Our recommendation to visit Colombia
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Colombia Travel advice
Events and festivals in Colombia
The popular festivals in Colombia contain a wealth of culture, and are full of rhythm, happiness and colour. The country hosts a long list of fairs and festivals and these are celebrated throughout the year and throughout all the municipalities of the country.
Some of the festivals in Colombia have a tradition that stretches back over a hundred years, which makes them popular tourist attractions. So that you can enjoy the authentic feel of the country, we recommend the following events in Colombia.
Feria de Manizales and Carnaval de Negros y Blancos
The Manizales Fair welcomes in the New Year and is celebrated between the 5th and the 11th of January. There are all kinds of activities, both traditional as well as mixtures of old and new, from bullfights to all the different parades.
The Black and White Carnival is one of the most popular festivals in Colombia, and is one of the most important festivals in the whole country. It dates back to 1607, when the black slaves from Antioch rebelled against the authorities. This incredible festival takes place between the 2nd and the 7th of January each year, and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the main events in Colombia is the Barranquilla Carnival, which is the second largest carnival in the world and only surpassed by the carnivals in Brazil. Each year, it begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. For 2019, this will be from the 2nd to the 5th of March, when Colombians and millions of visitors come out onto the streets to experience the joy of the festivities.
The event is so important that it has been declared both a National Heritage and a Masterpiece of the Oral Heritage of Humanity.
Of all the events that take place in Colombia, the International Festival of the Vallenata Legend, or more succinctly, the Vallenata Festival, is the star attraction.
This festival is celebrated between the 27th and the 30th of April in Valledupar, the capital of Vallenato. Apart from dancing, they revive all types of artistic expressions related to the Vallenato, including, peasant poetry, story-telling. Oral traditions and socio-cultural expression also form part of the celebrations.
Festival of Andean Music
One of the outstanding Colombian festivities is the Mono Núñez Festival of Andean Music. This festival is celebrated during the month of May in Ginebra, a municipality in the Cauca valley.
The first festival took place in 1975 in honour of the Maestro Benigno Mono Núñez. Its importance lies in it being an artistic platform for Andean music at an international level.
Medellín Flower Fair
In addition to many other events in Colombia, the Medellin Flower Fair takes place during the month of August. This festival was initially celebrated in May, but in 1958 it began to be celebrated in August so that it coincided with the month of the Antioch independence.
There is also the World Festival of Salsa in Cali, the National Cumbia Festival in Magdalena, and the Harvest Festivities in Pereira, to name a few more.
Latin American Festival of Folk Dance
The Latin American Festival of Folk Dance from the Valle del Cauca takes place each year in October. Its objective is to reconstruct the Latin American history, memory and cultural identity. During the celebrations there are dance workshops, craft fairs, exhibitions, gastronomic festivals, academic events and music sessions.
Other festivals that take place during this month are: the Festival of the Green Moon in San Andrés Islas, the Drum Festival in Bolívar and the International Film Festival in Bogotá.
The Independence Fair
In November the Independence Fair is celebrated in Bolívar, where the National Beauty Pageant of Colombia is held. During the festival the contestants parade in whale boats, in swimming costumes, evening dress and there is the Popular Crowning of the Beauty Queen.
Another important festival celebrated in November is the Gold Pirarucú, the Festival of Popular Amazonian Music, which is the most famous in the country.
The Cali Fair is, without doubt, the event which draws the most visitors and tourists to this region. The fair has taken place since 1957, between the 25th and the 30th of December. Among the most sought after events are the Bullfighting, the Crowning of the Beauty Queen from the Comunas (the municipalities of Cali), the Streets of the Fair and a large concert.
The events list is unsurpassable: opening parade with the Salsa schools, a procession, a parade of the Old Cali Carnival, and a Mega-concert. In addition, you should not miss out on a visit to the Tascas de la Feria de Cali (the Cali bars)where you can taste a wide variety of local dishes.
Whenever you travel to Colombia you will always find something to celebrate, which is why they say that Colombians flow. The popular festivals of Colombia are more than music and entertainment. They have all the zest of the country within them.LEARN MORE
Food in Colombia
When you travel to a new country, one of the key questions is what you should eat. Well, let’s see what to eat in Colombia. The first thing you should know is that Colombian gastronomy is very tasty and varied. In Colombia you have an enormous variety of things to eat, and so, this is one of the reasons to visit the country.
