While it is not mandatory to have any specific vaccinations in order to enter Colombia, there are a number of inoculations recommended for those travelling to the country. The principal vaccines are outlined below, but you should always check with your physician as to your specific health requirements before travel. It is sensible to do so approximately 4-6 weeks before departure as not all vaccines are immediately effective.
Travel to exotic destinations is a good time to ensure that all your routine immunizations are up to date. This includes shots for measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Beyond these vaccines, there are several other conditions for which you may wish to consider getting immunized before travelling to Colombia:
Hepatitis A – This virus is primarily transmitted through contaminated water and food, particularly on uncooked fruit and vegetables handled by infected persons. Hepatitis A is most prevalent in areas with poor sanitary conditions and hygiene infrastructure. Colombians living in these areas will have built up immunity to the virus due to their prolonged exposure to it. Visitors from more affluent countries (or indeed from the richer parts of the same country) are unlikely to have developed such natural immunity, so vaccinations are necessary. Two doses of the vaccine are needed for full protection.
Vaccinations are recommended for all planning on travel outside the major urban hubs
Typhoid – Typhoid fever is passed between people by the consumption of food or water handled by an infected person. The infection is prevalent in poorer parts of Colombia, where sewage systems are deficient or non-existent, and periodic outbreaks tend to occur if there is severe flooding in a particular area. Vaccinations are recommended for all those planning on travel outside the country’s major urban hubs, or who enjoy dining in adventurous spots.
Yellow Fever - A viral infection which is spread mainly by daytime biting mosquitoes. The risk of infection is greatest in tropical and jungle regions of Colombia such as Choco and Valle de Cauca. There is also an infection risk (albeit a low one) in the cities of Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cali, and Medellin. Given its higher altitude, there is no risk of infection in Bogota. For travelers visiting Colombia as part of a bigger trip in Latin America, immunization is a wise idea as some countries (in theory at least) require travelers to should a valid vaccination certificate in order to enter the country. To minimize the risk still further it is sensible to cover up exposed skin and use insect repellent.
Yellow fever immunization is a wise idea for travelers visiting Colombia as part of a bigger trip
Rabies – High risk groups - travelers engaging in outdoor activities which expose them to risk of animal bites, children, and people taking trips to remote parts of the country - may wish to consider also getting inoculated for rabies. This infection is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals (especially dogs, bats and other mammals) via bites. A series of 3 pre-exposure vaccinations will provide travelers with initial protection, but rapid medical attention is still required if bitten.
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As with international travel to any destination, buying travel insurance prior to arrival to Colombia is a wise investment. While medical facilities in Colombia's major cities are of a generally high quality, access to healthcare in the country involves paying, sometimes a large amount.
Medical bills for serious health emergencies, in particular, can rack up rapidly. If you make sure you have bought good travel insurance before arriving to the country, this should cover you for these types of problem. You may also wish to purchase cover for your bags and belonging, in case anything untoward should happen during your trip.
Do I Need Specialist Travel Insurance to Visit Colombia?
It is, of course, wise to always check the small print of the particular policy you are considering buying, but generally speaking you are not likely to need special travel insurance if you are engaging in normal tourist activities in the country.
Though you may perceive Colombia as a higher risk travel destination than say, countries in Western Europe, this assessment does not seem to be reflected in insurance company premiums. Indeed, for routine tourism in the country, most companies do not even require that you advise them that you are travelling to Colombia as opposed to any other worldwide destination.
Most insurance companies do not require that you advise them you are travelling to Colombia as opposed to any other destination
The situation may be different, however, if you are travelling to unusual and remote parts of the country where the security situation can be a little more precarious. (Note: you are very unlikely to end up in such an area by accident. These regions are, almost by definition, extremely difficult to access.) If you are heading to these parts of the country, it is advised to check with your embassy and insurance company before doing so.
Some insurance policies, for example, have blanket exceptions to cover if you are travelling in parts of the world which are deemed unsafe by bodies like the US State Department or the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There are still a couple of remote pockets of Colombia's territory where these agencies have previously advised against travel.
Travel Insurance for Extreme Sports
If you are thinking of engaging in certain activities whilst on your trip (for example, diving, rock climbing, high altitude trekking etc) you should consult with your insurance company beforehand.
If you are thinking of engaging in extreme sports in Colombia you should consult with your insurance company beforehand
Some companies do not cover these activities as a default, meaning if something untoward should happen, you will be left without medical cover. If you are likely to be engaging in extreme sports frequently, or for a prolonged period (e.g. going on a hike / mountain trip of a number of days' duration), you may wish to consider specialist cover for these activities. These policies are offered by a number of insurance companies.