Festivals take place throughout the year in vibrant Colombia © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet
Colombia's equatorial position means temperatures fluctuate by altitude, not the time of year, so almost anytime is a good time to visit, and the country's diversity of landscapes matched by few other other places.
The changes in altitude also mean Colombia has many microclimates and mini dry and wet seasons to factor in, although most places have little temperature variation between seasons. Once you know where you’d like to go in Colombia, spend some time researching the weather in the area.
Here’s our guide to the best time to visit Colombia and experience the best festivals the country has to offer.
High Season (December to February)
December to February is a fantastic time to travel through Colombia because it’s dry everywhere except the Amazon. In the Andes, expect sunny skies and warmish days – perfect for hiking in the country’s clutch of outstanding national parks, while the Caribbean coast is at its most gorgeous – and busiest. It's a popular time to visit (including for domestic travelers), so prices are at their highest throughout the entire country. Advance bookings for hotels and flights are essential, particularly along the northern coast.
Shoulder Season (March to September)
Check the weather carefully before booking a trip between March and September because the temperature and rainfall have massive regional variations. Bogotá, Medellín and Cali suffer a secondary rainy season in April and May while Cartagena shines through April but hard rains begin in May.
July through August is another mini dry season, although you can expect short tropical showers in highland cities. For animal lovers, the best time for whale-watching on the Pacific coast is July to October. Festivals around Easter are a spectacle worth traveling for.
Colombia’s Caribbean islands, San Andrés and Providencia, remain dry until May, so shoulder season is an opportunity to explore their glorious beaches and remarkable coral reefs.
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Low Season (October to November)
Across the country, prices are at their lowest, and it’s a wonderful time to visit the Amazon, where low water levels mean excellent hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities, white-sand beaches and fewer mosquitoes. Elsewhere though, flash floods often wash out roads in the Andean region, and Medellín, Cartagena and the Caribbean coast are disproportionately wet in October.
January is a great time to surf, including at Tayrona National Park © Luciano Lejtman / Alamy Stock Photo
January is ideal for exploring the Caribbean coast. Toward the end of the month, the holiday crowds dissipate, but the festivals and parties carry on. Low levels of humidity and warm temperatures make sunbathing and swimming an appealing prospect. Cartagena and Santa Marta are extremely busy in the first few weeks of January. Surfers will enjoy the big swells that bring waves to the beaches close to Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Cartagena and Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona.
January is the perfect month for hiking in Colombia, with trail conditions typically dry and the sky clear, ensuring excellent views from the top of many of the country’s lofty peaks. If you dislike crowds, head to Bogotá, which is deserted thanks to residents hitting the coast for their vacations, or go to a secluded eco-lodge along the Pacific coast.
Key events: Carnaval de Blancos y Negros, Festival Internacional de Musica, Fiestas de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, Hay Festival, Feria de Manizales
The Andean region remains pleasant, and Cartagena is almost drought-stricken, making February a great time to beach-hop along the Caribbean coast, although Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona typically closes from February 1 to February 15 for park maintenance. With kids back in school and domestic merrymakers returning to the grind, Colombia is tranquila. Bogotá experiences a less than usual quantity of rain, making this a good month to check out the capital’s glut of restaurants and cultural activities. This is also a great time to explore some of the country’s most popular destinations, with savings on hotels and airfare for places such as Cartagena and Santa Marta.
Depending on when Easter falls, verbenas (pre-carnival warm up events) will begin in the carnival capital, Barranquilla, this month. Expect a buzz of music, dancing and plenty of food at these public parties held in open-air locations around the city.
Key events: Carnaval de Barranquilla, Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria
Semana Santa (Easter) is big business in Colombia. Whether it falls in March or April, the country is seriously tuned in, with celebrations taking place in all of the main cities. However, crowds flock to those held in the handsome, colonial era town of Popayán, where thousands spill out onto the cobbled streets and plazas to join solemn religious processions and costumed parades that have taken place every year since 1566. Mompox, Pamplona and Tunja also hold colorful celebrations for Holy Week.
High water levels in March and into April mean the white water rafting in adventure capital San Gil is at its most thrilling, and conditions are typically good for other adrenaline-fueled activities, including paragliding and caving.
Key events: Semana Santa, Concurso Nacional de Belleza, Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá, Francisco el Hombre, Festival Nacional de Música Colombiana
By April, high season is well and truly over, and wet weather is starting to make its presence known across the country. For visits to the City of Eternal Spring, Medellín, and the capital Bogotá this month, get up early to avoid the afternoon showers and bring a rain jacket or consider making the most of the lower airfare and accommodation costs to head north to Cartagena, San Andrés, Providencia or Santa Marta. Alternatively, explore La Guajira, where hot year-round temperatures haven’t quite hit their July and August highs. Visitors to the Amazon will find high water levels that cover jungle hiking trails and make wildlife watching more complicated. On the Colombian–Panamanian border, leatherback turtles take the opportunity to arrive on the beaches near Capurganá and begin laying their eggs.
If Semana Santa falls this month, be sure to book all your transportation and accommodations well in advance. Prices will be high.
