This article has information about border crossings, driving, and camping in Colombia.
- Population: 44,660,000
- Capital: Bogota
- Fun Fact: While Spanish is the official language of Colombia, the constitution stipulates that the languages and dialects of ethnic groups are official in their territories. Constitution of Colombia, 1991 (Article 10)
Border Crossing Information
If crossing by water from Panama to Colombia, the captain of your ship should be familiar with the border crossing technicalities. When you arrive in Colombia by ship, the captain will arrange for a customs official to process your passport and any other paperwork. For information on boats sailing from Panama to Colombia, see the page Getting Around the Darien Gap. For detailed instructions on how to ship your car around the Darien Gap, see the Shipping Around the Darien Gap Page.
You will also be required to buy SOAT, the obligatory insurance for all vehicles in Colombia. Costs vary depending on the value of your car and how safe they consider your car to be, but for 3 months coverage it ranges from $20-$50. Once you have your car import paperwork, bring your title, import permit, registration, and several copies along with you to any Previsora Segura Office branch (office locations). They are the only ones who will sell short term SOAT for out of country vehicles. See the Your Vehicle page for websites and locations.
UPDATE Aug 2012: Cost for SOAT has increased considerably. It's based on length of time and number of cylinders in your car. For a V6 camioneta for 3 months cost COP 154,000 ($88 USD). There are three SOAT offices in Catagena, but you must finish all of your shipping and importing paperwork before they will issue the insurance. Note that there are SOAT offices all over Colombia, if you are unsure how long you will stay, buy a month insurance and extend as necessary.
- Vehicle Import Permit
Quick and painless border crossing. First go to DIAN to return the vehicle import permit, then to migracion. They will scan your passport and you're good to go.
Roads and Driving
Hallelujah honest cops! If you're driving south down the Pan American Highway, Colombia will be a real treat. While there are few big (more than 2 lane) highways that go through Colombia, in general the roads are in very good condition. They are extensively patrolled by the National Guard. Thanks to these folks, in the last 5 years it has become very safe to drive around many parts of Colombia. While the soldiers sure look intimidating with their camo, bulletproof vests, and automatic weapons, they are there to help. We were frequently stopped by them to check our paperwork and ask us some questions, but were very friendly and professional every time we interacted with them. Smile - you might make some new friends.
August 2012: $4.71 per gallon for regular unleaded.
Note that gas prices drop considerably the closer you get to Ecuador and Venezuela. Especially south of Popayan. If you can, hold out on filling up.
Throughout Colombia the highways have tolls. They vary between $5000-$10,000 COP ($3-6 USD). But they often happen frequently on the same road. An 8 hour drive on main highways can easily cost $30. We drove 2200 miles in Colombia and spent $185 in tolls. Unfortunately, unlike Mexico, there are rarely non-toll road alternates.
Camping and Hotels
Tayrona National Park
Located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, this national park isn't to be missed. It is quite expensive though - entry fees, parking fees, and camping fees will quickly add up to about $15/person/day! If you enter through the gate's main entrance in El Zaina (35 km east of Santa Marta), follow the road for about a mile till it runs in to a parking lot. It's a 5 minute walk to the beach from the campsite (but this beach does not have safe swimming). From there it's a 45 minute hike through the jungle to Cañaveral, a beautiful tropical beach where it's safe to swim.
The Bahia de Concha is about a 20 minute drive away from Santa Marta. While technically in Tayrona National Park (we think) you will have to pay a separate entry fee (about $5/person) and camping on the beach is $5/person as well. It is very arid and different than the other beaches of Tayrona, but be warned, the winds on the beaches can be fierce at night.
Also in Santa Marta is the Dreamer Hostel, they do not have parking but they have a safe, guarded parking area and it is a truly welcoming place with wonderful owners. A few miles from santa marta there is good camping at the beach in a place called Playa Los Angeles, they have running water and bathrooms right on the water, beautiful spot. Our GPS and all waypoints has died, but the lady that owns the place is called Nohemi Ramos and her numbers for reservation are 311 431-1438 and 317 495-4639 the best address for the place is: Troncal del Caribe KM 33.5 Via RioHacha Santa Marta.
Near Santa Marta, about 10 Km. In Rodadero there are a Camping called Cantamar Camping. It is in El Rodadero Calle 21# 1-16. About $7/person or least if you say that you are going to sleep in your car. They have big green area with trees, electricity and lights. They have WIFI too.
--Mariana y Juan
Villa de Leyva
Hostal Renecer, also called Colombian Highlands, is a great place to park or tent camp. COP$10,000 per person. Nice grassy areas to pitch a tent, free internet, full kitchen and wonderful hot showers. Photos and directions on our website.
Hacienda Venecia near Manizales is not only a greta place to take coffee tours, but they offer camping and parking for vehicles. Hot showers, meals on request, crappy but free wifi. COP$15,000 per person. Also included amazing all you can drink espresso. Highly recommended. You will likely need a 4WD or high clearance to get there, the road is in bad shape. Photos and info on our site.
La Serrana in Salento is a popular hostel, but the area is big and there is lots of place for vehicle and campers. Has the usual hostel amenities, including a kitchen, wifi, hot showers. COP10,000 per person, includes a hot breakfast. Details on our site.
La Casa Colombiana is just outside of Medellin in a town called Santa Elena. Very chill place with great common areas. Always other long term travelers staying here for a while. Typical hostel amenities, but very cheap. COP$6,000 per person. Details and GPS cordinates here.
Pance (near Cali)
Just south of Cali (about an hour to the south west), is a small town of Pance. It's freqented by Colombians on the weekend. We found this great hideout litterally at the end of the road past Pance. There are loads of places to camp up here, but don't settle for the first you see. Reversa Ambiental La Castella is one of the nicest placs we stayed. There is a restaurant on site, showers, and really amazingly friendly owners. More info and directions on our site.
Also read a sponsored post on how to permanently import a vehicle to Colombia