BORDER CROSSINGS -
RUMICHACA - Incredibly friendly. We had no vehicle search or food restrictions. We were issued a 3 month visa for us and a 3 month import for Nessie and were told that both of these could be easily extended for a further 3 months in any big city. Colombia routinely fingerprints all people entering the country.
(The border crossing further east at the Ecuador Lago Agiro area was open and safe to use at this time.)
PARAGUACHON - We encountered huge queues one hour before the border was due to open at 8am on a Saturday morning - we believe it is quieter during the week. You can pay some-one to enter the passport office via a side door and avoid the queues - negotiate your price with the money lenders that roam the area. The aduana officer was no-where to be found so we handed our form to the security guard and he was happy to accept it - this is common practice at this border crossing. This border crossing is the easiest one to use for crossing between Colombia and Venezuela the others are reputed to be really difficult and corrupt.
Lots of police and military checks all over the country. Bridges are usually guarded by the military and fuel stations by the police. We were regularly stopped by them all, sometimes just a hello was enough but other times they wanted to see inside Nessie or to see our insurance papers and vehicle documents. Most of the checks in the back were just curiosity but some were real checks where they look for illegal passengers or weapons - no cupboards were searched - it was a simple look inside and to open the bathroom door.
All of the police and military were very polite and friendly - no corruption problems at all.
We bought our insurance in Ipales - there is a street that is full of SOAT offices at N0.83087 W77.64099 where you can buy a 90 day policy for 97,000 cp. Very easy to do.
DRIVING STANDARDS -
Very good compared to Peru and Ecuador. The truck drivers are usually very good but there are a high number of motorbikes here which can make things a little chaotic in the cities.
The Colombians are more concerned about safety than needed - they don’t understand overlanders lifestyle. Our feelings were that Colombia was a easy and good place to bushcamp. However - there are areas that should be avoided - most of the Amazon region is still controlled by the drugs cartel and you should research this area carefully before entering. The Pacific coastline is also a problem - difficult to access due to a lack of roads, some continuing safety issues and very uninspiring sights on arrival mean that you can miss that area
Readily available and seems to be good quality. Prices range from 7,224 - 7,789 cp per American Gallon.
We didn’t need to source parts or a mechanic while we were in the country. A overland tour company told us there were no trucks like ours here, that’s just not true - we saw plenty of trucks like ours including 4x4 but what we never saw was a Mercedes Benz garage. There must be some as MB sprinter vans, cars and trucks are everywhere.
The road conditions vary hugely - the toll roads are expensive and usually good asphalt but it’s not always guaranteed. Landslides are a major problem in the country and you can expect some big delays because of this - we would not recommend taking some of the small road detours - the road conditions can be awful!
Ipales - Mocoa - San Agustin - Asphalt until just after Sibundoy then it is a beautiful narrow sharp stone mountain track until La Tebaida, from there to Mocoa and San Agustin it is asphalt again.
San Agustin - Popayan - Cali - Asphalt until just after Isnos then it’s a terrible road full of holes, bumps and road workers until Popayan (it took us 3.5 hours but a citroen van took 7 hours to do this route). From Popayan to Cali it is good asphalt.
Cali - Manizales - Bogota - Asphalt all the way but there are some major roadworks north of Manizales and at Honda you can expect big delays due to a ongoing landslide area.
Bogota - Bucaramanga - Medellin - Asphalt all the way with the usual landslide areas. If you visit Villa de Leyva then please note that the route from Santa Sophia to Moniquira is bad - narrow, full of holes and bumps - best avoided if possible.
Medellin - Monteria - Cartagena - Asphalt all the way but at Toluviejo you have a choice of taking the north loop or the south loop through El Carmen de Bolivar. We took the north loop and it was terrible - a toll road full of holes and bumps with locals demanding money for filling the holes. Maybe the south loop would be better??
Cartagena - Santa Marta - Maicao - Asphalt all the way. If you want to drive the Peninsula Guajira then it is a good road of asphalt and dirt until Cabo de la Vela, after that there are many dirt tracks, some are bad but it is possible to drive around the peninsula - locals recommend a local person should accompany you to smooth the way with the local tribal people.
