The time I travelled to Colombia.
The time I travelled to Colombia.
Ages ago I studied Spanish and one of my teachers was from Colombia. She always had amazing stories about the people and the country itself and would always get mad at people who said that it was too dangerous to visit.
When I visited Brazil I absolutely fell in love with South America. I knew that I would be back there, wasn’t sure when and where, but I knew that this was a place for me. People, sun, music and incredible landscapes…what’s not to love?
One day I started watching Narcos and I got obsessed with Colombia. When my husband asked me where should we go for our next trip I shouted COLOMBIA! So, when a few days later a cheap flight suddenly became available we just went for it without thinking. But when we began reading about this country, we started questioning our decision. I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive and at some points even wanted to cancel our trip. We’ve all read the reports, we know that Colombia is filled with nothing but drug-dealing, machete-wielding, machine-gun-carrying, kidnapping, violent people – right? Our parents couldn’t wait for us to return, worrying the whole time that we’d bump into drug lords or terrorists or become victims of a kidnapping.
I can’t help but chuckle now at the absurdity of thinking that traveling in Colombia was going to be a bad idea.
So forget about everything you’ve heard about Colombia, because I’m here to tell you why it is a country to visit! Here’s my story; no ‘facts’, just real experiences.
Where do I begin? We landed in the grand capital city of Colombia – Bogotá. I started falling in love with this city the minute I left the airport. A city set high in the mountains, the air so crisp and fresh. Brick buildings, and European-feeling parks, restaurants with impeccable service, the people so warm and inviting. We grabbed coffee at Juan Valdez, a Starbucks-like chain with cushy couches and laptop-wielding visitors. The streets were like those of museums; amazing art work covered the once decaying walls and illuminated the once scarce alley ways.
During our first day there we visited Monserrat – an almost 11,000-foot mountain topped with a prominent church, one of Bogotá’s signature sights. Absolutely a must see!
We stayed at La Candelaria neighbourhood – the old part of the city, Bogotá’s tourist hub. This part of the city is so colourful, with colonial-style buildings which are also home to the beating heart of the Colombian capital’s vibrant arts scene.
Bogotá overwhelmed us! After wrapping ourselves in our jackets and carrying umbrellas in Bogotá, we stepped off the plane in Santa Marta. For Colombian holiday-makers, Santa Marta is one of the most popular getaway destinations who revel in the sea, sun, muchos rum and ‘brisa loca’ (Santa Marta’s Caribbean breeze). We chose Santa Marta mainly because the city is a perfect base to explore the surrounding Caribbean coast, nearby national parks and jungle adventures. Just a stone’s throw away you can encounter some of the country’s most amazing coastline at Parque Nacional Tayrona, it’s also the most popular place to organise a trek to Ciudad Perdida, the pre-hispanic Lost City, Colombia’s answer to Macchu Picchu.
We stayed in Santa Marta for one night after which we started our 5 day trek into the jungle – to find The Lost City.
The Lost City Trek, as it’s called, takes you on a 46km (28 mile) round trip through the jungles, hills and river valleys of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern Colombia. There is no other way of visiting these ruins than hiking 46kms through the jungle. And what a walk it is!
The track is not an easy one. There are some steep climbs and several river crossings.
The humidity of the jungle is also very high so we were constantly sweating ;) Our days usually began early, around 5:00 A.M., so we could get on the trail while it was still cool and so we could complete our day’s journey before the sun goes down. I know it sounds hard and it was, but it was worth it. We were crossing pure wilderness and reaching some view points with great panoramas of the Sierra Nevada. This trek took us through a great deal of varied landscapes — deeper into the tropical jungle, across rivers and past a couple of Kogi village communities along the way. We had a chance to cross indigenous land and to meet members of the Kogi tribe. This group is one of the descendants from the Tayronas and it’s the only one in the area that still preserves its traditional customs. They still live in their wooden-made houses, wear their white traditional dresses and although they are usually reserved towards outsiders, The Lost City itself was simply stunning, so much better than in the photos. We absolutely loved this trek, pristine jungle and pure wilderness.
After 5 days in the jungle we came back to Santa Marta where we stayed for a couple of days visiting Tayrona Park – we just wanted to spend a day on the beach…a quiet day of being lazy after a long trek. As we found out getting to Tayrona is not simply a matter of showing up and entering. It took us two hours, through jungle, dirt tracks, rivers and up steep rocks to reach Cabo San Juan, the beach where we wanted to stay the whole day, but guess what, it was so worth it!!!
The next day we travelled to Minca. Minca is relatively close to central Santa Marta and it’s quite easy to travel there. After 40 minutes or so, you cross a metal bridge over the Minca River and there sits the town. The centre is a cafe/bakery, a bar across the street and a souvenir shop/mini market, with drivers waiting ready to take somebody someplace. As we had only a day there we decided to visit Las Cascadas, a series of waterfalls 25 meters high that is five kilometers out-of-town, with a beautiful natural pool beneath it and La Victoria coffee farm, which has been producing terrific organic coffee for over a century.
After a couple of days in Santa Marta we took a bus to Cartagena, a Caribbean port city with an impressive history of its own. We wandered around the streets of Cartagena — a picturesque gem that no artist could have painted better — for hours and hours. Each building was unique and each was a different colour: sandy pink, crisp white, turquoise blue. Many were adorned with knockers in the shapes of lizards and iguanas. We picked up freshly-sliced tropical fruit from the street vendors, we sampled things we’d never heard of or never tried — like the ceviche, we drank Colombian beer atop the city wall and saw beautiful paintings on the city’s walls, some depicting the rich history of the inhabitants, some just simply fun. Next day we took a tour boat to a pristine white-sand beach called Playa Bianca, where we had a day with just a book and a cold beer.
After a couple of days in beautiful Cartagena went took a plane to Medellin. It wasn’t all that long ago that Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world; being the notorious hideout of Pablo Escobar (an infamous Colombian drug lord and cocaine trafficker) it’s hardly any wonder why. But again Colombia surprised us, and it was nothing like we read about. People were kind, funny, warm and hospitable. Unfortunately we were suffering with some very serious food poisoning so we didn’t have much energy to visit all the attractions there.
I was genuinely sad to leave Colombia, but I know we will be back. We’ve visited a few countries in our life times, and Colombia is right up there at number one! It was totally unexpected and emotionally captivating, kind of like a holiday romance.
Words & Photos by Dominika