What to Wear in Colombia

by Brenna Holeman

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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

1. Dresses

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 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 and knowing the money was going back into Colombia’s economy.

Both dresses bought from local markets in Central America

With a dress bought in Honduras, bag bought in Colombia

2. Skirts

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).

You can easily get away with wearing skirts of whatever you’d like in Colombia. I recommend bringing ones made of cotton or other breathable material; denim is always heavy and difficult to wash/dry. Also take care to bring fabrics that don’t wrinkle easily.

3. Trousers

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 the pair pictured above 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.

4. Shorts

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 would definitely go with a looser, cotton or linen pair for next time, as they’d be great for city sightseeing as well.

I layered a pair of leggings under my shorts to go horseback riding. Convenient? Yes. Stylish? Not really

5. Tops.

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.

6. Shoes

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 to wear in Colombia; 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).

7. Bags

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.

8. Jewellery

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).

You can use as sarong as a skirt, dress, top, shawl, scarf, pillowcase… the options are endless!

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.

13. Makeup

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:

Things to do in Medellín

Sailing to Colombia from San Blas

A Little Place Called Guatapé

The Mud Baths of Colombia

Cali Caliente

 “The Most Colombian” Fernando Botero

That Time We Went to San Agustín, Colombia

Cartagena Blues

The Beauty of Tayrona Park, Colombia

The Story of Guillermo

The Silvia Market of Colombia

The Time We Hitchhiked in Colombia

Colourful Cali

A Love Letter to Cartagena

The Hype Surrounding Salento

Colombia, Te Quiero

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 Indiawhat 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?

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Cate April 11, 2017 - 3:54 pm

I love these what to wear posts- all your clothes are so stylish and pretty, and you look gorgeous in them! You have inspired me to try to wear the local clothing more when I travel, and i have to say it is fun and makes me feel more confident. Could you maybe give some tips for what to wear in Europe or Peru?

Brenna Holeman April 11, 2017 - 10:11 pm

Aw, thanks a lot, Cate! I will be doing one for Peru in the next few months, and possibly one for London or Italy. It all depends on how many photos I have for each location. 🙂

Emma April 11, 2017 - 9:26 pm

I totally agree that maxi dresses are awesome for travel and love all the shots you have in front of all the colourful walls.

Brenna Holeman April 11, 2017 - 10:11 pm

Thank you very much, Emma! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

Elina April 12, 2017 - 3:30 am

Oh man, Colombia just keeps popping up everywhere! I’m dying to go. Btw, have you got any lipstick recommendations? I wear one pretty much every day but it’s not very durable against humidity and my addiction for snacks.

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2017 - 4:09 am

Yeah – I’ve definitely noticed an increase in people going to Colombia! It’s great – the country is so dynamic and beautiful, I anticipate only more and more people to start to go.

My two favourite lipstick brands are Cover Girl and Gosh. I tend to buy both in Canada and bring them back to the UK, but I’m sure you can get them online! The key is to layer with lipliner for long-lasting power…

Katie April 12, 2017 - 1:07 pm

I always feel the *worst* when I read your fashion posts — ha! You always look so dang cute and I’m so greige it’s ridiculous. I feel like my body is this kind of weird shape (super narrow shoulders — narrower than my hips — big boobs, squat torso) and so clothes always look odd on me, like they’re not hanging quite right. Of course I believe a huge part of fashion is the mentality of the person wearing it, so that’s likely a big part of my problem.

Regarding the long skirt situation, what kind of tops to you recommend wearing with them besides tube tops? I have a long maxi that’s so comfortable and I love it, but I never know what to pair with it.

P.S. If you’re not dating anyone in particular right now, you should make that photo with the cold shoulder dress your dating profile pic. See what happens. 😉

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2017 - 6:43 pm

Aw, no!! I totally do agree that fashion is all about the mentality of the person wearing it… if you feeling like you’re rocking it, you ARE rocking it, you know? So… rock it. Hah.

I pair just about everything with a long maxi – tank tops, button downs, t-shirts… I think the key is to tuck them in so that there’s a bit of structure there. I sometimes put a belt around my waist as well for more definition!

And hah – I do feel that that photo is a bit of a false representation… I certainly don’t look like that in London at the moment. Get me back on the road and we’ll see… 😉

Leah April 12, 2017 - 3:28 pm

Love these posts Brenna! 🙂

I love how you support wearing make up when you travel. I can understand why some people prefer not to, but for me, I feel so much more confident with a little on. Also, I’m totally with you on the Urban Decay eyeshadow primer! It was a game changer for me when I discovered it!

