by PROJECT CORDILLERA
Culture and nature collide with spectacular results throughout Colombia. A country rich in biodiversity and brimming with bewilderingly beautiful mountains, lush rainforest and crystal clear beaches, Colombia is an adventure travelers paradise.
You’re nature, you’re history, you’re an example of progress.
You’re home to a diverse ecosystem that traverses rainforests, mountains, deserts, beaches, and plains. On long bus rides through the country, I force myself to stay awake so I don’t miss out on the spectacular landscapes.
From imposing mountains that can suddenly change into arid, desert-like terrain to wax palms taller than seem physically feasible and multi-colored, roaring rivers, you certainly awe the fresh-eyed traveler.
The welcoming conversations of Medellín’s Paisas and the fiery, salsa-fueled energy of Cali’s Caleños, present the diverse sides of Colombia. Your architecture is a blend of colonial, Catholic artifacts in historic centers like colorful, coastal Cartagena and the white-washed walls of Popayán.
A true testitament to your rich history are the numerous indigenous populations that reside throughout the country who have maintained their traditions and sacred lands in places like El Cocuy National Park, Los Nevados, and Guainia.
Your diversity shines through your gastronomy. With countless tropical fruits, it may be impossible to sample them all. I’ll never go hungry wandering your streets with choices like arepas de chocolo with quesito, palitos de queso, or empanadas costeñas as filling snacks.
Your coffee is renowned for its rich, dark flavor and hand-picked beans, making it some of the most sought after coffee in the world.
You’re not the same Colombia that the world knew decades ago. Many of your cities have been world heritage sites, and Medellin won the title of Most Innovative.
A score of museums showcase renowned artists and writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Botero and treasures of worlds’ past. You have art that has redefined spaces that used to be too risky to enter, and the colorful pueblos and plazas that force you to slow down and meander.
Colombia, my words have only begun to showcase the beauty of your essence, but one day I hope to learn all you have to offer. Until then, I’ll keep daydreaming about my next adventure.
Love, from a traveler
Before embarking on your adventure, here are some FAQs about how to prepare and what to expect on your expedition.
Getting to Colombia:
Commercial flights to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, are available from most major hub airports in North America, Europe and other South American countries. From Europe, it’s most affordable to travel through London, Madrid, Paris and Frankfurt. From North America, it’s easiest and cheapest to travel via Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
Getting to Bogotá:
Bogotá is easily accessible from anywhere in the country. Thanks to a new highway, the bus from Bogotá to Medellín only takes around 7 hours and there are plenty of operators. Buses in Colombia can be expensive, while airfare is often more reasonable and far faster. Avianca, Viva Colombia, and many others offer cheap in-country and international flights to Bogotá and other Colombian cities. This may be your best option when traveling from the coast, as Bogotá is at least 17 hours from Santa Marta by bus, but only an hour and a half by plane.
Getting to Medellín:
Medellín is easily reached by plane or bus. Colombia’s second city is home to both an international airport (at Rionegro, just outside the city) and a smaller, local airport located in the city’s built-up valley. The smaller airport is used as a gateway to the Pacific coast and other in-country destinations, serving smaller airlines such as Satena and Easy Fly. Getting to Medellín from the international airport at Rionegro, you have three options: bus, taxi or shared taxi (collectivo). All are safe, affordable and reliable. If you are coming by bus, the city has two bus stations, Terminal del Norte and Terminal del Sur which serve buses leaving to the north and south, respectively.
Getting to Cartagena and Santa Marta:
Cartagena and Santa Marta are located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, about 230km apart. You can take a taxi, bus or minibus to travel between the two. Both Cartagena and Santa Marta have international airports located not far from the city centers. Flights to Cartagena are particularly affordable from Central America, the Caribbean, other cities in Colombia, South America and the southern United States.
Visas & Docs
As with most international travel, your passport must be current and valid for at least 6 months from the date of your departure.
Visas for Colombia:
If you are coming from the US, the UK and most other developed economies, you do not need a pre-arranged tourist visa. If you are coming from another EU state, such as France, Germany, etc., please check with the appropriate authority in your country prior to booking your tickets. Citizens of Canada are now required to pay a reciprocity fee upon arrival (160,000 COP) payable by credit or debit card in Colombian Pesos. Most nationalities are lawfully allowed to stay in Colombia for 90 days and petition for an additional 90 days at a later date, if required. Always check with your national authority before travel, as this information can change, and it is your responsibility as a traveler to be aware of your personal visa requirements.
