A Smoker’s Guide to Colombia: Tips for Traveling to the Gateway to South America

Planning a trip to Colombia? This smoker’s guide unveils tips and advice tailored for enthusiasts, ensuring a vibrant journey through South America’s gem, Colombia.

Colombia is among the top travel destinations in South America.

Its practical travel requirements, including visa-free entry and short wait times at the border, make it easy for travelers to access. More than this, Colombia boasts many famous tourist spots. For example, the Old Town of Cartagena presents historic colonial architecture from the Spanish settlements. It’s also home to Plaza Trinidad in the Getsemaní, the oldest part of the colonial city, and a hotspot for superb local eateries.

Besides this, our post “Best Countries for Digital Nomads” reveals Colombia is among the most exciting destinations for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers who like traveling. Cities like Bogotá offer modern amenities, co-working spaces, and a low cost of living while still being close to tourist attractions—such as Museo Botero del Banco de la Republica and the highest waterfall in the country, La Chorrera.

Thus, there’s no question why you’d want to visit Colombia, whether to explore for a bit or stay longer while working on the go. However, like all countries, Colombia has laws you must follow. One of the most notable ones is its smoking ban, which began with its 2008 smoke-free resolution and 2009 law to improve public health. Failure to comply can result in fines and trouble with the authorities. To prevent this, here’s a guide for smokers traveling to Colombia, the gateway to South America:

Credit: Pedro Szekely licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

What do you need to know about smoking in Colombia?

Smoking is not allowed in most places

Upon implementing the Colombian Tobacco Control Law in 2009, many changes were implemented to control smoking within the country. This study explains how this included a nationwide smoking ban in workspaces and public areas, like parks, which you may frequently visit as a tourist. It also encompasses indoor public areas, such as malls. Compliance with the ban is very high in most public areas, so expect to be apprehended by employees or the police themselves if you’re spotted smoking. If you’re caught, authorities will seize all the cigarettes you have on hand and proceed to publicly reprimand you for smoking in a prohibited area. You’ll also be required to attend a one-day training program on the negative impacts of smoking and may even be asked to pay a fine—so refrain from using cigarettes as much as possible in Colombia.

It’s harder to buy cigarettes here

Despite the ban, smoking is allowed in specific spaces, like households and dedicated smoking areas. However, part of Colombia’s tobacco control efforts includes making purchasing cigarettes more difficult. A report by the World Health Organization informs how Colombia increased the taxation of cigarettes, resulting in a 34% drop in consumption. The cigarette tax rate was 2,100 Colombian pesos (CA$0.71) per pack in 2018, with a 4% increase annually after 2019. And even if you find tobacco shops within the country, you’ll soon discover they’re not allowed to sell individual sticks or smaller packs of cigarettes. That means you’ll have to buy a full box of cigarettes, which now costs around 8,644 Colombian pesos (CA$2.93).

How smokers can compromise when traveling in Colombia?

Buy cigarettes before your trip

Since cigarette use and promotion have significantly reduced in Colombia since the 2009 law, you may have a hard time looking for shops that sell cigarettes. Since you’re a traveler, you may encounter shops that sell illicit cigarette products, which the law prohibits. To save yourself the hassle and potential complications with the law, purchase your own before traveling to Colombia. One adult can bring up to 200 cigarettes and 50 cigars. You can purchase these at the airport or general retailers in your home country. If you want to blend in with the locals, you can bring specific brands of cigarettes, which are also popular in Colombia. In doing so, you also ensure that these particular brands are legal in the country. This graph shows that Marlboro is the most popular, with 15.72% of respondents smoking them, followed by Kool (8.05%) and Menthol (4.71%).

Stick to smoking areas

As mentioned above, smoking in Colombia is permitted in designated areas. Strictly abiding by these rules prevents you from getting into trouble with establishments and the authorities. Thus, look for designated smoking areas or ask the employees where they are. You should also book accommodations with smoking rooms, so you have a dedicated space to smoke. The Madisson Inn Hotel & Luxury Suites in Bogotá and 101 Park House in Usaquén offer smoking rooms for their guests.

Dispose of cigarette waste properly

Since smoking in Colombia is prohibited in public spaces, its associated waste—like cigarette butts and ash—must be properly disposed of, too. Otherwise, these could pollute and harm natural environments, like coastal areas and wildlife. As such, use provided ashtrays in smoking rooms and areas. If there are none, ensure your cigarette is completely extinguished before placing it in the trash—not the recycling bin. In doing so, you prevent igniting a fire in the garbage and guarantee it gets properly disposed of by the government.

