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Having emerged from civil strife, Colombia is now firmly on the itineraries of international tourists. Visitors are drawn by the wonderful beaches of Cartagena and its UNESCO designated walled city, as well as old colonial towns, Las Lajas Sanctuary and national parks such as Tayrona. The ease of exploring by car and colourful festivals are added bonuses.
Main roads, including the country’s section of the Pan-American Highway, are in reasonable condition but once off these routes, standards deteriorate. Unsafe parts of the country are best avoided, please check with the Foreign office before travelling.
Driving licences: visitors from the UK can drive here with their valid UK licence or an International Driving Permit.
Which side does Colombia drive on: the right.
Motorways: 50mph (80kph)
Rural areas: 50mph (80kph)
Residential areas: 19mph (30kph) or 28mph (45kph)
Alcohol limits: Colombia operates a zero alcohol tolerance policy, offenders face fines or licence suspension.
Driving age: 16 years; 18 years and at least one year’s driving experience for car hire.
Seatbelts: obligatory for front-seat passengers, if fitted. Young children are required to travel in an appropriate safety seat, while those under 10 years old are barred from riding in the front seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: driving and using a mobile phone is illegal unless it is fitted with a hands-free attachment. There are no laws prohibiting the use of GPS.
Cost of fuel in Colombia: considerably cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are not widely accepted at petrol stations so make sure you have cash before filling up. Drivers can use their credit card for car hire but should notify the issuer before leaving for Colombia.
Insurance: rental cars come with compulsory third-party insurance but adding a collision damage waiver to cover all eventualities is recommended.
Traffic and parking: parking spaces in Bogota and Medellin are at a premium. Car park attendants often run valet parking services. Traffic congestion is common in the cities but once outside urban areas, driving is pleasant and parking zones plentiful.
The train system in Colombia is primarily concerned with the transportation of coal and other goods, and no longer carries passengers. Single fares on Medellin’s metro start at around £0.60. The Savannah heritage train from Bogota to Zipaquira is the only other functioning passenger rail system in Colombia.
Taxi fares in big cities such as Bogota and Cartagena are cheap when compared to Western countries, with an all-day, cross-city ride likely to be less than £10. If a taxi is not fitted with a meter, it is better to agree on a fare before setting off. Taxis can also be used for long-distance trips across country. Travellers pay for their seat or the whole car if travelling alone. These taxis can be found near major bus and transport interchanges in towns and cities.
Cucuta has frequent, inexpensive bus services to San Cristobal, Venezuela, while buses from Caracas, Venezuela, serve the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta. Long-distance domestic routes cost around £25. Urban bus networks are good and mostly have modern vehicles.
There are ferries from Puerto Obaldia in Panama to Capurgana (fares start at around £30), where passengers can change for fast ferries to Turbo.
Major cities Bogota, Medellin and Cali have international airports, with Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport around a 20 minute taxi ride from the city. There are no direct flights from the UK, but the European cities of Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and Frankfurt are served, along with US cities.
Cartagena is the jewel in the country’s tourism crown. Spanish colonial architecture, San Felipe Castle and the Palace of the Inquisition are among the top draws in this fabulous Caribbean coastal city.
Beaches within easy driving distance of Cartagena are Playa Blanca and Sportbaru. Visitors can enjoy tranquil sands, a full range of water sports and seafood dishes fit for gourmands at the beaches.
The long Pacific coastline of Colombia is home to the beach resorts of Nuqui and Bahia Solano, and the sugar cane plantations at Valle del Cauca. Activities here cover the whole gamut, from whale-spotting to rainforest treks.
The capital of Bogota is one of the most vibrant cities on the continent and offers superb nightlife, shopping and dining. The historic La Candelaria quarter and the flea market at Usaquen are among the must-visit locations here.
From Bogota, the sacred lake in Iguaque National Park and the second largest city in the country, Medellin, are interesting excursions. Medellin’s Pueblito Paisa Antioquia village, plentiful museums and gorgeous parks ensure it remains firmly on the tourism circuit.
The climate in Colombia varies according to location. Rain can occur at any time of the year in most locations and there is no specific wet season. In Cartagena and the surrounding Caribbean coastal areas, temperatures average between 25°C and 40°C all year round. Due to Bogota’s elevated position, it is cooler; temperatures can drop to 3°C in January.