Knowing what to pack for Colombia can be tricky. This is because there is such a variety in climate from region to region. With everything from high Andean villages to the humid Amazon, Colombia is a country of extremes.
To get the most out of your trip to Colombia, you’ll want to visit many different regions which means packing for every eventuality. Whilst this may sound daunting (“but I only have a 40l backpack!”), there is a basic set of essentials that will cover everything you need.
In this Colombia packing list, we’ll share the must-have items and helpful packing hacks, to ensure you cram everything in a single backpack. We’ll also tell you how what you wear can help you to blend in with the locals, a very important consideration when it comes to staying safe in Colombia.
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Colombia Packing List – 10 Essentials
1. Mosquito Repellent
Essential for the tropical and Amazonian regions. An effective mosquito repellent brand with DEET is Jungle Formula. If you want to avoid chemicals, then go for the All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Repellent which is often voted as the best natural mosquito repellant.
2. High Factor Sun Screen & Lip Protection
I’ve travelled to many parts of Europe, Southeast Asia and the Americas, but there’s something about the Caribbean sun that seems stronger to me than anywhere in the world. On Playa Blanca near Cartagena, I burnt my face so badly that I still have a scar on my lip to this day! (Stupid, I know). Don’t underestimate the sun! I recommend sunscreen over factor 50 (at least!).
These days, now I’m older and wiser, I use Neutrogena Sport Face Oil-Free Lotion Sunscreen SPF 70+ (for face) and Nivea Sun Immediate Protection Moisturising Sun Spray SPF50+ (for the body). For lip protection get Nivea Lip Sun SPF 30.
3. Filtered Water Bottle
In the Andean regions of Colombia, it’s actually fine to drink tap water. However, this is not the case for the coastal regions. Therefore, it’s a great idea in Colombia to invest in a filtered water bottle so you can drink from the tap wherever you travel in the country. We love the Grayl Geopress which protects the drinker from bacteria and viruses! More on filtered water bottles here.
4. Secure Anti-Theft Day Pack
When travelling in cities anywhere in the world, not just in South America, it’s a good idea to invest in a good, anti-theft day pack, so that you can relax and not feel preoccupied about your belongings as you explore. Pacsafe makes excellent theft deterrent products and their Pacsafe Citysafe CS350 is a great option for backpacking Colombia. Having a bag that’s also lightweight and waterproof is a bonus.
5. Rain Jacket
No matter what time of year it is, the weather can change in an instant in Colombia. Whether you’re hiking or city sightseeing, be prepared for rain showers by packing a light rain jacket. For a budget rain jacket, check out the Ultra-Lite Rain Jacket by Frogg Toggs. For a more serious hiker’s rain jacket, check out the Columbia Watertight Rain Jacket.
6. Trekking Shoes
Hiking is one of the top things to do in Colombia (with the Lost City Trek and Cocora Valley Hikes it’s no wonder) so you need to make sure you’re prepared for all terrains, from the jungle to the Andes.
If you don’t want to use up to much space in your backpack, then trekking shoes are preferable to full-on hiking boots which can completely dominate your packing!
7. Micro-Fibre Travel Towel
A quick-dry, lightweight travel towel is always a great item to take backpacking. Whether the hostel you’re staying in doesn’t provide a towel or you fancy a quick skinny dip in a waterfall during your hike, you never know when a lightweight towel will come in handy. Read our reviews of the best travel towels here.
8. Portable Charger
Bus journeys are long in Colombia. If you want to make sure that you’ve got enough juice in your phone/Kindle/iPad then a portable charger or power bank is a must. Also great for long treks, where you may go a few days without electricity. For a small and light option, try the Shenzen Ultra-Compact High-Speed Charging Portable Charger, for under $20 USD.
9. Mini Padlock
Essential for securing your bigger rucksack during flights, overnight buses and in hostels. (Take a few in case you lose one). These travel padlocks are ideal and cost $10 USD for two.
It never hurts to be prepared! Make sure you have some of this handy.
Packing hack: Ever tried packing cubes? They will revolutionise your backpacking experience! Check out this set by Amazon Basics.
Colombia Packing Checklist – Don’t Forget a Thing!
Clothes and Shoes
To prepare well for all weather eventualities, make sure you bring the following items:
- T-shirts (we recommend cotton to keep you cool)
- Light fleece
- Hiking pants/leggings
- Light and cool trousers
- Hiking shoes/boots (as listed in essentials)
- Foldable rainproof jacket (as listed in essentials)
- Walking sandals/flip flops/trainers
- One dressy outfit for clubs/salsa bars
How to dress in Colombia – Tips for blending in!
Perhaps the best tip for staying safe when travelling Colombia is to dress as the locals do. It’s best not to stick out like a sore thumb and wear clothes that will obviously give away that you are a tourist. Trends change often so we recommend taking a shopping trip when you arrive so you can get the perfect Colombian get-up!
Ladies – especially when out at night – adopt a similar fashion to the Colombian women. Skinny jeans, sparkly tops, and even hoop earrings. There’s no need to cover up when you go out at night. Colombia is not a conservative country and you’ll see many local women baring their midriffs, cleavage and a bit of thigh here and there! Bright colours, glitter and glamour are the name of the game here.
Men – go for chinos and tank tops, maybe a blazer if you’re really wanting to copy the Colombian look. People like to dress up on a night out in South America and you can be disallowed entry into clubs for being too casual. If you’re thinking of checking out the best Colombian nightlife, you need to pack at least one smart outfit. A pair of trousers (not jeans), one pair of smart shoes, oh, and your best dancing outfit for those of you wanting to shake that ass in a salsa club!
Basically, the more you come across as a local, the less likely you are to be a target of crime. (Oh, and learning Spanish will of course help too!)
- Copies of passport/visas
- Yellow Fever Certificate (Required if you are visiting the Amazon)
- Travel first aid kit
- Sanitary products if applicable (we love the Mooncup!)
- Any medication (e.g. contraceptive pills)
- Shampoo (we like the solid shampoo bars which don’t count towards your liquid allowance!)
Good to know: It is unlikely you will need to take altitude sickness tablets if you are only visiting Colombia. The highest city is Ipiales which sits at 2,898m.a.s.l.
- Chargers and cables
- Decoy wallet
- Money and travel cards
- Money belt or money belt alternative
- Memory card (good for transferring tour photos on)
- Head torch
- Travel adaptor
What to Pack for Colombia: Region by Region Overview
The Caribbean coast
Think Thailand. You’re going to need light clothes, a bathing suit, flip-flops and sandals.
A light jacket and/or cardigan and trousers/jeans for the evening. Think crisp, sunny days and chilly nights.
Bogotá and the Andes
Bogotá and the other Andean cities are cold! You’ll need a jumper, a fleece, trousers and lots of layers.
You’re going to need light clothing and a rain jacket. Don’t forget insect repellent and sun protection too!