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Country Guides for South America


Colombia Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and Venezuela). A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government escalated during the 1990s, undergirded in part by funds from the drug trade. Although the violence is deadly and large swaths of the countryside are under guerrilla influence, the movement lacks the military strength or popular support necessary to overthrow the government. An anti-insurgent army of paramilitaries has grown to be several thousand strong in recent years, challenging the insurgents for control of territory and illicit industries such as the drug trade and the government's ability to exert its dominion over rural areas. While Bogota steps up efforts to reassert government control throughout the country, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.

Source: CIA World Factbook

Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers. Travelers’ diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found universally throughout the region and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E. coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (Typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage (hepatitis). Make sure your food and drinking water are safe.

Malaria is a serious, but preventable infection that can be fatal. Your risk of malaria may be high in these countries, including some cities. Prevent this deadly disease by seeing your health care provider for a prescription antimalarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites. Travelers to malaria-risk areas, including infants, children, and former residents of South America, should take an antimalarial drug.

Chloroquine is the recommended drug for Paraguay.
Travelers to Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: (listed alphabetically): atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, mefloquine, or primaquine (in special circumstances).

A certificate of yellow fever vaccination may be required for entry into certain of these countries. For detailed information, see Comprehensive Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements. Also, find the nearest authorized U.S. yellow fever vaccine center.

If you visit the Andes Mountains, ascend gradually to allow time for your body to adjust to the high altitude, which can cause insomnia, headaches, nausea, and altitude sickness. In addition, use sunblock rated at least 15 SPF, because the risk of sunburn is greater at high altitudes.

Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) are other diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Protecting yourself against insect bites will help to prevent these diseases.

Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid nighttime travel if possible and always use seat belts.

CDC recommends the following vaccines (as appropriate for age):

See your doctor at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for immunizations to take effect.

  • Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).
  • Hepatitis B, if you might be exposed to blood (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, stay >6 months in the region, or be exposed through medical treatment.
  • Rabies, if you might be exposed to wild or domestic animals through your work or recreation.
  • Typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries in this region.
  • Yellow fever vaccination, if you will be traveling outside urban areas.
  • As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria and measles. Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11–12 years who did not complete the series as infants.

To stay healthy, do...

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. If this is not possible, make water safer by BOTH filtering through an “absolute 1-micron or less” filter AND adding iodine tablets to the filtered water. “Absolute 1-micron filters” are found in camping/outdoor supply stores.
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
  • If you will be visiting an area where there is risk for malaria, take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after travel, as directed. (See your doctor for a prescription.)
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites:
    • Pay special attention to mosquito protection between dusk and dawn. This is when the type of mosquito whose bite transmits malaria is active.
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
    • Use insect repellents that contain DEET (diethylmethyltoluamide).
    • Read and follow the directions and precautions on the product label.
    • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin.
    • Do not put repellent on wounds or broken skin.
    • Do not breathe in, swallow, or get into the eyes (DEET is toxic if swallowed). If using a spray product, apply DEET to your face by spraying your hands and rubbing the product carefully over the face, avoiding eyes and mouth.
    • Unless you are staying in air-conditioned or well-screened housing, purchase a bed net impregnated with the insecticide permethrin or deltamethrin. Or, spray the bed net with one of these insecticides if you are unable to find a pretreated bed net.
    • DEET may be used on adults, children, and infants older than 2 months of age. Protect infants by using a carrier draped with mosquito netting with an elastic edge for a tight fit.
    • Children under 10 years old should not apply insect repellent themselves. Do not apply to young children’s hands or around eyes and mouth.
  • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot.
  • Always use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in Colombia is volatile. Violence by narcotraffickers, terrorist groups, and other criminal elements is widespread and increasing in certain areas. Travel by road outside the major cities is especially dangerous because of terrorist and organized criminal activity in rural areas.

Some terrorist groups have targeted foreigners, multinational companies and other foreign interests, and this pattern is expected to continue in the future. Random bombings have occurred in and around major urban areas, including attacks on civilian targets. A bombing at an exclusive social club in Bogotá on February 7, 2003, left 36 dead and 160 injured. The FARC directly targeted U.S. citizens in a terrorist attack on November 15, 2003 in an upscale entertainment area; the attack left one person dead and injured 73, including four U.S. citizens. Terrorist groups have also targeted public facilities and modes of transportation. While the Government of Colombia has instituted increased security measures around the tourist area in the colonial, walled part of Cartagena frequented by cruise line passengers, U.S. citizens and interests in Cartagena have been specifically identified as viable targets in the past.

Kidnapping for ransom occurs more often in Colombia than in any other country in the world, and affects all parts of the country, especially rural areas. Since the year 2000, 27 American citizens, mostly dual nationals, were reported kidnapped. Of these, their captors released most after a ransom was paid. Colombian authorities rescued one. American kidnap or murder victims have included journalists, missionaries, scientists, human rights workers and businesspeople, as well as persons on tourism or family visits, and even small children. No one can be considered immune on the basis of occupation, nationality, or any other factor. Because of widespread terrorist activity and U.S. policy that opposes concessions to terrorists, the U.S. Government can provide only limited assistance in these cases. Under Colombian law, those who fail to coordinate their efforts to resolve kidnapping cases with the Office of the Anti-Kidnapping Director (Ministerio de Defensa/Programa Para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal) could face criminal prosecution.