Expensive even for small cars. Our problem was that everyone wanted to charge us Grande camion rate - try to negotiate your rate down to Omnibus. Here’s a breakdown of what the tolls cost -
Rumichaca - Cali - 22,800cp Lago Calima - Salento - 26,500cp Salento - Bogota - 69,800cp
Bogota - Bucaramanga - 26,400cp Bucaramanga - Medellin - 52,100cp Medellin - Cartgena - 89,200cp
Cartagena - Maicao - 73,100cp TOTAL COST - 359,900cp = £122
Plenty of supermarkets about. Carrefour and Exito are the big names here that are commonly found and you will see Makro and Easy + Sodimac (the Chilean DIY stores) in the bigger cities. Olympico is a cheaper supermarket that can be found everywhere.
GAS BOTTLES -
We passed countless gas bottle filling stations that should be able to help you. Colombia’s bottles have the same nozzle as a Argentine bottle.
We used a private clinic in Cartagena’s Boca Grande area - you can expect to pay 140,000cp to see a good specialist but any resulting tests or lab work is very expensive.
Places we stayed and other information......
Colombia is full of restaurants with swimming pools and hotels - most of them offer camping and you are rarely ever in a area where there are not several options of places to stay - especially just before or after a large town. The difficult thing is finding somewhere FREE to camp/park.
Las Lajas - Follow the track leading up to the antennae and you will find a large open area near a house to park N0.80693 W77.58128 For great night views - follow the next track up and park by a unused building.
EXITO Pasto - N1.20740 W77.28688
Lago Cocha - A lovely quiet place by the canal and lake overlooking the island. N1.13707 W77.15308
San Agustin - The main carpark for the site - quiet and no problems. N1.88768 W76.29491
Alto Idolos - Another site carpark - very quiet. N1.91681 W76.24320
We tried to park at Alto Piedra N1.97115 W76.20116 but the guard insisted we would have our throats cut in the night! He invited us to park up by his house but low branches made entry impossible for us.
At Coconuco there are two thermal bath areas -
Aguatibia N2.30676 W76.50674 - they want 8,000cp per person and 15,000cp to park overnight!
Agua Hirviendo N2.32998 W76.48912 - they want 5,000cp per person and 5,000cp to park overnight. Aguatibia had a much nicer area to park and looked a lot cleaner than Hirviendo which was dirty and smelly.
CARREFOUR Popayan - N2.45919 W76.59310
Popayan - we arrived in town on a chaotic Friday afternoon and decided not to stay here overnight. Instead we drove north by ?50km’s and found a garage to park in by the PanAmericana - N2.50756 W76.54809 - Ok for one night and free if you buy fuel. Or even further north is a large open fuel station that looked good for a night Piendamo - N2.70885 W76.53933.
CARREFOUR/SODIMAC Cali - N3.36775 W76.52491
Lago Calima - Our advise is to drive on the main road to the far west side of the Lago and then turn down to the lake - this road leads you over the dam and along the north lakeshores. Just after the dam is a lovely open kite surfing school with trees and picnic tables - ask there to park or try here - N3.36775 W76.52491 this is another kite school but the parking is not so nice - 15,000cp a night. OR there are some wide grass verges that are reasonably close to the lakeshore here - N3.89715 W76.50214.
Salento - N4.63649 W75.56886 A quiet street behind the plaza but the streets are a steep climb back up to the plaza! During the week the plaza would be quiet but at weekends it’s full of stalls and tourists.
Monteroca - A superb campsite by the river before Salento - only room for one vehicle but it has hammocks, a kitchen, TV plus DVD’s, hot showers and electric. 15,000cp per person. We didn’t stay but it did look great! N4.64221 W75.58693
CARREFOUR Pereira - N4.81132 W75.68721 under the bridge OR EXITO - N4.83353 W75.67249 easy access.
Santa Rosa thermals - no overnight parking allowed and the cheapest rate you can pay for entry is 14,000cp per person during the week entry before 11am. Nearby camping is at recreational finca N4.85981 W75.58863 but we did not use so we do not know the cost.
We saw 24hr parking at Paduia - N5.13576 W75.13883 but we pushed on and stayed here instead -
La Parroquia - N5.19535 W74.94497 a natural swimming river picnic area - very friendly folks and lovely cool waters but the sand flies are hell! 10,000cp per night.
