (usually chorizo or local pork sausage, chicharron or deep-fried pork belly, and minced meat or blood sausage), salad (usually coleslaw, tomato salad, or beet), and a big chunk of avocado and fried plantain. Dig in!
For a big plate of Bandeja Paisa, expect to pay around 20.000 COP (around 6 USD). You will need a drink to wash it down, so that will be another 5.000 COP (around 1.5 USD) for a glass of juice (usually orange or guava). With less than 10 USD, you get to enjoy a filling and nutritious meal in Colombia!
The top three most-visited cities in Colombia are Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellin. Each city offers a different kind of nuance, so your choice depends on what you are looking for. Bogota offers a city life, where most facilities are available and people speak more English. Cartagena offers nature and beach life. It’s safe to say that Cartagena is Colombia’s snorkeling hub. Last but definitely not least, Medellin offers a true Colombian experience. It is arguably the most beautiful city in Colombia.
Among the three, Medellin is the least touristy. And its beauty starts from the moment you look out of the plane window. Located in the valley area, Medellin’s layout is unique. Imagine tall buildings and traditional houses surrounded by hills and mountains, that will be your daily view if you choose to stay in Medellin.
The photo above was taken from the 21st floor of an apartment building in Pilarica. Expect a similar view from most top-floor apartment units found on Airbnb in this part of Colombia. An authentic local life, abundant parks, generous food, and pieces of history await in Medellin!
Beautiful apartment in PilaricaMedellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Top guest reviewsfredrik's apartment is an excellent space for both a short or long term staystylish comfortable space in quieter residential neighborhoodmy stay at freedom's apartment was fantasticsmelled nice and cleani reallly felt comfortable in this place very nice clean and affordablethe accommodation was as we expected clean and appealingis a very nice place to stay affordable and cleanit is a great place for family visiting students and is safe and very clean
Host:thank you fredrik for being a great hostand finally the owners were very helpful and responded to our requests/concerns very fastthe neighboors and the staff are the building were very helpfulfredrik and nancy are great hoststhe security staff were very professional and always greeting me coming and goingRead more reviewsthe apartment is beautiful and in a great location close to the universitiesfredrick place is a great place with great location and outstanding servicefrediks place is perfect for your stay in medellin well ubicated and very nice
Is it safe in Colombia?
When it comes to safety in Colombia, there is an issue we should address first. This country, and especially Medellin, is known for violence stemmed from a long history of drugs trafficking. So, most people considering visiting Colombia might wonder if it is a safe country to travel in?
The answer is yes. I lived in Medellin for three months and I can vouch for its safety. Of course, there are places you have to avoid going alone at night, but that is a common problem in big cities. Taxi and Uber are available all through the night, so you don’t have to worry about going home late.
It also helps not to stand out in a crowd. Wear something most local people would: t-shirt for men and a simple blouse or tank-top for women, both paired with blue jeans. Keep in mind that it’s usually cold in Bogota, so you might want to layer up with a sweater or jacket. Try not to bring important stuff when you’re strolling around the city, and you should carry them in a simple bag like a small backpack. And if that is not convincing enough for you, there are plenty of police officers patrolling around on motorbikes.
Make your trip even better with a little bit of Spanish
Even though Spanish is widely spoken, each Spanish-speaking country has its own style and choices of words. Some say Latin American Spanish is easier to understand. So, this is your chance to sharpen up your Spanish skills!
For those who don’t speak Spanish, here are some useful phrases for your trip:
Ayuda (read: ayootha): Help
Disculpe, no hablo Español (read: thiscoolpeh, no ablo espanyol): Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish
¿Donde Está…? (read: dondehsta): Where is…?
¿Cuánto cuesta…? (read: kwantoh kwestah): How much is…?
Gracias (read: graasias): Thank you
Con gusto (read: kon ghustoh): With pleasure/You’re welcome
Mucho gusto (read: mucho ghustoh): Nice to meet you
Who’s ready to practice some Spanish?
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