What it’s like traveling in Colombia right now
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COVID-19 restrictions are constantly being updated and you should check the local government websites of any place you are travelling to in advance of departure. Currently, anyone who has been in Africa in the last 15 days who report symptoms must contact Colombian authorities and be self-isolate.
With more and more options available to travellers, exotic destinations are becoming accessible again. Recently, I took a trip to Colombia. In this article, I’ll share my experiences travelling both to and around this wonderful Latin American country.
Current measures and regulations
After a spike in Covid-19 cases last summer, the situation in Colombia is slowly improving when taking a look at the case numbers. With vaccination on the rise (currently around 64% of people have had their first dose) and necessary measures, the country is mitigating the pandemic in an effective way.
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The mandatory entry requirements for gaining entry to Colombia are as follows:
- You cannot enter Colombia if you have symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive in the last 14 days
- Between 24 hours and 1 hour before departure, you must fill out the Check-Mig form which you can access via the Migración Colombia website. From here you will receive a confirmation email that you will be asked to present upon arrival in Colombia. More on this below.
Colombia is more thorough with measures compared to other countries. For example, mask-wearing is obligated any time you are out in public, including when walking around on the street. Colombians generally follow these measures really well – even people seen riding a motorcycle in rural areas will be wearing a mask.
Furthermore, I’ve experienced people actively washing and disinfecting hands on plenty of occasions, as well as maintaining the mandated 2 meters of distance. Colombians appear to take the pandemic a lot more seriously than most Europeans.
The measures allow Colombians to live a relatively normal life, with almost all facilities open and operating. Take note however that if the numbers spike in a certain city, local authorities have the power to reinstate a local lockdown, introducing business closures and curfews as seen fit. You can check the current situation on the website of the Colombian government.
Entering the country
Flying to Colombia can prove a bit difficult, as there are no direct flights from the UK. With one stopover, however, there are a lot of options. The best bet might be KLM, as they fly from most UK airports and allow you to fly to both Bogotá (BOG) and Cartagena (CTG) after connecting in Amsterdam (AMS). That provides an opportunity for an open-jaw ticket, ideal for travelling around the country since it doesn’t require you to get back to the starting point.
To enter Colombia, travellers currently don’t need any proof of vaccination or a negative test result. The only requirement mandated by the Colombian government is to fill out an online form through the ‘check Mig’ website. This can be done between 48 hours and 1 hour before departure. In this form, you fill out details like name, passport number and dates of entry and exit.
Related: The best times to visit Colombia
After filling out the form you will receive an e-mail confirming your registration. You will need to show this confirmation along with your passport at the border checkpoint, so make sure to have it either printed or accessible on your phone.
Upon leaving the country, you go through this process once more, including showing the confirmation at the border checkpoint. The only difference is that this time, you need to fill out the online form 24 hours before departure.
Most hotels in Colombia are back to normal operations, which means facilities like gyms, pools and room service are available again.
To get a good feel for the current situation in the hospitality sector, I stayed at a higher-end hotel (Hilton Bogota Corférias), a mid-tier airport hotel (Courtyard by Marriott Bogotá Airport) and a higher-quality hostel on the Caribbean coast (The Journey Hostel in Los Naranjos). I’ve experienced that the higher-end you go, the more strictly the measures are enforced.
At the Hilton hotel, staff were diligent, requiring reservations and actively disinfecting around the clock. At the hostel, having only open spaces, there was more of a relaxed backpacker vibe and mask-wearing was virtually non-existent.
Depending on the hotel you are staying at, small measures might still be in place. For example, some furniture in high traffic areas like the hotel lobby might be unavailable, you may need a reservation to use the pool or gym and you will be asked to occupy certain tables in restaurants in order to maintain distance from other guests.
At the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, room service was served in a brown paper bag with disposable containers and single-use cutlery instead of the usual tray or cart. These seem like minor changes to service to make to have these facilities up and running again.
Most people travelling around Colombia will likely visit different places such as Medellin, Cartagena and Santa Marta.
Although these places are not very far apart, flying will be the easiest way to get around the country. Domestic flights in Colombia tend to be very affordable, too. Buses are definitely an option, but travel times tend to be very long.
For most domestic destinations, there are four main carriers: Avianca and LATAM (both legacy carriers) and Wamos and Viva (low-cost carriers). Often, fares will be fairly competitive among the four. Since Avianca and LATAM partner with worldwide airlines, they might be your first choice providing an easy way to rack up segments and miles.
Furthermore, if you fly one of these carriers, you have the opportunity to upgrade your seat to Premium Economy (LATAM) or a seat in the first rows (Avianca). Often, this upgrade will be less than £15, offering tremendous value and a vastly improved experience.
Avianca uses A320 family aircraft on domestic flights, which offer a seating experience in a 2-2 configuration much like domestic first in the US. Latam offers a 3-3 configuration with a blocked middle seat, like the one you might find on intra-European business class on for example British Airways.
Keep in mind that the Premium Economy classification might also give you extra redeemable miles and credit when credited to your favourite mileage program.
By government order, none of the airlines currently offer on-board service on domestic flights, no matter the class of travel. Since most flights are less than an hour, travellers are actively discouraged to eat or drink on board in order to improve the effect of mask-wearing.
As I was leaving Colombia for the United States, I needed to provide a negative Covid-19 test result from a test taken in the 3 days before departure. After some asking around, it proved difficult to reach a test facility in Santa Marta, which prompted me to look for one in Bogotá.
The most well-known nationwide test provider is Synlab, offering both PCR and lateral flow (antigen) tests in every large city and some smaller ones. Their branch at Bogotá airport is conveniently located on the airport parking lot. You can book a test online.
When booking and/or at the location, mention the airline you are flying – many airlines have agreements with Synlab offering you a significant discount. In my case, due to my Delta flight, my antigen test was only 110.000 COP (£21) whereas the normal price was 150.000 COP (£28).
Performing the actual test proved slightly difficult. After entering the location, I was asked to fill out an extensive form provided by the government, only available in Spanish. The available staff, however very hospitable and helpful, also only spoke Spanish. I managed to complete the form with the help of my broken Spanish, but be prepared to exercise the needed communication with hands and feet.
Test results are sent to your e-mail address within 2 hours (lateral flow/antigen) or 24 hours (PCR). Mine arrived after just 40 minutes, and I was cleared to fly.
Colombia is a wonderful country with very impressive nature, interesting culture and history and incredibly kind and hospitable people. Now the pandemic feels pretty much under control in the country, there is virtually no obstruction to enjoying all it has to offer. Given the current situation in Europe, one might even conclude it is a less risky place to be.
An added bonus of travelling to Colombia is the price point: everything from lodging to food and beverages will be less than half the price you are used to back home.
If you decide to go, make sure to give smaller local hospitality establishments a chance, too. Service at the Hilton was great and up to expectation, but the people at The Journey Hostel went out of their way to provide a great experience. Combined with the exceptional beauty of nature at nearby Tayrona National Park, this made for an unforgettable experience.
Featured photo of Tayrona National Park by Tim Ramakers / The Points Guy
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