What Currency Is Used In Colombia?

credit: Peter Parker

Colombia is one of the most picturesque countries in South America, with a multitude of beautiful places and unique activities to enjoy. As a visitor, making the most of your time means paying for those attractions, and to do that, it’s essential to know what currency is used in Colombia.

The official currency in Colombia is the peso, and there are several things about using it you need to know. How much cash to carry, in what denominations, whether you can pay in American dollars, and at what exchange rate? We’ll answer these and all your other questions.

What Currency Is Used In Colombia?

You’ve planned your itinerary, done your budgeting, and packed your bags for Colombia. But before you begin your adventure, you need to familiarize yourself with all the aspects of the most important detail – the currency you’ll be using every day of your stay.

What Denominations Does The Colombian Peso Come In?

The Colombian peso has the international code COP and uses the dollar sign ($) as its symbol. This can be confusing to US visitors, but don’t be shocked when you see that a cup of coffee costs $3800 – that’s less than one US dollar!

Colombian coins come in five denominations: 50,100,200,500 and 1000 COP. Although the peso is divided into 100 centavos, because the value of the currency is so low, Colombia stopped minting all centavos coins in 1984. A few are still in circulation but have very little practical value.

Colombian banknotes comprise 1,000-, 2,000-, 5,000-, 10,000-, 20,000-, 50,000- and 100,000-peso notes.

The designs of the various notes are fascinating and worth taking a closer look at. Each one honors a renowned Colombian on one side and a natural feature on the other.

The 2,000 peso bill features artist Débora Arango and the Caño Cristales River, known as the river of seven colors.

The 5,000 peso bill features renowned poet José Asunción Silva and the Colombian moorlands, a puya plant, and a bumblebee.

The 10,000 Colombian peso bill has anthropologist Virginia Gutiérrez on one side and on the reverse an illustration of the Amazon region, a Victoria lily, and an Amazonian tree frog.

The 20,000 peso bill is a new note with ex-President Alfonso López Michelsen, the La Mojana canals, a sugar apple, a zenu pendant, and a Colombian “vueltiao”, a sombrero-style hat.

The 50,000 Colombian peso bill pays tribute to Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez, the Lost City, the magpie snail, and the hummingbird.

The 100,000 Colombian peso bill features ex-President Carlos Lleras Restrepo, the Cocora Valley, the Amazonian motmot bird, and the tropical purple Tibouchina lepidota flower.

For convenience, the smaller denomination notes should be carried, as it’s difficult to get change for over 5000 COP from smaller retailers and taxis.  

How Long Has The Peso Been The Official Currency In Colombia?

Until 1810, the Spanish real was the sole local currency, but the peso was introduced that year for the first time when the country declared independence from Spain. Official autonomy and the creation of Colombia as a genuinely independent state only occurred in 1819, and the peso became the official currency in 1837.

Initially, the peso was equal to 8 reales. In 1847, it was decimalized, and the exchange rate became 10 reales to the peso. For the remainder of the 19th century, the currency included gold and silver coins up to a 10-peso gold coin.

In the early 20th century, the peso was pegged for a time to the French franc and thereafter, until 1931, to the British pound sterling. When England abandoned the gold standard in 1931, the government transferred the peg to the US dollar, and this remained the case until 1949, when high inflation in Colombia forced it to abandon the US dollar peg.

How Strong Is The Modern Peso?

The Colombian peso is volatile, but having depreciated sharply in 2022, by August 2023, it was rated the world’s strongest currency based on its performance against other leading currencies. This situation may change, but the Colombian economy is reasonably stable, and experts predict the peso will remain strong.

Is Colombia Expensive?

Based on the current strength of the peso against the dollar, things will have become slightly more expensive for visitors to Colombia. However, it’s still a very inexpensive destination for tourists, particularly if you’re from the United States and converting dollars to pesos.

Here are some recent estimates of what it will cost to vacation in Colombia:

  • If you’re happy to backpack, don’t drink too heavily, and eat simply, you can have a great time on $200,000 COP per day (US$50).
  • On a mid-range budget, staying at a reasonable lodge or hotel at a daily rate of about $125-130,000 COP, you should budget for $380 – 400,000 per day. (US$95-100)
  • $500,000 – 600,000 COP, equivalent to US$125-150 per day, will give you upmarket hotel accommodation and plenty of spending money.

An example of some of the great value that awaits you in Colombia:

  • Cup of coffee: US$0.80–1.50
  • Set lunch: US$2–5
  • Dinner for two: US$25–40
  • Beer at a bar: US$1–2

Do I Need Cash In Colombia?

In many South American countries, people are happy to accept US dollars in payment for goods and services. However, this is not the case in Colombia – payment must be in pesos. There are several ways of doing this:

1. Buy pesos before you leave home

You can buy Colombian pesos from your bank, post office, or exchange bureau before you leave for Colombia, but it’s not a good idea to travel with the total amount of your vacation requirement in cash. $200,000 COP is ample for a day’s outing or until you can draw from an ATM.

You can also load your ATM card with Colombian currency at the rate at the time and draw cash in pesos as you need it.  

2. Exchange your currency in Colombia

You’ll get the true exchange rate by using an ATM to exchange your dollars for pesos. There is an extensive network of ATMs in Colombia, and if you use the ATMS at Davivienda and BBVA banks, which are in every major city, there are no local fees payable.

If you’re going to use an ATM, do so, if possible, during business hours, preferably inside a bank, shopping center, or large commercial building. Look around you to ensure you’re not being watched, especially on the street, and be vigilant at night when robberies are most common.

The cities in Colombia, specifically Bogota, are generally safe for tourists, but the southwestern and northeastern parts of the country, which border Ecuador and Venezuela, are dangerous. Be aware of crime, avoid known crime hotspots, and don’t carry more than the minimum cash or valuables with you.

A helpful tip if you’re using an ATM is to decline the exchange rate offered by the ATM. You’ll still be able to withdraw cash, but at your own bank’s exchange rate, which is always better.

Dollars and Euros are freely exchanged, but most banks in Colombia don’t exchange money, so other than an ATM, you can choose to exchange money at the airport when you arrive, at your hotel, or at an exchange bureau.

You are advised not to use moneychangers on the streets, who may give you counterfeit notes, charge exorbitant fees, and put you at risk of being robbed.

Can One Pay With A Credit Or Debit Card In Colombia?

Almost all restaurants and retailers in Colombia will accept credit or debit cards. Still, there may be a few smaller shops or corner stores that don’t, so carry a small amount of cash with you for such an occasion. 

Again, just be careful when using your card, don’t allow yourself to get distracted, and keep the receipt for every transaction.