Every traveller I met in South America was wild for Colombia - a favourite destination for many and a pleasant surprise for almost all. You see, as much as we try to wait until we arrive at a destination to form opinions, the internet and news stories skewer, until we decide it wouldn’t be worth the effort to find out. If I’d listened, I’d never have found a new favourite destination in Colombia. I’d never have experienced white sand beaches with turquoise waters, rich coffee, overflowing plates of food, street art and music. The people are friendly and the National Parks pristine and startlingly gorgeous.
Colombia is much safer than it used be, fairly cheap to travel in and the best bit of all – Colombia is relatively undiscovered on the backpacker trail, but not for long. We spent Christmas and the New Year in Colombia and most of the tourists we met were other Colombians on holiday, not international visitors.
Want some solid reasons to consider Colombia for your next trip?
Go for your wellbeing and laze on beaches all day
I have to start with those beaches, a solid reason to visit any destination. We checked out three beaches on the Caribbean Coast with Palomino, Taganga and Tayrona National Park and it was just what the doctor ordered after all the rough and tumble adventures we’d had starting all the way down in Chile five months prior.
We donned our holey clothing and filled the seams of our bags with sand. We hiked in the National Park, bummed around in hammocks in Taganga and drank mango smoothies in Palomino, (why can’t I stop talking about mango smoothies in all my posts? Because it’s God’s gift to backpackers, that’s why)
Indulge your caffeine addiction
Bitter and earthy, coffee in Colombia is typically drunken black. We ventured up into the coffee region of Minca in the North and stayed at Casa Elemento where we drank coffee to our hearts content and then drank some more. Don’t worry too much about your caffeine intake - it’s educational after all ;)
The truly great thing about Casa Elemento is that you are immersed in the coffee culture. You’re not just visiting on a tour by a bored guide - you’ll be living up there, and a short walk away from your accommodation leads you to waterfalls and wildlife, and beans that you can pick and taste.
Explore galleries with your inner artist
I liked Medellin far more than I expected to. An easy city to roam with the very modern and cheap public transport, you can forget about structured tours and just see the breadth of the city using the subway or cable cars. Head to Botero Plaza where there’s something quite fascinating in exploring the larger than life bronze statues and nearby art gallery on a rainy afternoon.
Better your health by hiking in Tayrona National Park
I mentioned Tayrona earlier as it’s a spectacular beach, but it’s out of the way and a spot there has to be earned with a two hour hike. Once there, take a dip to cool off, and then get back out into the wild lands that make up the National Park to simply explore. Spot monkeys, pass donkeys and bask in the warm sun on the back of your neck. Most people stay in the park for several days - you can rent a hammock to sleep in for a few dollars a night and let the ocean lull you to sleep with the stars overhead.
Experience vulnerability in the Amazon Jungle
We had visited the Amazon when we were in Bolivia, but will be just as incredible, just as exceptional, when seen from the Colombian side. Swim with pink dolphins, fish for piranha and learn about all the flora and fauna of the Amazonas.
Wander among the colonial beauties
Glorious old churches, cobblestoned streets and second hand bookstores (a personal pleasure) await in the old towns of Cartagena and Barichara. They’re places to people watch, and although you’ll bring your camera, you’ll be too caught up in the magic of the old town to use it more than once or twice. But that’s okay, it’s like that for everyone.
Pander to your palate with cheap and easy street food
One of the first posts I wrote on South America was on Colombia’s street food, and a staple of our diets for much of our travels in South America. It may seem obvious, but buy from the cart with the most customers, that’s where we found the cheesiest arepas (potato cakes), the largest almerzo del dias (lunch of the day), and the juiciest bowls of freshly cut fruit. Plus Colombia sure knows how to make a great hamburger.
If you go anywhere in South America, go to Colombia. There aren’t any obvious attractions but my love for this country comes from a thousand everyday interactions that have compounded to make my travels there an experience I’ll have forever.
Colombia is mixed bag of adventure and relaxation, of bright street colours and sedating coffee, and it is a melting pot of cultures that make for a most welcoming break. Regardless of what you came to Colombia for, you’ll stay for the polar opposite.
So go on, book a ticket already!
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