Why did you decide to go to Colombia, I mean, why Colombia? It is a question a lot of travelers asked me during my trip there. I was not really used to that question. In Thailand for example, no one asked me why I came to Thailand. It was obvious, we were all doing the same, backpacking.
Why Colombia? It always sounded like I was a bit nuts for making that decision. I found it strange because they clearly made the same decision but I do understand now why they asked. It is not that common to go to Colombia yet. It is a country with a violent history and still has a dangerous image. For many, it sounds like a no-go area. I can tell you, that image is not true anymore. Colombia is beautiful and safe!
I decided to go to Colombia because I wanted to travel again. It is very simple, I love backpacking. Also, I wanted to escape the winter in Holland for a bit. So when I was looking for a destination, it had to meet three requirements. It had to be sunny, it had to be affordable and it had to be a country I did not visit before. After some research, Colombia seemed to be perfect for January and February. I booked my ticket. But to be fair, I would probably not have booked my ticket without the good stories I heard from other travelers. Because of them, Colombia became an option.
Now that I have experienced Colombia, I am glad those people told me those positive stories. I have had an amazing time there and otherwise I might have missed it. Colombia is a wonderful country with so much to offer. It deserves to be seen and experienced. The times that Colombia was a dangerous country are gone. The government has done a great job in making the country a safe place. Just as the other travelers did to me, I am going to tell you what it is like to travel in Colombia. Maybe, Colombia becomes an option for you too and maybe you will do yourself the favor once, to visit this great country.
I have rarely seen a country so diverse in nature and landscapes. Really, you can find everything in Colombia. Mountains, beaches, rainforest, tropical islands, even deserts. All within close range. One day you can be hiking high in the chilly mountains while the next day you find yourself relaxing at the sweaty beaches of the Caribbean.
The landscapes are often beautiful and breathtaking. Especially the vistas in the mountains are great. Places like Villa de Leyva and Salento for example are absolutely wonderful. You will find a quiet mountain atmosphere here in these friendly villages. Picture misty mountains in the morning, great trails for hiking, waterfalls and valleys full of fireflies at night.
But Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona and Palomino at the Caribbean coast are also a true treasures. Moments are magical when the sun is setting and is giving the sand and the palm trees a golden glow. Evenings are great when you are sitting around a campfire under the bright stars and sharing stories with fellow travelers.
My real highlight was a four day trek through the jungle to a lost city, Ciudad Perdida. Next to great vistas in the mountains, you get to see a dense jungle with a great variety of flora and fauna. You get to swim in nice refreshing jungle rivers while colorful butterflies are flying above your head. It is paradise!
The cities in Colombia surprised me in a very good way. When I start a journey, I usually fly to the capitol city of a country. They are often big, busy and overwhelming. It takes me a couple of days to get used to it and to adapt to the country. This time it was different. Bogota (the capitol city) felt really calm and peaceful. There was plenty to see, it was easy to navigate and the overall atmosphere was very pleasant. I felt at home immediately. And I had this feeling in every city.
Some cities are more touristy than others. Cartagena in the north at the Caribbean coast is very touristy for example. But not annoyingly. And there is a reason of course why it attracts a lot of tourists, it is a beautiful historic city. The old city is surrounded by city walls and once you entered the gate you will find yourself in a maze of lively and colorful alleys. Buildings are beautiful in an old colonial style, street vendors are selling all kind of things and there are many great restaurants. There is a very active nightlife in an area outside the old city so you can party all you want.
Even more famous for its nightlife is Medellin. The ‘Zona Rosa’ area in this city is an upscale western part of the city and is home to many clubs. It is about see and be seen. You cannot show up in your sweatpants and your flip flops here, it is a place to dress up!
Accommodation was truly fantastic in Colombia. All the hostels I stayed at were perfect. The good thing for backpackers is that there are a lot of dormitories. This way you can travel cheap as a solo traveler and it is a great place to meet other travelers. Also, all of the hostels have kitchens so if you like to cook, you are free to do so.
Some of the hostels I stayed at even looked like true resorts including a swimming pool and a palm garden. Overall, the places were very clean and the beds were good. Almost every staff speaks English so it is not a problem if your Spanish is not that good. A good tip is to book your accommodation in advanced so you are sure you have a room/bed. Also, you can tell the taxi driver where to drop you off.
It is really easy and convenient to get from place to place in Colombia. Buses are going everywhere and are the most common way of transportation. Some of the buses even provide WIFI and sometimes you have your own television screen. For the longer distances, there are also night buses with spacious seats. One disadvantage is that the bus stations are often far away from the city center.
Flying within Colombia is reasonably cheap. Sometimes just as much as a bus ticket. So if you want to save some time and if you do not like to sit in a bus for hours, it is worth to check out the prices of flying.
Taxis are cheap and there are plenty in Colombia. It is yellow cabs everywhere. I always used them to get from the bus station to the city.
Do not expect a gourmet tour in Colombia. Many travelers and I agreed that the food was a bit disappointing. The kitchen lacks a certain character. Often the restaurants have a set meal which is usually a soup, a main dish with some plain rice, beans and a piece of meat or fish and a juice. They are cheap and not too bad but do not put a smile on your face. It is also lots of pizza and hamburgers and empanadas.
But wait, there is one thing that is characteristic about the Colombian kitchen. Soup! And they are good at it. Especially in the mountains where it is a bit colder, they have nice thick, tasty and soothing soups. Many of them are with potatoes and are enough as a whole meal. Ajiaco con pollo for example is very nice!
When you are traveling you are inevitably going to meet two kinds of people. The local people and your fellow travelers. I like that! Locals can be a great source of information and other travelers are just fun to hang out with. Oh, and it is also the other way around.
Now my Spanish is not that good so my interaction with the locals was a bit harder. But I can say one thing, Colombians in general are very friendly and helpful people. They are generous with their smiles, patient, honest and they made me feel very welcome in their country.
Colombia is also getting more popular with backpackers. I met many people and I have made many friends. I was traveling solo but I have not been alone for single second. I even met more than in South East Asia and that is a backpackers hub. But you all share dorms, go to the same places and the whole atmosphere is very social. Great fun!
Traveling in Colombia is still reasonably cheap although tourism is growing and prices are rising fast. Of course it depends on how big of a spender you are but I would say you can manage with 30 euro or less a day. A good hostel is about 10 euro, a full meal costs between 3 to 10 euro and of course you can also cook for yourself.
Many museums are free and the ones that cost money are fairly cheap. Outdoor activities are inexpensive and there are a lot of things like hikes which you can do on your own.
Transportation by bus is the only thing that can be a bit expensive but if you take a night bus you do not have to pay for accommodation. Oh and before I forget to answer your most important question, a beer is about a euro.
Yes, Colombia used to be a dangerous country. With its drugs history, the FARC, the paramilitaries etc. there had been kidnappings and robberies. But those days are over now and Colombia has changed. The government did a lot to make the country a safer place for everyone and it worked. Sure, there are still areas where it is not recommended to go but if you do not start to wander alone in the jungle, you are pretty safe.
I never felt unsafe in Colombia for a single moment. I heard sometimes that people got robbed but that happens everywhere in the world. Just do not do any stupid things and you will be fine. Leave your important things like your passport safe in your locker and only carry a little bit of money. There are many police officers on the street who look after you. There is nothing to be afraid of, Colombia is safe to visit.
If you like to see more of the beauty of this country, check out my photo essay: Highlights of Colombia in Pictures
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