Colombia is a vibrant and energetic country which makes it an exciting place to visit. Its rich history and culture gives it extra intrigue making you want to explore more. It simply has it all, from beautiful beaches lining the Caribbean coast, to bustling cities like Bogota.
Colombia is a pretty large country geographically, which can making getting around difficult at times. The night buses between major cities and touristic destinations are not cheap in comparison to the cost of living there. I found that it often makes sense to fly between major cities as it was around the same cost of a bus and saved a days travel time. Once again I called on my good friend Skyscanner to source some cheap internal flights.
Also, make sure you climb (literally) on board a Chiva Bus for an authentic Colombian experience. These buses fly round corners, with the drivers blasting very loud music. A journey is certainly not for the faint hearted and beer is optional!
The country sometimes gets a bad rep. due to its recent history and battle with drugs, however if you are fairly sensible it is unlikely you will run into any trouble. As always, I found it useful to read up on the background before visiting, to make sure I stayed safe and had an enjoyable trip. Here are some useful articles to read up on before you go:
I found Colombians to be much bolder than people in neighbouring countries, which meant they were much more likely to strike up a conversation and i was able to learn more about the culture.
Anyone who has visited Colombia can vouch for me that it has the most beautiful girls in the world. Colombians take great pride in their appearance and it is clear to see from the moment you arrive. They are also very much up for night out and it is definitely a great place to go if you like to party!
Where to Go
I only had two weeks to spend in Colombia, however this allowed me to fit in a good amount of places and enjoy a very varied itinerary. Here’s where I travelled to:
I wasn’t much of a fan of Bogota, it was certainly the place I felt most unsafe in the country. However there are definitely a few sites worth visiting here as it is the capital city of Colombia. The Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) was really interesting and gave us a great insight of Colombia’s history and culture. The museum costs 3000COP to visit and is free on Sundays.
If you’re into your craft beer and have been travelling South America for months, then you will probably welcome a trip to the Bogota Beer Company. The bar is hugely popular with both locals and tourists and offers a great selection of beers in small glasses to steins (2 pints).
We took a plane from Bogota to Medellin as it actually worked out cheaper than the bus and meant we got an extra day that we otherwise would have spent travelling. Check out Skyscanner for deals with Viva Colombia and you will thank me!
Medellin was my favourite destination in Colombia. You probably wont get much sleep, but you wont want to either! Part of its charm is the street life, with busy markets and vendors selling everything under the sun. There is so much to do in Medellin and its diversity means there is surely something about it that anyone will find appealing.
If you are a fan of Netlfix hit show Narcos or not, make sure to take ‘the cheapest sightseeing tour of the world’ over the home of Pablo Escobar’s infamous drug cartel. Take in the brilliant views of the city and get an insight into the way the people of Medellin (Paisas) live as you travel with them on the cable car through residential areas on the hill.
We thoroughly enjoyed the cable car experience (costing just $4600 COP) which we took to another site worth visiting, Parque Arvi. The park has some great hiking trails and picnic spots and is a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of Medellin.
No trip to Medellin is complete without a night out in Park Lleras. Also known as the ‘Zona Rosa’, or Red Zone. This is the main area for nightlife that Colombians go to let loose and party. It is mainly a park with food and drink stalls, surrounded by a square of different bars and restaurants.
If you’re planning on visiting Medellin, then I’d totally recommend staying in the Galeria Hostel. It is great value for money as it is in a great location (round the corner from Park Lleras and not far from underground station), is very clean, has wifi, cooking facilities and a roof terrace with cheap drinks and a DJ.
While we were in Medellin, the city was swamped with visitors from over the country who had come for the annual flower festival, Feria de Las Flores. While this may sound completely dull to some, we made the effort to go down and see what the fuss was about. It absolutely exceeded expectations, not only were there some beautiful flowers on display, but the parks were covered by live music, street food, drinks stalls and handicraft markets. The atmosphere was buzzing due to the excitable Colombian people and it was a very friendly place for us to get a real taste of the culture.
All in all, it’s a great city to visit. The people are friendly, it has a great nightlife, there are many things to do and see, and even the very recent history is fascinating.
Check out Medellinliving.com for some more useful tips!
This pretty little lakeside town is definitely worth a day trip from Medellin if you are there longer than 3 days. You can take a bus from Medellin to Guatape, which takes about 2 hours. You definitely have to climb the 659 steps to the top of El Penol, the main attraction in Guatape which is a giant rock that provides excellent views of the lakeside town.
After climbing El Penol, I’d recommend then having lunch in the main square and having a wander around the town, ending at the lake, before getting a late bus back to Medellin.
We visited Santa Marta for the sole purpose of visiting Parque de Tayrona. We chose to stay at The Dreamer hostel, because it had a pool, was fairly cheap and looked pretty sociable. This turned out to be a good option due to the uncomfortable heat here, sometimes we could wake up in the morning to 38 degree heat and the first thing we would do is jump straight into the pool. The hostel was very social and the pool was great, it was also really easy to get to Parque de Tayrona.
There are many beaches around the area and with a group of travellers we met, we split 2 taxis for 8 of us and visited Playa El Rodadero. To be perfectly honest, the beach itself wasn’t anything special, but we had such a great day. This beach was full of locals, which meant we stood out as tourists and a lot of vendors approached us. However, they had a bit of a laugh with us and new when to stop. The beach was full of families, couples and groups of friends, they were singing and dancing and drinking beer all day long. We stayed there from lunch time until the sun set and it was one of the most fun days I’ve had whilst travelling!
To get to Parque de Tayrona, we took a local bus, which was an experience to say the least! It was roasting hot and we were crammed in like sardines. The driver drove like a mad man, with the music blasting as always.
The park itself was absolutely beautiful. We chose to hike, rather than take the bus to get a bit of exercise and enjoy the outdoors. It was pretty tough due to the heat, but provided a great feeling of relief when we made it to one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen!
We took a bus from Santa Marta to Cartagena, where we chose to split our stay between El Viajero Hostel in Cartagena’s old town and an AirBnb apartment along the Carribean coast. In hindsight, this was a good decision as it gave us a really good mix between sightseeing, culture and a bit of much needed chill time at the end of our trip!
I’d totally recommend heading down to Cafe Del Mar to watch the sunset. It is pretty pricey in comparison to nearby bars, however I don’t mind paying a bit more for a cocktail when there’s a cracking view, a nice seating area and a live DJ. Don’t do what many backpackers do and sit on the wall beside the bar drinking cans and sneaking into the bar to take pictures. I’d definitely say just pay for a drink and enjoy yourself.
It made for a lovely start to a night in Cartagena, which certainly another lively town in Colombia, with a Zona Rosa. I think the town is full of character and a great place to walk around and see a lot of history. However, the place is full of American tourists and is starting to lose its culture, there’s even a Hard Rock Cafe. It is quite sad, but what I would say is go and experience it now before it becomes a victim of globalization!
I’d totally recommend visiting Colombia. From beautiful beaches along the Caribbean coast to big cities full of character, the country just has so much to offer. We fitted it in to our big trip around South America, however you can now fly to Colombia from most big European cities for a reasonable price and very cheaply from the United States.