Colombia's proximity to the equator means its temperature varies little throughout the year. The temperature does change with altitude, creating various climatic zones from hot lowlands to freezing Andean peaks, so you can experience completely different climates within a couple of hours of travel.
As a general rule, the temperature falls about 6°C with every 1000m increase in altitude. If the average temperature at sea level is 30°C, it will be around 24°C at 1000m, 18°C at 2000m and 12°C at 3000m.
The altitude also affects the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. The higher the altitude, the greater the difference. Consequently, in the highlands there can be warm days but freezing nights, while in the lowlands days and nights are almost equally hot.
Colombia has two seasons: dry or verano (literally 'summer') and wet or invierno (winter). The pattern of seasons varies in different parts of the country, and has been greatly affected over recent years by El Niño and La Niña.
As a rough guideline only, in the Andean region there are two dry and two rainy seasons per year. The main dry season falls between December and March, with a shorter and less dry period between July and August. This general pattern has wide variations throughout the Andean zone.
The weather in Los Llanos has a more definite pattern: there is one dry season, between December and March, while the rest of the year is wet. The Amazon doesn't have a uniform climate but, in general, is quite wet year-round.
When to go
The most pleasant time to visit Colombia is in the dry season, between December and March or in July and August. This is particularly true if you plan on hiking. The dry season also gives visitors a better chance to savor local cultural events because many festivals and fiestas take place during these periods.
Apart from the weather, you may also consider Colombian holiday periods. There are basically three high seasons when Colombians rush to travel: from late December to mid-January, during Semana Santa (Holy Week; March or April), and from mid-June to mid-July. Also take note of three-day weekends, which send a rush of urban dwellers to rural getaways (eg Villa de Leyva), and regional celebrations (eg Baranquilla de Carnaval). During these periods transport gets more crowded, hotels tend to fill up faster and prices in holiday destinations may rise. If you travel at this time, you will have to plan your trip a little ahead and do more legwork to find a place to stay, but you'll also enjoy more contact with traveling Colombians, who will be in a relaxed, holiday spirit.
Colombians love a party, and when they let their hair down – whoa, you’re in for a treat. Almost every small town, it seems, has an annual bash, with beauty pageants, parades, live music, bullfights, and lots and lots of drinking. Many of Colombia’s biggest events happen around Christmas and run into the new year. Holy Week, during Easter, is also cause for much celebration with pomp and ceremony in many of the smaller colonial towns in Colombia, attracting tourists and worshippers from around the world.
Carnaval de Blancos y Negros 5-6 Jan
Pasto’s annual post-Christmas bash, the Carnaval de Blancos y Negros, has its origin in the time of Spanish rule, when slaves were allowed to celebrate on January 5 and their masters joined in the festivities by painting their faces black. On the following day, the slaves painted their faces white. These days, pretty much everyone gets roaring drunk and throws talcum powder in everyone else’s faces until you’re coughing up powdery mucus. Great fun.
Feria de Manizales
The highlight of Manizales’ annual festival is the bullfighting – the feria attracts some of the world’s best bullfighters, and Colombia’s feistiest bulls. There’s also the usual assortment of parades and craft fairs, and, of course, a beauty pageant.
Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria 2 Feb
A solemn procession is held to honor Cartagena’s patron saint at the Convento de la Popa, during which the faithful carry lit candles. Celebrations begin nine days earlier, the so-called Novenas, when pilgrims flock to the convent.
Carnaval de Barranquilla
Forty days before Easter is Mardi Gras, or Carnaval as it’s known in Colombia. Barranquilla’s Carnaval is the second-biggest in South America after Rio de Janeiro’s in Brazil. This otherwise grim port city goes crazy for four days of drinking and dancing mayhem. There are parades, costumes and a marathon concert of Colombian musical groups. It concludes on Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) with the symbolic burial of ‘festival icon’ Joselito Carnaval.
Semana Santa in Popayán
The most famous Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebration is held in Popayán, especially the nighttime processions on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Thousands of believers and tourists from all over come to take part in this religious ceremony and the accompanying festival of religious music.
Semana Santa in Mompox
Colombia’s second-most important Holy Week celebration is in the sleepy river town of Mompox, near the Caribbean coast.
Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro
Held during Holy Week, this biennial festival of Latin American theater takes place every evenly-numbered year, and usually ends with a fireworks spectacular in Bogotá’s football stadium.
Festival de Música del Pacifico Petronio Álvarez
This Cali festival celebrates the music of the nearby Pacific coast.
Feria de las Flores
Medellín’s most spectacular event is this weeklong feria. Its highlight is the Desfile de Silleteros, when up to 400 campesinos (peasants) come down from the mountains and parade along the streets carrying flowers on their backs.
Festival Mundial de Salsa
Don’t miss this classic Cali festival. It’s not really a worldwide festival, but you’ll still see some amazing dancers, and there are often free shows at the outdoor Los Cristales amphitheater.
Congreso Nacional Gastronómico
Every year top chefs are invited from a different country to come and cook up a storm in tiny colonial Popayán.
Festival Internacional de Jazz
Many North American bands come for this Medellín festival. There are usually a couple of free concerts.
Festival Internacional de Teatro
Held since 1968, Manizales’ theater festival is the country’s second most important (after Bogotá’s Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro). It lasts for about a week and features free shows in Plaza de Bolívar.
Festival de Cine de Bogotá
With a 20-year history, the city’s film festival attracts films from all around the world, including a usually strong Latin American selection.
Rock al Parque
Three days of mostly South American rock/metal/pop/funk/reggae bands rocking out at Parque Simón Bolívar in Bogotá. It’s free and swarming with fans.
Reinado Nacional de Belleza 11 Nov
The national beauty pageant celebrates Cartagena’s independence day. Miss Colombia, the beauty queen, is elected on November 11, the high point of the event. The fiesta, which includes street dancing, music and fancy-dress parades, strikes up several days before the pageant and the city goes wild. The event, also known as the Carnaval de Cartagena or Fiestas del 11 de Noviembre, is the city’s most important annual bash.
Alumbrado Navideño 7 Dec to 7 Jan
Every Christmas, Colombian cities compete to see who can put up the most elaborate lighting display along their respective rivers – Medellín often wins. The Festival of Lights in Villa de Leyva in early December is also a major national event that attracts Colombians from Bogotá and afar.
Feria de Cali Christmas to 7 Jan
During Cali’s annual bash, commerce pretty much grinds to a halt, and the parties spill into the streets. Food and beer pavilions magically appear, and spontaneous dancing in the streets is not unknown. The Río Cali is illuminated by lights all along the river. The bullfights are also renowned.