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Colombia Country Guide

The country of Colombia (known officially as the Republic of Colombia), is located in northwestern South America. The Pacific Ocean lies on its western border, Brazil and Venezuela border it on the east, with Ecuador and Peru in the south while to the north stretches the Atlantic Ocean, through the Caribbean Sea. Panama borders Colombia's northwestern side. Colombia is South America's fourth largest country and ranks twenty sixth on the list of the world's largest nations. The country's economy is driven by an abundance of natural resources, a relatively high-valued currency and a literate population.

For a long time, Colombia was seen as a hazardous place by journalists, with guerrillas, drug traffickers and paramilitary groups. It is now safe and slowly becoming one of the top tourist detinations in the region!

This Colombia country guide provides useful information to help with travelling around this exciting country. Find out what there is to see and do in our Colombia destination guide. We also have some great Colombia tours to help you get the most out of your Colombia holiday.

Check out the latest Colombia Travel features on YouTube.

Colombia Country Guide

Useful information on this page includes:


Climate/WeatherTop

To view information about climate and weather conditions in Colombia, go to our Colombia Weather page.

CommunicationTop

Telephone
Columbia's country code is 57. You'll find that most of the public telephones in Colombia accept phone cards, which you can buy in shops and kiosks.

Mobile Telephone
Some of the international mobile phone companies offer roaming agreements. However, roaming is only available in urban areas.

Internet
Most of the cities and towns in the country have Internet cafes.

Post
It's best not to rely on the poor postal service in Colombia. Instead, use a courier service for important packages or documents. You won't find a typical post office here, but postal services are offered by hotels in the major cities.

Currency/MoneyTop

COP - the Colombian Peso is the currency used in the country. Each peso is made up of 100 centavos. There's no fixed policy on the exchange of traveller's cheques and cash in the banks here, some of which offer this facility. But even this is not fixed as it differs from day to day. Early morning is the time to go looking for foreign exchange.

Currency Exchange
You can exchange currency at the money exchange bureaux, and the casas de cambio in border towns and cities. Preference is given to US Dollars whether for cash or traveller's cheque exchanges, but take note: outside Bogota, you'll find it difficult to exchange traveller's cheques. Watch out for fake US Dollars printed in Colombia. The big hotels, restaurants, car rentals and travel agencies welcome major credit cards like Visa, as do shops across Colombia. While ATMs are available in the major cities and towns, you should exercise caution when using your card as security is not a guarantee here.

It is advisable to exchange currency (the US dollar is preferred) only at banks, hotels and bureaux de change. However, most of these do charge a commission. Don't make the mistake of heading to the streets to change your money.

Banking Hours
Monday to Friday: 0900-1500 hours. Note that every month banks shut at 1200 hours on the last business day.

ElectricityTop

110 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style two-pin plugs.

Embassy InformationTop

To view a list of Colombia embassies around the world, including foreign embassies within the islands, click on this link to EmbassyWorld.com.

General InformationTop

Population - 45 million people
Total Area - 1,141,748 sq km
Capital - Bogota (approx 7.1 million people)
Time Zone - Standard time zone: UTC/GMT -5 hours

To view the current time in Bogota, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.

GeographyTop

Located in South America, Colombia is surrounded on two sides by water - the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It shares its borders with Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela. Three ranges of the Andes Mountains run from the south of Colombia to the north, and finally descend to the Caribbean coastline.

The southern Pacific coastline features low rugged mountains and marshy lowlands. The trough of the southwestern coastal lowlands runs from the Buenaventura port to the Caribbean. To the east of this trough rise the Western Cordillera mountains which, along with the Central Cordillera range, extend from Ecuador to the Caribbean lowlands. To the north, the fertile Cauca Valley runs between the Cordilleras down to the Caribbean lowlands.

The longest mountain range is the Eastern Cordillera, which lies to the north of the Ecuadorean border. The range runs northwards before meandering northeast to Venezuela. More than half the country's area is comprised of grassy prairies in the east, as well as the rainforests of the Amazon basin. Colombia considers the small islands of Providencia and San Andrés, 700 km (430 miles) north of the coast, as its own.

HealthTop

Vaccinations
Diphtheria - Sometimes
Hepatitis A - Yes
Malaria - Sometimes
Rabies - Sometimes
Tetanus - Yes
Typhoid - Sometimes
Yellow Fever - Yes

Food and Drink
Be careful about drinking water unless you are staying in one of the major cities of Colombia. Water can be contaminated, so take care to boil or sterilize it before brushing your teeth with it or making ice. In some places you could find unpasteurised milk, so make sure you boil it. And remember to only eat meat and fish that is well cooked. It is best to peel the fruit you eat and avoid eating raw vegetables.

Other Risks
You may have to get vaccinated against hepatitis B and tuberculosis. You may also find outbreaks of hepatitis C and dengue fever in Colombia.

Health Care
It is highly advisable to take full medical insurance before you travel to Colombia, and to equip yourself with a good first aid kit for the jungles. Although the main cities offer good health facilities, rural areas have only the basic medical infrastructure.

However, standards in health care have improved a lot since the 1980s. In 1993, public healthcare funding was transformed when the burden of subsidy was shifted from providers to users.