As we mentioned at the start of this article, Colombian gastronomy is very tasty and highly thought of. According to the region you visit there are a series of dishes to try if you want to immerse yourself fully in the flavours of the region. But let’s talk about traditional Colombian dishes, what they are and why they are so appealing.
La Cazuela (the stew pot)
Stew pots come in many forms, but in general they are made with beans. This is a typical dish of the mountain areas which contains pork, banana and avocado on a base of beans. Minced meat and potatoes are added, and it is served with rice and salad. This is a somewhat filling dish which can also be made with fish and seafood.
In many places, tamales are the main meal of the day. They are made with pieces of cooked potato, carrot and peas with marinated meat all wrapped in a maize dough.
The maize wrap is then wrapped in a banana leaf, which also serves as a dish. Another common variation is using rice as a replacement for the maize wrap.
Patacones are fried green bananas which are served with meat or chicken, along with guacamole. When the bananas are still green they become crunchy when fried, and they provide a special touch to the dish.
Another traditional Colombian dish is the Sancocho, a soup based on potatoes, yucca, bananas and beef. This soup or stew is mostly served with rice.
The Ajiaco is a typical dish from Bogotá which contains three types of potato, a corn cob and chicken. A soup is made with these ingredients and this is accompanied with rice, cream and capers.
La Bandeja Paisa (the Country Platter)
If you want to try an authentic and one of the most traditional dishes of Colombian gastronomy, the Bandeja Paisa is perfect. This large dish is a blast of carbohydrates and proteins. Its ingredients include beans, rice, meat, black pudding, chorizo, pork, fried egg, fried banana, avocado and it is accompanied by a corn tortilla.
Although its name is a little strange, this dish is typical of Colombian gastronomy, and is nothing but a soup. It is made with cow’s intestines, which is where its strangeness lies. You won’t find it everywhere, and it is recommended that you choose a good place to try it. As well as tripe, the sauce also has potatoes and boiled vegetables.
Fish is another undisputable protagonist of Colombian cuisine. Catfish in sauce is one of the most popular freshwater fish dishes. The seafood stew comes from the town of Riohacha, while in the Amazon, the Pirarucú fish is served as fillets.
Although the Ceviche is not an exclusively Colombian dish, it is very famous throughout the country, particularly the prawn Ceviche. It is served in a glass and includes tomato sauce, lemon, onion, garlic and spices which give it a particularly strong flavour. It is perfect to try accompanied by a small glass of Colombian firewater.
Fried fish with rice
Another popular dish from the island of Barú is fried fish with rice and fried bananas. Coconut is used to cook the rice, which gives it a special flavour. The fresh fish is served fried with fried bananas, and it is a flavoursome and very nutritious dish.
Lastly, although meat is abundant in the country, vegetarians and vegans can substitute it for corn tortillas.
Another typical Colombian dish, which is not exclusive to this Latin American country are arepas. These are corn tortillas which can be filled with almost anything. They are served at any time, and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In some areas of Colombia tortillas are served roasted with butter, salt and white cheese. The difference between these and Venezuelan corn tortillas is that the latter are stuffed, while the Colombian tortillas are open.
There are other exquisite foods, such as pandequeso (cheese bread), almojábanas (cheese buns), buñuelos (fritters), obleas (wafers) or alfajores (sweet pastries). All these without even beginning to talk about the desserts: the Arequipe (creamy evaporated milk dessert), the rice pudding, the Mazamorra (grains of maize cooked in milk), the Cocadas (coconut dessert) and the famous Aguapanela (sugar cane dessert).LEARN MORE
Shopping in Colombia
If you still don’t know what to buy in Columbia, you should know that it is the perfect country to buy original things of a high quality at a good price. We don’t just win with the exchange rate, given that 1 euro is equal to 3.32 pesos, but also with the variety of products.
In Columbia you can buy many things, from handicrafts to clothing. In fact, you will find international brands of clothing in many places. But if you want to buy typical Columbian products, pay attention to the following list.
Columbian emeralds are considered unique in the world thanks to their extraordinary quality. The purity, size, colour and hardness are highly valued at an international level. Boyacá is one of the main municipalities where Columbian emeralds are produced. In addition to emeralds, you also have coffee, carranga (folk music) and butterflies. In Chivor, municipality of Boyacá, thousands of tourists travel there often to discover the quality of its precious stones.
On the other hand, in Bogotá, its proximity to the mining areas, as well as the development of the infrastructure for the cutting and setting of emeralds, turn it into the main seller.
If you are going to buy emeralds in Columbia, we recommend you go to accredited jewellers and request a certificate of authenticity.
