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    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    You’ve booked your car online, you’ve picked it up from the rental agency, now you’ve got the keys and it’s time to get in the car and hit the road!

    But first of all, it’s a good idea to have some information on what makes Colombia so special in terms of driving… traffic regulations, the state of the road network, toll and petrol prices, etc., etc…

    So many things that may well surprise you if you’re not prepared! In this post, we give you as much information as possible to help you prepare for your trip to Colombia.

    Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

    Driving license and required documents to drive in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    For this kind of subject, we make a habit of checking our sources on government sites and combining them with our own experience or that of our family and friends in the country.

    Which license to drive in Colombia

    The Colombian government certifies that tourists can drive with their national license (Código Nacional de Tránsito, Art. 25 de la Ley 769 de 2002 – Licencias Extranjeras)

    “Driving licenses issued in another country, in force and used by tourists or persons in transit on national territory, are valid and admitted to drive in Colombia during the authorized stay of their holder, in accordance with international provisions on the subject.”

    In all cases, this authorization is reserved for tourists passing through the country. If you are a resident or have a work or other visa, you will need a Colombian driver’s license.

    So, international driving license is not necessary?

    By law, it’s not.

    But you’re free to make your own decision if your country offers the possibility to get an international driving license.

    At first, nowing that Colombian police officers can be tricky to pick up a few pesos along the way, we decided to cover ourselves as much as possible and apply for an international driving license.

    But on the last trips we’ve made, we’ve decided to drive in Colombia only with our national license. No more international drive’s license.

    Traffic regulations in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    We’re not going to give you a lecture on the Highway Code in Colombia, so it’s up to you to be vigilant when you hit the road. That said, here’s some information you may find useful.

    • Road speed: limited to 60 km/h or 80 km/h (even on dual carriageways) depending on the road – in practice, you may find that some stretches are authorized at 100 km/h or more.. sometimes it’s 30 km/h
    • Speed in built-up areas: limited to 60 km/h, sometimes it’s 30 km/h
    • Pico y Placa – Alternating traffic in town: a traffic regulation system based on license plate numbers is in operation in most of the country’s major cities. Make sure you find out in advance, otherwise you could be fined heavily if you drive when your license plate number forbids you to do so
    • Signposting: On roads outside built-up areas, you’ll find that there are very few signs, making it difficult to find your way around. “No parking” signs indicate a prohibition before and after the sign.
    • Speed cameras: Beware, they’re everywhere, in town and out. We strongly advise you to use the Waze application to avoid surprises.

    In the real world

    You’ll find that driving in Colombia is quite “free”, with Colombians showing little respect for the highway code and driving as if they were alone in the world, which calls for heightened vigilance. We talk about this below in the “Driving in Colombia” section.

    Traffic signs

    Watch out for speed bumps! In Colombia we call them “policia acostado”. They are particularly high and should be driven at a very slow speed! Most of the time, they’re announced about 100 m ahead, so keep an eye out because the bump itsel is often not really visible from afar… we took one at full speed, which wasn’t great..

    Direction signals are sketchy, which is why the Waze application is so useful.
    Speed signs are fairly frequent and well indicated, but sometimes not really adapted, it happens that a double lane is limited to 30km/h for no apparent reason.

    Rent a car In Colombia

    To rent a car, we advise you to use the Rental Cars comparator, which gives you a complete overview of the different rental companies in Colombia.

    Driving in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    Driving in Colombia, as in any country, is a matter of local folklore, often representative of the country. Here you’ll find the advice you need to make the most of your car rental.

    Waze is your friend

    The best advice we can give you is touse the Waze application on your phone to drive in Colombia. GPS-enabled, it will guide you, giving you speed limits, possible speed cameras, and so on. In addition, the advertised journey times are relatively accurate (to within 30 min)

    This means you’ll need to purchase a local SIM card for your smartphone beforehand.

    Colombians on the road

    Colombians drive as if they were alone in the world, so you have to be prepared for any vehicle to come along on your right or left. When we say any vehicle, we really mean any vehicle: car, bike, motorcycle, truck, tractor, horse-drawn cart, handcart, tuktuk, etc., etc., etc., etc.

    You’ll find that there’s real life on the road, with many street vendors who can officiate in the middle of nowhere. Untimely stops are frequent on the side of the road or in the right-hand traffic lane.

    In town, it’s a mess , and depending on the region, it’s either trucks, motorcycles or cars that rule the roost – so adapt!

    Don’t be in a hurry

    The average speed of a road trip in Colombia is 40km/h. In Bogotá, our average speed should be 15km/h. So it’s important to remember that distances mean nothing in Colombia, and that it’s the driving time that counts. Often very long.

    How to drive

    The best advice we can give you is to breathe, stay calm, go with the flow and try to blend into the traffic. Stay calm, and don’t try to imitate or provoke the bad habits of Colombians.

    But if you do want to get into traffic, you’ll have to elbow your way through. Don’t hesitate, everyone does the same thing, just wave your hand and off you go!

    As mentioned above, on a dual carriageway, cars sometimes stop in the left-hand lane, and sometimes buses stop to pick up passengers. In short, you’ll find that when there’s a dual carriageway, most Colombians drive in the left-hand lane. Follow the flow, forget the European rules and, if necessary, let yourself be overtaken on the right.

    Driving at night

    We really don’t recommend driving at night for safety reasons. Having done it on our road trip, driving at night in Colombia is extremely tiring. Colombians use particularly powerful headlights that totally blind you. Calculate your departure time to avoid arriving after dark (around 6 p.m.).

