The currency used in Bogota is the peso (Col$). The notes come in denominations of 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos and the coins in use are 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 pesos. You should also be aware of fake notes as they are rampant in the city but the good news is that they are pretty easy to recognise as they are generally of a much poorer quality than the genuine article.
The language spoken in the capital is Spanish and for all you Spanish speaking backpackers, the good news is that it is generally easy to understand with very few variations.
The climate in Colombia is extremely variable and in Bogota which is 2,600 metres above sea level the situation is the same. Overall, it is much cooler than the Eastern plains and December, January and February are usually the driest months. The average temperature for every month of the year is 58 F (14C) but it can reach 80F (27C) in the shade on the hotter days and at night it can cool down to as low as 38F (3C). It also rains quite a lot but this is usually confined to the months between March and November where rain and hail storms can be very heavy.
Bogota uses Eastern Standard Time which is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.
In general shops open between 9.00am and 12.30pm and from 2.30pm until 8.00pm from Monday to Saturday. Some of the larger stores also open on Sunday between 9.00am and 3.00pm. Banks are open from 9.00am until 3.00pm from Monday to Thursday and between 9.00am and 3.30pm on Friday. It is also worth noting that they only open between 9.00am and 12.00pm on the last day of the month. Government offices are open from 8.00am until 3.00pm, and to the public from 10.30am.
Electricity in Colombia operates at 110 volts and plugs are the flat two-pin US type.
For vistors from Europe (with the exception of Czech and Slovakian nationals), Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas (with the exception of Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti) and the US a visa is not required. All that you need to get is an entry stamp in their passport from the security police when you enter the country. This will entitle you to stay for a period of either 30, 60 or 90 days depending on which stamp you get. You can get an extension on all of these but if you do get the 90-day stamp, you are only entitled to one 30 day extension. For visitors from all other countries, it is recommended that you contact the Colombian Embassy in your home country.
The main office, Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, is located at the western corner of Plaza de Bolivar, piso 2 and the number is 334 8749. It is open between 7.00am and 12.30pm and again from 1.30pm until 4.30pm from Monday to Friday. You will also find tourist offices at the airport and the bus terminal.
Some banks will exchange cash and traveller’s cheques while some others will not and this can vary in different branches of the bank. The banks which do offer an exchange facility usually do so within limited hours so your best bet is to go to the bank in the morning.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted in the more up-market restaurants and are becoming popular for purchasing goods but they still cannot be used everywhere. They can, however, be used in the increasing number of ATMs (cajeros automaticos) which pay out in pesos. You can also use cards which are part of the Cirrus or Plus network to withdraw cash.
The country code for Colombia is 27 and the area code for Bogota is 01. You need to dial the latter if you are calling Bogota from somewhere within the country. If you are calling from overseas you first dial 00, followed by the country code, the area code without the 0 and the local number.
Public phones are found in the streets all over the city but many are out of order. They generally take coins but the newer ones take cards (tarjeta telefonicas) which can be purchased in a Telecom office. With three telephone networks in operation, you need to check the international code for whichever one you are using before dialing outside Colombia is as it varies for each network.
If a service charge is not included on your restaurant bill a ten per cent tip is adequate. If you bill is pretty large, then you can leave an even smaller tip. For baggage, 2,000 pesos per piece of luggage is the norm and it is not necessary to tip taxi drivers.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Colombia they take place on January 1st and 6th, March 19th, April 12th, Good Friday, Ascension Thursday, May 1st, June 14th, 22nd and 29th, July 20th, August 7th and 15th, October 15th, November 1st and 11th and December 8th and 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.