Colombia is a country very much overlooked by female travellers but the majority of Colombia is surprisingly safe for women. Being part of Latin America, it is still a very machismo society but the only place you may feel uncomfortable here is on the Caribbean coast where cat calls are common.
Spend time in the big cities and you’ll be surprised by the tight clothing that women wear especially in Medellin. This is one city where you can wear what you want without worrying about attracting the wrong type of attention.
There is crime here so only take out as much money as you need and use ATMs during the day especially in Cali. Flashing jewellery or your phone or camera is not wise so be careful with your valuables and only carry the minimal items with you. If you are backpacking alone in Colombia you will find others to team up with.
There is still trouble between the government and the Farc Rebels, so check the latest updates for areas and routes to avoid. If you learn some Spanish phrases and stay clear of the comunas (the poorer areas), Colombia will capture your heart.
Although stereotyped with drug cartels and violence, Colombia’s reputation is gradually changing to one of entrepreneurship, transformation and hope. Admittedly, parts of the country are still out of bounds for tourists but Colombia has come a long way in the last decade and is now a place of magical realism with coffee plantations, Caribbean cities and mountain landscapes.
Bogota is the capital of the country and although it does have its street crime, it also has a large student population making areas such as La Candelaria perfectly safe for a woman travelling alone to enjoy a coffee and listen to live music. It’s also one of the most colourful areas with impressive street art and walls dedicated to graffiti. Take the street graffiti art tour to learn more about the city’s art.
There is not that much to do here so three to five days is enough to see all that the city has to offer. Once you’ve spent a few hours wandering around the Gold Museum and the Botero Museum, join one of the city’s tours. Bogota Bike Tours offers group cycling around the city – an ideal way to meet others and explore Bogota safely at the same time.
Bogota does have great nightlife, although it’s more expensive than you would expect for Colombia and is a fair taxi ride away from La Candelaria. Team up with others to sample the bars and latin clubs of Zona T, Zona Rosa and Parque 93.
Two hours outside of Bogota, you’ll find the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, a quaint Colombian town. You have to take two buses to get here so taking a tour is much easier. If haunted houses are more your style, take the 2 hour bus journey to Tequendama Falls, a 157 meter high waterfall with a spooky abandoned hotel. Raquira is definitely worth a visit. This colourful town has friendly locals and a South American charm and is reachable by minibus from Bogota.
Travel West and you’ll arrive in Colombia’s coffee country. Colombia is one of the world’s top producers of coffee and although it exports most of its quality beans, taking a finca tour (a coffee farm) in this region is the best way to try the best of the local produce. You can even stay overnight in one.
Salento is a cute little town with a country feel with old men wearing cowboy hats and a colourful artisan market that draws in Colombians as well as tourists. This is a great place to hike but choose company to do so as there have been cases of people getting held up and robbed.
Valle del Cocora has a striking landscape with waterfalls, hummingbirds and giant wax palms and is safe for hiking alone. To get there take a shared jeep from the town square early morning and allow enough time to catch a jeep back at 3pm. The top of the hill in Salento offers a viewpoint of the town which is safe for solos to visit, even at dusk, and because the town is so small there is no risk of getting lost.
Manizales is a university city with a cooler climate and a European feel and the parks here offer beautiful views overlooking the city. Chipre is the highest point in Manizales with a lookout tower to admire the views. Similar to the rest of Colombia, people congregate in the plazas so it’s easy to meet others here.
There are multiple hot springs near here with Termales Tierra Viva the most natural pool made of natural stone. If you didn’t visit the Gold Museum in Bogota, there is a smaller one here to explore.
Head north from coffee county to Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city and once the most dangerous city in the world. Medellín is now one of the biggest success stories and even won the Most Innovative City Award in 2013 for its turnaround.
Situated in a valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains, Medellin is smaller and more contained than Bogota, and is known as the City of Eternal Spring because of its year-round warm temperature (27’c). Nearly everywhere you go in the city has amazing views and the city is vibrant with a latin culture with Al Fresco dining and locals socialising in the many parks.
For a great view of the city, take the Metrocable, a clever transport system designed to reach the suburban areas of the city. Take the second cable car to Parque Arvi, a natural reserve where you can go horse riding but make sure you hire a guide here instead of exploring on your own.
Other places not to be missed are Plaza Botero with the famous over-sized sculptures, and the Botanical Gardens, an area of 40 acres of tranquility in the city. For the adventurous, paragliding gives you a bird’s eye view of the city and is one of the cheapest places in South America to experience it.
Medellin is safe if you don’t have your valuables on show and don’t venture into the pueblos alone. Pueblito Paisa is a cute mock up of Colombian Pueblo with fantastic views of the city so you won’t miss out on visiting one of the more authentic areas. Although the outdoor escalators are in a poorer area, if you visit with others you’ll be able to explore this fascinating re-generated area of street art in safety.
Medellin is one of the best places to party and the area of Parque Lleras is perfectly safe for women at night and is a great place to meet others, especially as the park is a hive of activity with locals and tourists hanging out before hitting the bars.
