Colombia travel guide
Since emerging from decades of civil unrest, Colombia has established itself as one of the world’s top destinations. And rightly so: this exquisite South American nation is blessed with natural beauty – think high Andean peaks, Caribbean beaches, pristine Amazon jungle – not to mention mysterious archaeological sites, colonial treasures and thriving cities. It’s a joy to travel around.
At the heart of it all is Bogota, the pulsating capital. Once synonymous with drug cartels and gangs, the city has recast itself as one of South America’s trendiest destinations; a place of hip bars and street art, vibrant markets and colourful architecture. Sprawled across the Andean plateau, Bogota offers a fabulous mix of old and new; the cobbled streets of La Candelaria offer a stark contrast to the urban chic of Zona Rosa. But it works.
Elsewhere, Colombia’s colonial towns have been lovingly preserved, most notably the UNESCO-listed city of Cartagena. But don’t stop there. Other historic settlements also warrant a visit, amongst them the cities of Mompós, Villa de Leiva and Barichara. The mysterious “lost city” of Ciudad Perdida is also worthy of a detour, but you may leave with more questions than you arrived with.
The more you travel around Colombia, the more you marvel at its diversity. While the Caribbean and Pacific shores boast beautiful beaches, islands and coral reefs, the lofty Andes offer high-altitude plains, snow-capped mountains and limpid lakes. Then there are the eastern lowlands with their grassy wetlands and bountiful birdlife, not to mention the virgin forests of the Amazon.
Colombian culture is no less magical. Garcia Marquez’s land of magic realism is alive with festivals and music; the high-energy city of Cali is recognized as the salsa capital of Colombia, while bustling Barranquilla hosts a dazzling carnival to rival Rio’s. To cap it all off, visitors can expect a warm welcome from the country’s friendly inhabitants, who, after years in the wilderness, can finally show their true colours. And what a picture they paint.
1,141,748 sq km (440,831 sq miles).
48,829,027 (UN estimate 2016).
40.9 per sq km.
President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón since 2010.
President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón since 2010.
Mostly 110 volts AC, 60Hz. North American-style plugs with two flat pins (with or without round grounding pin) are standard; some sockets may not accept plugs with a grounding pin however, so you may need an adaptor.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
- the port of Buenaventura in the department of Valle de Cauca
- the port of Tumaco in the department of Nariño
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
- the departments of Putumayo, Arauca, Caquetá, Guaviare, Guainía, Vichada, and Norte de Santander (except their capital cities, as indicated on the map)
- the department of Cauca (except its capital Popayán and the road between the tourist site of the San Agustin ruins in Huila and Popayán city)
- the department of Chocó (except its capital Quibdó, the whale-watching towns of Nuquí and Bahía Solano, and the tourist site of Capurganá)
- the department of Nariño (except its capital Pasto and the Ipiales border crossing)
- the department of Meta (except its capital Villavicencio, and the tourist site of Caño Cristales); visitors travelling to Caño Cristales should only do so with a reputable tour company travelling by air to and from the town of La Macarena
- within 5km of the Venezuelan border in the departments of La Guajira, César and Boyaca
- rural areas in northern Antioquia, southern Cordoba, southern Valle de Cauca, and southern Bolivar (as indicated on the map)
Since 20 September 2017, industrial action by staff at Avianca Airlines has resulted in delays and cancellations to domestic flights within Colombia and some international flights to/from Colombia. You may experience disruption to air travel and you should check with your carrier before you travel.
The Colombian Government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have announced a temporary ceasefire from 1 October 2017 to 9 January 2018. Violence may continue and armed groups remain active in Colombia.
UK health authorities have classified Colombia as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
Main roads are generally safe within daylight hours.
The departmental capitals of Amazonas, Vaupes and Guainía are only accessible by air due to the lack of road infrastructure in these departments.
Social protests are common in Colombia and can become violent and lead to disruption to road and transport networks. You should avoid protests and follow the advice of local authorities if you’re in an area where a protest is taking place.
Monitor local media and seek information from local authorities before travelling outside of or between major cities. Dial #767 for the Colombian highway police’s up to date information (in Spanish) on any road closures.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Colombia.
