Things to know
Is it safe to visit Cartagena, Colombia?
Yes. 99.99% of visitors will spend their entire time in the areas of the walled city, Getsemani, Manga, Bocagrande, Castillogrande and La Boquilla. Nothing in life is certain, but it is extremely unlikely that you will encounter anything that could be considered unsafe in these neighbourhoods. There is a huge police presence in and around these areas (especially Centro and Getsemani), which may intimidate you initially and make you wonder why they could possibly need so many police.. but you get accustomed to them soon enough and their presence seems mostly one of deterrence.
The Colombian Peso is the official currency of Colombia. The abbreviation is COP when researching exchange rates. The COP has been appreciating greatly over the last decade as the increased security situation has attracted billions in foreign investment capital.
The denominations for the bills starting from greatest to least are 50,000 COP (Approx. $17 USD), 20,000 COP (Approx. $7 USD), 10,000 COP (Approx. $3.5 USD), 5,000 COP (Approx. $1.70 USD), 2,000 COP (Approx. 70 cents) and 1,000 COP (Approx. 30 cents).
As you know, exchange rates vary every day so before making any transaction please double check the rates. We can tell you that in the past year the exchange have been fluctuating around 2,950 COP for $1 USD.
We recommend obtaining Colombian pesos through ATM's located throughout the city as they provide the best value.
You will find the following ATM machines at the airport:
Bancolombia - MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and Visa
Servibanca: Visa and Plus
Great News! Most nationalities don't need a visa to go to Colombia! Your passport will be all you need to enter the country, just make sure it is valid (expiring at least 6 months from your trip's return).
US, Canada, UK, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Israel, Mexico and European citizens do not require a visa to enter the country. If you have a different nationality please check out this list of nationalities issued by the official government office to learn the requirements of your specific country.
Sales Tax Excemption
Tourists in Colombia are exempt from the 19% VAT (Tax) on tourism-related services, from cultural to medical (Read an article about this here). You can get a refund on your 19% Colombian IVA value-added tax at the airport before departing the country.
Here is what you need to know:
1.Purchases must have been made with a credit card.
2.Save your store receipts along with the credit card invoices (the copy of the receipt that you signed).
3.You cannot get a tax refund on food (restaurant or groceries), alcohol, lodging, medical or entertainment costs.You can only get a tax refund on retail and luxury products such as clothing, perfume, shoes, bags, jewelry and electronics.
4.You will only be refunded taxes paid within the previous 6 months.
5.Your purchases have to total more than $250,000 COP.
Arrive at the airport early to allow time for filling out all the paperwork. When you get to the airport, ask for the DIAN office (Direccion de Impuestas y Aduanas Nacionales) which is the customs and tax bureau. They will ask to see your receipts before allowing you pass. The refund will be credited to your account within 3 - 6 months.
Yellow Fever Vaccination
This vaccine is not mandatory for traveling to Cartagena (See official CDC statement).
It's up to you if you decide to go for it.
Here is some information on the subject.
As the virus moves from one city to another, it is important to note that Cartagena already had its spread season from October to December of 2015. This doesn't mean the virus is completely gone in Cartagena, but the chances of being infected have been significantly reduced in this area.
As a preventive measure, besides putting on repellent, Colombian Doctors recommend taking vitamin B1 a week before your trip. This preventive action has been fairly successful in battling the virus.
Needless to say, if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, traveling to Cartagena at this time would NOT be a good idea in your case.
Tap water is only safe to drink and use for cooking in Bogota. Other cities have very good water supply services, with water that can be used for bathing. It is advisable to drink bottled water.
What's the deal with the toilet paper?
So yeah.. this takes some getting use to. In Cartagena, and potentially in the rest of Colombia, flushing toilet paper is a no-no. Instead you will encounter zillions of signs plastered all over the bathroom walls written in varying degrees of comprehensible English directing you to place the paper (and anything else) in the waste bin to the side. Yes it's gross, but you do get use to it. It's something to do with the insufficient plumbing system in place.
And while we're on the subject, in many public bathrooms the paper won't even be in the bathroom stall. There will instead be a giant communal roll before you go in, or a lady waiting for a tip before she hands you your ration.
In Colombia the International Unit System (IUS), heir to the metric system, is used. Measurements for distances are derived from the meter (centimeters -cm-, meters -m- kilometers -km-) and for mass the from the kilogram (gram -g- kilogram -kg-, tonne-t). The unit of measurement for speed is the kilometer per hour (km/h); the temperature is Celsius or Centigrade (° C) and the volume level is the litre (l). Informally measures such as the pound (equivalent to 500 grams or 1/2 pound) and bushel (12.5 kg) were used. Inches, feet, yards, pounds, ounces, miles, and degrees Fahrenheit are rare, but are used in some imported appliances.
Domestic power is 110 volts AC at 60 Hz (110V AC, 60Hz). Electrical connectors or plugs are used with two flat input pins or with a third round pin. It is advisable to check the technical specifications of the devices that will be used in Colombia.