    Rent a car In Colombia

    To rent a car, we advise you to use the Rental Cars comparator, which gives you a complete overview of the different rental companies in Colombia.

    Roads in Colombia

    The road network

    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    Let’s face it.the roads in Colombia are generally in poor condition. Occasionally, you’ll have the pleasant surprise of driving on a billiard table, and you’ll enjoy it immensely! But you’re more likely to have to avoid potholes, so stay vigilant.

    There are no freeways like those found in Europe; there are sometimes dual carriageways, but these can quickly become single carriageways as you approach a town.

    On the secondary network, roads often become simple gravel tracks. This doesn’t mean they can’t be used by your car. Just take it easy.

    Roads in the Caribbean

    The Caribbean region is mainly flat land, presenting no particular topographical problems for driving, apart from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, where roads are virtually non-existent, except on the Minca side.

    It’s rather the poor quality of the road network that’s debatable, since many of the secondary roads in the Caribbean region are not asphalted, but are only dirt tracks, making driving difficult at times (especially in the rainy season).

    Roads in the Andean region

    Mountains mean? Curves! In the Andean region, the roads really do twist and turn, making journeys extremely long and tiring. It’s not uncommon to find yourself behind large trucks travelling at 20 km/h.

    Generally speaking, in Colombia you don’t count in kilometers, but in hours, and this is even truer in mountainous regions!

    Occasionally, some roads are under construction due to frequent damage caused by bad weather.

    Roads in the Pacific region

    This is one of the least accessible regions of Colombia. Only 3 towns have road access (Buenaventura, Quibdo, Tumaco). For the rest of the region, especially the villages on the ocean shore, there are no roads: the only possible access is by sea or air.

    To the north, the immense and totally inaccessible Darien forest acts as a bottleneck, to the extent that it is the only place on the continent where the famous Pan-American Highway is literally cut off.

    Roads in the Llanos region

    The entire northern and central part of the los Llanos region is fairly accessible , with roads from Villavicencio to Arauca, Puerto Ayacucho and San Jose del Guaviare.

    But throughout the south-east, the forest takes over and there are no roads. This more remote part is often only accessible by plane or by boat along the Rio Guaviare.

    Roads in the Amazon region

    It goes without saying that this is a difficult region to access.

    However, Mocoa in the Putumayo, Florencia in the Caqueta and San Jose in the Guaviare are quite accessible by road, but these are the only roads in the entire region.

    For the rest, you’ll have to travel by air, especially to Leticia.

    Rent a car In Colombia

    To rent a car, we advise you to use the Rental Cars comparator, which gives you a complete overview of the different rental companies in Colombia.

    Safety and police controls

    Driving in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    Documents to carry at all times

    It’s obvious, but let’s go over the documents you need to have with you in case of a police check:

    • Rental contract (provided by the rental agency)
    • SOAT, the car insurance (provided by the rental agency)
    • Révision Tecnico Mecanica, the car’s technical inspection (provided by the rental agency)
    • Valid passport (over 6 months old) with entry stamp
    • Valid national driving license
    • Optional : Valid international driver ‘s license (if you have it, you’d better take it)
    • Tinted window paper (if your car has tinted windows)

    Speed cameras

    There are many fixed and mobile speed cameras on the country’s roads, as well as at traffic lights in town. So be careful not to get caught out! Just take it easy and you’ll be fine.

    Parking lots

    To ensure the safety of your vehicle and avoid the frequent thefts, we advise you to always use the paid parking services available throughout Colombia.

    For example, for one night, we paid $12.000 COP in Giron.

    Tolls

    There are a lot of tolls on the main roads, so don’t forget to factor them into your budget. This is also one of the reasons why Colombians travel a lot by bus, or motorcycle for that matter.

    On average, a toll costs around $10.000 COP.

    Tolls are a good time to ask questions at the cashier’s, to ask for information about the road, its condition, good places to stop for lunch, etc. Don’t hesitate!

    Accidents

    In the event of an accident, never leave the scene and never move the car before the police arrive, otherwise you’ll be in big trouble.

    Police

    Police checkpoints are a frequent occurrence in Colombia, so stop if you’re flagged down!

    Don’t panic: the police will ask you for everyone’s papers and passports, they’ll ask you to get out of the vehicle, they may open the trunk, maybe search the luggage… don’t panic, it’s routine and everything will be fine.

    Renting a car in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia

    Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices

    All right! You’ve got all the information you need to adapt to driving in Colombia and avoid any unpleasant surprises. Now you’re ready to take the plunge and it’s time to rent a car!

    To find out more, read our full post on car rental in Colombia.

    Rent a car In Colombia

    To rent a car, we advise you to use the Rental Cars comparator, which gives you a complete overview of the different rental companies in Colombia.

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    Authors

    Angélica & Samuel

    We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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    Leave a Comment

    6 thoughts on “Driving in Colombia travel guide: our advices”

    1. Hello… Thanks for your good advice, great site 😉 Can you inform me about buying a motorcycle in Colombia or maybe refer me to someone or another site if needed?

      Reply
    2. I’d like to add two new items to the list of papers you need to carry with you: the SOAT, which is the compulsory insurance, and the Révision Tecnico Mecanica. The rental company must provide them, and these are generally the two documents that the police systematically check. They must, of course, be up to date. If you can’t produce them, the car is immediately immobilized.

      Reply