Seriously! Colombia – It’s much more than just Escobar!
Colombia is listed on various major ‘Best Destination’ lists for 2019 and there is a reason for that. It seems, the world is catching on. Colombia received 3 million foreign visitors last year and the number is going up.
So where do you even begin? Do you fly to Cartagena and the Caribbean coast? Do you go straight to Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona? Or do you set out to experience the magic of Medellin? A vacation in Colombia is incredible no matter where you go, so I will try to share with you the best experiences I had in two weeks of Colombia.
But first thing first: Spelling it right. If we receive a pound for every person who spells it Columbia, we’d probably be able to buy a helicopter. 🙂
1. Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona
- Accommodation in Santa Marta: Eco Hostal Yuluka (cca 50 EUR/night)
- Sleeping under the stars at Tayrona National Park – El Cabo in a hammock (on the rock over the sea – only 16 people can fit) – Pro Travel Tip: Hammock space on top of the rock is very romantic. Because you can’t book online or in advance, start your trip to the park early to make sure you secure a spot.
From Santa Marta airport you will have to take the bus for 1 hour to the entrance of the park. It’s better if you go earlier as you will need to pay the entrance fee ($38,000 pesos – around 10-15 EUR ), then you have to take a 10-minute drive (it’s included in the entrance fee). From the park trail, take the route towards Areciffe – a pleasant walk of around 2.5 hours through woodland. Once you reach Arrecife you can choose to rent one of the lodges, tents or hammocks. Alternatively, you can continue on for a further 30 minutes to reach Cabo San Juan, where you can also rent a tent or hammock and another one hour walk to the beach (you can also do horse riding to the beach). There are several hiking ways you can go but we did the most famous one: Pueblito.
- For better orientation I used Lonely Planet Guide.
- If you are visiting more countries in South America, you can use Lonely Planet on a shoestring.
Pueblito: This is Tayrona’s mini-Lost City trek. The hike through the park takes 2 hours max. When arriving you will meet the well-preserved remains of Pueblito itself; a former Tairona settlement, and currently occupied by a small group of indigenous Colombians. Please be respectful of the residents and don’t take photos. The walk is amazing and the moment you will reach the beach is delightful.
- Take all the money that you’ll need because there are no ATMs and you can’t pay by card.
- Budget, hammocks are $20,000 to $25,000 for one night. Breakfast is $10,000 and main meals cost $15,000 to $30,000. All drinks (water, beer, soft-drinks) are $4,000.
- Do not go without mosquito repellent.
- Be prepared for showers that are very “rustic”.
Bio-diversity: Tayrona is home to 3 species of monkey: Red Howler Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, and the rare and endemic Cotton-top Tamarin – it’s easy to spot them, just be silent and check the trees! You can also find Iguanas, the Yellow-striped Poison Frog, caimans (small crocodiles) and Agouti (kind of mousse). It’s beautiful.
Sleeping at hammocks on the rock was a freaking awesome experience. The combination of wild jungle, palm trees, and the turquoise Caribbean waters that when you step out onto the sand with the tropical views after hiking for 2 hours through the jungle, you will say out loud“this was totally worth it.”
The combination of wild jungle, palm trees, and turquoise Caribbean water is serene, almost magical and once you step onto that white sand after hiking for 2 hours you will definitely say out loud “this was totally worth it”! 🙂
- Accommodation: Hotel Villa Colonial (70 EUR/night)
- Transportation: From Santa Marta, you can take a bus for 5 hours to Cartagena. You will need a reservation at Expreso Brasilia. Or you can take a flight as we did.
Cartagena is a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved 13 km old colonial stone walls are easily found. Cartagena’s Old Town is part of Unesco World Heritage site – a maze with sprawling balconies and vibrant bougainvillea . Best way to visit the city is to get lost in the narrow streets and enjoy all the cozy coffee shops and adorable restaurants serving up delicious fresh seafood. The city was the first Spanish colony on the American continent and a very important port. It’s one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas. It is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia’s own variety.
If you want to see more of the city, just rent a scooter and ride it along the seaside. It’s a very cheap way and is a good option if you have less time to spend in the city.
- Accommodation: Medellin, Hotel & Apartsuites Torre Poblado
- La Catedral – is the jail where Pablo served a maximum term of five full years
- Escobar house – Carrera 79B #45D-94, near Estadio Girardot is the house where Pablo was killed
- La Cumuna 13 – one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the past transformed in a colorful graffiti district.
- Casa Museo Pablo Escobar – meeting with Pablo’s brother, you can ask him as many questions as you want.
- Accommodation: Casa Quinta Hotel Bogota Centro (50 EUR/night)
- Transfer from El Dorado (Bogota) airport via Trans Milenio bus. There are ticket offices at every station (1 EUR/ transfer)
Colombia’s capital city will instantly take your breath away – and not just with the altitude. With a population of about 8.8 million people, Bogota sits approximately 2640 m above sea level in the Colombian Andes region. To understand the size of the city, consider that Mexico City and New York City are the only North American cities larger than Bogotá.
Pack a raincoat and some warm clothes as the average temperature is 14 C, it’s raining a lot and it gets cold at night. Drink as much coca tea as it helps with the altitude and avoid alcohol.
The highlights of the city are Monserrat, you can get there by cable car, or, if you’re game, take the 1,500 steps (90 minutes walk). At the altitude of 3150 m, Cerro de Monserrate is a symbol of capital pride. More details here.
Cool facts about Monserrat:
- The name Monserrat is named after the mountain with the same name near to Barcelona, Spain
- Most important places of pilgrimage in Colombia
- The famous Monserrate church (1640) was built in honor of the shrine to the Virgin of Monserrat
- The perfect place to see the sunset (Bogota is visible facing west)
- Restaurante Casa Santa Clara, on top of Monserrate Mountain, is one of the best places to eat in the city.
Another useful information:
If you plan to visit Cali – be careful, the crime statistics are currently number 31 on the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world (by homicide rates). Shoot-outs between gangs still happen at the malls and on the street so be careful while you’re in Cali and if a local says “don’t go there”… don’t go there.
Colombian coffee is different in Colombia – good stuff doesn’t stay in the country for long
For a country that has been in the drugs war, and bloodier civil war for most of the last 50 years, the police presence is a very real thing here so don’t be afraid to go on the streets and explore the cities. Try to avoid the cartels and respect the locals if they advise you to not go to some district.
Colombia will surprise you, excite and enamor you, and its effect will last forever. You will love the music, the colorful buildings, and amazing cuisine.