Pura Vida Travels - A Guide To Travel In Latin America

Medellin, Colombia Travel Tips

US Passport - If you are travelling to Colombia and you are a US citizen your passport must not expire for at least 60 days from the date of entry into Colombia. Even if you are only going to Colombia for a few days your passport must still be valid for 60 days. Stays of less than 60 days do not require a visa if you are a US citizen.

US State Department Travel Advisory - The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Violence by narcoterrorist groups and other criminal elements continues to affect all parts of the country, urban and rural, including border areas. Citizens of the United States and other countries continue to be victims of threats, kidnappings, and other criminal acts.

Violence in recent years has decreased markedly in most urban areas, including Bogotá, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena. The level of violence in Cali and its surrounding areas remains high, largely as a result of the illicit drug trade. Many rural portions of Colombia also remain extremely dangerous due to the presence of narcoterrorists and Colombian government operations against them.

At least five Americans were kidnapped in 2004, and at least one in 2005. No one can be considered immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors. Terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips. The FARC have held three American official contractors hostage since February 2003. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped Americans, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to or strike deals with kidnappers. Consequently, the U.S. government’s ability to assist kidnapping victims is limited.

Click Here For The Full Text Of The Advisory

Passport Safety - You are NOT required to carry your actual passport with you at all times while you are in Colombia. You MUST, however, carry some sort of identification at ALL TIMES while in Colombia. A copy of your passport is best but a drivers license is acceptable as well. Do NOT carry your actual passport with you. Leave it locked in the safe in your hotel room. The Colombian military routinely does ID checks at bars and nightclubs and you do NOT want to be without an ID when they do. They take security very seriously in Colombia. If you do not have an ID you will be heading "downtown" until they figure out who you are. Don't put yourself in this position.

Departure Tax - The departure tax in Colombia is $53. When you enter the airport in Medellin there is an office directly across from where you check-in with your airline. You have to go to the office and pay the tax and get a form stating that you have done so before you check-in with your airline. If you are flying COPA or AA the tax is included in your ticket price so you don't have to pay the tax but you still have to get the form. If you don't get the form first you are going to wait in line to check in, then be told you need to go wait in the other line, and then wait in the same line to check in with your airline again. Make sure you arrive at the airport in Medellin at least 2 hours minimum before your flight leaves. The process to pay the tax, check in, have your luggage examined, etc. takes over an hour even with small lines.

Taxis - There are plenty of taxis in Medellin and they are relatively cheap. From 3 to 5 PM it is difficult to get a cab on a good day and nearly impossible if it is raining. It is best to call for a taxi rather than just picking one at random on the street. When you call the taxi company get the number of the cab that will be picking you up and verify what they tell you matches the cab picking you up. One of the scams in Medellin involves taxi drivers picking up a foreigner and then a second person jumps in the cab and robs you. The chances of this happening are greatly reduced if you have called the taxi company since they will have a record of who the driver is. I rode in many taxis and didn't have a problem but I always called ahead.

Maps - Click Here for an outstanding site with interactive maps of from around the world including Medellin, Colombia.

Water - The water in Medellin is safe to drink. I drank many things with ice in it without thinking about it until later and had no problems. I also drank the tap water at the hotel without problems.

Hotels - There is wide variety of hotel options in Medellin. The Poblado area where I was has several very nice hotels in the $80-$100/night range. The Poblado Plaza, Sheraton, and Dann Carlton were all near me so I checked them all out. All 3 were up to US standards and seemed very nice. The Dann Carlton is probably the best value. I think the only reason it's lower priced is that it doesn't have a big US, corporate name like Sheraton. Actually, it was the nicest of the 3 and the least expensive. If you want to go the cheap route there are hotels that are $5/night. I wouldn't stay in them if you paid me but they are available...

