You know me – this post is going to be long – so pin it for later if you can’t read it now!
I’ve often said Colombia is one of my favourite countries. Vibrant, diverse, and, most of all, FUN, it is one of those countries that sticks with you long after you’ve left it. I spent six weeks in Colombia a few years ago, visiting Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, Tayrona National Park, Medellín, Guatapé, Salento, Cali, Popayán, San Agustín, and Ipiales. There are some key points to note when figuring out what to wear in Colombia; firstly, the country can get very, very hot in summer months. Secondly, bright colours are everywhere in Colombia, so now’s the chance to wear your boldest hues. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
Thirdly, and most importantly… you really can wear whatever you want in Colombia. As you can see in the photos I’m about to show you, I regularly wore clothing that exposed my shoulders, legs, and/or midriff, and you’ll see local women doing the same; no need to cover up from head to toe (unless you feel like it, of course). Colombia is an incredibly stylish country, with people taking great care in how they look, so you can have lots of fun with fashion!
As always, I recommend wearing clothes you’re comfortable in and that you feel great in. Personally, I don’t bother buying any special “travel” clothes; they’re often expensive and unnecessary. Your regular wardrobe will do just fine, though I’d avoid bringing anything you would be devastated to lose or ruin. I’d also look into buying locally; a lot of what I’m wearing in these photos was purchased throughout Central America and Colombia. I always advocate buying locally as you get to support the local community, get further insight into a place’s culture, and get a great souvenir to take home.
Dress from Nicaragua, bag from Guatemala, jewellery and tan from Colombia
It’s also imperative to know the temperatures of where you’re going, when you’re going. Colombia is on the equator, but depending on where you are, the weather will vary wildly (Bogotá will be very different than Cartagena, for example, because of their locations). In general, however, the seasons in Colombia look something like this:
December and January/July and August: Hot and dry.
April and May/October and November: Cooler and rainier.
The months in between can kind of swing either way, but you will get cooler temperatures in more mountainous cities like Bogotá and Medellín, while coastal cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla will be hotter and more humid. Bottom line: Google the local temperatures before you go, so you know exactly what to pack for Colombia!
And so, without further ado, here’s what to wear in Colombia.
Dress and belt bought in local markets in Guatemala
Followers of this blog will know that I am a HUGE fan of dresses, and they’re my go-to travel staple. I find them comfortable and easy to wear, plus you can easily dress them up or down. Maxi dresses are a particular favourite as they’re even more comfortable and give you a bit of coverage if you want it. In Colombia I loved to wear my brightest, boldest dresses, like the red one you see above.
My favourite dress of 2012
Wear bright colours… because why not?! You’re in Colombia! Also… I was totally ahead of that cold-shoulder trend, hah
My travelling partner Kerri wearing another of my dresses
In terms of purchasing local dresses, I found the best finds at craft markets. You often pay more for these than you would pay for a generic dress at a department store, but I loved owning something locally made.
Both dresses bought from local markets in Central America
With a dress bought in Honduras, bag bought in Colombia
This blue maxi skirt lasted me through all of Central and South America and it was incredibly versatile. I always, always recommend bringing a long skirt when you travel (if you like wearing skirts, that is) as they are super comfortable and allow you to cover up if you want to (as I did when wearing a more revealing top, as seen above).
I only very recently started wearing trousers – for many years, I refused to wear them, most likely because I struggle finding ones that fit (for real, if they fit perfectly on my hips, they’re swimming on my waist, and if they fit on my waist, they’re stretched to heaven and back on my hips). Enter the era of looser, elastic-waist trousers that have been popping up everywhere… and I have converted. I now often find trousers at shops like Forever 21, Zara, H&M, and so on, and have recently graduated to culottes (don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em).
I also love the harem pants or ‘genie’ pants that a lot of travellers seem to wear these days, and which are easily purchased in many markets (especially in Asia, though the trend is going worldwide). I’ve seen people argue that these are unflattering, to which I say… OK? I don’t care. They’re crazy comfortable and can look really cool. I bought this pair in Nicaragua from a local shop, and I loved them. They don’t look so great in this photo (I was in Ipiales, which, turns out, is FREEZING even in summer, so I had to layer up with my leggings) but I’m a huge fan of the style, no matter where I travel.
Many people wear jeans in Colombia, but I’m always wary of travelling with jeans in hot climates; they’re uncomfortable to wear, for one thing, and they take ages to dry in humidity. They also take up much more space in your bag than a couple of pairs of cotton trousers. Tight jeans are definitely the rage in Colombia – you’ll see many shops that sell padding for your bum to make it appear bigger/rounder – so if you want to rock your tightest pair, go for it.