The security situation can change very quickly in many areas of the country. You should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Colombian authorities. In general, the more remote the area, the greater the potential threat to your safety. You should be particularly cautious and vigilant during any major events and in crowded places.
Despite the high levels of crime, most visits to Colombia are trouble-free.
If you need to contact the emergency services, call +123.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Despite improvements in security, crime rates remain high in Colombia. Illegal armed groups and other criminal groups are heavily involved in the drugs trade and serious crime including kidnapping (for ransom and political purposes), money laundering and running extortion and prostitution rackets.
Street crime is a problem in major cities, including Bogota, Medellin, Cali and the Caribbean coast. Mugging and pickpocketing can be accompanied by violence. British nationals have been robbed at gun point in the Candelaria area of Bogotá. Be vigilant, particularly if you are in public places used by foreigners, or near official buildings. Avoid deprived areas of cities. Take care on city streets, especially after dark or if you are on your own. Don’t carry large amounts of money or wear valuable watches or jewellery. Avoid using your mobile phone in the street.
The British Embassy has received reports of criminals in Colombia using drugs to subdue their victims. This includes the use of scopolamine, which temporarily incapacitates unsuspecting victims. Drugs can be administered through food, drinks, cigarettes, aerosols and even paper flyers. Victims become disoriented quickly and are vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, rape and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended and don’t take anything from strangers.
Where possible, plan how you will travel to and from your destination. Only use pre-booked taxis. Be wary if you are approached by a stranger.
Fake police are known to operate in Bogota and elsewhere to conduct scams, eg, asking to inspect money to see if it is counterfeit. If approached, you should ask to be escorted to the nearest CAI (‘Centro de Atencion Inmediata’ – local police station).
Express kidnappings – short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim – also occur. Victims can be targeted or selected at random and held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards. Most cases in major cities involve victims that have been picked up by taxis hailed from the street. There have been incidents where those who have resisted the kidnappers’ demands have been killed.
Drugs, organised crime and terrorism are inextricably linked. Control of the drugs trade is a major driver of much of the armed conflict. In July 2017 the UN reported that coca cultivation in Colombia had increased by 50% between 2015-16. There’s evidence of high levels of coca cultivation in the following Departments in Colombia: Nariño, Cauca, Putumayo, Caquetá, Meta,Guaviare, the Catatumbo region in the Norte de Santander department, northern Antioquia, and southern Bolivar. There’s a risk to your safety in any area where coca, marijuana or opium poppies are cultivated and near to cocaine processing labs.
Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are active in all of the Departments where coca is cultivated, processed or transported, as well as in many cities. The risk is particularly significant in rural areas near to the borders with Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador; in the Parque Nacional Natural de La Macarena in the Department of Meta; and the port towns of Buenaventura in the Department of Valle de Cauca, Turbo in the Department of Antioquia and Tumaco in the Department of Nariño.
In many rural areas the authority of the Colombian state is limited, and the British Embassy’s ability to help British nationals in trouble in these areas will also be limited. If you travel to remote or dangerous areas, seek professional security advice and make arrangements for your security throughout your visit. You should also seek up-to-date advice from the local authorities before each stage of your journey. Mobile and internet connection in rural areas is often limited.
The Pacific coast of Chocó is a popular eco-tourist destination. However, much of Chocó is remote and unsafe. Illegal armed groups are active and involved in the drugs trade throughout the department and particularly near the border with Panama. On the coast, the towns of Bahia Solano and Nuquí are considered less dangerous and are well known for whale-watching. If you intend to travel to these towns, only do so by air and don’t travel inland or along the coast out of town.
If you travel to the ‘Lost City’ in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, you should only do so as part of an organised tour.
The archaeological park at San Agustin is located in the department of Huila. The FCO doesn’t advise against travel to this department, but the department is known for activity by illegal armed groups. You should enter and leave the park on the main road through Neiva or Popayán.
The tourist site of Caño Cristales is located in the department of Meta, in the Parque Nacional Natural de la Macarena. If you’re travelling to Caño Cristales, only do so with a reputable tour company, and travel by air to and from the town of La Macarena.
