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Colombia Travel Guide

DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES

Theft is the most common danger in Colombia, and is more serious in the larger cities. In crowded areas watch out for bag snatching, pick pockets, or distraction by a team of thieves. Be especially careful when leaving a bank or using an ATM, since the shortage of available places to access your cash means that the thieves know you are likely to be carrying a fairly large sum of money. It's not a bad idea to carry a decoy bundle of small notes, ready to hand over in case of assault. If you are accosted by robbers, it's best to give them what they are after, but play it cool and don't rush to hand them everything, they will probably be happy with your small bundle of notes. Of course, don't wear expensive jewelry, watches, and try not to look like a "rich tourist", blend into the scenery and leave your name brand clothes and sneakers at home.

Although drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, are widely available in Colombia, never carry them or attempt to buy them. Street vendors may be setting you up for the police or for extortion. The "burundaga" is a drug obtained from a species of tree that is widespread in Colombia, and is used by thieves to render a victim unconscious. It can be put into sweets, cigarettes, chewing gum, spirits, beer, virtually any kind of food or drink, and it doesn't have any particular taste or odor. The main effects are loss of will and memory, and sleepiness lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days. Think twice before accepting a cigarette from a stranger, or a drink from a new found friend.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Altitude sickness is the least expected In the thinner atmosphere above 10,000 feet (3,000 mt) or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer from headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combines with sunburn, heat exhaustion or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone, and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 10,000 ft too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day if at all possible.

The usual illnesses to be found in any undeveloped country exist, and every now and then there is an outbreak of cholera or yellow fever. Malaria is a risk in the lowlands, tetanus, typhoid, rabies and hepatitis everywhere. Contact your government health organization for the need for immunizations when you travel.

VISAS

Nationals of some countries, including most of western Europe, the Americas, Japan, Australia and New Zealand don't need a Visa to enter Colombia. It's a good idea to get up to date information before leaving, as requirements can change. All visitors get an entry stamp from DAS, the security police responsible for immigration, upon arrival at any international airport of land border crossing. It says how many days you can stay in the country, 90 days is the maximum. Make sure you get an entry stamp, as banks and money exchanges will want to see it in your passport, as will police there are any problems. Similarly, made sure you get an exit stamp or you will have problems coming back again.

CUSTOMS AND EXCISE

Customs procedures are usually a formality both entering and leaving the country. However, thorough luggage checks can occur, more often at airports than at overland borders, and they can be very exhaustive with full body searches included. They aren't looking for your extra iPod, but for drugs. Trying to smuggle drugs across the border is the best way to spend a few years learning about what the inside of a Colombian jail looks like.

Customs regulations don't differ much from other South American countries. You can bring in personal goods and presents for your Colombian friends. The quantity, quality and value of these goods should not be so great as to arouse suspicion that they are being imported for commercial purposes. You can bring cameras, camping equipment, sports accessories, a laptop computer and the like without problems. On departure you may be asked for receipts for emeralds, antiques and articles of gold that you have purchased in Colombia.

Duty free allowances are fairly standard. You may carry 200 cigarettes, and 50 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco, two bottles or wine or spirits, and a reasonable amount of perfume for personal use. Colombia offers travel adventure.