This is indeed true. Colombia is my fourth Spanish-speaking country, and the only one I left with a tear in my eye. Not because of the beautiful nature, unique cities or fine food – but because of its people. Sincere, cheerful, warm, kind, hospitable and proud. Colombians win you over at first.
They are endlessly cute, especially when they say buenos dias (good day), como estas (how are you) and quiubo (what’s up) in the same sentence, so I understand what they asked me to answer them all. I have never felt so welcome in a foreign country. And believe me, they are absolutely interested in everything. Where are you from, why are you here, how long are you staying, what have you visited, what is it like to live in Croatia. They really like to communicate and most importantly, they are not yet oversaturated with mass tourism.
In addition to the language of love, they also speak the language of music. Cumbia, champeta, reggaeton, pop, salsa, merengue, bachata – you name it. They have it in their blood and they transfer that energy to every passer-by.
These qualities are joined by another key one: they have the ability to quickly overcome any circumstance while learning from it, which has resulted in one of the most common Colombian phrases: “echar pa’lante“, which means to move forward no matter what and to look to the future with optimism.
Now that I’ve thrown the bug in your ear, we can move on to the next question – why is Colombia worth visiting and what can you pack into such a short period of three weeks?
When I was planning my trip to Colombia, I didn’t know what to put in my itinerary because this country has so many beautiful places that it was difficult to choose only 4 locations. Colombia is a country that offers literally everything, from the beautiful Caribbean, hiking, the Amazon rainforest, deserts, national parks, urban cities, coffee plantations… and I probably haven’t even listed half of them. Considering that Colombia is located in the zone of the equator, there are no seasons, but the year is divided into a dry and a rainy period. Although the weather varies from region to region, the best time to visit is from December to March, when you will avoid the rainfall. We spent a total of 20 days in Colombia, were in four different locations, and this is how it was for us.
In order to get an impression of its size, I will tell you that Bogota has 9 million inhabitants (so twice as many as Croatia) and is one of the highest cities in the world. When you land in Bogotá, you have landed at 2,600 m above sea level. For comparison, the highest peak in Croatia is at 1831 m. Also, Bogota is considered a city with four seasons, but it’s hard to believe until you actually feel it. The daily temperature in Bogota ranges from 5-20◦C, so we had a real spring morning there. When the sun was at its highest point, midday slowly turned into summer, while autumn and rainy weather greeted us in the afternoon. In the evening, however, we experienced real winter.
We planned to stay in Bogota for 2 days, but since our flight was delayed, we only had one day left to tour. But believe me, that will be enough time for you.
If you are short on time like we were, the main recommendation is to go shopping in the morning at the Pasaje Rivas Craft Market, where you will find a bunch of their interesting things, and along the way you can also buy souvenirs. Then, don’t miss the Grafitti Tour with Bogota Grafitti Tour and a walk through the La Candelaria district where you will see real art and learn what graffiti really means to Colombia.
It will be just in time for you to have lunch, so a walk through Plaza de Bolivar is ideal because nearby is the restaurant La Puerta Falsa where you can taste typical Colombian specialties at very reasonable prices. And as sugar at the end, climb the Montserrat hill, which is located at 3150 m above sea level and offers a view of the whole of Bogotá. To climb you have the option to go by cable car or on foot, my recommendation is to take the cable car up to the top and go down on foot because the queue for the cable car to return will be quite long.
All of the above will be enough for you to fill one whole day, but you can also divide it into two.
In case you are staying longer than one day and want to add something else to your schedule, what I can additionally recommend is the Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold) and the Botero Museum (Botero is one of the most recognized Colombian artists), of course if you are a museum lover. Also, if you want to taste Bogotá’s nightlife, the restaurant/club Andres Carne de Res is a great choice. We did not have time for museums and entertainment, but if you are staying for two or more days, I definitely suggest that you take advantage of that opportunity.