Public buses and coach services
There have been several recent incidents of armed robberies on buses.
Avoid displaying valuable items like laptops, cameras and mobile phones. Don’t wear jewellery and only carry minimal amounts of cash. Avoid travelling on your own or at night, especially at border crossings or areas where there are few other people around. When travelling to remote areas it may be safer to travel with others or take part in a tour with a reputable company.
To drive in Colombia, you will need a valid UK or other recognised driving licence and car insurance. Driving standards are poor and traffic accidents are common. Avoid driving at night, which can be particularly hazardous. Don’t hitch-hike.
The risk of violence and kidnapping is higher in some rural areas, and there is a risk of being caught in roadblocks set up by illegal armed groups. Main roads are generally safe during daylight hours.
Although the FCO advise against travel to the rural areas of some departments through which the Pan-American Highway passes, the road itself is generally well guarded. Always seek up-to-date advice from the local authorities before each stage of your journey.
Land border crossings
If you enter or leave Colombia by land via Venezuela, you should cross at Cucuta, and not via other routes.
If you enter or leave Colombia via Ecuador on the Pan-American Highway, don’t stop en route between the border and Pasto.
Avoid crossing between Panama and Colombia by land. The ‘Darien Gap’ is a dangerous area renowned for the presence of several illegal armed groups, illegal migration, and drugs trafficking. There’s no road crossing between Colombia and Panama.
Colombia is affected by land mines and unexploded ordnance. Mined areas are often unmarked. Be vigilant when visiting remote areas or travelling off the main roads.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes lists of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices – IATA Operational Safety Audit and IATA Standard Safety Assessment. These lists aren’t exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
Colombia is a presidential republic with separation of powers. Since 1990 Colombia has had a multi-party system. Colombia’s last Presidential elections took place in 2014; the next Presidential elections take place in 2018.
Colombia has suffered from internal armed conflict for over 50 years. On 24 November 2016, Colombia’s President Santos signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement to end the internal armed conflict.
This peace agreement comes after four years of negotiations. On the 1 September 2017 the FARC announced the launch of their new Political party, officially ending their status as an armed group.
The Colombian constitution guarantees extensive rights to indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups over their traditional territories and to protect their culture. Indigenous communities have special jurisdiction within their territories within the bounds of the national judicial system.
Political demonstrations can occur in the capital city of Bogota and throughout the country. These can be confrontational and occasionally turn violent. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Colombia. The threat comes from the National Liberation Army (ELN), dissidents from the demobilising FARC guerrilla group (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and other illegal armed groups.
An improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in the Andino Shopping Centre in Bogota on 17 June 2017. You should always remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local security authorities should an incident occur.
The Colombian Government officially announced the FARC had handed over their weapons on 27 June, marking the end of their status as an armed group.
However, dissident members of the FARC and other illegal armed groups exist, and there are still instances of indiscriminate attacks against public transport, industrial infrastructure (eg oil and energy facilities), government buildings and other state installations.
The principal intended target of these attacks is not usually foreign tourists. However, the pattern of these attacks means that incidents in public spaces and other areas visited by foreigners can’t be ruled out. Past methods of attack have included car bombs, grenade attacks and explosive devices left in buildings.
In many areas of Colombia, the security situation can change very quickly. You should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Colombian authorities and monitor this travel advice. You should be particularly cautious and vigilant during any major events.
There is a high risk of kidnap from both terrorist and criminal groups. While Colombians are the primary targets, foreigners can also be targeted, especially those working for (or believed to be working for) oil, mining and related companies.
You should regularly reassess your security arrangements and consider carefully any travel around the country.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Don’t get involved with illegal drugs of any kind. Colombian drug trafficking detection methods are sophisticated and anyone attempting to traffic drugs should expect to be arrested. Conviction leads to severe penalties. British nationals have been arrested for trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country. Pack your own luggage, and don’t carry items for other people.
Carry a colour photocopy of the data page and Colombian visa from your passport at all times for identification.
Homosexuality is legal but not widely accepted, especially in rural areas.
