Backpacking in Colombia

Colombia is one of the most incredible countries in the world. With chilled surfing beaches, crazed parties, bustling cities, lost cities and incredible scenery, Colombia is a country which should be on every backpackers’ wish list and backpacking Colombia is a truly amazing experience.

When I first arrived in Colombia, I was amazed at how safe everything felt. There is a strong, yet friendly, police presence and locals in general are extremely friendly. Travelling in Colombia is a bit more expensive than I had at first anticipated but if you’re smart it’s still possible to get around on the cheap. I strongly recommend booking accommodation in advance during the high season. It’s fairly straightforward to sort out your Colombian visa before you arrive, I recommend VisaHQ if you want minimum hassle.

Travel costs

  • Accommodation: Room costs vary across the country with Medellin and Cali being some of the most expensive places to stay. In general, the good places fill up fast so you want to try and book in advance. It’s possible to get a dorm bed for around $12 but a double room will often cost just $25 so if there’s two of you, you can have a private room most of the time for no additional cost.
Cartagena

 

Posada Kalea

 

This beachfront paradise is every beach bums ideal hostel! They even offer yoga, windsurfing & other fun activities. Plus free breakfast is always a bonus.

 

Medellin

 

Hostal Casa Prado

 

This is an awesome budget hostel option for broke backpackers like myself. It’s got a laid back travel vibe!

 

Bogota

 

Hobu Hostel

 

Great social hostel in a central location. Loved the backpacker scene here & the free breakfast.

 

Santa Marta

 

Drop Bear Hostel

 

This is one of those hostels that you don’t want to leave. It’s got a big pool & great atmosphere!

 

Salento

 

Yambolombia Hostel

 

Your ideal budget hostel in Salento, for those wanting some serious chilled vibes!

 

Minca

 

Casa Elemento

 

Home of the world biggest hammock & incredible mountainous jungle views. Such a relaxing & peaceful hostel among the nature!

 

San Gill Macondo Hostel

 

This is probably one of the most popular hostels in San Gil & host of San Gils famous Tejo Tuesdays! Great social party vibes here.

 

Barichara Tinto Hostel Cool hostel with a pool in a great location! Good value for money. 

 

Book Your Colombian Hostel Here!

 

  • Food: The food is cheap, tasty and plentiful. There is plenty of street food around with arepas, empanadas and meat on a stick being some of the staples. If you’re eating out, expect to pay between five to ten dollars for a decent meal.
  • Transport: When it comes to getting around Colombia, the distances can be a problem. There are lots of long distance buses which vary in price depending on the company, I recommend booking buses in advance during the high season. Flights can sometimes be very cheap so it is worth considering internal flights on occasion. Hitching isn’t common but is totally doable. If you’re coming to Colombia from Central America, consider travelling by boat via the San Blas, it’s a once in a lifetime trip and one of the best things I have ever done.
  • Activities: From surfing and trekking to paragliding and caving, Colombia is an adventure playground. You can do some activities really cheap but it’s worth haggling; you can often get 10% off what appears to be a fixed price. Colombia is also home to some of the best diving in the world… well, OK, some of the cheapest places to learn to dive in the world.

 

Top Things to See and Do

  • Cartagena: This quaint colonial city is a great place to start your trip. The Old Town is well worth visiting and there are some beaches nearby. You can travel to Santa Marta by bus from Cartagena in around 5 hours.

 

  • Santa Marta: There is almost nothing in Santa Marta to get particularly excited about however there is lots of truly amazing places nearby, Santa Marta is the hub for Northern Colombia but I recommend basing yourself in nearby Taganga.

 

  • Taganga: Love it or hate it, Taganga has something for everyone. This is a beachside party town famous for it’s drug scene but there is a huge amount more to Taganga than at first meets the eye. Consider staying in Casa Moringa for a truly unique experience; living it up in a mansion overlooking the sea. Taganga is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to scuba dive so if that’s your bag, you’ve come to the right place. Be sure to grab a bite to eat in the incredible Baba Ganoush restaurant.

