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Colombia Travel Notes
July 2008

Adventure log: The Colombia Inland Blog 

Note:  The Colombian / USD exchange rate during our trip was about 1750 pesos to $1.  Prices given below in the thousands are pesos.  Prices with a $ are USD.

Books and Reference Material

South America on a Shoestring

Another good pub from Lonely Planet.

Colombia (Lonely Planet)

I never bought the hard copy of the Colombia Lonely Planet, because it gets such bad reviews, and because we already had a copy of the Shoestring Guide.  But we did download the 'by chapter' as a PDF file to take with us, and to be able to print legible maps.  The LP  Guide for Colombia has a bad rep—shallow coverage and not updated.  But it's better than nothing.  The best sources seem to be online.

Hotel Platypus Local Info Page, click the Local Info link.  A real wealth of information for all of Colombia in one spot

Poor But Happy Website  This website kept coming up when Googling topics for Colombia.  It seems pretty active.  Would be a good place to search and to post questions.

Hostel Trail
Website  The Hostel Trail maintains a great website for finding backpacker places all over South America, and some ’todo’ information once you get to a place.

Colombian Hostels Website Another good website for Colombian-based hostals.

English News of Colombia

We often overhear news on the TV or radio that we don't completely understand.  Here's a site that covers the major news stories in English:   It is good to monitor the news while you are in 'in country'.  Not only does it make talking to the local people easier and more interesting, it also helps you avoid nasty surprises (strikes, riots, parades, unrest).


Like other Latin American countries, Colombia has a well-developed public transportation system with thousands of bus lines.  The price for a given route depends on the distance and the service level for the bus (luxury, etc).  We have heard that EVERY bus price is negotiable, so negotiate!

They do NOT have the well-developed system of dedicated shuttle vans for tourist trips on popular routes that we found in Guatemala.

We mainly used the advice from the hotel we were leaving from or going to, to figure out the best bus route/line.  Specific notes are included below in the city notes.

Air Travel


There is a surprisingly good air network in Colombia.  We used Avianca for both our flying legs because they had a good website in English, would accept American credit cards, and had a comparable price to other airlines.  But there are at least 3-4 other Colombian airlines that should be checked.  See the Platypus Local Info page.

Sailboats to and from Panama/Colombia

Advice from Thorn Tree

Since we have our own boat, we did not do this.  But this link provides info and good advice about making the trip.  The trip Cartagena->Panama is easier (down wind).  Note that dates are 2007, I am sure the price has gone up in 2008.

Bogota - Hotels Bogota Hotels Guide





Casa Platypus



Hotel Platypus is well known among backpackers.  They have just opened a new 'extension' called Casa Platypus, which is slightly more upscale than the original (the original is a true backpacker place). It is new, clean, hot water, has private baths, wifi, well-located near the Trans Milleneo bus station, and all the downtown tourist attractions.  The old Platypus is right around the corner, and a great choice for budget travelers.  It all depends on your budget.

Hotel Sue

 Calle 3 and Cra 16


Sue has housing in 3 different buildings in the same area as Platypus.  Someone who stayed in the old Platypus and 2 of the Sue's said that Sue #2 was best.

Bogota - Eating


 Av. Jimenez No 3-73


Right down the street from the Platypus.  And upscale and somewhat pricey (for Colombia) dinner place.  Nice place, good service, great atmosphere, good food.

Gato Gris

A few blocks up from Platypus


Several people told us that this was a good inexpensive place to eat.

Cacique Sugamuxi

Down the hill on Calle 3 from Platypus 


A nice place for breakfast.  Has free/open wifi.  Restaurant is next to the hostal, unmarked.

Bogota – To Do   (Photos)

Museo de Oro

The gold museum has a very nice collection of pre-Colombus gold and pottery, arranged by region of the country.  There aren't any English subtitles.  The real gold museum is closed for renovation right now, but even the smaller version is nicely done.  Hopefully English subtitles will be part of the renovation.  Right now it is housed in the same complex as the Museo Botero and the Casa de Moneda, so it is very convenient.

Museu Botero

The Botero Museum houses a collection of art, mostly by __ Botero, a Colombian art.  What Botero painted was mostly fat people, and mostly fat naked women.  The fat lady statue in one of the squares in Cartagena is a Botero.  There is also a wing of the museum that houses other art donated by Botero (maybe from his private collection?), this is mostly modern art, nice stuff and includes a few names like Picasso, etc.

Casa de Moneda

The House of Money showcases the history of (mostly) coin making in Colombia, from the 1500's to the present.  It was a mini course in Colombian history, there is even one nice room that covers how the indigenous peoples got the gold that the Spanish coveted so much.  Has limited English subtitles, but a lot of the detail on the displays is only in Spanish.