Bring smokeless alternatives

If you’re visiting places that don’t have smoking areas, using smokeless products like nicotine pouches and patches will help you stave off cigarette withdrawal and remain a respectful tourist. A nicotine pouch is tucked between your lip and gum. It comes in different strengths to match the nicotine you usually get from cigarettes. And while there are also plenty of flavors available, you might want to look into coffee-flavored pouches for your Colombia trip. This webpage providing coffee pouches notes they come in different types to suit varied preferences, like the rich java flavor of the LUCY Espresso and the slightly sweet VELO Max Coffee. That makes them perfect to pair with the actual coffee Colombia is known for—and a great way to enjoy your trip without smoking. Nicotine patches, meanwhile, stick to your skin. Since you’ll mostly travel by bus in Colombia, you’ll be prohibited from smoking there. Patches are discreet enough to be hidden under your clothes while delivering nicotine throughout the day using time-release technology. A guide on NicoDerm C-Q nicotine patches shares how they’re especially long-lasting and can be worn for 16-24 hours—suitable for long bus rides and days full of travel activities.

Stop smoking altogether

A last resort to ensure smoking ban compliance and avoid fines is to simply stop smoking while you’re in Colombia. This way, you can enjoy your trip freely without worrying about breaking the law. However, this can be challenging because of your cravings. To address this, you can replace smoking with other activities. Since you’re traveling, fill your itinerary with things like visiting beaches, eating at local restaurants, and talking to locals to keep your mind busy. You can also snack on sugar-free treats or chew gum, allowing your mouth to do something other than smoking. If you tend to smoke when stressed, write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal instead. This will help you empty your mind, preventing you from smoking for relief.

Although smoking in Colombia is banned, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your trip. By buying cigarettes before your trip, smoking in designated areas, proper cigarette waste disposal, using smokeless products, and stopping smoking altogether, you can work around being a smoker and abiding by the country’s rules.

Safety tips for traveling in Colombia

  1. Stay Informed: Before your trip, research the current situation in the areas you plan to visit. Stay updated on any travel advisories issued by your government.
  2. Local Advice: Talk to locals and your hotel/hostel staff about safe areas, transportation options, and any areas to avoid, especially after dark.
  3. Secure Your Belongings: Keep your belongings secure at all times. Use a money belt or a secure bag to carry valuables. Be cautious with your phone and camera in crowded places.
  4. Use Reliable Transportation: Stick to official taxis or ride-sharing services rather than hailing cabs off the street, especially at night. If using public transport, keep an eye on your belongings.
  5. Be Cautious of Scams: Be wary of common tourist scams, such as fake tour operators, overcharging, or distraction tactics used by pickpockets.
  6. Stay Health-Conscious: Drink bottled or filtered water, and be cautious with street food to avoid stomach issues. Consider travel insurance that covers medical expenses.
  7. Respect Local Customs: Be respectful of Colombian culture and customs. Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites, and ask for permission before taking photos of locals.
  8. Mind Your Drinks: When out at bars or clubs, keep an eye on your drink to prevent any tampering. It’s wise to go out with a group or at least one trusted companion.
  9. Emergency Contacts: Keep a list of emergency numbers, including local police, your embassy or consulate, and any emergency contacts provided by your travel agency or accommodation.
  10. Stay Aware: Trust your instincts. If a situation feels uncomfortable or unsafe, remove yourself from it. Avoid displaying signs of wealth or carrying large sums of cash.
  11. Natural Precautions: If exploring natural sites or hiking, be aware of the terrain and potential risks. Consider hiring a guide for unfamiliar areas.
  12. Blend In: Try to blend in with the locals as much as possible to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.

Remember, while these tips can help enhance your safety, they aren’t foolproof. Stay vigilant and adaptable throughout your travels in Colombia.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Mariana Johnson is a freelance writer dedicated to making pieces about food, traveling, and sustainability. When she’s not typing away on her keyboard, you can find her making itineraries and trying new recipes.

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The information is for educational purposes only and subject to change, and it is highly recommended to consult local authorities for the latest and most accurate updates. We do not constitute endorsement of any specific technologies or methodologies or endorse of any specific products or services.

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