 

  • Tayrona National Park: An easy hop from Taganga, Tayrona National Park is a truly stunning oasis of pristine beaches backing onto untamed jungle. Accommodation here books up fast so take a tent or book in advance.

 

  • Ciudad Perdida: The trek to the Lost City takes 5 days and is an amazing experience. You will cross raging rivers, slide down muddy banks and bathe in crystal clear pools on your way to the city above the clouds. The city itself is amazing and receives very few visitors; go now before the word gets out.

 

  • Minca: Just a couple of hours away from Taganga, the cool hills of Minca are perfect for backpackers wanting a bit of respite or to go hiking in the jungle. I highly recommend staying at Casa Elemento, book in advance.

 

  • San Gil: From Santa Marta, the next logical step is to take a bus to San Gil. The bus takes around twelve hours so I recommend travelling at night. Spend a couple of days in San Gil and be sure to go paragliding over the incredible Chicamocha Canyon. San Gil is the adventure capital of Colombia; if you’re after rafting, caving or trekking this is the place to go. Be sure to grab a brownie from Gringo Mikes – they are amazing.

 

  • Barichara: One hour outside of San Gil lies the picture perfect town of Barichara with it’s cobbled streets, fancy restaurants and great day hikes. It’s well worth spending a night.

 

  • Bogota: An uncomfortable 9 hour journey from San Gil, Bogota is the next logical stop on your adventure. There is a huge amount to do here; I highly recommend going on the Graffiti tour and doing a day-trip to explore the truly spectacular Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira. Zona Rosa is a great place to go for drinks in the evening.

 

  • Salento and the Coffee Region:  A firm favourite with backpackers, Salento is a great place to spend a few days unwinding, trekking and sipping coffee. I highly recommend exploring the Cocora Valley on a day-hike. La Serrana is a great place to base yourself; check out their awesome safari tents!

 

  • Medellin: My favourite place in all of Colombia, Medellin packs a lot of punch and is one of the best places to live if you’re a digital nomad in need of a break. The very touristy El Poblado area is where most backpackers base themselves but I far preferred the quieter Envigado. Be sure to go on the Real City walking tour, officially the best walking tour I have ever been on. Guatape is a popular day-trip from the city but the real highlights of Medellin are best discovered by simply wandering around, enjoying a cerveza in a pool hall, attending a free salsa lesson or chilling out in one of the many parks. Medellin has a tarnished reputation on account of Pablo Escobar, think carefully about whether you want to go on a tour to find out more about Pablo’s empire. From Medellin, continue onwards to Cali or head further afield down to Ecuador and onwards to Peru. For travel inspiration, check out this Peru travel guide from my backpacking buddies over at Two Scots Abroad.

 

Useful Apps to Download Before Backpacking Colombia

uTalk Go – So you want to learn Nepalese? uTalk is the backpacker’s secret weapon when it comes to learning languages, I cannot recommend uTalk Go enough. I’ve used this all over the world whilst travelling and with over 130 languages currently available, it’s the perfect sidekick.

 

Backpack Colombia for free

Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Colombia long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching english abroad.

Get insured!

Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Colombia backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads

Many explorers backpacking Colombia are unsure of what to expect but this is a country with a welcoming people, stunning landscapes and great parties!

19 Comments

  • Scott says:

    Nice post, got three weeks in Colombia this summer so this is useful. You fancy doing one for Ecuador too? 😉

    I notice there is supposed to a high malaria risk across much of Colombia, including most of the Pacific Coast – did you bother with antimalarials?

