Colombia

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This article has information about border crossings, driving, and camping in Colombia. 

Basic Facts

  • 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

Entry Requirements

Necessary Documents

  • Passport
  • SOAT

Procedure

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.

Exit Requirements

Necessary documents

  • Passport
  • Vehicle Import Permit

Procedure

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.

Gas Prices

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.

Toll Roads

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.

Santa Marta

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.

--Kristin

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.  

--Luis and Lacey

El Rodadero

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.

Zona Cafetera

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.

Medellin

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

Sat, 02/12/2011 - 18:24
Anonymous (not verified)

Santa Marta area

If you have time, take the drive Santa Marta to Riohacha along the Caribbean.  Absolutely fantastic. Little bit of everything great about Colombia.  If you are low on gas, stop and ask somebody.  Colombians are more than happy to help you in the right direction.  Don't be afraid to ask the police for advice.  They are very friendly.  Use common sense. If it doesn't feel safe, it probably isn't.  I have found that you can do just about anything during the day without problems but I always avoid being in strange places after dark.  It is just common sense.  Have a great time.  Aguila Light is great and cheap.

Thu, 03/10/2011 - 10:37

Agree with anonymous and

Agree with anonymous and would add that from Rio Hacha keep driving east (north east) and visit La Guajira's Cabo de la Vela, a must in our book. Not the safest area, but absolutely stunning.

Tue, 09/04/2012 - 09:25

CAU

Centro de Atencion al Usuario are a series of rest stops on the national highways that provide a nice stopover including: toilets, cafeteria (real espresso), WIFI and telephones. Often associated with a great lookout.

all free.

Tue, 09/04/2012 - 09:27

ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE

free roadside assistance - ambulance, mechanic or towing.

call #850

Sat, 09/29/2012 - 17:51

San Augustin

try staying at the Hotel Andaquies (N1°53.389/W76°17.017) just  outside of town on the Popayan side. Nice quiet place overlooking town. Camping is 5000 per person, wifi, showers, toilets, restaurant...

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 17:45

Cali - Puerta de San Antonio Hotel

We splurged on this hotel as we were here for Christmas. It has wifi, air con, hot water, free parking & breakfast was included.

Wed, 08/21/2013 - 17:43

Vechicle Entry, Cartagena - Colombia from Panama by Boat

Panama to Cartagena Colombia by Boat: Panama border departure 27/9/12 Colombia entry 1/10/12.

I sailed with Fritz on Jacqueline organized through Hostel Mamallena in Panama, which departed from the main Pier at the Kuna portside town of Carti Suitupo.

Panama Exit:

On the road to Carti Suitupo you have to pay a USD$9 tax to the Kuna at a boom gate. Make sure you go to the pier near the airport to load your bike (I was misdirected to the place where the small boats take people out to the sailboats and lost $30 from the Kuna on a circular boat trip with my bike). Then pay USD$20!! Again at another boom gate to get access to the pier to load your bike onto the ship (don't think the Stahlratte guys have to do this). Road to pier takes about 1hr from the main highway. After departing from Carti Suitupo on the sailboat, you head out to one of the nearby islands in the San Blas. The captain collects your passport and vehicle import paper. Takes to the island himself and gets an exit stamp for your passport (the small fees are included in your boat ticket). The vehicle permit was handed back with no apparent markings on it. Presumably it may have been cancelled by the immigration, but I can't say for sure. Took around 1 hr waiting on the boat.

 

Colombia Entry:

After arriving on dry land in the open port in Cartagena (there is no secure port as you just get the dingy up to a jetty), you get a taxi with the captain and crew to the Colombian immigration office about 5 mins away.

The captain takes the passports of all the passengers into the office, gets the entry stamps and hands back the passports (no fee, in boat ticket?). The captain kept the passports from Panama until after we got stamped into Colombia which is the norm.

After immigration was done, we were approached by a dodgy German speaking helper called Manfred, who obtained our passports from the captain and told us (there were 2 motorbike riders on board) that he would sort out our bike paperwork for USD$35 each at the DIAN (Colombian vehicle entry/ Aduana). He also exaggerated that it was a difficult process to do, as the office may be at lunch and you have to know who to talk to, the officials were dodgy and it could take a few days blah blah blah. We both decided to get our passports back off this scammer, who was obviously trying to make out that it was more difficult than it was.

After having crossed 7 Mexican and Central American Borders you kind of get the gist of how borders work. Immigration took 1hr.

Next back to the boat to unload the bikes and the captain pointed us in the general direction of the DIAN around near the main port. Took about 1hr 30mins to eventually get there after asking a lot for directions (most people knew where it was), probably usually a 40 minute 10 mile drive. I would suggest however paying a cab driver to get you there, or maybe Fritz by then would have started to take his motorbike passengers there and help sort their paper work as the Stahlratte Captain does - but that captain uses Manfred as well..... You can park pretty safely in the large car park.

Inside the main office (its quite large) just ask for the person who does the paperwork for the vehicle imports. You then fill out the form, they do the usual check of documents, then check the bike VIN numbers and then print out your temporary import paper (no charge). All done, no helper/scammer/agent needed and in a nice air-conditioned office with the beautiful Colombians.

We were informed also that insurance is mandatory (I have also had to show my insurance several times already in Colombia). Not really knowing where to go for insurance, we headed back to the Colombia Mamallena Hostel to park up the bikes. Then googled some insurance companies and walked 15 mins to the nearby Seguros Del Estado. They checked all the paperwork, including vehicle import and gave us minimum insurance for the 3 months our visas were valid for. I think you can get it for a year if you want for the same price. I'm sure there's probably cheaper insurers (and probably one closer to the DIAN) if you shop around, but we just got this one in a hurry. Cost around USD$50.

cheers

Dom Harris

Mon, 09/30/2013 - 11:37

long time car storage - almacen fiscal

We would like to ship our Fiat Ducato mobile home to Santa Marta or Carthagena.

After a 2 months trip through Colombia we would like to store our van for 6 months and return home. 6 month later we would continu our trip to Equador.

  • Will our tempory car import be put in our passport?
  • How long is a tempory car import valid in Colombia?
  • Is it possible to suspend the tempory car import while not being in Colombia?
  • Does anyone know if the "Almacen Fiscal" storage exists in Colombia? Where? At what price?
Mon, 12/15/2014 - 03:13 (Reply to #8)

Hi Koen

Hi Koen

Did you managed it? I need to store my motorbike for ca 6 monts too, is it possible. Is it possible to leave the colombia while your vehicle is still in Colombia (I mean the passport stemp about your vehicle)

Regards

zbyszek

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 03:14 (Reply to #9)

Hi Koen

Hi Koen

Did you managed it? I need to store my motorbike for ca 6 monts too, is it possible. Is it possible to leave the colombia while your vehicle is still in Colombia (I mean the passport stemp about your vehicle)

Regards

zbyszek

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 10:39

Tayrona

Very nice campsite just inside the park. Castilletes. A lot of space and a lot of shade under the cocotrees. (july 2014)

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 06:24

Columbia

Does anyone know how long is the Vehicle Permit in Columbia ?