The 'Salt Cathedral', located north of Bogota.  Take the Trans Mileneo bus to Portal del Norte (or weekends, the tourist train).  At Portal del Norte, look for buses to Zipaquira (aka Zipa).  Ask the driver for Catedral del Sal.  We took a taxi from town to get up to the entrance, as it is a long hot uphill walk.  Entry price about 15,000 pesos.  Photos


San Agustin  (Photos)

Getting There

We took the bus from Bogota, using Rene from El Maco's suggestions (see his website).  It is a 10-12 hour trip on the 'express' bus.  We took the Cootranshuila luxury bus to Pitalito, which had lots of legroom, and a decent bathroom, and did NOT stop for lunch.  Cost: $25 pp.  The smaller buses and vans are more cramped and don't have bathrooms.  From Pitalito we took a collectivo taxi/truck into San Agustin for $3 pp, and for another $3 they took us all the way up to El Maco.

 Hotel: El Maco

A nice hostel run by a Swiss guy, Rene, who speaks about 4 languages, including English.  Nice atmosphere, clean.  Rene is very knowledgeable about budget travel in Colombia and can be very helpful.  El Maco is a little out of town, but walking distance (and away from the noise of town).  At night or with luggage, a taxi is worth taking from town.  They serve good reasonably-priced meals at El Maco but you can also walk into town for meals.

Jeep Tour

Rene of El Maco arranged for Jose and his Jeep for an all-day tour of auxiliary archeological sites, incluing the archeological park Alto de los Idolos and a couple of waterfalls.  Jose doesn't speak English, but his Spanish is slow and clear and easy to follow for those who understand some Spanish.  We split the tour with another couple and our cost was $35 for the two of us, including tip.

Horseback Tour of Archeological Sites

Pacho was arranged for us by Rene of El Maco.  He does a great half day horseback tour of some of the more remote sites.  Mostly on dirt roads.  Pacho speaks no English, and his Spanish isn't nearly as understandable as Jose's, but we got by.  Fees were 20,000 per horse plus a guide fee of 40,000 which can be split by whoever's going.  Cell 311-827-7972

Whitewater Rafting

Class 2/3

We arranged the raft trip also through Rene.  They want a minimum of 4 people and it costs about $25 per person.  There weren't 4 people from our hotel, so the Magdalena Rafting people combined us with 2 people from another hotel.  They picked us up and supplied all the equipment needed, including a 'farmer john' wetsuit and a spray jacket, paddles, helmets, and life jackets.  Again, the guide only spoke Spanish but we got by.  The trip was a half day trip.  We had a lot of fun and the guide was good and safe.

Walking Tour of Archeological Park

The main archeological park is an easy walk from town or El Maco.  There is also a collectivo route that runs back and forth.  We asked Rene at El Maco to arrange an english-speaking guide.  His first choice, a local history professor, was busy.  The second choice who is known as Jerry Lewis, spoke great English but added a lot of wild speculation about the archeological background of the artifacts.  We split the guide fee with several other people, and our part was about $10.  You can go without a guide, but there are lots of artifacts with no explanation.  Entry to the park was $4 pp.

Popayan (Photos)

 Getting There

 Popayan is easier to reach from the north, we discovered.  But there is a route over the mountains from San Agustin.  We paid $7.50 for a taxi to pick us up at El Maco and take us to 'the corner' to catch the Popayan bus (which originates somewhere else).  The Popayan bus was about $15 pp.  The ride was really rough and long, considering the distance isn't far.  But part of the trip is on a very rough unpaved road, and the bus is going very slowly.

Hostel Trail

The original Hostel Trail backpacker place.  It is a fairly new and very nice hostal, and run by a very nice couple. Prices are good, they have hot water showers (the instant kind), good beds, and good internet. It's only a few blocks from the old center of town. The only downside is the rather noisy street outside.

Sorry, got busy doing other things and never got back to finish the gritty details
 of the rest of our trip.  Check the blog for what I did record.


Salento  (Photos)

Plantation House

Inexpensive Backpacker Place recommended by many.  45,000 COP Double/Private Bath.  We found it friendly but somewhat unkempt.  Would probably stay elsewhere next time.

Hostal Origen Colonial

Recommended by Eventyr/Blue Marine.  70,000 COP Double/Private plus breakfast.  Clean, good beds, hot water, and close to plaza.  301-411-9787  301-455-5961  311-308-2002

 Spanish Class

Private tutor in Salento, recommended by another traveler
Marcia  311-241-0727

Don Elias Coffee Plantation

Several people told us this was the best coffee tour they did. 10,000 COP for the tour.

Hiking Cocora Valley

You can either hike or horseback ride.  4,000 pesos from jeep in plaza, then either hire horse and guide or walk. 50,000 for 4 hour guided horseback.  There are no paper maps to be found, so make sure you get pretty good directions before you leave town.  There are sign posts on the trial, but you have to know where it is you are trying to reach.

