I don’t know what I was expecting out of Colombia but I don’t think it was this. I loved it.
First, I’ll tell you where we went so you can get an idea of how much we traveled in the country. We house sat in Bogota for 3 weeks. I had to go to LA so we stayed in Bogota an extra week till we I got back from LA. We were in Bogota for over a month. From Bogota, we went to Villa de Levya → Santa Manta → Tayrona → Cartagena → Medellin → Salento → Popayan → Ipiales. Everything listed took us exactly 2 months.
I was safe
Colombia was our first stop in South America and before we left home, we were drilled by family and friends with safety concerns. The U.S Department of State has huge warning about Colombia. It’s also listed on TripAdvisor and of course the media plays a big role on this.
Nothing got stolen. In fact, I felt safe.
This might be hard to grasp since it’s the opposite in the U.S but military and police security presence actually means it’s a safe place to be. There were several check-points along the roads ensuring nothing dangerous or illegal was in the bus and I.D checks were frequent. Even while purchasing your ticket and again several times on the bus. The I.D is cross-referenced on devices to ensure that person isn’t wanted.
Colombia has had a bad history and it’ll likely take a long time before it can clear up its name. Dangerous areas are still present and FARC is still active. The worst areas of Colombia are areas tourists would never go to. I also took advice from locals and other travelers about being safe. For example, Popayan to Ipiales has had a bad history of bandits stopping the bus late at night. Naturally then we traveled by day for this route.
Honestly, I felt more unsafe on the bus rides than anything else because the drivers are absolute maniacs. It was either that or I was going to freeze to death because the air conditioner was on full arctic blast.
It’s really just using common sense and doing a bit of research on where to go and where not to go. It’s the same routine you’d take for any other destination in the world.
Friendliest people I have met in South America
I have never been so welcomed in any other country in South America than in Colombia. The people were insanely friendly. So much that even the language is MUCH friendlier. No matter who I asked for help, how lost I got, or how frustrated I was – everyone was helpful, patient, and relaxed. Very rarely was I ever pressured to purchase anything and taxi’s were even honest.
This will be one of the top things I’ll miss about Colombia.
It’s not that cheap
I spent a little over $2,200USD in two months. The number is skewed though because I house sat for 3 weeks which meant free rent and I could cook most of my meals. It could have been higher if I had not been house-sitting. I’ve pretty much budgeted that traveling with hostels, sight-seeing, buses, and eating out often would cost about $50 a day depending how often someone travels from one city to the next and what they choose to eat.
Buses alone are quite expensive compared to other South American countries. I paid from Villa de Levya to Santa Marta 100,000 pesos. That’s about $50USD. Looking at flights, they are not that cheap either. I met a few travelers that were able to nail cheap flights for just another $20 compared to taking the bus but it was rare. Traveling within Colombia can get expensive. Buses overall are somewhat comfortable. Some better than others. Beautiful scenery in pretty much every bus we’ve been on.
Accommodation was okay. The cheapest I paid for a private room was $14 in Ipiales and $35 for a room in Santa Marta which had AC and bathroom. Most hostels and guest houses seemed to have been priced around that range for private rooms. In Tayrona where we rented a hammock and tent, it was around $10 a person. Dorms are somewhere between $10 to $30 a person depending on the city. We jumped between private and dorms. I carry a bunch of expensive electronics and it’s usually not that much more for private. The absolute best hostel we stayed in was in Popayan called Hostel Trail.
Not the greatest food
I wasn’t terribly happy about Colombian food. It got repetitive and everyone seemed to have the same menu.
The best deal of the day is lunch where they have set menus that they cook for everybody. You can only choose between about two different set menus. It usually includes an appetizer, meal, juice, and sometimes dessert. It’s an absolute fantastic deal for anyone on a budget. The meals usually cost around $3 to $5. The thing is, I got sick of this meal. The choices were usually chicken or steak (not good steak either). It almost always included a side of rice and salad. The salad for some reason always had way too many onions. No dressing either. The meal tasted okay and it did the job but it’s not a ground breaking meal. It just gets you full.
