What to do about Currency in Colombia
The official currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso (pronounced 'pay-so') and in contrast to many of its neighbours, the US dollar - although widely exchanged - really is not generally accepted as money in Colombia at all, so you'll be using pesos throughout your holiday in Colombia.
Happily, the Colombian Peso is fairly stable (although it has dipped in value just recently) and widely available overseas, so either exchanging pesos while you're in Colombia, or getting hold of them in the UK, shouldn't be too much of an issue: retailers like the Post Office usually stock Colombian Pesos, for example.
How many Colombian Pesos will you need?
Using Cash in Colombia
You can order Colombian currency from a selection of providers in the UK, although they do usually have a minimum order limit of £250-300, and if you're only planning a short holiday in Colombia you'll probably find this more than enough. The alternative is to take US Dollars with you, and then change your money in Colombia, but if you do want to take cash then it's probably easiest to just buy Colombian pesos in the UK and take them.
The alternative is to rely on using your bank card to withdraw money in Colombia. There is a decent network of cash machines in Colombia and they take most UK bank cards so there shouldn't be a problem with this, but many people do prefer to take a pre-paid currency card instead. Again, these are available from a wide variety of outlets and you basically "charge" them with a set amount before leaving the UK - you can then use them to pay for things or use cash machines to withdraw money in Colombia.
However you end up with your cash, you are likely to end up with a lot of large-denomination notes and you'll find that getting change can be a real pain in Colombia. You should try and break up large notes as often as possible, in places like supermarkets so that you have got the change ready for that all-important coffee when you need it...
Travellers Cheques in Colombia
It is quite difficult these days to use travellers cheques in Colombia, and although some bureaux de change will accept them, the commission rates are highly uncompetitive. As with pre-paid currency cards, if you do want to use them then dollar-denominated ones are preferable.
Tipping in Colombia
The first thing to say is that you don't need to tip any of our drivers or guides in Colombia - at any rate not unless you think they've gone absolutely beyond the call of duty. Generally speaking, Colombia is similar to the UK in its tipping culture. Some restaurants will add a 10% Servicio charge to the bill, but many won't and in these cases the tip is discretionary - although again, like the UK, around 10% for a 'proper' meal is usual. For drinks or a quick snack, you might want to just leave the change.
An exception to this is that hotel porters will usually expect a small tip (perhaps around USD$5 or $10000 Pesos) for carrying your bags. Obviously it's totally up to you, but the porters do tend to receive almost no salary, so the tips are effectively their wages.
Setting a budget for your holidays to Colombia
Colombia's economy is stable and diverse, and so factors like inflation needn't be a concern when planning your holidays to Colombia. Although you can certainly splurge on food and drink in cities like Medellin and Bogota, even in popular tourist areas like the Walled City in Cartagena you're likely to be pleasantly surprised by the value on offer. The following is a rough guide to the kinds of prices you can expect on your holiday to Colombia:
|Set Lunch Menu (low-mid range)
|Lunch/Dinner (a la carte - mid-range)
|Lunch/Dinner (a la carte - high-end)
|Bottle of water
|Bottle of beer
||£0.75 (local) / £1.50 (imported)
|Glass of wine
|Coffee / Tea
As well as bottles of water, you'll also find that most shops sell disposable 'bags' of water as well - they come with a straw and in this tropical climate you can often find yourself finishing the whole thing in one go, so there's no need to carry a bottle around with you!