Map from Google - Colombia
Colombia is a vast country, crossed by the equator in the southern part, and has different types of climate, although in each of them, the temperatures vary little throughout the year. The main differences are due to the altitude, according to which the temperature varies, and to the distribution and amount of rainfall. In fact, there are arid and rainy areas, grasslands and forests, plains where the heat is stifling and plateaus with a mild climate, pristine coastlines with a warm sea and snow-capped peaks in the Andes. In the tierras calientes
, up to about 1,000 metres above sea level, it's hot all year round.
Let's see in detail the different climatic zones.
In the far north, the Guajira Peninsula (see the red circle at the top of the map) is the most arid part of Colombia, in fact precipitation is below 300 mm per year; there is even a desert, called La Guajira Desert
. In the north of the peninsula, the Parque Nacional Natural Macuira
is a bit greener because there are some hills that capture a bit of the moisture brought by the trade winds. This offshoot of Colombia, which overlooks the Caribbean Sea, can be affected by hurricanes, in the period from June to November (most likely between August and October), but this rarely happens because it's located at the southern end of their trajectory.
, the climate is hot throughout the year: in July and August lows are around 25 °C and highs around 35 °C, while in the cooler months, from December to February they are just a few degrees lower, 22/32 °C. Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Riohacha
The rains are quite scarce from December to April, then there is a first relatively rainy period in May and June, when 70 mm and 40 mm of rain fall respectively, a second dry period from July to mid-August, and a second rainy period between September and mid-November; October is the wettest month with 150 mm of rain. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Riohacha
Considering both the heat and the rains, here the best time is from December to March
Although Riohacha experiences little rainfall, with a total amount of 550 mm per year, this rainfall pattern with two dry and two rainy periods, is also found in other less arid areas: in fact it is typical of the sub-equatorial climate, where the sun is directly overhead twice in the year.
The Caribbean Sea is warm all year round, and therefore also in this part of the coast, as can be seen in the following table.
Sea temperature - Riohacha
In the south-western inland areas, between the two Andean mountain ranges and near the town of Villavieja, there is another arid zone, the Tatacoa Desert
(see the small circle at the bottom in the map). It is an area with canyons and rocky landscapes, whose good visibility allows you to see the shooting stars in propitious times, but also the stars in the astronomical observatory and a collection of fossils of the area in the archaeological museum. The average altitude is about 400 metres. The heat is intense throughout the year, as we can see from the temperature of the nearby town of San Alfonso.
Average temperatures - San Alfonso
During the day, temperatures can reach 40 degrees all year round, while at night they can go drop to around 15/17 degrees.
The rains drop below 1,000 mm per year, but they are not entirely absent: some showers can occur throughout the year, but mainly in March and April and from October to December, while the driest months are June, July and August.
The climate of the savanna is hot year-round, with a dry season and a rainy season. South of the Guajira Peninsula, along the coast of the Caribbean Sea, the climate becomes more humid, the heat is tropical rather than desert, and the rains become more abundant. In Barranquilla
, the maximum temperatures range between 31 °C and 33 °C throughout the year, and the minima range between 23 °C and 25 °C.
Average temperatures - Barranquilla
Here it hardly ever rains from mid-December to April, but then the rainy season, from May to mid-November, is more pronounced, with a peak in the last part (Semptember-October). The summer break is not so evident: in July, 65 mm of rain fall anyway. The total annual rainfall is 815 mm. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Barranquilla
, a little more to the south, the rainfall reaches 920 mm per year, with no rain from December to March, 80 mm in July and a peak of 220 mm in October.
The best time to visit Barranquilla and Cartagena, goes from December to April
Further south, the rainfall exceeds 1,000 mm per year, the summer break almost disappears, and the rainy season starts earlier, ie in April. In Montería, the best time is from December to March.
In the inland areas located east of the coast, the climate is similar with respect to this portion of the coast, with a greater risk of intense heat, around 37/40 °C on sunny days.
East of the Andes (in the map, the area to the right), there is a large area which has a similar climate, hot throughout the year, with a dry and a wet season: this is the area of the so-called Llanos
, the plains and hills occupied by the savannah
. Compared with the previous area, here the rainfall is more abundant, above 2,000 mm, but there is still a relatively dry season, from December to March in the north (see Arauca), and from mid-December to February in south-central (see Las Gaviotas, San José del Guaviare). The dry period is also the hottest, with peaks above 35 °C, even though the air humidity is lower than in the rainy period.
The small Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Providencia
, to the east of Nicaragua, are hot all year round, with highs around 29/30 °C and very rainy: the total rainfall is 1,900 mm per year; we put it in this section because here too there is a dry season, from mid-January to April, which therefore is the best, and a rainy season from May to mid-January.