Route 50 - A garage by the roadside with a restaurant nearby. Free and quiet. OK N5.05058 W74.38788
Bogota - Portal 80 - Many thanks to fellow overlanders Lucette and Dirk for this point! N4.71208 W74.10889 This carpark is hidden behind Portal 80 Mall and was not easy to find. Driving into the city you should pass Portal 80 on your left - take the first retorno lane you can find - drive past Portal 80 and turn immediately right following signs for parking. Ignore the Mall parking and continue along this road, past the hospital until you see the open parking area. Secure 24 hour parking 20,000cp for 24hrs. Right beside the Transmilenio city bus station that will take you directly into the centre.
EXITO Bogota - N4.72056 W74.12297
CARREFOUR Chia - N4.86433 W74.04329
Zipaquira - May be possible to stay in the carpark overnight or in the lower carpark for the archeological museum?
Embalse Neusa - Highly recommended by other overlanders. N5.17106 W73.93216 We were not impressed at all - very expensive entry - 30,900cp (8,800cp per person and 13,300cp for the truck) The tracks leading to the lakeside are mostly overgrown and narrow - the track we were told to go down was a mudslide between pine trees whose branches were very low. The lakeside was muddy and covered in litter and the views were average - no facilities included in the price but the restaurant wants 500cp for the toilet and 1,500cp for a shower.
Raquira and Villa de Leyva - Raquira is a quiet village where you could easily find a quiet street to park and Villa de Leyva has 2 campsites - camping san jorge is out of town but very popular and zona camping is in town but looks more basic. We parked on the street near zona camping and it was a surprisingly noisy night for such a small place! N5.63253 W73.52621
We spent the night somewhere we couldn’t recommend but this place we saw the next day looked like a good option - a riverside restaurant - N6.82431 W72.99221 If it’s no good then try the truck stop a little further on.
EXITO Bucaramanga - N7.07145 W73.10599
On route 66 and route 45 I marked places but I can’t remember if they were good garages to park at for the night or another option for a overnight stay! Rt66 - N7.12868 W73.56959 Rt 45 - N6.54637 W74.05901 there are not too many options of places to stay on these routes.
Rio Claro - Sorry but we’ve lost our GPS point for here. We paid 20,000cp to camp - we were put on the grass behind a fuel station, down by the river would be much nicer but the ground looked very soft and wet. A truck will easily make it up the track to the restaurant area and there would be another option away from road noise but it would be very humid. Cold showers/toilets and park entry with camping - 10,000cp per person. A good idea would be to pack a picnic and your swimming clothes and spend the day walking up the jungle trails swimming in the river and exploring the caves.
Embalse el Penol - We found this free lakeside area - it’s a great place - quiet and no problems but do not be tempted to wash in the lake - signs warn of large multa’s! N6.23562 W75.15373
El Penol - Drive up to the carpark and pay 4,000cp to park. We stayed overnight - no problems, nice and quiet and the views are amazing! N6.22207 W75.17899
Medellin - LA 52 - a secure parking area on carrera 52. A rough area but it’s a short walk to Plazoleta de las Esculturas. There is water and a toilet (500cp) - the owner told me it was 15,000cp for 24hrs but when we went to leave he said I was mistaken and it was $15 for 24hrs! Negotiate. N6.25850 W75.56692
CARREFOUR Medellin - N6.31677 W75.55704 EXITO - N6.33979 W75.54373
Rt 25 - A nice river pool and restaurant we saw ? cost for camping N7.30028 W75.38314
Taraza - On the steaming hot plains - a garage that was free and quiet for the night - N7.58790 W75.39480 but just at the south entrance of Taraza there is a piscina that may allow camping ? costs. Small entry.
EXITO Caucasia - N7.99330 W75.19888
EXITO/MAKRO Monteria - N8.76267 W75.87236 SODIMAC - N8.77811 W75.86352
Playa Blanca - A small beach near San Antero - N9.40441 W75.76346 We free parked on the beach track - sandy but okay - just enough room for vehicles to pass but you are near the end of a dead end road. Would be chaos in the peak season but it was quiet and safe for us in November. Lots of stinging jellyfish!
