Car Rentals in Colombia

car-rental-1Although car rental is often not the most-utilized or practical option, it is an option, and with great improvements in highways and safety recently, it is something to consider. Car rentals in Colombia tend to be about 20% to 30% more expensive than in the United States for the same type of vehicle. There are a few things you need to know about renting a car in Colombia.

First of all, the vast majority of cars here are manual transmission. You may be able to find an automatic transmission rental, but you should verify that information first with the rental company. Most cars in Colombia are smaller, economy models with relatively good gas mileage.

A car rental in Colombia will typically run around $50 to $75 a day for the cheapest models. This is without any additional insurance coverage, which consumer groups often advise against. Check with your credit card company, as Colombian companies will often place an extremely large hold on your credit card. 

Gas in Colombia is also a bit more expensive than in the United States: typically you will pay around $8.200 to $8.600 a gallon (around $4.10 to $4.30 a gallon). While Colombian car rentals are typically newer models with good fuel economy, also bear in mind that Colombian highways are very curvy, full of potholes, and you are likely to encounter a lot of stop and go traffic.

The main problem with driving in Colombia is the unpredictability. Highways, while much safer than in recent years, can have crime related problems. And while there is a sizeable military and police presence to protect them, it is always best to drive during the day, and do research about the areas of the country where you're intending to drive. The regions south and west of Cali (Popayan, Pasto, Buenaventura) and the border region with Venzuela are both places to avoid.

One must also take into consideration the risks of landslides (deslizamientos) which are common occurences in mountain regions. Strikes, particularly by agricultural workers, do happen on a periodic basis, and often include roadblocks. Additionally accidents and traffic jams can often snarl traffic for miles in both directions. Bear in mind that most Colombian highways bear little resemblance to their counterparts in the US and Europe. Typically they are just simple two-lane affairs.

Colombians also drive very fast, have little respect for traffic laws, and almost never use turn signals. Additionally, red lights and stop signs are respected far less in Colombia than in other countries. Another issue to take into consideration is the small but real possibility of being stopped by police and shaken down for a bribe. While the reputation of the police has been steadily improving, they may try to get some money out of you if they see you're a foreigner.car-rental-2

Renting a car should be carefully weighed against other transportation options: mainly buses and planes. With the recent drop in domestic fares in Colombia, planes are often cheaper options than cars or buses.

Finally, don't worry about not having a Colombian driver's license: according to Colombian law, most citizens (US, Canada, Europe, Australia) can rent a car with just their home nation driver's license and passport.

One final word of caution: bear in mind that most of Colombia's largest cities (Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Bucaramanga) have "pica y placa", a policy that limits when cars can be on the road during rush hour. Ask your car rental agency about this. Essentially, every car in Colombia can not be on the road 2 days a week during peak hours: 6:00-8:30am, and 3:00-7:30pm.


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