For moving around Bogotá, and in Colombia in general, Uber is a very safe option. The only downside is that it’s not completely legal. Despite this, the application works normally and you can use it freely, only the drivers ask that someone drive ahead so that there are no problems with city taxi drivers and the police. We used it always, except for driving to and from the airport, to avoid potential problems because there will be other taxi drivers and the police. When choosing a neighborhood for accommodation, my recommendation is to choose one of the following two: El Chapinero (La Zona Rosa, Chico and Parque 93) or Usaquen. Although these parts of the city seem like another world compared to the real one compared to the rest of Bogotá due to tall buildings, modern infrastructure, good cars, they are still considered one of the safer neighborhoods. Also, although I prefer Airbnb over a hotel, given our short stay in Bogota, we stayed at the Click Clack Hotel which I cannot praise enough. The rooms were very comfortable, and the breakfast was very varied and tasty. Fruits, eggs of all kinds, delicious cheeses, juices, coffees. If you’re going to stay at that hotel, you can also count on dinner (which is delicious!) so you don’t have to find a restaurant in the evening.
Perhaps you will find information somewhere that the La Candelaria district is also a good option for accommodation because you can find almost all tourist attractions there, but I would not recommend it because it can be deserted at night and it is not very pleasant to walk around. Certainly, during the day it is completely fine.
Although we didn’t have a single unpleasant situation in terms of safety, of all the cities we’ve been to, Bogotá really requires a bit more caution. Namely, most shops close around 6 pm and people go straight to their homes, so it’s not safe to walk around in the evening. But of course, with a daytime tour where you follow the classic tourist route, count on everything to go well.
Vamonos pa’ Cartagena, vivir la vida buena. That’s how the lyrics of a song in which Cartagena was sung read. A colonial city and a true jewel of the Caribbean. Colombian Dubrovnik. Of course, compared to our Dubrovnik, the prices are not nearly as high, but many local people cannot afford to go to Cartagena, because compared to other cities in Colombia, it is more expensive than average.
We arrived in Cartagena from Bogotá on a flight that lasted approximately 1:30 hours. After you land in Cartagena, get ready for a real tropical treat – you will immediately be stunned by the heat and humidity, but also by the real Caribbean rhythm.
Why is Cartagena so popular?
Precisely because of its irresistible Caribbean vibe – because there is “vida buena”. Everything is more relaxed, colorful and cheerful here, and summer lasts all year round. Imagine reggaeton and salsa that can be heard from almost every window day and night, fairy-tale streets with the most romantic scenes, fresh fruit and juices on every corner, a paradise for fish and seafood lovers… In short, Cartagena is actually the description of my ideal summer. I would also mention the beaches, except that for a nice beach you will still have to go to a nearby island such as Isla Baru, because the city’s main beach has nothing Caribbean about it.
You can look for accommodation in Cartagena in several places, but I would recommend that you stick to the old part of the city, Ciudad Amurallada, which is also the main place of all events.
When you go on a tour, it is recommended to start early in the morning because it is really very hot during the day. And it doesn’t matter at all where you move, you can wander around the alleys and even get lost, but that will probably be one of the best “get lost” situations because you will be greeted by colors, songs and warm smiles of the hosts everywhere. And as soon as the sun starts to set and the temperatures drop a little, the city becomes even more lively than it is during the day. Be sure to then look for a square or rooftop where you can enjoy a cold cocktail and salsa rhythms (recommendation of rooftop Movich hotel).
And at this moment I cried a little.
The fact that Colombia is home to as many as 1,958 species of birds, 80 of which are endemic, makes it the most biodiverse country in terms of birds. One of the many places in Colombia where you can meet many of these feathered creatures is the Aviario Nacional de Colombia located on Isla Bar, about a 45-minute drive from Cartagena. And as much as birds are not my favorite animals, it would be a shame not to see them because they are really special. Also, birdwatching is very popular in Colombia, so if you like birds, you can try that too.
We did this trip with the local Hi Cartagena agency and we were very satisfied with the organization, plan and program. We paid $40 per person for it, and besides breakfast, transportation, a visit to the park and entrance fees, it also included lunch and a visit to Playa Blanca. On their site you have countless different tours and there is something for everyone.
So, even if you don’t like birds, or are afraid of them (like me, I know it’s weird), definitely go – you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a documentary, but with the main character.
When I was putting together the plan and program in Cartagena, I definitely wanted there to be another excursion in addition to the standard tour of the city, something that would be special and that I would remember forever. My search led me to horseback riding on the beach in Manzanillo, a village about 15 minutes’ drive from Cartagena.
