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 recent mosquito-borne threats, chikungunya, which arrived in 2014 on Colombian shores, and zika, which hit the country hard in 2016, are a risk in lowland population centers although the epidemic has passed and not many cases are being reported at present. 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.
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Before You Go
- While health care in Colombia is fairly affordable, bills can add up, making it worth having a comprehensive insurance policy that includes evacuation.
- Most hospitals and clinics will ask for proof of insurance or a cash/credit card deposit before treating patients for non-life-threatening conditions.
- Often you will have to pay the bill yourself before claiming reimbursement from the insurance company.
- If you plan on staying in the country Colombian health insurers offer monthly prepaid 'medicina prepaga' plans that are more comprehensive than the basic private health care in the country.
- Yellow fever vaccinations are now mandatory for travel to some remote regions in Colombia – you'll need to show your yellow booklet before boarding flights.
- Travelers heading to remote lowland areas including the Pacific, Los Llanos and the Amazon should consider taking anti-malarial medication.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
- Adequate medical care is available in major cities, with international-standard hospitals and clinics in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Bucaramanga, but such care may be difficult to find in rural areas. In bigger cities you'll find many doctors that speak at least some English.
- Health care and dental work in Colombia are cheap by US and European standards; visits to general practitioners are available for COP$40,000 to COP$50,000; visits to specialists begin at around COP$150,000.
- Minor surgeries and hospitalization are affordable and easy to organize.
- If you develop a life-threatening medical problem, you may want to be evacuated to a country with state-of-the-art medical care; Miami is just a short flight away.
- For air ambulance service in Colombia, call Aerosanidades, which operates out of 14 airports in Colombia.
- 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 and in order to board planes to some low-lying destinations. 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 directly from Colombia without a yellow fever vaccine. Check your country's government health information for specifics.
Altitude sickness may develop in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500m, including those flying directly to Bogotá.
- Colombia has excellent water resources and tap water in bigger cities and mountainous areas is usually safe to drink.
- In less developed lowland regions including the Amazon Basin, Chocó and parts of the Caribbean coast it's best to purchase water or treat tap water before use.