    • Will Hatton says:

      I never bother with anti-malarials and I’ve been to some pretty malaria-esque destinations, you should be fine matey! I’m not headed to Ecuador I’m afraid – onwards to Venezuela tomorrow!! 🙂

    • Campbell says:

      Hi Will, nice blog, but where did you stay? those hostels sound super expensive! We traveled around Colombia for a month or so and paid $5-$10 for a dorm bed and around $17 for a private room, I agree awesome and cheap place for adventure activities, super friendly people, awesome country. We are new to the blogging game, what we spent each per day can be seen below, if any of your followers are interested, what we did, where we stayed and how much we paid can be seen at http://stingynomads.com/colombia/
      Signing up for your blog!
      Safe travels

      Avg of what we spent
      Transport: 284 700 COP ($97.93) total, $3.15 avg per day

      Food (shopping): 400 100 COP ($138) $4.45 avg per day

      Accomodation: 510 500 COP ($175) $5.70 avg per day

      Activities: 231 000 COP ($79.50) $2.56 avg per day

  • Colombia has been on my list for a while. Ciudad Perdida sounds amazing. Googling it now.

  • Charlie says:

    Super useful post! Thanks for sharing this. Next year I’m hoping to settle down for a while in South America and I’ve been hearing more and more great things about Colombia. Really looking forward to checking it out.

  • Sam says:

    Will!! Still travelling strong I see 🙂 hope you are having an awesome time. Loving the website, it’s giving me the serious travel bug! Still loving Exeter though, so will be here for a little while.

    Hope you are well x

    • Will Hatton says:

      Sam!! I WAS THINKING ABOUT YOU LIKE LITERALLY YESTERDAY! How’s it going? I’ll be popping into exeter at some point, we should grab a coffee! And yes, still travelling – what else am I going to do, learn to cook? I don’t think so… :p

  • Renee says:

    Thanks for the post! Heading to Colombia in July (yes, far far away). Staying in Cartagena/Santa Marta for 11 days for surfing, diving and snorkelling. Will look into Taganga a bit further.

    Hope you make it to Ecuador, as it is such a great place and got back from there a few weeks ago. Happy travels!

  • Arianwen says:

    This looks like a rundown of my itinerary. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Colombia! Salento and Tayrona were my favourites. I also loved the adventure sports in San Gil and the trekking to the Lost City!

  • When I was in Ecuador I thought of visiting Columbia. Did you go dancing while you were there, and if so what type of dancing did they introduce you to? Great pics and I love that you can haggle for a reduced price.

    • Will Hatton says:

      I had a crack at some salsa, it wasn’t the salsa I am used to from Europe though, apparently my foot-work was all wrong; I had the twirls down to a T though! 🙂

  • Scott says:

    Any thoughts on Cali? Is it worth stopping there for a couple of days? I have heard it’s pretty dodgy safety wise.

    • Will Hatton says:

      I probably wouldn’t bother with Cali, the cities re all similar and Bogota and Medellin are definitely the best… Cali should only be on the list if your a die-hard Salsa fan… Safety wise, it really is fine – 3 months and no problems. Currently in Venezuela, significantly more dodgy and yet, still fine. Don’t trust the media or sensationalist news-reports, unless your a total god-damn idiot and attempt to buy coke off a cop, you will be fine.

  • Vanessa says:

    Hola Will
    Se que has estado en Venezuela, por ello quiero que me ayudes con ciertas recomendaciones respecto a lugares para visitar en especial sus playas, resorts o sea si son lugares en el mar caribe venezolano, mejor.
    Soy de Ecuador, espero nos vistes.

    Slds

    Vanessa

  • Mary says:

    Hey Guys If you’re going to San Gil I highly recommend Karla, is a girl in who helped us a lot in our stay there. She speak a good English, she was our guide and drove us where we need, and helped us in all that we needed like a accommodation, San Gil was much better that we thought thank to Karla. Her number is 3183928463

  • John says:

    Wifey and I LOVE Colombia and always stay in Envigado (been 3 times now) and have made some real nice local friends. The lifestyle there is wonderful, great foods, weather, nightlife, street atmosphere it has the lot. And all at a very affordable price. Your list has certainly given us more ideas and reasons to go back which actually we can’t wait. Thanks for making us miss it even more (if that’s really possible).

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