HistoryTop

Even before Colombia was conquered by the Spanish, most of its inhabitants populated the mountainous western region. It was home to the more advanced Indian people. The high plateau in the Cordillera Oriental of the Colombian Andes was the ideal place for the growth of Indian cultures. Colombia's capital city, the present day Bogota is situated near the southern end of this plateau. The plateau runs northwards to the mountains, which separates it from the Cesar River. It was on this plateau that the Spanish discovered the bulk of the Chibchan-speaking peoples who were ripe for conquest, as they were still warring among themselves in order to achieve consolidation.

The geographic and climatic limitations of Colombia hampered the development of the Chibcha and other cultures. It is likely that at the time of the Spanish conquest, one third of the Indian population were Chibcha. At that time, the larger domesticated animals and their wild relatives found today in central Andes did not exist. As craftsmen, the Chibcha were more interested in utility and the expression of concepts than in beauty. This contrasted with the skilled workmanship of some of the sub-Andean cultures.

LanguageTop

The official language of Colombia is Castilian (Spanish). Apart from a few indigenous tribes, everyone here speaks Spanish. In fact, in Colombia, the Spanish language is spoken with a neutral accent, which makes it one of the best places in the world in which to speak Spanish.

About 75 indigenous languages are spoken in Colombia, but this number is no longer a given. For instance, Palenquero, which is believed to be Latin America's sole Spanish-based Creole language is barely understood by speakers of Spanish. This is due to its very different grammar. Linguists say that the closest language to Palenquero could be Papiamento, spoken by the inhabitants of the Caribbean islands of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. Papiamento, according to these linguists, has its roots mostly in Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese.

Only some Colombians speak English, despite the fact that public education here has English on the curriculum. In Colombia, besides the local dialects, you will also hear some Italian, German and French.

LocationTop

Colombia is located in South America, bordered by the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil. To view a map of Colombia, click on this link to WorldAtlas.com.

People/CultureTop

Colombia is blessed with a rich tradition of arts and crafts and folklore. You will find interesting fusions here in sculpture, crafts and music. This is due to the influences of the various Indian cultures, as well as the Spanish and the African. Pre-Columbian art is marked by the predominance of stone sculpture, gold work and pottery. The pre-Colombian traditions of Indian weaving, basketware and pottery still create the old designs but use modern techniques. Colombian music is a medley of Cuban salsa, the African tempo of the Caribbean and Andean music, which reflects a heavy Spanish influence.

About three-fifths of the Colombian population is mestizo. Most of the Africans and mulattos (a mix of European and African) - who constitute about one-fifth of Colombia's total population - inhabit the coastal areas and sugar-growing regions like the Cauca River Valley. The European population (mostly of Spanish origin) has decreased to approximately one-fifth. As for the Indians, these make up only 1 percent, which is a much lower number than in other Andean countries. Colombia differs from most of the other South American republics in that it has never encouraged immigrants. But it has absorbed small numbers of people from East Asia, the Middle East and non-Iberian Europe.

Public HolidaysTop

Follow the link to view a list of current public holidays in Colombia.

ReligionTop

Like other Latin American countries, Colombia is mainly and officially Catholic. This was the case from the days of Spanish colonisation until 1991 when the National Constituent Assembly introduced a reform that granted equal treatment to all religions from the government. However, over the last few years, variants of Christianity have begun to appear in Colombia. As many as about 4,000,000 Colombians have branched into other Christian sects such as Lutheran, Anglican and Mormon.

But Catholicism remains the main religion in the country, with an estimated 75% of the population belonging to nominal Catholicism. Of these, approximately 25% practise Catholicism. 90% of these Christians are Roman Catholic, with the minorities being Protestant and Jewish.

Every year, Colombia is ceremoniously consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the President of the Republic in a ‘Te Deum'. This is why Colombia is often called the Country of the Sacred Heart. In 2008, Colombia was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in a ceremony that was celebrated throughout the country. The consecration was directed by the main bishops in the presence of the Colombian President who is a Catholic.

Visa/PassportsTop

Visas
Nationals from Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Slovenia and Poland require a visa, however those from Australia, UK, USA andmost EU countries do not. Check with your embassy for the latest news on whether you require a visa.

Visa Note
On arrival, nationals are granted an entry stamp valid for up to 90 days, which is an advantage as, generally, tourists are only granted entry for a period of 30 or 60 days. If you'd like an extension for another 120 days, you can contact the Department of Administration and Security in Colombia. Note that in any 12-month period, all nationals are allowed to stay in the country for a maximum of 180 days.

Types of Visa and Cost
Contact the embassy or consulate of Colombia for the cost of your visa. The price is determined in accordance with the exchange rate.

Validity
Tourist and Temporary Visitor: This multiple entry visa has a six-month validity. Business: You can get a multiple entry business visa that's valid for four years. Each stay is a maximum of six months.
Student: This visa has a five-month validity, with multiple entry.

Working Days Required
You'll have to allow for holidays when applying for your visa. Tourist and Business visas require five working days for processing while a Temporary Visitor visa requires one week. But it's better to allow as much time as possible for visa applications.