Key events: Semana Santa, Vallenato Festival
May sees the rainy season continue in earnest in the Andes. If you’re lucky, you might be able to squeeze a vacation in the sweet spot before the worst of the weather and while prices are still low – no guarantees, though. Cartagena might be damp, but it’ll be quiet, a rare occurrence. For surfers, swells from the southwest bring world-class waves to the surfing hotspots of Nuquí and Buenaventura, where it’s also prime fishing season.
Key events: Primero de Mayo, Festival de la Cultura Wayúu
After a respite in April and May, storm clouds once again loom. Bogotá, however, is at its driest, and prices rise across the country as schools begin to take their summer vacations. Many hotels along the Caribbean coast require a minimum two-night stay. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona closes for the first 15 days of the month for maintenance, but farther west, the Islas del Rosario are the perfect spot for diving at this time of the year.
Along the Pacific coast in the Chocó Department, humpback whales begin to make their appearance as they leave Antarctica to breed in warmer waters. They can be seen across the region until the end of October from Bahía Solano and Nuquí. Olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and black turtles also begin arriving in the region’s beaches, but won’t begin hatching until September. In the Amazon jungle around Leticia, waters drop and the chance to spot sloths, wild cats and some of the 1300 bird species found in the Amazon basin improve along with easier access to rainforest hiking trails.
Key events: Torneo Internacional del Joropo, Festival Internacional de Tango
July is one of the peak months for both foreign visitors to Colombia and domestic travelers on summer vacation, so expect crowds at popular tourist spots and elevated prices. To escape the masses, head out to hiking destinations such as the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados and the Sierra Nevada Mountains (home to the Lost City trek) where trails are accessible once again as the country re-enters the dry season. The Chocó Department remains relatively untouched by tourists but packed with humpback whales. July also sees the start of the magenta bloom at the Caño Cristales river in Parque Nacional Natural Serranía de La Macarena, a phenomenon that lasts until October whereby the water here turns pink thanks to a plant found on the riverbed.
Key events: Independence Day, Festivales al Parque, Colombiamoda
Soak up the end of summer with a party in Colombia © Twenty20
August in Colombia is relatively mild but can be drizzly, but excellent festivals more than make up for impending rains. Bogotá, Cali and Medellín all soak up the end-of-summer atmosphere with a bonanza of music and culture, but tourist numbers remain high, if tailing off toward the end of the month. Falling within the low-water season in the Amazon, August continues to be an excellent time for visiting Leticia.
Key events: Rock al Parque, Festival Petronio Álvarez, Feria de las Flores, Festival del Viento y Las Cometas
Showers hit most of Colombia in September, but the Amazon River levels are low, making it an excellent time for wildlife viewing, hiking or kicking back on a sandy river beach. Salsa capital Cali and the Boyacá see less rain, while nature comes to its own in Parque Nacional Natural Puracé in the south of Colombia. Here the highland paramo is dominated by frailejón plants that bloom large, sunflower-like flowers in September. Along the beaches of the Pacific coast, baby turtles begin to hatch and make their way to the ocean.
Key events: Festival Mundial de Salsa, Congreso Nacional Gastronómico, Festival Internacional de Teatro, Festival Petronio Alvarez, Festival de la Luna Verde, Festival Internacional de Jazz del Teatro Libre
October is an ideal month to enjoy the lush jungles of Colombia © scott biales / Alamy Stock Photo
On average, October is one of Colombia's rainiest months, along with November. Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Cartagena are all at the mercy of the weather, with rainfall mostly hitting in the afternoon so get out early to avoid the downpours. Because of this, October is one of the quietest months of the year for tourists, and accommodation prices hit rock bottom. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona uses this period of peace and quiet to close for the final two weeks of the month, so if you want pristine nature, head instead to the Amazonas Department to the peaceful town of Puerto Nariño or busier Leticia for a thrilling jungle tour, where water levels remain low and wildlife-spotting chances high.
Key events: Bogotá International Film Festival, Dia de Brujitas
November is wet, wet, wet throughout Colombia. Your best refuge from the deluge is Bogotá, although it’ll be cold, or the much warmer Caribbean coast, where you'll still be breaking out the umbrella on a regular basis. The attraction of the latter is the parties, parades and other festivities that abound in Cartagena on the 11th of the month when it celebrates the day it declared independence from Spain.
Luckily, if you’re traveling in Colombia during this month, you can expect to get up to a 30% reduction on hotel prices and airfare.
Key events: Independence Day Cartagena, Festival Pirarucú de Oro
Colombia is lit up during the winter holiday season © César Mariño García / Getty Images
In December, the rains begin to recede, and the country is awash instead with holiday festivals and spur-of-the-moment partying. Expect crowds and cries of joy throughout Colombia, particularly from the middle of the month when the vacations officially begin. For the liveliest Christmas festivities, make sure to spend some time in Medellín, where its street parades and spectacular light displays make it the place to see in the holiday period. For tropical temperatures, gorgeous aquamarine waters and a more relaxed Christmas tempo, join the crowds by jetting off to Santa Marta or the islands of San Andrés and Providencia.
Key events: Alumbrado Navideño, Feria de Calí, Festival de Luces