Here is the average precipitation in San Andrés.
Average precipitation - San Andrés
There are two areas of Colombia in the west and south-east, which have an equatorial climate
, hot and rainy throughout the year. The rains in tropical areas generally occur in the form of downpour or thunderstorm, preferably in the afternoon or in the evening.
In the southern part of the coast of the Caribbean Sea, in the Córdoba Department, north of the border with Panama, more than 3,000 millimetres of rain per year fall. The only period in which precipitation drops to less than 150 millimetres per month, even though they are still more than 100 mm, is from January to March
, which therefore is the best period in this area.
South of Panama, even the coastal area of the Pacific Ocean receives heavy rains throughout the year. Further east, on the slopes at the foot of the Western Cordillera of the Andes, we find the rainiest city in Colombia, as well as one of the wettest in the world: in Quibdo
, 8,000 mm, ie 8 metres of rain fall in a year! Here you can see heavy downpours almost daily, and also the cloudiness that forms in the late morning and persists in the afternoon, however if you want to venture into this region you can choose February and March
when it rains "only" 22 days per month, with "only" 520 millimetres of rain per month... otherwise if you're looking for strong emotions, you can choose August, when 840 mm of rain fall, it practically rains in a month like it does in an average rainy city in a year. In fact, Quibdo is the rainiest city of a certain size in the world (in the mountainous areas of India, where it rains even more, there are only small villages and towns).
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Quibdo
The temperatures are high throughout the year, and the air is constantly moist. Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Quibdo
Further south, near the border with Ecuador (see San Andrés de Tumaco), things are a bit better, because from July to mid-December, and especially from October to mid-December, it rains on average every second day, and from 100 to 200 millimetres per month fall: better than the rest of the year.
The climate of Colombia is influenced by the phenomenon known as ENSO: a cycle that sees periods in which the waters of the Pacific become warmer than normal, those of El Niño
, alternating with normal periods, and others in which they are colder than normal, those of La Niña. In much of Colombia, in the years of El Niño the rainy season becomes hot and dry, while in the years of La Niña
it becomes cooler and rainier than normal. On the contrary, in the southern part of the coast, north of Ecuador, the relatively dry season which normally occurs from October to December
, does not occur in the years of El Niño, so that the rains are still heavy, like in the rest of the year, while in the years of La Niña it becomes more pronounced, therefore quite dry.
The western area of which we have dealt (that is, the southern part of the coast of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific coastal plain area), is not the only part of the country with an equatorial climate. The south-eastern part of Colombia, that of the Amazon rainforest
(in the map, the highlighted area on the right), has a similar climate. This is an area, however vast, sparsely populated and difficult to penetrate. In the far south, in Leticia
, in the area where the Amazon River marks for a few kilometres the border with Peru, it rains a lot throughout the year, with a slight decrease in rainfall in July and August.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Leticia
In fact, since here we are, albeit slightly, south of the equator, the seasons are reversed, so that June, July and August can be considered as winter months, and sometimes nights can be a bit cool from June to September.
Average temperatures - Leticia
In the west, Colombia is crossed from north to south by the Andes
, which are divided into three mountain ranges, called Cordilleras
: Western, Central and Eastern, to which must be added the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which is located in the north and is isolated from the Cordilleras, and home to the highest peak of Colombia, Pico Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) with its 5,775 metres. However, there are several peaks (often volcanic) exceeding 5,000 metres. Considering that we are at the equator, to find very low temperatures we must rise above 3,500 metres, which is typically the limit beyond which there are neither trees nor towns. Between 3,500 and 4,500 metres there are areas with a particular vegetation, a tropical high mountain tundra with shrubs and cactuses, called páramos
, while over 4,500 metres there are snow-covered areas (called nevados
In the Andean zone, rainfall is more or less abundant depending on slope exposure, while the temperature varies with altitude.
In the valleys between the mountain ranges, the rainfall amount is lower than in the two external sides, typically between 900 and 1200 mm per year. We have seen that the western side, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, is rain-soaked, but so is the eastern side, even though it doesn't reach the peaks of Quibdo. For example, in Villavicencio
, at 430 metres above sea level, almost 4,000 mm of rain per year fall, and the only months in which precipitation goes below 100 mm, are January (40 mm) and February (90 mm). Here, the best time goes from mid-December to mid-March
. Further south, in Florencia
, the least rainy period, between 100 and 150 mm per month, is shorter, and it's limited to December and January
In the interior area, there are many cities located at high altitudes. The capital Bogotá
is located at 2,600 metres, and has a cool, spring-like climate all year round, with maximum temperatures ranging between 17 and 19 °C, and minimum temperatures from 6 to 8 °C. From November to March, in the open country at night there may be slight frosts, while in the interior of the city, the night temperature is a few degrees higher, because of the urban heat island. By day, the temperature rarely exceeds 22 °C, so the air is mild, but the equatorial sun rays at this altitude are very strong, even though the sky is often cloudy. However, the highest recorded temperature is 30 °C, and this happened in April.
