There wasn’t a lot of crazy travel plans I had for 2018 compared to the previous year when I had explored outside the country three times. Coming into the year I wanted to do at least one epic adventure and I had my eyes set on Oaxaca for Dia De Los Muertos. I was already organizing a huge travel crew and getting the itinerary put together. As time passed several friends were backing out and the one person who I wanted to take the most would not be able to make it due to a scheduling conflict with school. So my Mexico trip is placed on hold until further notice.
Fortunately my main man Erik (@everydayerik) came to me and asked if I would be interested in joining his trip to Colombia with another brother of mine. Colombia has been in my radar but wasn’t anticipating on going at least for a while. My inner travel bug was itching for something new so of course I accepted the invite. What also helped my decision in tagging along was the great steal I found for round trip airfare. ($300 USD to be exact)
So here we are, Me, Erik, and Rafa, all former roommates from the college days taking on Colombia for the first time. Each of us were quite nervous heading to the land of the arepas knowing the dark history that Colombia once carried. I wondered… Were we going to have to constantly watch our back? Were we going to be set up and get locked up abroad? Or were the Colombian people even going to welcome us with open arms?
Once we arrived our concerns were quickly diminished as we were greeted with nothing but love. The locals were extremely friendly and they carried this very chill attitude. It didn’t matter if you were poor or rich in Colombia, the people were happy and walked around with their heads up high. You can also forget everything you see and hear from the Narco movies & shows. Colombia has so much more to offer than the life of Pablo Escobar.
We start off the trip by spending the first couple of days in Cartagena. Cartagena is a beachtown and it can be very touristy throughout the year. Things to look forward here are the white sandy beaches, Colonial architecture, and seafood. If deciding where to stay, I would suggest booking an Air BNB within the Old Town of Cartagena or a hotel in one of the islands off the coast. For us we stayed within the Walled City, down the street from Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. It worked out perfect for us because we were in the center of all the restaurants, cafes, bars, and colorful buildings. It was also nice to know we were walking distance to the port. (Side note: it’s super humid in this destination)
The only thing I could complain about Cartagena is the constant sales pressure from folks, especially when you’re trying to eat a decent meal out in the street. It is kind of expected after all since most touristy places such as this will have that aspect. Best advice to handle this is to avoid eye contact or conversation with the vendors or they will be in your presence for a while.
To get the best photos of Old Town Cartagena, I recommend going out into the neighborhood between 6am-8am so that you can that empty street scenery. For me every street that I turned into, it immediately became a photo shoot. You can literally spend the whole day covering every inch of Old Town just taking pictures and stopping at restaurants in between.
Now for the beach experience one should look into booking a private tour. The only way to get to those white sandy beaches is by boat and there are different packages available to choose from. To ensure we didn’t get stuck at one island for the whole day, we simply hired a private guide that permitted us to leave WHEN we wanted and WHERE we wanted to go. Prices for this option range anywhere between $400-$450 for the whole boat. You get to bring your own drinks and food so that was a plus.
Cartagena also offers a excellent nightlife scene where there are several clubs to turn up at. Whether you’re looking for reggaeton or salsa, they have it all. You’ll also be surprised to know that Colombians love Vicente Fernandez. I won’t touch too much on food for this blog post as I will save that for later on my Senor Foodie Adventures. Just know that drink of choice is “Aguila” beer and “Aguardiente.” Food of choice: arepas.
Next part of the trip we head over to Medellin, the city of eternal Spring. What was once the murder capital of the world is now a city turned into a haven for hipsters. The people here are trying hard to forget the violent past and remove the whole Narco image that it picked up during Pablo Escobar’s era. In doing so the government has stepped up to clean up the streets by having patrol units going up and down the neighborhoods. I’ve noticed a heavy presence of security in just about every block. In addition Medellin is doing a fantastic job in promoting the arts where you’ll find countless murals throughout the city. Along with the arts there has been an explosion of the culinary scene all over Medellin. It’s safe to say I felt like I was home during my stay in Medellin.
Something to add to your itinerary if coming here is doing a day trip to the nearby town of Guatapé. It’s roughly a 2 hour drive and it is the perfect opportunity to get away from the fast paced city lifestyle in Medellin. It’s here where one can hike the famous 650 ft rock and catch 360 degree views of the valley. In the town below you’ll find colorful houses. If water sports is your thing, then this town will offer that along with horseback riding.
As previously mentioned Colombia is trying to move forward from their Narco reputation and establish themselves as a top country for tourism. They want foreigners to know that it is safe to visit and it has everything to offer for all types of tourists. Surprisingly narco-tourism is a thing to do here and it does help attract visitors from all the world to see what Pablo has left behind. Majority of Colombians will frown upon answering questions on narco related topics since the wounds of the cartel wars is considerably recent. At one point I even got turned down by a taxi driver for a ride to Pablo Escobar’s museum. I’m not one to praise drug lords and the things they’ve done but I do believe it’s important to learn the history behind them.
We concluded our trip by spending our final day in Bogota. We didn’t want to spend too much time in Bogota because we didn’t find enough things to do during our research. I did read that Bogota had countless of excellent restaurants that are considered to be the best in the country if not the continent. Other places that were recommended to visit that we didn’t have enough time for was Cali and Barranquilla.
This vacation was a blast for me for many reasons. I’m still trying to figure out what was my favorite moment of the whole trip. All I know is that I gained so much respect for Colombian people and I didn’t think I would appreciate their food as much as I expected. Colombia is so beautiful and I wouldn’t mind coming back in the future.
As always, if you have any questions about my trip feel free to shoot me a message.
Thanks for reading!