Money & costs
Colombia is a reasonably cheap country to travel in, provided you are traveling overland. Backpackers should be prepared to shell out US$15 to US$25 per day on average. If you want a more comfy trip, with midrange hotels, some better restaurants and a flight from time to time, you'll average somewhere between US$25 and US$45 daily. Some resort areas, especially along the Caribbean coast, have all-inclusive resort packages that cost US$100 to US$150 for two people, a good value anywhere. You can save money by going to free days at museums (often the last Sunday of the month), or using a student card when buying plane and museum tickets. Also remember that bus ticket fares are always negotiable. A little haggling can usually knock off around 20% to 30% of the cost, though you may need to shop around at the various bus company windows.
Credit and debit cards are the safest and easiest way to access money in Colombia. Traveler's checks (Amex are by far the easiest to change) are safer than cash, though some US dollar bills may be useful.
Large amounts of counterfeit US dollars 'made in Cali' circulate on the market. According to rough estimates, about a quarter of all fake US dollars, virtually indistinguishable from the genuine article, circulating worldwide are printed in Colombia.
Generally, Bancolombia and the Banco Unión Colombiano are the banks to visit if you need to change money or do any over-the-counter transactions. However, you will find half-a-dozen other banks in most medium-sized towns that have ATMs.
Almost all major banks have adjacent ATMs, and they usually work fine with cards issued outside Colombia. A debit card is usually best and will have the lowest fees. Check with your home bank and credit- card company before leaving. Ask about fees and inform them of your travel dates (if they suddenly see money extracted from Colombia they may freeze your account, assuming that your card has been stolen).
Although the use of credit cards in Colombia is still not as common as it is in North America or Europe, they are becoming more widely accepted. They can be used for cash advances from banks and ATMs, and for purchases of goods and services in a variety of establishments.
The most useful card for cash advances is Visa, as it's accepted by most banks. Another possibility is MasterCard, which is honored by Bancolombia and Banco de Occidente. Other cards are of limited use.
You can get advance payments on cards from the cashier in the bank (it takes less time than changing traveler's checks) or from the bank's ATM.
Make sure you know the number to call if you lose your credit card, and be quick to cancel it if it's lost or stolen.
If you need money sent to you quickly, it's probably best to use Western Union, which has more than 80, 000 agencies worldwide. Your sender pays the money at their nearest Western Union branch, along with a fee, and gives the details on who is to receive it and where. You can have the money within 15 minutes. When you pick it up, take along photo identification.
Western Union is represented in Colombia by Giros & Finanzas, which has offices in virtually all cities around the country and also in some smaller localities. There are about 20 offices in Bogotá alone. Call from anywhere in the country on 9800 111 999 toll-free for information. In the USA, call 1800 325 6000 toll-free. Or simply check the website at www.westernunion.com.