While I’ve learned to love trousers, I’m still getting there with shorts. I don’t often find styles that I like, but I do think, if you’re going to be spending some time at the beach and/or hiking in Colombia, having at least one pair of shorts is recommended. I went with a pair of denim shorts, and while they weren’t the best – they take a long time to dry in humid weather – they served their purpose.
I layered a pair of leggings under my shorts to go horseback riding. Convenient? Yes. Stylish? Not really
You can definitely get away with sleeveless tops in Colombia, including strapless tops or crop tops. As it gets very hot in summer, I recommend having a selection of tops, just in case you get a bit… sweaty. I did find that there were laundry services available at many of my hostels and guesthouses, but you never know how they will wash your clothing, which is another reason to not bring anything too delicate or valuable. Cotton is always best!
I bought this vibrant top at a little shop in Santa Marta, which I layered over a dress I bought in Nicaragua. Side note: that’s Pablo Escobar’s car
Having a few cotton tank tops is always a great idea in Colombia
This was exactly the time I was getting into crop tops. Despite being over 30 and over 150 pounds, I love wearing them, so don’t ever let someone tell you you should be younger or thinner in order to wear them.
This is perhaps a good place to talk about catcalling in Colombia. You may have heard the rumours: there is a lot of catcalling in Central and South America. Is it true? Well, yes. You will get whistles and perhaps a few comments, although I never felt overwhelmed or scared, just annoyed. To be honest, however, the catcalling didn’t stand out in Colombia anymore than it did in many other places around the world for me, including many parts of Europe (I’m catcalled a few times a week in London). Is it gross and uncomfortable? Yes. But I noticed that no matter what I was wearing, it happened anyway. I’m not sure if that’s because I was obviously a gringa (not many natural blondes/blue eyes in Colombia) or if it’s simply because I’m a woman, but it happened a few times a week.
The best way to deal with catcalling in Colombia? Ignore it and keep walking. Of course we always want to defend ourselves and say something back, but unless you are a fluent Spanish speaker, it unfortunately might not help very much. Another tip I have is, if you are made to feel extremely uncomfortable or are followed, try to approach a group of women and/or enter a shop or restaurant where you see women. Just to reiterate: this did not happen to me in Colombia, and I felt totally safe for the entire six weeks I was there.
As I said above, wear what you want in Colombia and walk proud.
As you can see in these photos, I often wore flats while sightseeing. This is fine if you’re planning on doing only light walking and/or, like me, you stop a lot (there’s always a bar/café/shop to distract me), but I would recommend a sturdier pair of walking shoes. I now own these sandals, which I’m really liking – they’re comfortable to walk in all day, and still cute enough to wear with dresses.
Another thing you’ll probably recognise is the fact that I wear Keds a lot. I find these to be great shoes to take travelling as they look pretty cute, they’re comfortable for light hiking and other activities, and they’re resilient as hell (I had this pair for years and years, lasting me through 25+ countries). If you are planning on doing some more major hiking, like hiking to Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), I do recommend bringing proper hiking boots. I own these ones, and I find they’re really comfortable and actually kinda stylish, which is almost unfathomable in hiking boots.
Also – Colombians can DANCE. For real. You need to check out some of the nightclubs in big cities, even if you’re not really a nightclub kind of person (my favourites were in Medellín and Cali). The dancing is phenomenal. And even if you can’t keep up, I recommend bringing your dancing shoes. For real – I suck at dancing and even I got involved:
Finally, you need some beach shoes or flip flops; I like these even when visiting cities, just in case I need something to slip on at the hostel or to run out for snacks or something. I’ve bought cheap ones in the past but nothing beats Havaianas (and if you end up in Brazil before or after Colombia, like I did, you can stock up on them for very, very cheap).
As you can see in these photos, I’m a huge fan of buying locally when it comes to bags and jewellery. Throughout Colombia I wore bags purchased in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia, and I loved how bright they were and how much they added to my outfits.
However… please note that these bags are not very secure, even if you’re able to loop them over your shoulder (which I always recommend). They are still made of cloth, and very rarely have proper closures (see those bucket bags above). While I felt extremely safe throughout my time in Colombia, bad things do sometimes happen, just like in any country. I’d recommend leaving your valuables at the hotel, locked in a hotel safe or in a Pacsafe Travelsafe, which can help you protect your valuables. I strolled through the streets with my camera around my neck most days, but, as always, it’s important to know your surroundings and trust your gut.
I’ve heard more and more of people on bicycles and/or motorbikes riding by and snatching purses, cameras, and mobile phones (this almost happened to me in London, so it’s not just in Colombia) and my brother even had his hat stolen off of his head by a bicyclist while we were in Nicaragua. It’s rare, but you do need to be aware of the dangers, and how you can prevent them.