From Medellin you can easily get to other places in Antioquia. Just 45 minutes away is Santa Fe, a historic town with colonial architecture and a romantic charm, and the tiny town of Amaga has the friendliest locals you’re ever likely to meet.
Guatape is one of the most beautiful areas in Colombia and a two hour bus ride from Medellin will take you to Penol Rock where you can climb to the top for amazing views of the lake below.
When you’re ready for a different vibe, travel to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. Cartagena is a colourful old town with cobbled streets. You’ll find street performers and other travellers and tourists enjoying the friendly vibe at Plaza Trinidad, the square where everyone hangs out.
If you are here on a Tuesday night, pop down to the tuesday night language exchange at Latin Explosion to meet others and learn some Spanish. You’ll find many tours here from chiva tours to culture and history, and boat trips to the Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca.
Cartagena gets incredibly hot and at times the humidity can be overbearing. As pretty at it is here, it is also very touristy so be prepared to barter with the vendors trying to charge you tourist prices.
Santa Marta is only an hour away and not only has a nicer beach than Cartagena but also a nicer vibe. There’s not that much to see so take a day trip to Minca for waterfalls, or spend a couple of nights at nearby Taganga on a more secluded beach.
Tayrona National Park is one of the most beautiful sights in Colombia. For the adventurous solo, the Lost City Trek is a four day strenuous challenge through jungle to an ancient ruined city built by the Tayrona Indians.
Most people avoid the Pacific Coast, where the ocean meets the jungle, as it doesn’t have the tourism infrastructure of the Caribbean side but if you’re looking for a more rustic travelling experience and have the time and patience to explore this region, you’re be able to escape the crowds.
Choose the sleepy town of Bahia Solano for deserted beaches and whale watching, Nuquí for its cultural and ethnic diversity, El Valle for surfing, and Parque Utria – a national park for rainforest beauty. Escape to this side of Colombia and you’re guaranteed to be travelling solo.
If you love dancing you’ll love Cali. This city does have its crime problems so as women traveling alone be careful at night and also when taking money out of ATMs. Situated in a valley with the Cauca River, Cali is the salsa epicentre of Colombia, so don’t be surprised if you’re invited to a salsa club or two, as salsa is in the Caleños' blood. It’s also known for its shopping so after a night of being spun around the dance floor, some retail therapy is a respite from the city’s heat.
Cristo Rey is Cali’s version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, where you can catch a great view of the city but team up with others for this route or choose Estatua instead, a safer area for a vista. The city was once populated by many indigenous tribes and has a rich cultural history. For the adventurous, just 1.5 hours from Cali is Calima Lake, a great place to windsurf. Or head to Pance for some birdwatching and trekking, just 30 minutes away from Cali.
Did you know that Colombia has a desert? Two in fact. La Tatacoa is a 30 minute flight from Bogota and the desert of La Guajira lies in the north of Colombia. Saving the very best for last, the Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia although nearer Nicaragua, are definitely Colombia with a Caribbean feel.
Although San Andres can get quite touristy, Providencia is lesser-known with empty beaches and golf buggies for getting around the island. Airlines fly from the larger Colombian cities to San Andres.
Other places to visit in Colombia are: Santa Elena for tropical flowers, Popayán for colonial architecture, the Rio Claro Valley for cave tubing, Raquira for colourful pottery, Barranquilla for its party and carnival atmosphere and Jardin – one of the most beautiful towns in the country.
As Colombia moves into the future, it is no longer about Pablo Escobar and the days of the cartels. Travel to Colombia and the only risk is wanting to stay.
How long do I need?
With Viva Colombia flying internally, you no longer need to worry about long bus journeys. A week here is too short unless you just want to see Bogota, Medellin and Cali and fly between all three. Two to three weeks is perfect for exploring the cities, the coffee region and the Caribbean coast.
Accommodation in Colombia
Accommodation is a fraction of the cost that you may be used to in the UK or USA. There is no shortage of Colombia hostels as you’ll find them throughout the country and not just limited to the main cities. Stay at Mountain Hostels in Manizales or Mirador Finca Morrogacho which has the nicest hosts and views.
If you prefer a dorm bed or private room for a while in Medellin check out International House in Belen.
Stay at a chocolate hotel or boutique hotel in Cartagena. Find 2 to 5 star hotels, suites and apartments in Bogota, or apartments in Medellin along with gorgeous 4 and 5 star hotels. Stay in a 4/5 star hotel in Barranquilla or go all inclusive on the island of San Andres.
Book a room in a penthouse and other accommodation through Airbnb where you can stay with a local and save $20 off your first stay. There is such a wide choice in Colombia.