The Secretary of State has designated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The FARC and ELN have kidnapped U.S. citizens on a number of occasions. Three U.S. citizens kidnapped by the FARC were murdered in March 1999.

In-country travel by U.S. Embassy employees, both official and private, to most destinations, is subject to strict limitations and reviewed case by case. Bus transportation is off-limits to U.S. Embassy personnel. U.S. Embassy personnel are have been on occasion prohibited from frequenting the Zona Rosa or Parque 93, Bogotá's principal nightclub/entertainment districts, due to the possibility that they could become the targets of crime and/or violence.

The U.S. Embassy must approve in advance the official travel to Colombia of all U.S. Government personnel. Such travel is approved only for essential business. Private travel by U.S. military personnel to Colombia requires advance approval by the U.S. Embassy. Non-military employees of the U.S. Government do not need Embassy approval for private travel, but such employees are urged to avoid non-essential travel to Colombia.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

CRIME: Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Based on Colombian government statistics, Colombia's 2002 per capita murder rate of 66 murders per 100,000 inhabitants was almost eleven times higher than that of the United States. While narcotics and guerrilla-related violence account for part of this, common criminals are responsible for an estimated 75 percent of the reported murders. Visitors are urged to exercise a high degree of caution.

Petty crime is prevalent in cities, especially in the vicinity of hotels and airports. Theft of hand luggage and travel documents at airports is common, particularly at El Dorado Airport in Bogota. Violence occurs frequently in bars and nightclubs. Taking illegal taxis, which are sometimes characterized by a driver and a companion and irregular markings, is dangerous. Getting into a taxi that already has one or more passengers is not advisable. Travel by bus is risky. Attempts at extortion and kidnappings on rural buses are not unusual.

Criminals sometimes use the drug "scopolamine" to incapacitate tourists in order to rob them. The drug is administered in drinks (in bars), through cigarettes and gum (in taxis), and in powder form (tourists are approached by someone asking directions, with the drug concealed in a piece of paper). The drug renders the person disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.

Another common scam is an approach to an obvious tourist by an alleged "policeman," who says he wants to "check" the foreigner's money for counterfeit U.S. dollars. The person gives the criminal money, receives a receipt, and the "policeman" disappears.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. This publication is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at; or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

Source: U.S. Department of State

tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands

Source: CIA World Factbook

Colombia's electrical current is 110/60*220/60 (volts/hz) and uses the plug adaptors listed to the right under Related Items. Please note: Not all electrical sockets in these countries provide grounding.

To determine which plug adaptors you'll need and if you'll require a transformer or converter, use our Electrical Connection Wizard.

For a detailed discussion of international electrical standards, see our related article on Electrical and Phone Adaptation.

Download Magellan's Guide to World Electrical ConnectionsDownload Magellan's Guide to World Electrical Connections

ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. Citizens (who are not also Colombian citizens) must show a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia. Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less. Stiff fines are imposed if passports are not stamped on arrival and if stays exceeding 60 days are not authorized by the Colombian Immigration Agency (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, Jefatura de Extranjeria, "DAS Extranjeria"). U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new passport and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in Bogota to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Colombia.

According to Colombian law, any person born in Colombia must use their Colombian passport to enter and leave Colombia, even if also a citizen of another country. Therefore, if you are a Colombian-American citizen, you should be prepared to carry your Colombian passport as well as your U.S. passport on your trip.

For further information regarding entry and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; Internet website -; or the Colombian consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco or San Juan.

ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments, including Colombia's, have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

Colombia's specific procedures mandate that minors (under 18), regardless of nationality, who are traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish and notarized. An "apostille" must then be affixed to the document by the designated state government authority. A list of designated state authorities may be found on the internet at: foreign docs.html. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Colombian Embassy or a Colombian consulate within the United States. If documents are prepared in Colombia, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required. A permission letter prepared outside of Colombia is valid for 90 days. A permission letter prepared in Colombia is valid for 60 days.

Source: U.S. Department of State

The time zone for Colombia is -5 hours offset from GMT, which means that if it is 12:00 noon in New York, the time in Colombia would be 12:00 pm

The unit of currency in Colombia is the Colombian peso (COP).

Look up the current exchange rate using's Universal Currency Converter

Traveled to Colombia?

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Other Travelers' Experiences in Colombia

"What a great country, I spent two weeks visiting Colombia this past January and I felt in love with it, green all over, mountains, secluded beaches and very nice people, going back there in September."
- oliver r, green bay, WI,

"We traveled to Colombia in 2005
We went to Bogota San Andreas and Cartagena.
It was Great the People were very nice,The Hotels were wonderful.Bogota was amazing modern and lively.San Andreas and Cartagena were very HOT but it is beach country. As any place you travel you must use common sense and be aware of what is going on around you. We are gong back again this year different city's this time. Bring bug spray and sun block comfortable shoes bring a jacket if you go to Bogota and have a great time."
- RIchard Arnone, brooklyn, NY,