(Words by Liz, photos by Justin, opinions by both of us)
Since we’ve now been in South America for five months and my mom thinks the only neat place we visited was Galapagos, I thought a list of all the reasons Colombia is amazing was necessary. We were in Colombia for a little over two months so we’re pretty passionate about the country and the need to visit it.
1. PNN Tayrona/Barlovento — Ok, so we didn’t actually go into Tayrona because we were so enamored with Barlovento that we just didn’t see the need. Everyone we spoke to said Tayrona was gorgeous (and worth the 35,000 peso entry fee) so I’ve lumped it in with Barlovento. Read Justin’s post for the details, but it was the most beautiful beach I’ve seen and 1000% worth the visit.
2. Cartagena — As everyone we met mentioned, Cartagena was hot and humid and definitely required no more than a few days to visit. The walled city has interesting architecture and history (including a giant old stone fort) with some beautiful spots to eat while overlooking the ocean… It was enjoyable to wander around and the nightlife was pretty robust. The real highlight of Cartagena, though, was the ceviche. La Cevicheria is famous for their excellent ceviche; it was a both delicious and pricey. Even better, in my opinion, was a sushi restaurant called Tabetai. Again, the menu was expensive, but the ceviche was incredible and worth breaking the budget.
3. Medellin — This was our favorite city in Colombia… It was also our longest stopping point in Colombia because we bought the motorcycles here. The city sits in a bowl surrounded by the mountains, so it’s a great place to try paragliding. It’s known for its year-round beautiful weather and it makes a good jumping point for weekend trips in the area (like Rio Claro (meh), Guatapé (worth it), and Hacienda Napoles (weird?)). The Free Walking Tour was educational and fun and we recommend it to everyone we meet. The Poblado/zona rosa areas have decent night life and numerous options for good food.
4. Salento — The town itself doesn’t have a whole lot going on; it’s pretty small and generally just good for buying artisanal crafts, touring coffee farms, or making plans for treks. We liked Salento for the excellent cappuccinos we had (made with an 80 year old bronze coffee machine of magic), learning Tejo (Colombia’s national sport, most comfortably learned at BetaTown, although we did also go to a more legitimate local venue to get the “real” experience), and peanut butter brownies at Brunch. The three day trek we took up into PNN Los Nevados was difficult (muddy!), but came with impressive views and unique insight into life in the Andean highlands.
5. People — By far the most memorable and positive aspect of our time in Colombia was the people. Colombians are incredibly proud of their country and very anxious to improve its narco-stained international reputation. On multiple occasions people went out of their way to greet us and help us… one woman got in yelling match with a parking cop on our behalf and another led us all over town on the motos so that we could get cheap gas and leave without getting lost. Not only did the motos serve as an icebreaker for bagillions of conversations, but they also gave quite a few people the opportunity to blow our minds with their hospitality and helpfulness. In conclusion, we loved it there!
1. Medellin to La Zona Cafetera — Amazing! Colombia’s well-maintained roads make the winding drive through the mountains really enjoyable; the views are gorgeous the whole way and the only thing to really worry about is getting squished by the crazy Colombian truck drivers. This was good practice for Liz the Beginner and fun for both of us. These rides could convert anyone into a motorcycle fanatic.
2. The Trampoline of Death — Yet again, the biggest danger here was getting crushed by a truck on a blind turn. The road conditions were pretty challenging for the novice rider among us (especially because rain turned the road into a muddy mess), but overall this was incredibly fun. Colombia’s mountain views made up for the nonexistent guard rails, and the satisfaction of tackling my hardest ride yet made this one of my favorite days (it actually took us two days because I had to go at the speed of slug).
3. Panamericana — Ok, so really the whole Panamerican Highway (south of Medellin, at least) is mind-blowing. The mountains are lush and green and perfect, the roads are mostly well-maintained and marked, and the weather is “eternal spring” along a large portion of the road. If you even kind of like motos just a tiny bit, it’s worth it.
1. Santa Marta and Taganga — This is the Gringo Trail at its least appealing… the beaches were average at best (and just plain gross at Taganga), we couldn’t find much nightlife to speak of, and restaurants were just ok. Rather then spending time here (unless you plan on dropping out of life to smoke pot with other dirty gringos), head straight to Tayrona or the Lost City.
2. Santa Cruz de Mompox — Don’t do it! Multiple guides list this as a historial site that transports visitors back in time with beautiful churches and culture. I don’t know what Mompox those writers visited, but we felt tricked rather than transported. This is a hot, dusty, little town on a stinky river. We made the most of the visit with a moto taxi tour, some local wine, and a great conversation with our housekeeper, but truly the most rewarding part of the visit was the transportation adventure to get there: we took a bus, a ferry, a chalupa (yep, it’s not just a meal at Taco Bell), and another bus… basically an entire day of travel that we won’t forget any time soon.
3. Cali — Unless you are a passionate salsa-er, Cali isn’t all that much to see. Even Calians will tell you that you visit Cali to salsa, period. Since we didn’t commit to more than one salsa lesson (although that one lesson was very good), the potential of the city was wasted on us.
4. San Agustín — While this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is talked up by every guidebook ever, we were pretty disappointed by the overall lack of educational and historical information. We enjoyed seeing the old statues and wandering around the jungle (there are also lots of waterfalls and other ancient sites in the area), but we really would have enjoyed a more robust description of the “life and times” of the statues and the ancients who made them. Maybe this just wasn’t our thing.