The basics

Money

Colombia uses the peso. Credit cards are accepted in major restaurants, shops and hotels, but varying and sometimes inflated exchange rates may be charged. Expect to present a photo ID.

ATMs are readily available throughout the country, including at the airport. Withdrawals are at the official exchange rate although a percentage of the transaction is charged as a fee. Be aware of your surroundings when withdrawing money from an ATM, and be on guard as card cloning has been an issue in the country.

Languages

Colombian Spanish is considered among purest in Latin America although it does vary by region. English is not widely spoken, so a basic knowledge of Spanish is helpful for getting around. English-only speakers should be able to get by in the larger cities like Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Cartagena.

Geography & Culture

In the far northwest corner of South America, Colombia is separated from Central America by the Darien DariĆ©n Gap, a wide stretch of jungle bordering on Panama. Its varied landscapes go from glorious beaches to mountain-high savannas. Rich in tales of El Dorado and colonial history, it has vibrant culinary and musical traditions and can boast some of the best Spanish in all of Latin America.

Transportation

The National Railways of Colombia stopped operating in the 1990s, so although there is a large network of tracks, they are only used for freight. The only passenger rails are a funicular up the mountain of Monserrate in Bogota and the Turistren, a tourism train that runs the 33 miles (53 km) from Bogota to Zipaquira on weekends and public holidays. Medellin has a metro line, and studies are underway for a proposed metro in Bogota.

Road conditions vary throughout the country from the well-maintained Panamerican Highway to straight coastal drives to curvy mountain roads and jungle tracks. If driving, be aware and stay informed of safety on your intended route. Traffic is usually highly congested in major cities like Bogota and Medellin. Automobiles may be rented through major international firms and local agencies.

Buses are the major mode of transportation in and between cities. Major cities have at least one bus terminal with long-distance buses usually having a toilet and air-conditioning. Generally you can just turn up and buy a ticket, but it is wise to book ahead on popular routes or high season. Companies include Bolivariano, Espreso Brasilia and Copetran.

The international airport in Bogota is one of the busiest in Latin America with Avianca (national airline) offering direct flights to nearly 100 destinations in 26 countries in America and Europe. Aerolineas de Antioquia offers regional flights and AeroRepublica scheduled and charter services within the country. Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cali and Medellin all have airports.