Hopefully I don’t piss off any Colombians with this statement but it seemed to me that the food in Colombia is to get the job done and feed you. Not so much in the art of food and having a bigger selection.
Even in Popayan where it’s declared a UNESCO for gastronomy, I just didn’t really find it that great. I was confused because you’d think that as a UNESCO site on food, you’d find great dishes but the truth was you had to specifically look for the restaurant gems to get the good food. I’m sure if I had been to the right restaurants, it would have been great.
I didn’t even have good coffee in Colombia. Just okay coffee. All the good stuff is exported and you’d have a better chance of finding the great Colombian coffee in your home country than in Colombia itself. I did go to Salento where some of the best coffee is but because of the massive amounts of rain, I was unable to go to the fields and try it out.
You really only have three or so selections for beer and that’s Club Colombia, Aguila, Poker, and a few more. The best beer I had was in Bogota at the Bogota Beer Company but those can only be found in Bogota. Not many options for beer.
My favorite foods in Colombia however are definitely the plantains with cheese in the middle, hot chocolate with cheese, tamales, and the huge selection of fruits.
Colombians know how to party
I went out with Troy from FoggOdyssey in Medellin to the most interesting club I have ever been to in my life. It’s difficult to describe as I didn’t have my camera that night. It was a cartoon themed club for adults full of decorations from Disney, Warner Brothers, Marvel, and more. I highly doubt they approved of this club to use their characters. Workers were dressed as different characters like Daffy Duck, Mario Brothers, Alice, and all sorts of super hero’s. Each room had a different theme to it. The room where we had our table had hundreds of dolls nailed to the ceiling. It was creepy but awesome. The club was called Dulce Jesus Mio (check out that article for some of the wackiness).
Liquor bottles were flying in every direction, people were dancing on chairs and tables, and the age went from 18 to 80. Everyone was into the music, singing, and just having a great time. My kind of party. It got me thinking of how the scene is at home. To me it seems our culture at home is heavily influenced by picking up girls at the club rather than enjoying the music but in Colombia it was ALL about the music. Even when dancing with a stranger, it still meant nothing. It’s just someone to dance with and then you go your separate ways.
Rainy season sucks and it gets cold
It seemed to have rained the entire two months I was in Colombia. It killed travel plans and killed our moods. Floods were destroying roads and houses all across the country. It made everything difficult. We did our best in seeing as much as we could in the rain but I feel our experience would have been different in the dry season.
Friends and family seemed surprised when I told them I was freezing cold in some of the places I visited. There’s these mountains called the Andes and the higher you are, the colder it gets. Bogota is 2,625 meters. It gets chilly when it rains and at night. In fact, out of all the cities we visited, we were only extremely hot in Cartagena and Santa Marta. Every other place we went to was either somewhat warm, room temperature cool, or freezing because of the rain.
- Medellin was my favorite city.
- Tayrona had the best beaches.
- Bus travel is pricey and scary.
- I felt safe in most places.
- Did not enjoy the food but I do love tamales, hot chocolate, plantains, and their selection of fruits. Also Arepas having a boring taste. Sorry Colombia!
- The climate in Colombia changes dramatically as you travel and the season you’re in.
I had a great time in Colombia. It was interesting because I think I expected something different and I know I surprised everyone at home with how things really were in Colombia. I knew very little about Colombia before going there. It’s definitely a country I would love to explore more of and even perhaps settle in Medellin for a little while. It’s an up and coming country offering so much to backpackers for adventure, culture, and exploration. It doesn’t have nearly as many travelers as Peru and it offers just as much.
I think what’s missing from Colombia is a tourism infrastructure like Costa Rica and Peru has. As their economy continues to grow, I think they’ll realize the potential in international tourism and provide a better system then what they currently have. It does make traveling in Colombia a bit more unique than the more traveled countries and provides some great stories. I definitely recommend any type of traveler out there to check out Colombia.
Thank you Colombia for treating me well!