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American Express -- To call American Express in Bogotá, dial tel. 1/343-0000; in Medellín, 1/510-9000; in Cali, 1/554-0505; and in Barranquilla, 1/361-8888.

Business Hours -- Business hours vary significantly between urban and rural areas. In urban areas, businesses and banks are generally open between 8am and noon, and then again between 2 and 6pm. In Bogotá, banks are supposedly open all day between 8am and 4pm. Stores are generally open between 9am to 5pm, while department stores and large supermarkets generally stay open until around 9pm. In the countryside, businesses and stores are generally open fewer hours and don't necessarily stick to their posted schedules. Also, many businesses close down or reduce their hours on Sundays and holidays.

Doctors & Hospitals -- Some of the best hospitals in Bogotá are Clínica Marly, Calle 50, no. 9-67 (tel. 1/570-4424, 1/572-5011, or 1/343-6600); Fundación Santa Fe, Calle 119, no. 9-02 (tel. 1/629-0766 or 629-0477); and Clínica El Bosque, Calle 134, no. 12-55 (tel. 1/274-0577, 1/274-5445, or 1/649-9300).

Electricity -- Electric outlets accept U.S.-type plugs. Electricity in Colombia runs at 110 volts, so transformers are not necessary for tourists from the U.S. If you are planning to use anything with a three-prong plug, bring an adapter, as some establishments only have two-prong outlets.

Embassies & Consulates -- In Bogotá: Australia (consulate): Carrera 18 no. 90-38 (tel. 1/636-5247 or 1/530-1047); New Zealand (consulate): Diagonal 109 no. 1-39 Este, Apt. 401 (tel. 1/629-8524; pearsona@cable.net.co); United Kingdom: Carrera 9 no. 76-49, Piso 9 (tel. 1/326-8300 or 1/317-6423 for visa information); United States: Calle 22, Bis. 47-51 (tel. 1/315-0811); Canada: Carrera 7 no. 115-33, Piso 14 (tel. 1/657-9800).

Emergencies -- In Bogotá, the police emergency number is tel. 112. Another emergency number that works throughout the country is 123. Other good emergency numbers to know: the Security Police (DAS; tel. 153/0180-0091-9622); the Tourist Police (tel. 1/337-4413 or 1/243-1175); and the police station in Bogotá (tel. 156). The fire department can be reached by calling 119, and information can be reached by dialing 113.

Internet Access -- You're never far from a cybercafe in Bogotá and other major urban centers. Small towns will also generally have at least one Internet cafe. In rural areas, Internet access is hard to come by. Connections are generally fast and cheap. Expect to pay about COL$1,500 to COL$2,500 per hour.

Language -- Except for a tiny percentage of rural indigenous communities, Spanish is universally spoken in Colombia. It's hard to find Colombians who speak English, even in Bogotá, so it's important to brush up on you skills before your trip. Outside of Bogotá and the major cities, you'll be hard-pressed to find any English speakers, which can make traveling in a nontouristy country quite difficult if you don't speak any Spanish.

Liquor Laws -- The legal drinking age in Colombia is 18, though laws are lenient. In urban areas such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, and Cali, you may be asked to show ID to get into upscale bars and clubs. There are no laws against drinking in public, so if you are low on funds, feel free to open up a bottle of aguardiente in the nearby park or plaza.

Maps -- Maps of Colombia and Bogotá can usually be found in tourist offices, though it's not uncommon for the tourist office to run out of maps. In Bogotá, you can also find high-quality maps in La Panamericana (www.panamericana.com.co) and most hotels. In fact, I recommend visiting the Panamericana for all your Colombia-related travel needs. They generally have more information than tourist offices, and sometimes offer English language guides.

Newspapers & Magazines -- National and local newspapers and magazines can be found in all cities and most towns. In Bogotá, look for El Tiempo and El Espectador; in Medellín look for El Mundo and El Colombiano; and in Cartagena, you'll find El Universal. Semana is the most popular weekly magazine. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, English-language publications in Colombia.

Post Offices & Mail -- The postal system in Colombia is relatively efficient in large cities, though the same can't be said for rural areas. Servientrega, DHL, FedEx, and DePrisa are available in Colombia for local and international shipping services, as is Avianca Airlines. While mail within Colombia is cheap, sending items abroad is extremely expensive.

Restrooms -- Bathroom quality varies. Expensive hotels, restaurants, and shops generally have clean facilities and toilet paper. As long as you're polite, restaurant, hotel, and store owners won't mind if you use their facilities. It's a good idea to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer wherever you go, as budget establishments rarely have these items. Usually, you'll have to pay a small fee (generally under CO$600) to use a public or restaurant restroom.

Safety -- Colombia is still far from being among the safest countries in the world. Much of the rural countryside is still tightly controlled by armed groups and is thus inaccessible to tourists. Travelers are advised to stick to well-touristed areas and keep up-to-date with the ever-changing political situation to avoid problems. But if you take adequate precautions, you're more likely to have a run-in with common street thieves than with guerilla or paramilitary factions.

Smoking -- Colombians smoke less than Europeans but more than Americans. Most restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, bars, clubs, and other establishments have a no-smoking policy or a separate smoker's section. Make sure to ask if smoking is allowed before lighting up. Smoking is more prevalent in small towns than big cities.

Taxes -- There is a 10% tax on hotel rooms, and a 16% tax on food.

Telephone & Fax -- The best place to make calls and send faxes is in Internet cafes. Public phones are confusing (with instructions in Spanish). Street vendors offer minutes to cellphones and landlines for COL$200 to COL$400 per minute.

Time Zone -- All of Colombia is 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Colombia does not observe daylight saving time.

Tipping -- In midrange and expensive restaurants, there is usually a 10% tip included in the bill. It's not common to tip in budget restaurants or in taxis, so there's no need to do so unless you're feeling generous.

Water -- City water is usually safe to drink, but in nonurban areas it's best to stick to bottled water.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.