Before booking, three questions arose:
- Have I ever ridden? I did, but it was so long ago that it’s as if I didn’t.
- Is that why I need to be further persuaded? Of course not!
- Was the husband instructed? Yes, but this was not debatable at all (because whoever does not participate in the organization of the trip, does not have the right to vote).
And so we ended up riding not far from Cartagena. This experience lasted 1.5 hours in total and we chose the morning time slot because of the high heat, just like for all other excursions in Cartagena. The horses were beautiful and you can ride on your own if you are confident enough. My horse was a bit unruly, so I still rode with the help of the guides who are with you the whole time.
And since it was our last day in Cartagena, we finally decided to visit the fortress of San Felipe de Las Barajas, which offers a wonderful view of the entire city, where you can also experience the most beautiful sunset in this Caribbean city.
Leaving Cartagena ended the summer in Colombia for us. I have to admit that I wasn’t that sad about it because the night temperatures didn’t drop below 25°C and it was really hard to function on a daily basis when it was that hot. I believe that everything is a matter of habit, but this was really a real example of that dog heat here in the summer.
The road took us further to Salento. If I told someone I was going to Salento, I would just get a blank “where is that and what’s there” look. And none of them, not even me, knew then that I would feel so calm, safe and fulfilled there. Salento is a small village in the province of Quindio, known for its coffee production, which easily rivals Cartagena in terms of color.
Imagine waking up with chirping birds, roosters, galloping horses, fresh air and so much greenery that your eyes are constantly on vacation. Here, time flows so slowly, people are smiling and warm, rancher music plays from morning to night, and the scenes are like from the Pasion de Gavilanes soap opera. Those who need it will know which one it is. Yes, cowboy hats and ponchos are a part of almost every outfit. Before arriving, I looked at the beautiful Valle de Cocora – a national park with the tallest palm trees in the world. Palma de Cera is the national tree of Colombia, whose height reaches up to 60 m. I knew that I wanted to see it and that my visit to Colombia should not pass without a visit to that national park. Valle de Cocora is a place where nature takes your breath away. Walking through fifty shades of green, breathing fresh mountain air, hanging out with horses and all this among the tallest palm trees in the world.
There are two trekking options through Valle de Cocora – you can choose a shorter route of 3 hours, and a longer one of 6 hours. I would say that it is longer for those who are more experienced and willing to walk. To visit this place, do not take paid tours, go on your own, it is cheaper and much more beautiful, and you get to see everything in peace and at your own pace. Also, prepare for rainy and humid weather, bring an umbrella or a raincoat and necessarily waterproof shoes because of the mud. To get there, take the Willy Jeeps that depart from Salento towards Valle de Cocora every half hour from early morning. And while you’re walking, be sure to look up, you’ll see condors. Andean condors have the largest wingspan of any bird in the world, reaching up to 3.5 m.
The second day in Salento was reserved for a visit to a coffee plantation that Colombians call “finca cafetera”. Although there are several plantations in the Salento area, the one I would recommend you not to miss is Finca Momota.
It is a short walking distance from the center of Salento and you can choose between tours of different lengths which is great because you can easily fit it into your schedule. We chose the longest tour lasting 3 hours, which includes a tour of the plantation, familiarization with the processing process and finally, tasting. Given that I am a food technologist by profession, it is always interesting for me to get to know the process from the field to the table of a raw material. And especially when it comes to coffee, without which I can’t imagine a morning. The owner is a simple and nice man from Trinidad and Tobago who decided to replace his dynamic life with a calm and slow Salento.
The variety of coffee grown in Colombia is Arabica, which grows at high altitudes, mostly between 800 and 2400 m. At that altitude, temperatures are milder and more constant, so the plant has more time to create all its aromas and acids. These conditions make the foothills of the Andes, where Salento is located, an ideal place for growing coffee.
We spent four days in Salento and I can safely say that we rested both body and spirit. He was the right preparation for the dynamic and urban Medellin that awaited us at the end of our trip.