Money & Budgets
Traveling with Money, ATMs, etc.
Traveling with large amounts of cash in Perú and Colombia is not recommended. In most capital and provincial cities, there are numerous ATM machines which accept international debit/credit cards, VISA and Mastercard. Most restaurants and larger retailers will also allow you to pay with a credit or debit card. Try to break large bills in supermarkets and at large retailers as most smaller stores and restaurants will not have change for big bills. Most of the expeditions promoted on our site include all expenses while in the wilderness, however, it is always a good idea to have a some cash on you, and when in town responsibility for your meals and other costs is almost always yours.
Currency in Colombia:
Colombia uses the Colombian Peso. As of June 2018, the exchange rates were as follows: $3,080 Pesos to every US dollar, $3,540 Pesos to every Euro, and $4,015 Pesos to every UK Pound Sterling.
Budget for Colombia:
Colombia is a relatively inexpensive country for travelers. You’ll find that Bogotá and Cartagena are more expensive than Medellín and Santa Marta, but you can find budget accommodations and restaurants in all cities. If you plan to stay in hostels, eat at local restaurants and use local transportation, we suggest budgeting at least $40-60 per day. Budget Tip: one way to save money is by ordering a “menu del dia” for lunch. This typical lunch features soup, a main course consisting of meat, rice, salad, and beans and a juice. You might be able to share one as well!
We recommend participants on all high altitude climbs, treks and courses have both personal travel and high mountain insurance. Please make sure you print out your insurance documents or bring necessary membership cards with you. It is also a good idea to research your coverage fully before leaving so you know what additional paperwork or actions might be required of you.
Travel insurance is widely available and easy to obtain. This will cover you in any event related to your travel to and from Perú or Colombia as well as your entry into the mountains. In the UK, we recommend The Post Office but there are many other options, including World Nomads and Allianz.
High Mountain Insurance:
Insurance for climbing and trekking at high altitudes can be acquired from a number of mountaineering councils and other similar bodies. This insurance covers most mountaineering, but some restrictions may apply at elevations higher than 6,000 meters (19,680 feet), so check your insurance carefully. Bodies offering this insurance include the Austrian Alpine Club UK, British Mountaineering Council , Dogtag and others. Please note that you must bring physical evidence of your insurance (such as a membership card or print out) with you on your expedition.
Operators and Guides Insurance:
Project Cordillera promotes local guides and operators, both of whom have their own liability and insurance.
Project Cordillera highly recommends consulting the government body that handles international travel before traveling overseas. It is your responsibility to understand the risks and potential dangers associated with travel to these places. For citizens of the US, consult the State Department website, and for citizens of the UK, consult the Foreign Office website.
Health in Colombia:
Staying healthy in Colombia is usually as easy as following common sense. The tap water in Bogota and Medellín is drinkable. On the coast and in many rural areas it is recommended that you only drink bottled water, and that you are vigilant as to where and what you eat. With Colombia being a tropical country, it is highly recommended that you wash your hands frequently. Most expeditions require a completed medical form, but please make us aware if you have specific health conditions or concerns.
Vaccines for Colombia:
You should check with your doctor prior to leaving for Colombia. In the near future, travelers will be required to show proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination before entering the country. It is also recommended that you find out as much as possible from the appropriate authority in your country. In the US, this is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Please note, it is recommended that you bring mosquito repellent and remain mindful of other health related issues. Much depends on where you intend to go, so always seek personal advice from a professional or from your country’s travel health advisory service before leaving.
There are many people who travel in Perú and Colombia without Spanish skills and get by, but it will only enhance your experience in the country to understand a few Spanish words and try to communicate with the local people. You can expect English speaking guides and staff when finding and organizing your adventure through Project Cordillera.
There are dozens of languages in Colombia. Spanish is by far the most widely spoken, but there are over 80 other languages and dialects officially recognized. Interestingly, in the islands of San Andres and Providence, English is the official language.
These ecosystems are some of our favorite places on Earth, however, they are also harsh environments that pose very real and dangerous threats to your health and safety. While on an expedition it is incredibly important to follow the directions and suggestions of your experienced guide as most have spent their whole lives navigating these precious ecosystems.
