Colombia is a beautiful country filled with friendly people, stunning landscapes, and a rich culture. Unfortunately though, it is also a bit misunderstood. Its reputation from the violence in the 1990’s does not seem to have left it just yet. When I decided to go to Colombia, the main reactions I got from people initially included things like “OMG! Why?” “Is it even safe?” “You are going to get shot!” “What will you even do there?!”- while all said with the best of intentions, the drug cartel war-ridden Colombia of old has said goodbye- leaving us with the beautiful Colombia of now.
Here is my list of 5 incredible experiences in this amazing country!:
1.) Coffee Plantations and Natural Landscapes of Minca
Seeing a real working coffee plantation in the mountains of the Minca region is an essential part of any visit to Colombia. We arrived to the city of Santa Marta via a shuttle bus from our hostel in Cartagena, and arranged for a day trip into the mountains from local tour operator Fidel Travels. The narrow, bumpy, roads were a bit treacherous- but the views and experience were incredible. We made it up to Finca La Victoria, where we had a guided tour of the plantation, and of course some samples! The natural beauty of this region is so lovely that UNESCO even listed it as a World Heritage Site!
2.) Parque Tayrona in the jungles near Santa Marta
Staying at La Brisa Loca Hostel in Santa Marta as a starting point, we took a local bus early in the morning to the nearby Tayrona National Park. The park begins with a network of muddy, narrow trails that ultimately lead you to pristine beaches. As many visitors do, we chose to bypass the mud, and rented horses for the day. We rode horse-back through the jungle for almost 2 hours, before arriving to “La Piscina” and “Cabo San Juan”, two great spots for swimming and relaxing. These are truly exotic, isolated, and “wild” feeling beaches. They’re surrounded by the sounds of the jungle, and spending a day here was perfect. My one regret is not renting a hammock to spend the night on the island hut!
3.) Cerro Montserrate overlooking Bogotá
It seems that most great Latin American destinations have plenty of overlooks, or Cerros, for visitors to enjoy sweeping city views- and this one does not disappoint. Spending time walking around the lively streets of Bogotá is great, but being able to head to the hills for some quiet viewing is nice too. You buy a ticket at the base to take a very steep funicular (teleférico) to the top of Montserrate, and can walk around the grounds while taking in spectacular views of the sprawling urban madness below.
4.) Chiva Bus Tour of Cartagena de Indias
This historical town on the coast of the Caribbean has an incredibly rich history, filled with stories of invasions, pirates, and romance from Love in the Time of Cholera! With the old fort (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas) as the centerpiece of the city, this lively colorful town has much to explore. Given the extremely hot, humid air of Cartagena, a great way to see the sites and beat the heat is to have a city tour via Chiva Bus (a rustic, artisan style bus). We hopped on one of these colorful vehicles, and rode around the old and new parts of the town. We spent time exploring the secret passageways and pirate traps of the old fortress, and made it up to Cerro de La Popa for a great city view. Driving past the pastel colonial era buildings with the wind in your face is a much better option than seeing the city on foot!
5.) Cable Car over Medellín
The city that saw the most murders and violence during the 90’s seems to have made quite a recovery- the city of Medellín today is a modern, well-organized, and safe destination. We took a walking tour with local guide Pablo, visited parks and museums (while admiring the artwork of Botero), and gave the innovative metro-cable a try. The cable car was originally built to give people living in the higher parts of the city a way to come down into town for work, a great idea to aid with poverty and unemployment issues. Riding the cable car from bottom to top takes a little over an hour, and provides stunning views of the massive city below. It’s like an incredibly cheap city tour! When you arrive at the top, it just gets better- you end up at the entry to Parque Arvi, a natural cloud forest.
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