GatG Favourite – Hotel Boutique LM, Cartagena
This hotel is beautifully designed and has a rooftop swimming pool with views of the gorgeous city of Cartagena. Prices from £63 p/n. Find Out More
GatG Favourite – Diez Hotel, Medellin
We love the natural element design of this hotel just steps away from Parque Lleras, one of the liveliest areas in Medellin. Prices from £74 p/n. Find Out More
GatG Favourite – BOG Hotel, Bogota
Situated in the Zona T area, one of the popular areas of Colombia’s capital city, this hotel has great views of the mountain and city and is safe for solo females. Prices from £77 p/n. Find Out More
If you feel more confident with others, take a group trip to Colombia. Both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are responsible tour companies and have group tours in Colombia from 7 days to 60 days incorporating Ecuador and Peru. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
Discover the Lost City on a 7 day trek from £499 or spend 2 weeks exploring Colombia’s Caribbean coast from £1299. Get to know the country on an 8 day coffee tour from £1115 or experience Colonial Colombia on a 9 day group tour from £828.
- ZoOming.co – Are a local Colombian travel company offering Medellin city tours, coffee tours, nature and wellness, and AgroTourism.
- Andes Eco Tours – Offers sustainable tours in Bogota.
Travelling Around Colombia
Some bus routes are not recommended at night (Popayan to Pasto, and Cali/Bogota to Ecuador) so do your research before you take a bus and either travel during the day or by plane instead. With Viva Colombia flying internally you no longer need to worry about long bus journeys as the airline offers cheap flights (charging extra for more baggage) to various airports in the country.
This can work out just slightly cheaper than taking a bus and reduce your 12 hour journey to just 1 hour or under. Other Colombian airlines are Aerolinea de Antioquia who also fly internally.
Some of the regions are mountainous so bus journeys can be windy. Medellin has a good transport system with a metro service and Bogota is connected by good bus routes. MarSol runs shuttle service along the Caribbean coast. Flights operate to the Caribbean island of San Andres. The Pacific coast is more challenging to get to with some areas only accessible by boat and plane.
Uber – When getting around the cities you may feel more comfortable with Uber instead of taking a taxi. Uber is a driver app where each driver is vetted beforehand, and you can see the driver’s picture and registration number before they arrive. Save up to $20 off your first ride with Uber using promo code RIDINGUBER20.
To hire a car we recommend pre-booking car hire with Avis so you can collect your car when you arrive at the airport.
From the airport
Bogota – Taxis cost approx. 30,000 pesos for the 40 minute journey or take the local bus to Calle 19 or Carrera 10 which runs until 10pm.
Medellin – Buses run to the city where you can then get a cheap taxi to your destination. The bus leaves outside the airport and costs 9,000 Colombian pesos for the 45 minutes ride compared to 60,000 pesos in a taxi.
Caribbean coast – Buses run from Santa Marta airport to the city and take 43 minutes. Take a local bus from Cartagena airport to Cartagena.
Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book a transfer with Hoppa, a reliable and safe service for solo females.
Travelling onwards (check visas before you travel)
Colombia To Panama – There is no overland border so either fly with Viva Colombia or take the 3/4 day sailing trip, stopping off at the stunning San Blas islands with the indigenous Kuna tribe. A great way of combining a border crossing with a sailing adventure.
Colombia To Ecuador – From Popayan there are direct buses to Ipiales, the border town which takes 8 hours and usually stops in Pasto, or cross via Tulcan and Ipiales. Avoid crossing into Ecuador at night and travel during the day.
Colombia To Brazil – Spend 4-5 days crossing the Amazon from Leticia to Manaus by riverboat for US $65 (payable in Colombian pesos). Boats depart Wednesdays and Saturdays or there is a faster service which takes 36 hours departing Saturdays and Sundays for US $150 (in local currency). Check here for the boat information.
Colombia To Peru – Similar to crossing into Brazil, take the riverboat from Leticia to Iquitos in Peru along the Amazon. If you don’t have 3 days to cross on the slow boat (Cabin = US $80 including 3 meals a day) which leaves daily except for Thursdays, there is a fast boat for just 12 hours for a few dollars more. This departs Santa Rosa (same as the slow boat) every day except for Saturdays and Mondays.
Colombia To Venezuela – Not recommended to visit at this time due to political unrest.
Where can I go from here?
Panama – 1 hour
Ecuador – 1.5 hours
Peru – 3 hours
- Can I drink the water? In most cities yes. Choose bottles water in smaller towns.
- Is tipping expected? No, a service charge is included. In a supermarket, it’s polite to tip the people who are packing your bags.
- Fixed price or barter? Fixed price.
- Any ATMs? Yes, but they don’t all work with international cards so make sure when you find one that works, take out as much as possible. Salento only has one ATM which so be prepared and have extra cash on you.
- Which side of the road do they drive? The right hand side.
- Good for vegetarians? The staple Colombian diet is rice, beans, meat and arepas but more and more vegetarian places are popping up in the cities.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
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Capital – Bogotá
Population – 48.3 million
Language Spoken – Spanish
Best Time to Go – January and December for Bogota.
Mind Body & Soul
Issues in the Country
As tourism rises in Colombia so does sex tourism. Prostitution is legal here and is very open in the cities of Cartagena and Medellin. Read more here…