The effects of altitude on the body and mind, differ greatly from individual to individual, and are often extremely difficult to predict. The best suggestions about altitude are to always acclimatize slowly and fully prior to ascending higher, to consider the body’s hydration paramount, and to be very aware of what the symptoms of altitude sickness are, both in relation to high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). To learn more, please get in touch and we’ll recommend some useful resources for better understanding of this important subject.
Weather & Seasons
As Colombia is located close the equator and features the northern Andes mountain range, this creates a variation of weather characteristics dictated by the altitude. Colombia features tropical forests, mountains, coastal ranges, and desert and arid regions. Typically, the dry season, or summer, runs from December to March and again from July to August. The wet season will usually run from April to May and again from September to October. Please keep in mind that this is an estimate and will change based on the city or region you visit.
Central Colombia (Los Nevados):
To get the best views of the volcanoes and the clearest climbing days head to Los Nevados National Park in January or February. However, March, July, August and December may be good options as well. During the rest of the year, the park receives a fair amount of rain. You can expect cold temperatures and frosty mornings.
Expedition climbs and treks usually feature groups of between two and six individuals; guide to client ratios depend upon the specifics of the trip, including the difficulty and the complexity of expeditions. However, guide to client ratios for high mountaineering expeditions are often 1:2. We often arrange expeditions with a ratio of 1:1 as well, and this very much depends on the objectives of the expedition. Alpine courses usually have between four to eight students – although sometimes this can be more. Please note that numbers depend on demand and capacity, therefore they are difficult to predict until nearer the expedition start date. Customized expeditions can be arranged for individuals as well as for larger group bookings.
The guides, instructors and operators promoted by Project Cordillera have undergone extensive skills and emergency training, and have been hired for their impeccable safety records and attention to your well-being. They will act conservatively in the interest of safety over the desire to get to the summit. As experienced guides, they will never take unnecessary risks in the high mountains.
As passionate guides and lovers of the mountains, they will work with clients to problem-solve when attempting to successfully reach each objective, including summits. Additionally, your willingness to cooperate in these situations is paramount to the success of your expedition. Please respect the decisions of your guides while under their responsibility.
Safety & Sensitivity
Safety in Colombia:
Once known as the home to some of the most dangerous cities in the world, Colombia has more recently transitioned to a premier, and very safe travel destination. Colombia is now a stable and secure destination compared to other Latin American countries. As a foreign traveler, however, you may attract attention. You should be alert at all times as street crime is prevalent in cities. This means keeping a good eye on your luggage and keeping valuable items (cameras, wallets, phones, etc.) on your person, as well as simply being discreet in the way you interact in public. You don’t want to wander around alone at night, and make sure you keep your important documents, cards, and cash with you or in a secure place. For more up to date information on travel safety, consult your country’s government travel website: in the US, The State Department, and in the UK, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Local situations can change, so seeking advice locally, or asking your travel consultant, is highly recommended if you are unsure.
Cultural Sensitivity in Colombia:
You’ll find the people of Colombia to be especially warm and friendly, and if you are culturally sensitive and interact with empathy with those you meet, you will have friends wherever you go. When traveling in remote areas of high mountain areas or in the Amazon, bear in mind that you are a guest in the ancestral homelands of communities who have been there for thousands of years. Both male and female travelers should be considerate of how they dress, being mindful to not appear immodestly. Colombia has a recent history of violence, so when discussing political or historical matters, be very sensitive to the experiences of those around you and actively listen. Some subjects, including matters relating to the history of the armed conflict, the drug trade, Pablo Escobar, etc. are sensitive matters for the Colombian public. Be respectful of this, and understand that many people have been deeply affected by this history.
We employ porters who are given a fair wage and are highly respected members of our expeditions/courses. Usually they are employed for straightforward “access” sections of our expeditions. We aim to respect dignity and human rights with all those we work with.
Although we will have pack animals along on some of our activities, you can expect to be carrying a 20 to 30 kilogram (44 to 66 pound) pack during our treks and climbs. We use donkeys and/or llamas to transport all other gear and food. There is a long history of working animals in the Andes and all our partners use pack animals with the utmost respect and care.
The Peace Process in Colombia:
As members and guests of Colombian society, we respect the right of the citizens to determine the path to peace between the Colombian government and various guerilla groups, including the FARC, ELN, and others. Additionally, we support due process of the law and an adherence to human and international rights laws. We understand this is a sensitive issue and choose to work with organizations and partners in Colombia that reflect our values and impacts accurately.