In the same way as the precious stones, jewellery are another star buy in Columbia. The quality of the gold work in the country is well proven and is respected throughout the world. Many tourists buy pre-Columbian replicas of extraordinary quality and crafting. But it isn’t just the antique jewellery which is of value, pieces from current designers are becoming more important at an international level.
In the same way as with the emeralds, if you are going to buy jewellery with precious stones, we recommend you request a certificate of authenticity.
Footwear and leather items
Columbian leather items have gained a lot of prestige. The manufacture of leather from Columbia has conquered the international market thanks to its high quality. Proof of this is the increasing exportation of this type of products and their success at international fairs.
With this material you can find bags, jackets, purses, wallets, belts, accessories and, of course, footwear. What better present than a handmade bag or a wallet made of authentic leather!
You won’t just look good, but you will be contributing to a small craftsman.
One of the best known and most valued typical Columbian products at a world level is coffee. Although the bush which produces it comes from the African continent, Columbia has been the biggest world producer since the 1920’s.
The success of Columbian coffee is due to its high quality, the difference from other coffees is that it is 100% Arabic. As well as the influence of the Arabic variety for its aroma and flavour, in Columbia coffee continues to be collected by hand. This process notably improves the quality of the grain, and hence its fame and value.
Within the wide range of Columbian souvenirs that we can find, handicrafts are the jewel in the crown. Everyone who travels to this country will not hesitate to take home, or as a gift, one of the following objects: a miniature ‘chiva’ (traditional wooden bus), a San Jacinto hammock, and one or more of the traditional Voltiado and Aguadeño sombreros (hats). As well as these three-star items, Carthage embroideries are also highly valued, as well as objects made from pumpkins.
But it doesn’t all end there, the traditional baskets, the Sierra Nevada rucksacks or the Kuna Indians’ molas (art) are products which are also in very high demand. The latter are highly valued for being a type of ancestral textile art which astonishes people with its bright colours and painstakingness of its manufacture.
In this section, you have to bear in mind that many Columbian companies manufacture clothing for international brands. If you want to buy quality clothing at a good price, the best thing to do is to visit one of the best-known shopping centres of Bogotá. Amongst them, the Andino shopping centre is one of the most famous for being one of the largest in South America.
Another place to buy quality branded clothing is the Hacienda Santa Bárbara shopping centre. If you like shopping, this shopping centre is your paradise, it’s built within a hacienda (an old colonial house). Here there are 7 floors full of shops, restaurants, cafés and everything you need to have a good day's shopping.
But if you want to visit the paradise of shopping which is good, pretty and cheap, Medellín is your city. Medellín is considered the world centre of fashion, and not in vain, since producers and manufacturers from all over the world come to meet here.
Now you know what to buy in Columbia, and as you can see, you have a wide range of possibilities to choose from.LEARN MORE
Colombia tourist attractions
More information about Colombia
A less-travelled treasure, Colombia is quickly emerging as one of South America’s most rewarding travel destinations. With idyllic Caribbean coastlines, cities bursting with characterful, colourful architecture and lush coffee-growing valleys, a trip to Colombia is a safe bet for a memorable adventure. Situated in the north of the continent, just below the isthmus of Central America, Colombia is famed for its diverse cities, such as Cartagena, Medellin and the capital, Bogota, which offer experiences as varied as twilight carriage rides, street art tours or the chance to trace the country’s sparkling heritage at the Museum of Gold.
Not to mention, Colombia does fiestas like no other and is well-known for its lively nightlife. Latin music lovers can experience the immense Barranquilla Carnival, which easily rivals Rio’s, or dig into the culture of Cali, the world capital of salsa. The great outdoors is something Colombia has in abundance. From coastal national parks such as Tayrona to tropical beaches complete with azure waters and coral reefs, not forgetting the soaring peaks of the awe-inspiring Andes, where you can get in touch with some of the most traditional sides of Colombian culture.
Colombia has thousands of parks and natural spaces where you can discover the country’s epic biodiversity. Its greatest reserve, the iconic Amazon, has always been one of the great frontiers for adventurers, who long to travel to Colombia.
History of Colombia
Colombia’s rich and complex history has contributed to its status as the fascinating travel destination that it is today. Originally inhabited by indigenous cultures such as the Quimbaya and the Tayrona, whose mysterious ruins can still be explored today on a tour of Colombia, Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1499, marking the beginning of extensive colonisation in the region. Spain’s ‘New Kingdom of Granada’ was established in Colombia, with Bogota as its capital. Cartagena and Santa Marta were also important Spanish settlements, as can still be seen in their charming colonial architecture.