Photographing of military or strategic government sites is not allowed.
It is a serious criminal offence to have sex with a minor (under 18 years old).
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Medical facilities in Colombia vary widely in quality. In large cities and state capitals, private clinics provide good quality care for routine treatments and complex treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. Public health facilities and those in smaller cities are generally ill equipped and poorly funded. Ambulance services in remote areas are unreliable and public hospitals often lack adequate medical supplies.
You can find most medication in pharmacies in large cities, but medicine for complex treatment may be unavailable in rural areas and small towns. You may need a prescription from a local doctor to get some controlled medicine.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, you should dial 123 to ask for assistance. Contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
UK health authorities have classified Colombia as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
Dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever are present throughout the country, although the coastal and southern states with lower altitudes are the most affected, especially during or shortly after the rainy season between April and November. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Tap water is safe to drink only in Bogota, Medellin and Cali. You should drink only bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals can enter Colombia for up to 90 days as a visitor without a visa at the discretion of the Colombian Immigration Officer on arrival. You may need to provide evidence of return or onward travel. Check the latest entry requirements with the Colombian Consulate General in London before you travel.
You may be able to extend your stay once you are in Colombia by up to 120 days by applying at the immigration office Migración Colombia. As a visitor, you can’t remain in Colombia for more than 180 days in any 12 month period. Don’t overstay your visa.
If you’re a British-Colombian dual national, you must enter and leave Colombia using your Colombian passport and Colombian identification card (Cedula).
If you enter Colombia by land from either Ecuador or Venezuela, make sure you have your passport stamped by the immigration authorities. Failure to do so may result in a fine on departure. If the immigration office on the border is closed, seek help at the nearest office of Migración Colombia.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Colombia.
Airport tax for international departures for visitors who stay in Colombia for less than three months is US$ 35. For stays in excess of three months the tax is US$72 However, the charge depends on the type of visa with which you are issued. The Colombian Embassy (tel: 0207 637 9893) or Colombian Consulate in London can offer further advice on 020 7589 5037.
You can carry up to US$10,000 in cash with you when you leave. Anything in excess of this amount may be confiscated.
Travelling with children
Children under the age of 18 years who have resident status in Colombia and who are travelling on a British passport will need written permission when leaving the country without both parents. The non-accompanying parent(s) must write a letter giving permission for the child to leave Colombia. The letter must be authenticated by a notary or by a Colombian Consulate. It must mention the proposed destination, the purpose of the trip, the date of departure and the return date. You can get more information about Colombian emigration requirements from Migración Colombia or by contacting the Colombian Consulate in London.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Colombia. Your ETD should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Colombia.
Earthquakes occur regularly in Colombia. In October 2016, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck Colombia in the department of Huila. In the event of an earthquake, monitor local media reports and follow the advice of the local authorities. You can find a real-time earthquake map and further information about earthquakes in Colombia on the website of the US Geological Survey. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, visit the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There is a risk of floods and landslides after heavy rains throughout the Colombian Andes. Seek local advice before travelling on mountain roads after heavy rain in the rainy seasons of April to May and October to November.
Volcano activity in Colombia is monitored by Ingeominas. If you’re planning to visit areas of known volcanic activity, pay careful attention to all warnings and follow the advice of the local authorities.
The Nevado Del Ruiz volcano erupted in June 2012. The volcano activity level has since been lowered to Level III (changes in volcanic activity).
Since the earthquake on 21 October 2014 in the area of the Chiles Volcano in Cumbal (Nariño department) on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, the Colombian geological authorities have maintained an orange alert in the surrounding area. 12,000 people in southern Nariño were ordered to evacuate their homes because of a possible eruption.
Monitor local media and seek information and advice from the local authorities before travelling on the Pan-American highway, which passes near the volcano. Call #767 for information (in Spanish) from the Colombian Highway Police about road closures.
US dollars and Euros are widely exchangeable.
Use credit and debit cards with care and keep receipts. When using an ATM, try to do so during business hours inside a bank, supermarket or large commercial building. Be particularly vigilant before and after using an ATM on the street – robberies are common, especially at night.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.