And finally – Medellin. The city that not so long ago held the title of the most dangerous city in the world, which everyone should visit at least once in their life, the one that made me decide to travel to Colombia. The city that I left at the end of the entire trip and to which I gave the most time. Which did not disappoint, but delighted.
So what is Medellin like?
Medellin has the perfect climate. They call it the city of eternal spring. Imagine daytime temperatures of 22-25°C all year round, and evening temperatures not falling below 16°C. It rains a lot, but that’s why it’s never cold. For this reason, everything is literally blooming, I have never seen so much greenery in any city. Everything is full of trees, plants – the city seems to breathe, and I ended up breathing with it.
Located at the foothills of the Andes and quite hilly, there are many vantage points with beautiful views of the city. The best viewpoints are Mirador Las Palmas and Cerro El Picacho.
What you should not miss in Medellin is the nightlife. There are so many outdoor clubs, bars, restaurants. The most popular clubs are located in the El Poblado neighborhood. If you would like to experience ultra-popular reggaeton and pop, I recommend Perro Negro and Vintrash clubs, and for good salsa and sleep, head to Son Havana.
People from Medellin and Antioquia in general are also called “paisas”, and their main characteristic is hospitality. Wherever you go, you feel welcome, and everyone is really happy because you are there. They like to talk casually with you. I’ve never seen strangers smile at you on the street, say hello, ask where you’re from, how you’re doing, how you’re doing. All that and much more is Medellin.
Of course, where Medellin is there is also an inevitable topic – if anyone has at least one association with Colombia, it is surely Pablo Escobar. At this moment, I would say one of the most irrelevant people, for the reason that this country has so much more beautiful things to offer, but apparently the complete opposite, because it was because of him that Colombia got the label of an unsafe country that follows it to this day.
This place is called Comuna 13 and in 1991 it was one of the most dangerous microlocations in the world. Medellin was then a city of bloodshed, murder, robbery and crime and absolutely unsafe to live in. Today, Comuna 13 has become the center of art, so dance, song and colorfulness reign here, you can buy souvenirs and watch singing and dancing performances. As for safety, during the day there are always a lot of people, there is singing and dancing and I can say that it is really safe, but a dose of caution is always welcome. According to the recommendation of local people, it is better to skip this place at night. If you want to know more about Comuna 13, it is recommended to take a tour where they will take you through the neighborhood and tell you what happened in those ancient years and what it was like to be a child in that era. And yes, climb all the way up! The escalator will take you to a height of 384 m from where you can see the whole of Medellin.
If you are staying longer in Medellin, it is definitely recommended to set aside one day for Guatapé – a small town that will delight you with its colorfulness and vibe. It is necessary to set aside one whole day to go, because it is a 2-hour drive from Medellin.
In Guatapé, absolutely every house is a “work of art”. In addition to being painted in a million colors, the walls also contain so-called “zocalos” – special artistic creations of various motifs such as flowers, food or animals that are part of every house and building and most often tell a story, depending on what is inside them.
Although you may think that Guatapé is just another colorful town in Colombia, there is one special place nearby that definitely makes it worth a visit, and that is El Peñol de Guatapé and its La piedra del Peñol.
This is actually a monolithic stone 220 m high with a total of 702 steps to the top. From children to the elderly, everyone climbed. Of course, if you are afraid of heights, there are also interesting things to do down there – from a walk through interesting shops, lunch or coffee in the sun with a view of the lake.
It takes you about ten minutes to get there, but I think it’s worth the climb for this view. Refreshments with drinks, sweets and the most beautiful view of the lake with numerous islets await you at the top.
I could write three more times about Colombia because it left an indelible mark on me. Because of its people, landscape, energy, everything. And when someone asks you what is your first association with Colombia, remember this travelogue, subconsciously find the picture you liked the most and say that place. Because Colombia is much more than cocaine, Pablo Escobar and Narcos. And I hope that in time she will get the place she deserves, because she has already won my heart.
For much more from Colombia and other exotic destinations, visit my Instagram page @brbljavisanjar. If you are interested in more, feel free to contact me, I will be happy to help you plan your adventure.
I’m Adriana and I’m a food safety management engineer. But in my soul I am actually an eternal dreamer because my dreams have always taken me on the most beautiful journeys.