About Colombia (CO)
Given Colombia’s (CO) diversity of natural beauty, traditional cultures, modern urban areas, and its wide array of opportunities for leisure, this surprisingly large country should be leading the pack of South American tourist destinations — but it’s not there yet. How many countries can pad their travel brochures with a tropical climate, volcanoes, deserts, alpine lakes, fertile river valleys, beaches on Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean coasts — and, wait for it — the Amazon rainforest? The answer is none. No other country has what Colombia has cooking, so why isn’t it at the top of the list? Perceptions and conditions are changing for the positive, but in the recent past, Colombia had a reputation for being exceptionally unsafe for foreign travelers. And there are still a number of no-go zones for tourists (see Tips & Advice), but travel in the major cities of Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, and the beach communities of Cartagena, is generally considered safe — as long as you know what you’re doing.
If you really want to make yourself happy, try and avoid getting around Colombia by public transportation. Western visitors are highly advised to rent a car in Colombia. Most destinations are accessible by a network of highways and roads in decent condition, and separated by significant distances. A 500-km trek from Bogota to Cali is a minimum 12-hour trip by bus, but easily manageable via National Route 40 in seven hours or less, depending on traffic. Bear in mind that a considerable amount of mountain driving will be involved, so it’s best if you have some experience under your belt. Otherwise, traffic flow in developed areas will be familiar to drivers from Western countries, with the glaring exception of the abundance of motorcycles and scooters on the road, most of whom drive like they’ve got a death wish. Thus, dealing with the reckless behavior of local motorists is going to be your most formidable challenge in Colombia. That, and staying out of places you shouldn’t be.
Choosing your car
Cheap car rentals in Colombia are widely available from Alamo, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, and Europcar. SUVs and specialty all-wheel drive vehicles are your best bets for safe travel, but choose from compact, standard, and fullsize sedans, estate wagons, and 7-12 seater minivans.
Tips and advice
Security varies throughout the country, and again, the upscale areas of major cities are perfectly safe. However, there are a number of places where tourists are neither welcome nor safe to visit, including the Darien Gap at the Panama border, the regions of Caquetá and Putomayo, and all departments of the Amazon except Amazonas.
Most car hires in Colombia are manual transmission.
Third-party liability insurance is mandatory for Colombia car rentals, but generally not too expensive if purchased from a major supplier.
Landslides are a big problem all over Colombia, particularly from November to March — the rainy season. You’re not likely to be involved in a landslide, but roads are frequently closed.
It’s not possible to drive into Panama, and virtually but not technically impossible to enter Peru and Brazil from Colombia. Ecuador and Venezuela are accessible, but not advisable for entering in a car hire.
If you’re involved in a traffic accident, don’t move your vehicle unless it’s causing a hazard on the roadway. Wait for the cops to come and make a report, which your car rental provider will want to see.