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2017 - 6:40 pm

Yes! It’s the best!! Thanks, Leah 😀

Sarah April 12, 2017 - 5:17 pm

That photo with the crop top caption with you and the handsome man and pretty brunette? A quick scroll down to that and you look an awful lot like Taylor Swift! I hope you’ll find that as complimentary as I meant it… you do look especially beautiful in all of these pics, a tan and bright colours clearly suit you well 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2017 - 6:38 pm

Ha ha – I always get that when I have my hair curly! I personally don’t see it, but I’ve been told it enough times (a group in Southeast Asia actually used to call me “Tay-Tay”) that I guess there’s something there. And yes – I wish I could always be tanned and wear bright colours! And yet I choose to live in overcast London 😉

Thanks for your comment, Sarah!

sylvie April 12, 2017 - 9:03 pm

these pictures are all so lovely 😀 you (and colombia both) look amazing

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2017 - 9:12 pm

Aw, thanks Sylvie! 😀

Sooshmita April 12, 2017 - 9:45 pm

Hi Brenna I really like your dresses you look so lovely, I also read your post on what to wear In India, do you think the dress code is similar in Sri lanka or are they a bit more western than India /?

Brenna Holeman April 14, 2017 - 4:58 pm

I would personally dress the same way in Sri Lanka as I did in India (in fact, I did indeed dress the same way, although I wore dresses that exposed my shoulders while on the beach with other tourists). I hope that helps!

holly April 13, 2017 - 12:20 am

I love this post! It’s great to see some real style inspiration instead of dowdy travel clothes! Colombia has always been somewhere that I’d love to go, it looks incredible

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2017 - 1:13 am

Aw, thanks, Holly! It’s an absolutely beautiful and incredibly fascinating country, I highly recommend it. 🙂

Di Howell April 16, 2017 - 3:43 pm

What perfect timing, I’ve just booked a trip to Colombia for November this year so I found it really interesting and so useful especially around not having to cover your shoulders like I’ve had to in so many of my south east Asia travels. I am a sucker for buying local jewellery too and still have my Cambodia bracelets on now 7 weeks after my return. Love your product links too which are really useful. Im really enjoying your blog and look forward to reading about many more of your travels xx

Brenna Holeman April 16, 2017 - 5:38 pm

Thank you so much, Di! And wow – you are going to love Colombia! It’s such a vibrant, exciting country. I hope you have a fantastic time and thanks so much for following along on the blog 😀

Zalie Holeman April 25, 2017 - 4:19 am

I loved seeing you in all of your tropical bright clothes! I have said it before and I will say it again… you always look SOOOOO good while travelling! I think your Colombian and Indian wardrobe are my definite favs! xoxo p.s. I’m glad I turned you on to the eyeshadow primer 😉

Brenna Holeman April 25, 2017 - 5:08 pm

Thank you so much, Zalie! I need that tan back, ha ha… and YES you are the one who started the entire thing re: the primer… seriously changed my makeup forever. I wore some eyeliner the other day without it and it was gone within hours.

Travelling_pixie April 26, 2017 - 12:14 am

I love the thought and effort you put into this post, breaking down all aspects of a travel wardrobe. I’m really grateful you did this. I’m currently travelling around Peru and checked out this post before I left for ideas. Top post as always 🙂 x

Brenna Holeman April 26, 2017 - 12:36 am

Thank you! I hope to be doing one for Peru soon, too 😀

Vicky April 27, 2017 - 2:01 pm

I absolutely adore your clothing style and the ‘what to wear….’ posts that you make, I look forward to seeing more 🙂

You gave me the lovely idea of going almost with no clothing and coming back with a wardrobe especially for Thailand. I also love seeing the jewellery you buy and what people sell in different countries. Same for the shoes. Thank you for the lovely posts.

Brenna Holeman April 27, 2017 - 4:54 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Vicky! I’m so glad that you like the posts. 🙂

Victoria @The British Berliner May 1, 2017 - 9:55 am

I really love this post Brenna. You look great and very, very pretty! 😀

‘Like yourself, I usually wear dresses when I travel. I feel better and I look better. As a dark-skinned British person, you can forget about “blending in” so I don’t try to! I always get a lot of respect and locals are always willing to go the extra mile if I need help, ‘cos I look nice!

I live in Germany, and when I’m out and about, I usually wear dresses, brights colours, vibrant lipsticks, ankle boots, and pop socks.

I do the same when I travel! 😀

Jewel April 13, 2020 - 10:10 am

I love your dressings.Gotta gud idea to packup !!! 🙂

Andrea Erwin May 25, 2020 - 6:42 pm

Love your blog!! I will be a regular here!

Brenna Holeman May 28, 2020 - 12:33 am

Thank you! 🙂


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