What comes to mind when you think of Colombia? There are so many stereotypes surrounding the country and its people – that it’s dangerous, that you’ll get kidnapped or shot by drug traffickers (mostly perpetuated by Hollywood’s portrayal). Colombia has always been on my list of places to go, but I haven’t made it there yet (it’s a very long list).
So, Brendan happily agreed to write a guest post for The Flyaway Girl telling you exactly why you should visit Colombia.
This is a guest post by Brendan Burns of AdventureDaze (http://adventuredaze.com)
5) Colombia Has It All
There’s a saying: “Peru has the food, Brazil has the beaches, Ecuador has the Amazon jungle, and Colombia has it all!” I ventured to Colombia in July 2016 to visit Cartagena and Medellin, and I had one of my most memorable trips in years.
I had been contemplating a trip to somewhere in South America for a while. I decided on a week split between Cartagena and Medellin, and it went way too fast. You could easily spend a week or more in each of these cities, and they both had very different things to offer. Cartagena is a famous port city known for its beaches, island day trips, and delicious food that features South American and African blends. Medellin, on the other hand, is in an enormous city with nearly 4 million people. What’s more, Medellin sits in a valley, and there is incredible nature to explore as well.
Now, I only visited two of the popular cities in Colombia and had an extremely diverse and fun experience, but Colombia also offers Cali, Barranquilla, Bogotá, and more, where you can see and experience the best that this exciting country has to offer.
Check out some more incredible photos of Colombia over at La Vida Viva!
4) The Price
Colombia has many great sites to see and cities to explore, and what makes it even better is the price! I spent my time in Cartagena and Medellin and enjoyed the extremely low prices in both cities. My first stop was Cartagena, where I shared a 2-bedroom house in a great location (the Getsemani neighborhood) with another traveler. It was an Airbnb listing with amazing reviews, the best host, and I paid US $30 per night!
In addition to the very affordable Airbnb housing costs, you’ll find that meals, transportation, and any other expenses will be extremely low. Taking a taxi to Cartagena from the airport is the most convenient option and it’s very affordable, as well. Official taxis will line up outside the arrivals gate and only cost around 15,000 Colombian Pesos (approximately $5 USD!) for the 20-minute ride to your hotel, hostel or Airbnb. You can go to the taxi area once you exit and give them your address, and they will take you to your destination of choice.
The food in Colombia is also extremely inexpensive. I will never forget my last night in Colombia, at the Medellin airport. I had run out of Colombian pesos and could only pay with my credit card, but the minimum charge was $10 USD. I asked the server for a sandwich and a drink. She laughed saying I was nowhere near the $10 mark, so I asked for another sandwich. She again laughed, so I asked for a hot chocolate, and she gave me a smirk, so I said to make it a large, barely clearing the $10 mark after receiving two massive sandwiches and two drinks!
3) It’s Safe!
Colombia unfortunately went through a long phase of violence and crime in the 1980s and 1990s, and it is still working on shedding its reputation as a dangerous country. Plagued by an era of drug cartels, Pablo Escobar and the Colombian drug cartel turned Medellin (and Colombia more broadly) into the murder capital of the world. Present day instability in neighboring countries such as Venezuela causes further fear in potential travelers about coming to South America.
However, Colombia is the safest it’s been in years and I had no issues at all. In fact, traveling to Colombia gave me a great opportunity to see how countries can change. Things have improved since the 80s and 90s, and Colombia has evolved into a country with increasing stability and growth.
Most recently, there has even been peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Also known as FARC, they reached an agreement with the Colombian government to come to terms on a new peace deal. FARC began as a guerrilla movement in the Colombian armed conflict that began in 1964. Known to use different forms of military warfare including terrorism, FARC had remained a missing piece in the puzzle of Colombian peace after the cartel era had ended. However, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has been working over the past few months on a new peace treaty to get it passed into law and further bolster the safety of Colombians and tourists.
