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Air

Airports & Airlines

Colombia's biggest international airport is Bogotá's newly renovated Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado. A second phase of the expansion project is underway.

Other major airports servicing international flights include:

Aeropuerto José María Cordova (www.aeropuertorionegro.co) serving Medellín.

Aeropuerto Rafael Núñez (www.sacsa.com.co) in Cartagena.

Aeropuerto Alfonso Bonilla Aragón (www.aerocali.com.co) serving Cali.

Colombia's national carrier is Avianca which is one of the better airlines in the region both in terms of service and reliability.

Tickets

Colombia requires, technically at least, that visitors have an onward ticket before they're allowed into the country. Airlines and travel agents quite strictly enforce this, and no one will sell you a one-way ticket unless you already have an onward ticket. Upon arrival in Colombia, however, hardly any immigration officials will ask you to present your onward ticket.

The trick is to buy a fully refundable ticket with your credit card and request a refund upon arrival in Colombia. If arriving overland, a printout of an unpaid reservation may also be sufficient to get past the border guards. Scruffy-looking travelers are more likely to be asked to show an onward ticket than those who are neatly attired.

Departure Tax

There is a COP$111,500 or US$38 departure tax on international flights. While previously it was paid at a separate window, it's now generally included in the price of the ticket.

In theory travelers visiting Colombia for less than 60 days are exempt from this charge; round-trip tickets for less than this period originating outside Colombia should not have the tax included.

Feature: Onward Travel within South America

Airline tickets in South America are often expensive. If you are traveling one way to Ecuador, Venezuela or Brazil, you will probably find it cheaper to fly domestically to the land border (Ipiales, Cúcuta or Leticia, respectively), cross the land border and take another domestic flight to your final destination.

That said, Bogotá is often the cheapest entry point to South America and there are plenty of intercontinental flights out of Bogotá, plus a few out of Cali and Medellín. You can fly Bogotá–Quito and Cali–Quito, for example. As a result of the political crisis in Venezuela, which has seen Avianca suspend service to that country, seats in and out of Caracas are becoming harder and harder to come by.

Land

Border Crossings

For information on visa requirements, see Visas.

Brazil & Peru

The only viable border crossing from these two countries into Colombia is via Leticia in the far southeastern corner of the Colombian Amazon. Leticia is reached from Iquitos (Peru) and Manaus (Brazil) by riverboat. Flights are the only way to get from Leticia to other parts of Colombia.

Ecuador

Virtually all travelers use the Carretera Panamericana border crossing through Tulcán (Ecuador) and Ipiales (Colombia). The part of the Panamericana between Pasto and Popayán has improved but to avoid problems altogether and enjoy fantastic views, it's best to travel this road during the day.

Another option is the crossing at San Miguel, Putumayo to Nueva Loja in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Backpackers have begun to safely use this route but check the situation on the ground with your hotel before proceeding as this area fluctuates often between acceptable and sketchy. Always travel by day on this route.

Venezuela

The political crisis in Venezuela has led to the borders with Colombia operating irregularly. At times the government in Caracas has closed the borders completely while on other occasions they have been closed to vehicle traffic. Check the latest before making plans.

There are four border crossings between Colombia and Venezuela. By far the most popular with travelers is the route via San Antonio del Táchira (Venezuela) and Cúcuta (Colombia), on the main Caracas–Bogotá road.

There is another reasonably popular border crossing at Paraguachón, on the Maracaibo (Venezuela) to Maicao (Colombia) road. Take this if you plan to head from Venezuela straight to Colombia's Caribbean coast. Buses and shared taxis run between Maracaibo and Maicao, and direct buses run between Caracas/Maracaibo and Santa Marta/Cartagena. Both Colombian and Venezuelan officials at the border will stamp your passport.

Not so popular is the crossing from Colombia's Puerto Carreño and either Puerto Páez or Puerto Ayacucho (both in Venezuela). Still less useful is the crossing from El Amparo de Apure (Venezuela) to Arauca (Colombia), a remote and somewhat insecure region.

Car & Motorcycle

Considering how cheap and extensive bus transportation is in Colombia, and the costs involved in shipping a vehicle to South America, there is little reason to bring your own vehicle unless you are on a multicountry odyssey.

Sea

There are marine crossings from Colombia to Panama and Ecuador.

Panama

Numerous sailboats operate between Panamanian ports of Portobelo, Porvenir or Colón and Cartagena. This is a popular form of intercontinental travel, and generally passes through (and stops in) the beautiful San Blas Islands along the way. Some boats operating from Cartagena's yacht clubs work on a fixed schedule, others leave when full. The entire Cartagena–San Blas– El Porvenir trip by sailboat ranges from between US$450 and US$650 all-inclusive with the majority of boats charging US$550. From El Porvenir, you'll need to carry on by speedboat to Carti or Miramar, from where you can continue overland to Panama City; or fly from El Porvenir.

Boats have traditionally been unregulated and safety is an issue. Cartagena-based Blue Sailing (www.bluesailing.net), a Colombian–American agency, has begun to change that in recent years. At the time of research the company represented 25 boats, and they ensure that all of them have proper safety equipment for open sea navigation, monitor their boats’ locations 24 hours a day and use only licensed captains.

It is also possible to arrange transportation from Bahía Solano to Jaqué in Panama, although departures are very infrequent. From Jaqué you can continue along Panama's Pacific coast to Panama City or fly.

Ecuador

It is possible to cross the border via skiff along the Pacific coast near Tumaco, but security along the road to Tumaco and the security situation in the city itself make it a place for travelers to avoid.