Manizales  (City Photos)   (Los Nevados Photos)

We spent 2 nights here, spent one afternoon wandering the city. 
And the next day took a full day bus tour to the Parque de Los Nevados.
Sorry, got busy doing other things and never got back to finish the gritty details
 of where we stayed.  Check the blog for what I did record.




MarSol Shuttle

This is a shuttle van that runs between Cartagena and Santa Marta and Barranquilla.  They leave hourly from each end and will pick you up at your hotel (or wherever).  They drop you off at a central location on arrival in your destination city.  Cost is 18,000 pesos ($9-10) per leg per person.  The CTG bus station is well outside the city, so it is not much more to take the shuttle, and it's much faster.



Santa Marta

 Hotel Sol Inn

 We stayed here 2 nights.  Approx $20 USD per night for double, private bath.  It's a little run down, but is right on the beachfront, and right next to the Turcol office.

 Park Hotel

 Just down the street from Hotel Sol.  Looked nicer.

 Casa Familiar

Where the others on our Ciudad Perdida tour were staying.  Dave checked a double room and found it small and cramped.

Ciudad Perdida 
(Photos: Hiking Up  While There  Hiking Down)


We booked our Ciudad Perdida tour with Tur-col.  Our Guide was Jose Aguilar, and we can't say enough good things about him.  He is very experienced, and very sympathetic to those struggling on the trip.  And he cooks and plans well.  Note that you should always bargain for your trip.  The price range we encountered by asking various people on our trip (at the same time with the same company!) ranged from 300,000 pesos to 600,000.  Our price in July 2008 was 430,000 pesos (about $245 USD) and included one night in Hotel Sol and a free breakfast. 
Turcol info with better English 
Jose's email address:
Note: as of Mar 2009, Jose is with a new company:
Guias Baquianos, his email address is the same, but he doesn't speak much English

Sierra Tours

Magic Tour

 Another company we heard of.


MarSol Shuttle

This is a shuttle van that runs between Cartagena and Santa Marta and Barranquilla.  They leave hourly from each end and will pick you up at your hotel (or wherever).  They drop you off at a central location on arrival in your destination city.  Cost is 18,000 pesos ($9-10) per leg per person.  The CTG bus station is well outside the city, so it is not much more to take the shuttle, and it's much faster.



Rosarios Islands, Capurgana, Sapzurro

We also went to these places by boat.  See the sailing blog and our photo album for info.


 Prepaid Cell Phones in Colombia

Cell phones were easy in Guatemala, but here in Colombia it's a little more tricky. 

After a lot of stumbling around, here is what we know about using a local cell phone.  This is based on experience with the Movistar service, but is probably somewhat applicable to Comcel too.

1.  U.S. GSM phones from Cingular/ATT, if 'opened' can be used in Colombia.  Most phones can be opened, but the cost and effort to do so varies.  If you don't already have a GSM phone, you can buy in on eBay, already opened, or 'in country'.  In the phone stalls in downtown Cartagena, it cost 10,000 pesos each to get our Nokia and Motorola phones opened up.

2.  Once your phone is open, you can buy a prepaid sim card for about 8,000 pesos ($4 USD).

3.  Then you can 'add minutes' from many places.  Note that minutes expire eventually.  When they expire depends on how big an incremement you buy.  10,000 pesos and above will last at least 30 days.

4.  'Promotional' minutes are only useful for calling other Movistar phones.  Only the minutes you actually pay for are good for calling other non-Movistar cell phones, or land phones.  And they go fast.

5.  To call a land phone with Movistar, prefix the Colombian area code (a single digit number) with '03'.  So, in Cartagena, a land phone number xxx-xxxx is called from a cell phone by 035-xxx-xxxx.  '5' is the Cartagena area code.  Bogota is '1', so Bogota numbers are prefixed with 031.  Cell phone numbers are usually 10-digit numbers starting with a 3, where land numbers are usually shown as 7 digit numbers.

6.  To call internationally, dial 009 first.  Ie to call a US number, it would be 009-1-xxx-xxx-xxxx.

7.  To get your minutes, dial *611.  There is a long advertisement in spanish, and then your total minutes, including the somewhat useless promotional minutes.  At the end, you dial another number (2?) to get a detailed breakdown in your minutes.  This is where you find out that 30,000 pesos worth of minutes are still on your phone, but since they are promotional minutes, you can't use them to call anyone but another movistar phone!

8.  To do get voicemail, call *123.  You will be prompted for a password, which is the last 4 digits of your phone number.  Press 1 to repeat the message.  5 to save the message.  6 to go to the next message.  Unless you save a message, it will automatically be deleted.  I think messages will only save for 7 days.

9.  If you do not have a cell phone, you can still make calls.  Look for the sign 'Llamadas' on the sidewalks and stores in any town in Colombia.  These people have cell phones they will let you use their cell phone to make calls and charge you by the minute.