What should I pack for my trip through Colombia?
This question cannot be answered without taking into consideration your travel route. Due to the geography and topography of Colombia, the country has a lot of different climates and thus requires different clothes and accessories to be comfortable everywhere.
Colombia has sunny Caribbean beaches, tropical and humid rainforests, dry deserts, hot plains, cold and humid Páramo landscapes and snow-capped mountains in the Andes. You might only know the tropical forests and warm coast climate - but it actually can get quite cold higher up the Andes.
The Colombian people generally distinguish between ‘tierra caliente’, ‘tierra templada’ and ‘tierra fría’ - the warm, temperate and cold zones of the country. Within the different zones, the temperature only varies slightly during the year thanks to the proximity to the equator. The climate is mostly influenced by altitude. There are no marked seasons like spring, summer, autumn, and winter in Colombia, instead the year is divided in a rainy season and a dry season.
In the following, we will describe the different areas of Colombia, with tips on what to pack. Compare these with your travel route and you’ll know what to you’ll need to bring for your trip!
In the northmost part of Colombia, you will find the Guajira desert with a very dry landscape that creates an intriguing contrast to the Caribbean sea. Surprisingly, Colombia also has a desert at over 1.000 m a.s.l.: the Tatacoa. It lies in between two of the Andean mountain ranges. Both deserts are very beautiful landscapes and - if you have the time - worth a visit.
As you can imagine these landscapes are very dry and hot. Temperature ranges between 25 °C and 35 °C (77°F - 95 °F) normally but extreme temperatures are not uncommon. On very hot days temperatures up to 40° C (104°F) can occur.
What to pack:
The high temperatures require loose fitting clothes, ideally out of breathable material. In order to stay cool and protect yourself from the sun, you should also bring a hat and maybe a sun umbrella. One of the most important things is sunscreen! You don’t want to look like a lobster after your trip ;)
If you are considering a trip or excursions to the deserts remember to pack enough water and stay hydrated!
The Tatacoa desert
Part of the savanna are the plains and hills west of the Guajira desert, including the Caribbean coast. Cartagena and Barranquilla, as well as the Sierra Nevada, Tayrona and Santa Marta have a very similar climate, which is characterized by a dry and a rainy season. The same climate of the savanna you will find in the plains east of the Andes.
The temperature in the savanna ranges from 24°C to 32°C (75 °F to 90°F) daily. The time from May to November are the months of the rainy season. From December to April, during the dry season, you’ll get very little rainfall.
What to pack:
The savanna is quite warm, so you can generally bring your summer clothes (shorts and top/ shirt). For the coast, we recommend packing a light scarf and sweatshirt for the sea breeze. The Caribbean coast offers a lot of stunning beaches to go swimming or taking a sunbath, so do not forget to bring swimwear, as well as sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. During the rainy season in the savanna, you should also take a light raincoat with you and an umbrella.
Playa Cristales, Tayrona National Park
The Amazon region in the southwest of Colombia and the Chocó at the Pacífic coast count with the typical green luscious rainforest. The jungles are amazing for bird watching and for feeling a little adventurous.
The rainforest is characterized by an equatorial climate which is humid and hot throughout the entire year. Normally rain showers happen during the afternoon in form of thunderstorms or literal downpours. The temperatures are high and range from 23°C to 32°C (73°F to 90°F).
What to pack:
For the rainforest, it is recommended to bring loose fitting clothes out of breathable materials like cotton and linen. Although the heat and humidity in the tropical forest can be straining, you should think about long sleeves to protect your skin from mosquitos. Travelers should also pack anti-mosquito products, like sprays for skin and clothes. For the rainfalls bring a light sweatshirt and raincoat.
Chocó and the Pacific
In the lower part of the Andean mountain range between 1.000 and 2.000 m a.s.l. (3280 ft. and 6560 ft.) lie cities like Medellín, Calí, and San Gil. Medellín is also called the city of the eternal spring - the climate in this regions is not as extreme as in the aforementioned regions and possibly explain the attractiveness to tourists.
In these altitudes, travelers will be greeted with spring-like weather. Colombians refer to these regions as ‘tierra templada’ - the temperate zones. Usually, it is between 17°C and 30°C (62°F and 86°F). The weather is sunny interspersed with some rain showers.
What to pack:
During the day it is possible to go out in shirts and shorts or light long trousers. In the evening you’ll need a sweater and long trousers. As it can start raining anytime, we recommend bringing a light rain jacket and an umbrella. Also, we propose sunscreen and a hat during the day - although the sun might not feel strong, it definitely is.
Bogotá and the Páramo landscapes are numbered among the higher Andean regions. From 2.000 m a.s.l. (6560 ft.) you will find beautiful cloud forests with ferns and vines, from 3.500 m a.s.l. (11480 ft.) you will see the parámos, a high mountain moorland with scrubs and cactuses. Of these altitudes not only the vegetation is peculiar - the wilderness is inhabited by many animals like bears, condors, eagles, and deer. These areas are dubbed ‘tierra fría’.
Under 3.000 m.a.s.l. (9842 ft.) it can already be quite cold. In Bogotá at night it can be as cold as 7°C (45°F) and at daytimes, it varies between 13°C up to 22°C (72°F). Sometimes the weather changes in minutes from sun to rain - don’t be surprised.
Above 3.000 m a.s.l. (9842 ft.) it is usually humid and cold, the average temperature range between 6°C (42°F)and 12°C (53°F). When it is windy it can get really freezing.
What to pack:
Living in Bogota we experience on many days that it is sunny and warm in the mornings and in some afternoons as well but as soon as the clouds cover the sun you will need a sweater or a jacket and depending on possible rainfalls an umbrella as well. The temperature can drop around 10°C (50°F) within just 10 minutes so we recommend always to have a sweater with you and if you know you’re going to be outside in the late afternoon or night, a light jacket as well. Although Bogota seems to be quite cold you can easily get sunburned because the sun at this altitude is very strong, even when it is clouded.
For a visit to a Páramo, you should bring a thicker rain jacket and good hiking boots or even rubber boots.
The Páramo at Chingaza National Park
Above 4.000 meters (13.123 ft.) of the Andes there are snowy landscapes, mysterious rock formations, and pristine lakes. Examples for these zones are the Cocuy National Park and the National Natural Park Los Nevados with peaks over 5.000 m a.s.l. (16404 ft.). The altitude will make it difficult to breathe when visiting.
The temperatures are very cold below 6°C (42°F). The sun in these altitudes can be very strong and might give the impression it is warmer. Rain and snowfalls are possible.
What to pack:
For a trip to these parks, you will need hiking clothes and sturdy shoes. Depending on the weather we recommend taking warm long clothes, a thick (down) jacket (water and windproof), hat, gloves and a scarf. Sunglasses will protect you from the sun rays and the bright reflection of the snow. Sunscreen also is essential.
Hiking at el Cocuy National Park
More information (English):
The Tatacoa Desert: https://img.elcomercio.pe/files/ec_article_multimedia_gallery/uploads/2017/03/29/58dc680d7d620.jpeg