While I always recommend taking full safety precautions when traveling anywhere, when I traveled to Colombia earlier this year I felt right at home. The people were beyond warm, and I freely wandered the streets of Cartagena by myself without feeling unsafe even for a minute. Further, my experience in Medellin was just as relaxing! I stayed in an area called Poblado, which is very nice and also extremely safe. I wandered the streets by myself in the evenings, walking to nearby restaurants and malls, both alone and with friends, and at no point did I feel any danger at all.
Colombia was a very dangerous country in the 80s and 90s, but things have changed dramatically since. I would not recommend anyone go to Venezuela right now, given the government and situation, but Colombia was safe, comfortable, and welcoming during my entire trip.
2) The Food
The food in Colombia stood out for its variety and deliciousness. During my time in Cartagena, I really went on a food adventure. From the fresh-squeezed fruits and vegetables to the higher-end restaurants, Cartagena offered a variety of cuisines. I continued this in Medellin by trying all the local foods, such as Salpicon and sugar cane juice after a strenuous bike ride. I also sampled neighboring Venezuelan dishes while having dinner with a friend in Medellin.
Mercado Bazurto is a must-visit for anyone going to Cartagena. Definitely not your typical tourist-sight-seeing kind of experience, Mercado de Bazurato is a large, sometimes unclean open market where locals sell anything and everything. This is where you go when you’re craving the real Colombian experience and a glimpse into the lives of everyday people from Cartagena. That being said, it’s best to go on a tour and not by yourself. Be mindful of basic precautions: avoid wearing flashy jewelry, and pay attention to your valuables.
A few tips and things to keep in mind: there aren’t any public restrooms, wear close-toed shoes, and English isn’t widely spoken. While it’s not your typical touristy experience, I highly recommend these types of excursions for seeing a truer side of the country that you are visiting. Putting yourself in situations with locals is the best way to experience what your destination has to offer, and understanding their day-to-day lives.
1) The People
Growing up, my father always spoke very fondly of his experience studying and living for a semester of college in Bogotá. Despite the misconceptions about Colombian culture from the unfortunate drug cartel era, Colombian people are amongst the warmest in the world. My father often spoke about how his neighbors would regularly pop into his host family’s house, just to say hello or come over for a drink. When I visited Colombia, I had the exact same experience, both in Cartagena and Medellin.
The Colombian people are very proud of their country and culture, and are eager to share it with people from around the world. I felt a warm open-armed attitude from the locals that I met and spoke with. I enjoyed hearing their stories and learning more about their pasts, and how the country has evolved over the past several decades. Every Colombian has a beautiful, different story and I encourage you to get to know as many people as you can during your trip.
When I landed at the airport in Medellin, I hopped on the airport bus to take me to the city center. I had read that this was a more affordable alternative to taking a taxi directly to my Airbnb, and that, at the end, I was to take a taxi for the rest of the ride. It also sounded like more of a local experience, which I am always in favor of doing. Unfortunately, I arrived at city center at primetime rush hour on a Friday afternoon, and there was not a taxi in sight. My bus driver observed what was happening and parked the bus to get out and, with his colleague, helped me hail a cab. When it was clear that there were no cabs in sight, the bus driver took my luggage and helped me find another bus, which he instructed to take me to a taxi stand free of charge. I was born in New York City, and I can say without a doubt that this would never happen in my city!
I also experienced the most welcoming people during both of my Airbnb stays and had incredibly warm exchanges with all the locals that I met.
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For those who haven’t been to Colombia, by now I’ve hopefully convinced you of its natural beauty, delicious food, and incredible people! For those worried about safety, there are really no precautions that you need beyond typical international travel. For those on a budget, Colombia could not be more perfect for saving money while seeing the world. Overall, it was one of my favorite trips of the past several years and I hope you check it out!
Have you visited Colombia? Don’t forget to pin this post if you enjoyed it!