Fact file: Colombia

Did you know?
The country's most famous author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Mainly Spanish and more than 200 aboriginal dialects. English is spoken in major cities but only by a tiny percentage of people.
None required for UK nationals for stays of up to 90 days. Your passport does need to have six months validity, and it is a good idea to have made a few copies before arrival as banking and various other situations may require you to hand over a copy.
Getting there
There are flights from London Heathrow to the capital Bogota, and from Manchester. There are also some flights to Cartagena. At time of writing, departure tax from Colombia is US$17 after a stay of up to 60 days and US$30 for any longer stay. There are few package tours to Colombia and some eco-tourist trips, due to its political problems.
Flying time from London
12 hours.
Getting around
Columbia has the best internal flight system in Latin America, but prices can be high. Look out for promotional fares and check out the Avianca Air Passes, which give internal flights for a month period. For long distances, buses are cheap, efficient and extensive but the roads are often in an alarming state. Taxis are cheap in towns where buses are slow and packed. There is no rail service.
Pesos. Each peso is comprised of 100 centavos. Most major credit cards are generally accepted - you will need your passport and a photocopy.
Prices are generally low, but they do vary from place to place. As a guide: bottle of beer 30p, can of cola 15p, roll of camera film - £2, average meal can cost up to £20 in big cities or as little as £10 in cheaper/smaller places, four-mile taxi journey 70p, petrol 30p a litre.
The lowlands are mainly tropical with more rain on the Pacific than the Caribbean coast. It is temperate above 2,000m, while there is permanent snow in the highest areas. There is a dry and a wet season; the main dry falling between December and March, with a shorter dry period between July-August. These two periods are the best times to visit, however the topography varies so greatly that generalisations are hard. Research the parts you're visiting, but generally Bogota varies from 46-65F(6-19C), Cali from 65-88F(20-31C), Cartagena 68-82F (20-30C).
Time difference
Five hours behind GMT.
International dialling code from the UK
00 57
110V, 60 cycles AC except for small areas in Bogota where the old 150V system survives.
Opening hours
Office hours are 8am-12.00pm and 2pm-6pm, but expect later opening and earlier closing. Bogota is slowly adopting the US workday without a lunch break. Shops open 9am-12.30pm and 2.30-6.30pm Mon-Sat.
Health - Before you go
Be sure to get health insurance as the UK has no reciprocal agreement with Colombia. Healthcare can be rudimentary and decent treatment can cost. No vaccinations are needed to enter Colombia but it is advisable to get a yellow fever jab along with typhoid, tetanus, polio, cholera and hepatitis if you are going out of the cities. Ring the FCO advice line on 020 7238 4503/4. Take a medical kit if you're heading out of the city.
Health - When you are there
Ring the British Embassy in Bogota (Tel: 218 5111) for a list of English-speaking doctors. Do not indulge in the local cheap drugs - either they will be so pure they will kill by overdose or they will be cut with something unpleasant. Cocaine does very nasty things to your body and can be lethal.
Independent travelling in Colombia takes one back to the good old days of real danger. This varies from region to region and it is absolutely necessary to check with the Foreign Office regarding hot spots (tel 020 7238 4503/4 or http://www.fco.gov.uk). Some areas are reasonably risk-free - in particular parts of the Caribbean coast. Cities are not dangerous for political reasons as such but for general crime levels, which are high. Take the usual precautions but never fight back.
British Embassy in Bogota - Calle 98 No 9-03, Piso 4. Tel. 218 5111.
Colombians are open and gregarious - so if you can speak a little Spanish you will undoubtedly find people to talk to.
Not allowed back into Britain from Colombia without a six-month quarantine period. Colombia is not part of the Passport for Pets scheme.
10% of the restaurant bill, US$1-2 to guides.
Tourist office
The Colombian Tourist Office appears to be gradually disintegrating and does not have an office in London. The embassy can provide basic information: 15-19 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 8HZ. Tel: 020 7637 9893.


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