If you’re looking for a sturdy, slash-proof bag, many travellers recommend Pacsafe backpacks and purses. I don’t own one myself, but I am thinking of getting one for travelling in East Africa.
If you’ve read any of my other “What to Wear” posts, you know that I looooooove jewellery, and I always make a point of buying local handmade jewellery when I travel. I think it’s one of the best (and cheapest) souvenirs you can buy, and again, it supports the local economy.
In most of Central and South America, I found that beads, leather, and natural products like seeds and shells were the norm. I bought tons of stuff at local markets; you’ll always find lots of similar jewellery at handicraft markets or street-side stalls (for more on how to barter for souvenirs while travelling, click here). Bright strands of beads were especially common in Colombia, so I bought both the blue necklace you see in these photos (in Cartagena) and the white beads (in Silvia outside of Popayan, which hosts a fantastic market every Tuesday).
If you’d like to wear your own jewellery, that’s totally fine, but as always I would avoid bringing anything that you would be devastated to lose or that may attract too much attention (so leave the strands of diamonds and rubies at home).
True story: Kerri and I wrote a song for this guy
Layering long-sleeved tops in slightly cooler San Agustín
This thin button-up was invaluable during my time in South America, as it could be used in many ways
9. A denim jacket or long layers.
Even in summer, parts of Colombia can get chilly in the evening, and in winter, you definitely need warmer clothing. I always, always recommend brining a denim jacket, no matter where you travel, as it’s timelessly fashionable and you can pair it with just about anything. Bottom line, make sure to check the temperatures before you go, and pack accordingly. This list is obviously more for warm weather, but, as I mentioned above regarding Ipiales, it can be very cold in Colombia as well, especially once you get away from the coast.
A light raincoat may also be advisable, depending on what kind of travel you’ll be doing and what time of year you’ll be visiting.
10. A bathing suit.
You will most likely be heading somewhere on the coast if you’re going to be in Colombia for a little bit, so you’ll need a bathing suit. If you’re planning on spending considerable time near the ocean like I was, I’d recommend bringing two suits just in case you a) lose or damage one or b) don’t feel like putting on a wet suit every morning (again, humidity means things take longer to dry).
And if you’re planning on visiting the infamous mud baths of Colombia, I’d highly recommend NOT wearing a white bathing suit!
11. A beach cover-up.
I always recommend bringing a scarf or sarong when travelling, as they’re super versatile. I actually found it slightly difficult to find a sarong I liked (unlike in Southeast Asia, where they seem to be everywhere) although there are some for sale in more beachy locations (I think I bought this one in Costa Rica).
12. Sunglasses and suncream
As I mentioned, Colombia gets damn hot in the summer, and the sun can be very strong. As you can see in these photos, I was pretty tanned, but I had already been in Central America for three months and had spent a lot of time outdoors. I recommend bringing good sunglasses with UV protection and also a sunscreen that you already know and trust – the last thing you want while you’re travelling is a painful sunburn (not to mention the effects it can have later in life). It’s not always easy to buy sunscreen abroad, so bringing something from home is definitely the way to go (not to mention it can be really expensive abroad, especially if you try to buy it in a beach town or resort). I personally always use Banana Boat sunscreen with a factor of at least 30.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time outdoors, I also recommend bringing some reliable mosquito spray. Again, bring this from home. There is currently Zika in Colombia so it’s imperative to take the proper precautions and use bug spray whenever possible.
As you can see in these photos, I wear makeup when I travel. I wear it at home, so why wouldn’t I wear it abroad? If you want to rock a full face of makeup, go for it… many women in Colombia do the same. For me, I usually wear concealer, powder, bronzer, eyeliner, and mascara, and while in Colombia, I usually wore a bright lipstick as well. I’d imagine you’d want to avoid very heavy foundation if you’ll be in hot climates.
As always, I have to recommend this eyeshadow primer by Urban Decay. Honestly, this stuff changed my makeup routine significantly, as it means that my eyeliner stays put for the entire day. I have been wearing this primer every single day for about four years now, and I’d never go back.
So there you have it: what to wear in Colombia. I have to admit that I LOVED my wardrobe in Colombia; I felt beautiful, and I loved wearing so many vibrant colours. For everything else I’ve written about Colombia, check out:
If you’re interested, here’s another article I wrote about feeling fashionable while travelling. Additionally, you can check out what to wear in Thailand, what to wear in Nepal, what to wear in Bhutan, what to wear in India, what to wear in Russia, and what to wear in Cuba. Please note that this post has some affiliate links to products I already own, use, and love.
Have you ever been to Colombia? If not, would you like to go?