Spanish is the official language, although more than 60 indigenous and Creole languages are spoken in various regions. English is also an official language in San Andrés, Providencia and the Santa Catalina islands off the northern coast. Business executives and senior government officials are frequently highly proficient in English, while most Colombians do not speak fluently. Accordingly, a basic level of Spanish is highly recommended for foreign visitors.
The local currency is the Colombian peso (COP), which is available in coins of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 denominations, as well as notes of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000. Most hotel and airport currency exchange booths handle transactions involving US dollars, euros and British pounds. Credit cards are widely accepted in big cities, though it is suggested to carry cash for taxis and small shops.
Colombia is far from the violent country it was 20 years ago, though travellers should still heed the advice “no des papaya,” a phrase of colloquial advice that people be aware of their surroundings and not attract thieves. As is the case in many large cities worldwide, personal robbery and pick-pocketing is relatively common in Colombia’s metropolises.
Colombia’s biggest cities are equipped with mass transit services, such as the high-capacity bus lines TransMilenio in Bogotá, Mio in Cali, Metrolinea in Bucaramanga and Transmetro in Barranquilla. Medellín offers a full underground metro system, while plans to build an equivalent in Bogotá have been under consideration for years. Taxis are usually available at all major hotels. Due to traffic conditions and security concerns, it is advisable that travellers contract hourly taxi services; car services with drivers; or the “radio taxi” service. Taxis can be hired via digital apps like Tappsi, easy taxi, Beat, Cabify and Uber, though these services are widely opposed by drivers from conventional cab companies. Car-for-hire businesses can also be found at airports and several other locations nationwide.
Bogotá is a very congested city. It is recommended that attendees of business meetings leave themselves plenty of time to arrive, as travelling by road during rush hour (between 6.00am and 9.00am, as well as between 3.00pm and 8.00pm) can take up to four times longer than during off-peak hours.
The country code for Colombia is +57, followed by the codes (1) for Bogotá, (2) for Cali, (4) for Medellín and (5) for the Caribbean coast. Prepaid SIM cards for mobile telephones can be obtained by providing a valid passport to either mobile telecoms operators or virtual network operators.
Business hours typically run from 7.00am or 8.00am to 5.00pm or 6.00pm, with a break around 12.00-2.00pm. Most businesses are closed during Colombia’s 21 public holidays, including Independence Day (July 20), Battle of Boyacá Day (August 7), Independence of Cartagena Day (November 17) and Labour Day (May 1). Barranquilla celebrates two additional holidays on the Monday and Tuesday of Carnival.
Visitors from many countries, including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, members of the EU and Latin American states, do not need tourist visas. Upon arrival, travellers are granted a 90-day stay. Guests are allowed up to 180 days every 12 months for tourism purposes without special permission or residence. Meanwhile, pre-travel visas are issued by Colombian consulates in countries whose nationals need them. In either case, immigration officials will ask visitors to provide a local address at national ports of entry.
Well-resourced public and private health clinics can be found across big cities, though the quality and coverage of service tends to decline as one gets farther into the countryside. Finding an English-speaking doctor is generally easier in private health facilities, and pharmacies often carry foreign medicines. Advance vaccinations are recommended for travel to regions like the Amazon, the Pacific coast and the Caribbean coast, where the risk of contracting diseases is higher.
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