Apartments - Apartments can be rented around Medellin on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. They are generally roomier and more comfortable for longer stays. If you want to live like a local renting an apartment is the way to go. The apartment I stayed at was $80 a night but it was 5-star. Many cheaper options can be found online.

Local Papers - The 4 main papers in Medellin are El Colombiano , El Mundo , La Hoja De Medellin ,and La Republica. All are in Spanish only.

Restaurants - Food is cheap in Medellin. I wish I had some specific restaurants to mention but I failed to get the names of the places I went to. The food court at the Oveida Mall has about a dozen places and all of them are excellent. It's not a typical foodcourt in that most of the places are more like restaurants. Lenos & Carbon makes a wicked steak pimienta. Parque Llaras is another area loaded with restaurants that are very good and not real expensive. I will add to this section in the future...

Safety - I walked around Poblado day and night without problems. Poblado, however, is the safest part of town. I walked around El Centro in the daytime and it "seemed" relatively safe but I did not wander far off the main drag. I was repeatedly warned by locals to be very careful in that area as there have been numerous robberies lately. My best advice is that if you are unsure of any area get out of it or don't go there in the first place. Kidnappings, while now rare, still do occur in Medellin. Locals are far more likely to be kidnapped since the kidnappers know who to go after for ransom. It's easier to extort money if you have family nearby. Medellin is not Disneyland. It is in the middle of a country that has an active civil war going on so I cannot stress enough the need to always watch your back. Keep a low profile and be polite and you shouldn't have any problems. Act like an "ugly American" and you are likely to have consequences that aren't very pleasant.

Cigars - No information yet...Update...I have now spent 15 days in Medellin and I've yet to see a cigar store or even anyone smoking a cigar for that matter...

Phone Service - Phone service is a little confusing in Colombia. Cell phones won't call landlines and vice versa. The main cell phone provider in Medellin is Comcel. Cell phones are not sold with "plans" in Colombia which works out well for travellers. You can buy a phone or rent one like I did ($4/day) and then you buy minutes with calling cards. All cell phones are prepaid in Colombia so you have to buy minutes as you go. I used Skype quite extensively as well and it was by far the cheapest option for calling home. I did have a severe lag with it one day but it was Thanksgiving and about 10 million people were using Skype or twice as many as usual. Overall, it worked great since you can use Skype to call any kind of phone.

Dress Code - No one, and I mean no one, wears shorts in Medellin. Even though the temperature is 75-80 degrees every day I don't think I saw one person wearing shorts the entire time I was there. Jeans are acceptable everywhere but overall Colombians are pretty snappy dressers. Take along some nicer clothes if you are going to be going out on dates.

Shoes - This may seem like a silly travel tip but I always wear shoes without laces when I fly. The reason being when you go through security at the airport they make you take your shoes off. Slip them off, put them through the x-ray machine, and slip them back on on the other side. No muss, no fuss, and it saves time at the airport.

Driving - Driving in Medellin would be extremely difficult if you don't know your way around. The streets are very confusing, windy, and not marked very well. Also, straying to far off the beaten path can be deadly in Colombia so I would leave the driving to the locals. Medellin also has restrictions on when you can drive based on what number your license plate ends in to ease traffic congestion. There are literally hundreds of traffic cops that enforce this. The penalty for getting caught driving when you aren't supposed to be is the loss of your vehicle and a large fine.

Busses - I didn't even think about riding a bus in Medellin...

Metro - Medellin has a fantastic metro that runs from one end of the city to the other. They also have a cable car that goes up into the mountains. The train is fast, cheap, and safe so it's a great way to see parts of the city you wouldn't otherwise be able to safely see. Click Here for a map of the Medellin Metro system.

Hiring A Driver -I would definately recommend hiring a driver to get you from the airport to your hotel. It's a long ride through the middle of nowhere and I would be very leery of making the ride with someone I didn't know anything about.

Beggars - I saw one beggar in 4 days in Medellin. That outnumbered the number of tourists I saw by exactly 1. I think there may be a relationship there...


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