In the 18th-century, prominent naturalists and scientists made the trip to Colombia to take part in the ‘Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada’, which brought to light the rich biodiversity of the region and undertook the important task of classifying the country’s abundant species. The early 19th-century was characterised by a series of struggles for independence from Spain, culminating in the historic rebellion, led by Simón Bolívar in 1819, when the Spanish were defeated at the Battle of Boyaca. A new nation, comprising modern-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador and parts of Brazil and Guyana, was formed, named the Republic of Colombia.
This huge union did not last for long, collapsing in 1830 and giving birth to a number of new South American nations. Civil war blighted the remainder of the century, although Colombia was famously the first nation in South America to adopt a constitutional government. Communist insurgent campaigns in the 1960s attempted to overthrow the government, but since the early 2000s peace talks have finally brought an end to the 50-year long civil war. A holiday to Colombia is now a safe option and since the country has secured its new-found peace, travellers have been visiting in ever-growing numbers.
Nature in Colombia
Dive, climb, trek or simply kick-back on the beach; Colombia’s natural environment is perfect for outdoor adventures of any kind. One of the world’s most ‘megadiverse’ countries, it is actually the most biodiverse when it comes to bird species. There are plenty of unique animals and plants to search for in Colombia’s rich natural havens and approximately 10% of the total species in the world can be found within the country’s territory, as well as a large number of rare endemic species. There’s a lot to be excited about on a holiday to Colombia if you’re a nature lover.
With environments ranging from the dense Amazon rainforest to the tropical shores of the Caribbean Coast, you cannot underestimate the diversity of Colombia. The lofty heights of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Santa Marta are a good place to start when exploring the nation’s landscapes. Sat close to the Caribbean coastline, these mountains are home to a thriving bird population, with species ranging from toucans to condors and parakeets, as well as predators such as cougars and jaguars. A number of indigenous communities also inhabit the area. One of Colombia’s most famous natural havens is the Tayrona National Park, adored for its untouched beaches and accessible wildlife watching.
Here, you can spot several monkey species, elusive tree-dwelling jaguars and tiny dart frogs, to name only a few of its highlights. It’s the perfect place to combine laid-back beach relaxation with exciting wildlife trekking. One of the quintessential landscapes to experience if you travel to Colombia is the palm-fringed highlands of the Cocora Valley, situated between the Andes. It’s a picture-perfect sea of verdant trees, coffee plantations and cloud forests. The Cocora Valley is the kind of tropical haven you’ve always dreamt of, not to mention a caffeine-addicts paradise!
Culture in Colombia
Ethnically diverse and eternally vibrant, Colombian culture is a fusion of its many different ethnicities and their unique traditions. Indigenous groups, descendants of Spanish colonists, Afro-Colombians and European migrants have all left an influence on modern-day Colombian culture. Many traditional arts, dances and music can be traced back to the culture of Spain, whilst elements of the national cuisine, for example, are distinctively Caribbean in flavour, something you’ll notice in coastal cities such as Cartagena. Traditional Roman Catholic teachings lay the groundwork for family life, although the pull of urban life and the city have altered this somewhat. Culture in Colombia differs depending on the region, be it coastal, interior or in the mountains, each region has its own distinct traditions and values.
Colombia is an artistic nation; art is actively encouraged and celebrated. In some cities, such as Bogota, graffiti has been decriminalised, making for colourful streets and surprisingly liberal freedom of expression. The capital also leads the way by encouraging healthy living and a green environment with its ‘car-free Sundays’, when cyclists and pedestrians take over the city, a weekly event which has become somewhat of a family ritual for the inhabitants of the capital. This Spanish-speaking nation also boasts a particularly hearty and delicious cuisine, so come with a healthy appetite and bulk up on the abundant tropical fruits that are an everyday luxury of travelling to Colombia.
A beautiful country with more than enough natural attractions and hidden corners for every traveller to find their own slice of Colombian paradise. Vibrant, forward-looking cities, with an astounding variety of culture, make a tour of Colombia and eye-opening and heart-warming adventure for all travellers.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Colombia.
British nationals can enter Colombia for up to 90 days as a visitor without a visa.
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Please consult your doctor regarding the vaccination against yellow fever and malaria prophylaxis. Travellers over 60 years must consult their doctor as the Yellow Fever vaccine can have serious side effects.