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Most visitors travel to Colombia without incident, but there are certain medical conditions to be aware of and several things you can do to prevent sickness. Most illnesses are the result of Colombia's tropical-zone location. If traveling anywhere along the coast or jungle, you can bank on little tropical nuisances – infected bug bites, rashes or heat exhaustion. Other, more dangerous afflictions, including malaria and yellow fever, can strike travelers who get further off the beaten track or spend a lot of time trekking through national parks. Dengue fever and the newest mosquito-borne threat, chikungunya, which arrived in 2014 on Colombian shores, are a risk in lowland population centers. Other problems can occur in the mountains, including soroche (altitude sickness).

The good news is that Colombia has some of the best medical care in South America.

Environmental Hazards

  • Altitude sickness may develop in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500m, including those flying directly to Bogotá.
  • Tap water in Bogotá and other big cities is safe to drink, but if you're pregnant or want to be more careful, use bottled water instead. In remote areas, water should be boiled or disinfected with iodine pills; or stick to bottled water.

Health Care

  • Adequate medical care is available in major cities, but may be difficult to find in rural areas.
  • For an online guide to physicians, dentists, hospitals and pharmacies in Colombia, go to the US embassy website (http://bogota.usembassy.gov/root/pdfs/medservices.pdf).
  • If you develop a life-threatening medical problem, you'll probably want to be evacuated to a country with state-of-the-art medical care.
  • For air ambulance service in Colombia, call Aerosanidades, which operates out of 14 airports in Colombia.

Infectious Diseases

  • Dengue fever, a mosquito-born viral infection (transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes most commonly during the day and usually close to human habitations, often indoors), is most often found in the departments of Santander, Tolima, Valle del Cauca, Norte de Santander, Meta and Huila.
  • Malaria, also transmitted by mosquito bites, is prevalent in rural areas below 800m in Amazonas, Chocó, Córdoba, Guainía, Guaviare, Putumayo and Vichada.
  • Yellow fever is a life-threatening viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes in forested areas, most notably above 2300m in many departments and Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Tayrona and Ciudad Perdida. A yellow-fever vaccine is required for visitors to the national parks along the coastal regions. Travelers limiting their visit to the main cities and mountainous regions may not need to be immunized for yellow fever, but be aware that some countries, such as Australia, will not let you into the country if you're flying direct from Colombia without a yellow-fever vaccine. Check your country's government health information for specifics.