Arriving in Colombia by sailboat may turn out to be a very costly experience, especially for those holding Canadian passports, like us. For the first time since we left Florida almost two years ago we had to pay so much to check in a country (even the Bahamas – 300 US$- was cheaper). Actually, our Canadian passports which expire in three months were the main reason to come to Santa Marta and immediately fly to Bogota, to one of the three Canadian Embassies providing passport services in the Caribbean region (the other two are in Panama and Barbados). But aside from the fee we paid at the embassy for renewing our travel documents, our Canadian passports were the reason for an unforeseen unexpected expense as soon as we checked-in in Colombia.
Apart from the 90 $US for a 60-day temporary cruising permit, which is being charged to all foreign vessels entering Colombian waters, we were served a juicy bill of 80 US$ per person (a total of 240 US$ for the three of us) an immigration fee. (Later we found out that the fee should not be charged to kids under 15, but we still have to sort out this information). It turned out that since a few months now there is a new law targeting only Canadian citizens. All other citizens don’t pay. This new Colombian law has been introduced in response to the new Canadian law, according to which all Colombian citizens have to pay 80 US$ per person immigration fee when traveling to Canada… I suspect this “reciprocity fee” will greatly limit visits to Colombia by cruising Canadians . For the first time we regretted not having renewed our expired Bulgarian passports…
On top of this, it turned out that the only marina in Santa Marta, where we had to dock our boat for a week while traveling to Bogota, charges catamarans almost double, “because they are wider and take up more space” (even though there were enough empty berths at the marina). Today, it is not as dangerous to visit and travel in Colombia as it has been a few years ago, but it is still not a good idea to leave a boat at anchor in a lonely anchorage near a small town full of poor people for a few days and nights. Robberies in Colombia are still common events. The marina with its 24-hour security and locked gates was our only safe option. But our bill was 250 US$ for a week (no water and no electricity included) instead of 150 US$ per week, which a monohull the same length would pay.
Thus, our total bill for checking-in in Colombia and staying at the marina in Santa Marta was $580. But this is how a positive crew should rationalize the situation: We have been cruising all over the Caribbean since two years now and the only other time we had to pay for a marina was in July 2013 in Havana Cuba (anchoring is not permitted anywhere near Havana). So, we didn’t have big marina expenses per month for the last two years, if you look at it this way. Moreover, we didn’t have to pay any entry fees for the past five months in the islands we visited: checking-in in French St Marten and Dutch Aruba was free and there are no visa or checking-in fees for Canadians in Puerto Rico. Therefore, our huge checkin-in expenses in Colombia were compensated by the zero checking-in expenses for the past 5 months. Thus we tried to think positively…
And finally, in the days before arriving in Colombia we have received a few donations in our blog by our generous readers, which covered the marina fee. There is probably no better way to show you our gratitude except to mention here how much your generosity has made a difference, P. Vachkov, B. Pavlov, I. Russev, A. Grigorov, H. Hristov, S. Apostolov and K. Mirchev- we thank you!
Immediately after landing in Santa Marta we researched which would be the cheapest way to get to Bogota, some 1,000 kilometers in the interior of Colombia. A rental car is about $50-$60 per day and gas is about 3.50 per gallon. Plus, the highway is paid. A rental car would cost us over $400 for 4 days and two of those days we would spend driving. The bus to Bogota is 50$ per person in one direction and it takes 20 hours to get there. It turned out that travelling by airplane is not only faster, but also the cheapest way to get around in Colombia. There are a few airline companies but we found the cheapest to be Viva Colombia. You can buy round trip tickets Santa Marta-Bogota-Santa Marta for as little as $40, as long as you get them in advance and if you are traveling light- not more than one 6-kilogram bag. We paid $90 per person for a round trip as we got the tickets in the last minute and it was still the cheapest, fastest and best option.
After one hour and a half flying over mountains, fields, villages, rivers and lakes we landed in Bogota- Colombia’s capital and one of South America’s biggest cities which surprised us and charmed us with its colossal scale and unique historical and cultural attractions: numerous world-renown museums, ancient cathedrals, plazas and colonial buildings not only in the old district but all over the city. Visiting Bogota was worth all the hassle.