Practical Tips For Travel In Medellin, Cartagena, And Bogota, Colombia

“Kathleen, my question is for Lee Harrison.

“Lee, I am taking a 10-day business trip to Medellin this February and will have 3.5 days at the end for a side trip. I am thinking of either Cartagena or some other scenic destination from Medellin. What do you suggest?

“What is the best way to get around in Colombia–plane, train, bus, car?

“Is it feasible to travel from Medellin to Bucaramanga by car? Or how would you do it?

“Is it safe to do road trips by renting a car in Colombia?

“When I looked at rental cars on the web, they seemed very expensive in Colombia. Is this normal?

“I assume it is best to use the Colombian peso in Colombia instead of U.S. dollars. What is the best way to exchange currency when visiting Colombia?

“Is it generally safe to use credit cards there? If so, which cards are the best?”

–Rick B., United States

Thanks for writing. If I had three extra days (and wanted to get out of Medellín), I think my choice would be Cartagena. If you haven’t been there, the walled city is worth seeing. Also, I like the seashore at Santa Marta…and this is a good time of year to visit both of those cities.

It’s safe to drive in most parts of Colombia, but not all. I’ve driven in the southern parts of the country, but not between Medellín and the Caribbean…so I really can’t tell you firsthand what it would be like.

And these days, I’d prefer flying. There’s a new airline that just went into service between Medellín and Cartagena called Vivacolombia. Prices start at just over US$100 round-trip, as of today. And as a result, Easyfly has discounted its own rates to Cartagena (although these flights are not direct).

Yes, rental cars are fairly expensive, especially at the airports. You can get a better deal in town, at one of the local, non-U.S. franchise places. But it still won’t be as cheap as renting a car in the United States.

You’re question about using dollars is a good one. You cannot use dollars in Colombia, with very few exceptions. And you can’t change dollars in banks. So I’d get some pesos at the airport before you head into Medellín. The best way to do this is to re-enter the airport in the departure area (one level up) and get the pesos from an ATM using a U.S. ATM card. Alternatively, there’s a money exchange near baggage claim.

Once you get to Medellín, I found the best rates to be at the Oviedo Mall, at the two money exchanges in the front entrance (Centro Comercial Oviedo).

I use credit cards frequently in Colombia, and I’ve had no problem. Be aware though, that unless you have Capital One, your bank will probably charge you a fee for using your credit card…usually around 3.5% of the transaction amount.

Have a great trip!

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