Sep 12

Travel to Colombia Without Speaking Spanish?

Have you gone totes cray-cray? According to Education First´s survey of 54 countries whose official language isn´t English, Colombia comes in 50th place for the level of English spoken. So… if you’re going to Travel to Colombia, you´ve got to hablah a bit of Es-pan-ol, to even think about coming here, right?

Not so fast, fellow Gringo! Let´s not jump to too many conclusions straight off the bat. And, let´s try to keep the mixing of metaphors down to a dull roar.


San Andres
This is what you´ll be stuck with. The heart bleeds.


First up, why not head to Colombia´s own Caribbean paradise? Due to its English Puritan history, natives of the San Andres archipelago, particularly in Providence, are down with our English lingo. As well as Spanish and a local kind of creole, you´ll find English spoken in this island with its one-of-a-kind culture, duty free shopping, and waters of seven colours. OK, well shades of blue. So, I´m afraid, you poor sod, that if you want to avoid Spanish as much as possible, you´re going to have to just grin and bear sipping some ridiculously sweet cocktail on a Caribbean island hideaway. Boo hoo.

If that has just crushed you, hold your horses a bit! There are other options around. Sticking to the Caribbean, you´ll find the old pirate city (Captain Jack! Giant Squid!) of Cartagena. Now, Cartagena (or Cartageña, which is actually the correct pronounciation) just happens to be the tourist capital of Colombia. The locals, being costeños (who, as we all know, RULE) weren´t slow in cottoning on to that fact and have gone about picking up the English required to interact with us gringos. On occasions, you´ll kind of wish that some of the pushier souvenir pushers didn´t; but, generally, you´ll be able to get around Cartagena´s storied walls without too many wild gesticulations.


Keira Knightley!
Keira Knightley!


The other major cities, particularly Bogotá and Medellín, aren´t too slack when it comes to speaking English. Luckily enough, the glitzier, partayier areas of Colombia´s two largest cities also happen to speak the most English. The closer you get to Zona T in Bogotá or Parque Lleras in Medellín, the more English you´ll find spoken. Sad for you: you might just have to do some fancy partying. Your holiday so far sounds like it´s going to suck!

We won´t lie to you, though. The further away you get from these four English hubs, the likelier it is that you´ll have to whip out that Spanish phrase book and point. However, even then, you will survive. You will survive. As long as you stay in hostels, I know you´ll stay alive. It´s generally safe to assume that there´s a bit of English spoken by the staff of the bigger hostels in almost any tourist town you´d want to go to; and of course, sticking to the gringo trail will bring you in contact with backpackers who have managed to pick up Spanish. In my experience, buy them a beer, and they´re pretty likely to help you out. Here are some tips on how to start a conversation with this rugged breed of traveler.


En Colombia se Habla Espanhol
Daaawnday airstar Macdonaldso? – Image from Deviantart


From there, I´m afraid you´re on your own. Unless you book a tour with an awesome company. I hear See Colombia Travel´s pretty good. They´ve got a sexy new website too, so it appears.

But, then again, why not have a go at learning some Spanish? You probably know a bit if you´re a Cypress Hill or Dora the Explorer fan already. We´ve got some hints on how to learn even more with some Spanish songs here, and common Colombian-only phrases here. Who knows? By the end of your travels here in Colombia, you may just be able to go home and impress everybody with your ¨Oooonar sir-vay-zar, poor far-vor.¨ I know I´d be impressed.


One thought on “Travel to Colombia Without Speaking Spanish?

  1. Mark on

    Hi Paul,

    Good article, your definitely right in gringo area’s of Bogota and Medellin especially in Poblado most people will have some English. I’ve never been to Cartagena but I assume with the amount of cruise ship traffic going through the port the locals will have sufficient English to sell to tourists at least. It’s easier if you do speak Spanish though here. I took Spanish Classes in Medellin in Colombia Immersion. I would highly recommend it.


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