Average temperatures - Bogotá
The rainfall pattern, with a total of 940 mm per annum, is related to the two zenith passages of the sun, and therefore sees two maxima in April-May and October-November, and two minima in December to February and June to September. But the summer minimum does not give much reliability, so much so that the rains decrease in quantity (only 45 mm in July, and 40 mm in August fall) but not in frequency (it rains often anyway). Besides, at this time the sky is often cloudy. Therefore, January and February
are the best months to visit the Colombian capital, even though it rains about 7 times per month and there are just 5/6 hours of sunshine per day, because it's better than the rest of the year, while October and November are the worst ones because they are the wettest months.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Bogotá
A few kilometres west of Bogota, near Mondoñedo, there is a small arid zone, called a bit emphatically "Sabrinsky desert", where rainfall drops below 500 mm per year. Even in the north-east of the city, rainfall drop below 500 mm, and about 100 km to the north-east, in the department of Boyacá, we find the "Candelaria Desert", an arid area at about 2,100/2,500 metres above sea level, where therefore the temperatures are mild, similar to those of the capital.
The city of Cali
is located at a lower altitude, around 1,000 metres, and its temperature is definitely higher than that of Bogotá, so that the climate is hot, but all in all it's usually bearable, at least more than in the plains (though sometimes the temperature can reach 35 °C all year round).
Average temperatures - Cali
Both the amount (about 1,000 mm) and the pattern of rainfall, however, are similar to those of Bogotá, although the amount of sunshine is higher and the summer rains are less frequent, so here even the summer dry season, from June to August, is a good period. In the western districts of the city, closer to the mountains, and especially in the south-west, closer to the Farallones de Cali
, a massif 4,000 metres high, the rains are more abundant, as you can see from the average precipitation recorded at the university.
Average precipitation - Cali
Compared with Bogotá and Cali, Medellín
is located at an intermediate altitude, 1,500 metres, and as can be expected it has warm and pleasant temperatures: lows are around 14/16 °C, while highs are around 27/29 °C.
Average temperatures - Medellín
The rains, however, are more abundant, about 1,500 mm per year, and there's no decrease in summer, so the best time here goes from December to February, being the only relatively dry period.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Medellín
Another city that lies at a high altitude is Popayán
, about 2,000 metres above sea level, then at mid-height between Bogotá and Medellin. This is really a city of eternal spring: highs are around 24/25 °C, while lows are around 12/14 °C all year round.
Average temperatures - Popayán
Here, however, the rains are more abundant, about 1,900 mm per year, and being situated more to the south, it almost doesn't experience a winter decrease (in fact, it rains a lot even in January and February), so here the best time goes from mid-June to mid-September
. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Popayán
When to go
It's hard to find a time that works for all of Colombia, but in most of the country the best time is from December to March
, because it is the driest, or at least the least rainy.
However, there are areas where the rains are abundant throughout the year (see the forest), or where the least rainy season is inverted (see the extreme south of the Amazon and of the Andean area), or areas where the least rainy period runs from August to November (the southernmost part of the Pacific coast, which is also affected by the El Niño cycle).
As we have seen, for swimming and sun bathing
, the Caribbean Sea is warm all year round. Even the Pacific Ocean is warm all year round, and has more constant temperatures: 25/26 °C for most of the year, with a peak of 27 °C in October, but as we said this coastline is rainy all year round.
What to pack
On plains and lowlands, in general, light clothing all year round. In the forest, loose fitting clothing, light shirts and pants of natural fibres (cotton, linen) or synthetics that breathe, to be washed often, maybe with long sleeves for mosquitoes; possibly a light sweatshirt and a light raincoat for thunderstorms. On the coast, possibly a light scarf and a light sweatshirt for the sea breeze. In the savannah (Barranquilla, Cartagena), you can bring a light sweatshirt and a light raincoat for thunderstorms, during the rainy season.
In the tierras templadas
(see Medellín), light clothing, a sweatshirt for the evening, raincoat or umbrella.
In the tierras frías
(see Bogota), clothes for spring and autumn, sweater or sweatshirt, jacket, raincoat or umbrella.
On high mountains, warm clothes, down jacket, hat, gloves, scarf, hiking shoes.