Cordoba beach - A very quiet residential beach area - no loud music restaurants here! The water was very clear so it would be easy to look for the jellyfish. A nice grass area to park - N9.41287 W75.70338
Covenas - A great little spit of sand with thatched shelters and jellyfish free shallow waters. Two restaurants share this area - one wanted 50,000cp per night to park - non negotiable! The other negotiated down to 15,000cp - if you are a smaller vehicle you should pay no more than 10,000cp. N9.42755 W75.63717
Cartagena - Laguitoga - Many thanks once again to Lucette and Dirk. A parking lane overlooking the Lagoon just after the Hilton hotel in Boca Grande. The police have a vehicle checkpoint there from 8am until 9pm so you can leave your vehicle and not worry. We had no problems here. N10.39507 W75.56072
If you walk around the back of the Hilton and across the sand bank to the other side of the lagoon, you will find a secure parking area just up that street on the corner - no facilities but very friendly ? cost.
Or you can stay at a overlanders favourite - Bella Vista Hotel - just north of the historical centre on the beach road. You can camp here but to be honest the car park has no breeze, is full of rubble and the price is very expensive - 40,000cp to camp with power and bathroom. To stay in a room with a bathroom, fan and cable TV is 50,000cp. N10.43499 W75.53843
EXITO Cartagena - we used the exito within the old city wall and there are supermarkets in Boca Grande.
Volcan Totumo - Lots of small restaurants surround the tiny volcan but you can park here overnight for free and it should be quiet. No wind here. N10.74465 W75.24146
Canoa Dulce - Looks like a lovely option from the main road but is not nice once you get down there.
Punta Velero - Follow a asphalt road with signs -NO TRUCKS and max. width 2.2 metres. The road is okay for trucks just a little narrow due to overgrown roadside bushes which makes it only OK for one vehicle in some places. Then you drive along a long dirt/firm sand track all the way to the very end. Here is a open area with good wind and a friendly restaurant who let us park and asked for nothing. N10.94750 W75.03652
EXITO Barranquila - N10.98561 W74.81091
Taganga - Not our kind of place at all. We spent 2 nights here because of the kitten we found - one would have been enough. A big party village where the only acceptable place to park is by the football fields. A man asks for 5,000cp a day, to us it looked like public land but locals also pay to park here - we sat listening to locals constantly try to bully our man into charging us more. The day we left a man wearing a Privada Seguros baseball cap tried to tell us he was the official man and demand money - when we showed our receipts he threatened us with the police. A horrid place. N10.74465 W75.24146
CARREFOUR/MAKRO Santa Marta - N11.23158 W74.19907 EXITO MALL - N11.22826 W74.17472
Tayrona National Park Information -
There are 3 main routes into the park - nearest to Santa Marta is -
Bahia Concha - Difficult to find the bumpy dirt road that leads you here. They wanted 35,000cp per night and 5,000cp per person every day - we turned and left. N11.28381 W74.14439
Bahia Neguange/Gayraca - Sign posted turn opposite a garage - if you reach the toll you have gone too far. A bumpy asphalt road takes you to the entrance where they want 35,000cp per person, 10,000cp for the truck and then 5,000cp per person per day to stay!!!! We turned and left but we have heard that Gayraca beach may have no facilities but does have beachside parking and safe waters to swim in. N11.27622 W74.11757
Canaveral - Is the main entry point for most people - the entrance is just off the main road but we didn’t go to ask about prices.
A much easier option is the nearby Casa Grande - just outside of the national park it is a large palm beach restaurant area that offers camping for 12,000cp per person with bathrooms and electric. There is a nearby fresh water river to swim in if the sea currents are too strong and the lovely owners go out of their way to make you welcome and to offer help if you need it. Highly recommended. N11.27778 W73.86469
Our plans were to drive around Peninsula Guajira but the weather was so bad and the rain so heavy that the main road to Cabo de la Vela had major bridge damage and the dirt routes around the peninsula were in very bad condition. So we left Casa Grande and drove all the way to Maicao in one day! We passed Palomino beach area which looked good but in Riohacha we saw no-where interesting to stay.
OLYMPICO - Riohacha N11.53754 W072.91808
MAICAO - A excellent secure parking area behind a garage and beside a sex motel - quiet and free to use. N11.38402 W072.26870
BUDGET NEWS - £29 a day : 61 days and 4,043km’s
Fuel costs - Sold by the gallon - 3.54 litres per gallon. Costs average were 7,540cp per gallon.
As usual - truck maintenance and health care costs are not included in our daily budget.