Now that’s it’s been nearly two weeks since I left Colombia, I put together a recap for myself and other travelers who may want to visit the locations I’ve mentioned. I’m in Peru, but I definitely left my heart in Colombia.
Days in Colombia: 28
Bogota– 5 nights
Sogamoso– 2 nights
San Gil– 3 nights
Medellin– 5 nights
Santa Marta- 2 nights
Palomino- 2 nights
Ciudad Perdida- 1 night
Cartagena- 7 nights
Favorite Hostel: The Dreamer, Palomino
Most Fun Hostel: The Pit Stop, Medellin
Worst Hostel: El Tamarindo, Medellin
Most overrated Hostel: El Viajero, Cartagena
Couchsurfing: 4 nights
Private rooms: 1
Stomach bugs: 1
Incidents of puking: 2 (neither alcohol related)
Bandaids used: 1
Best meal: El Bistro, Cartagena
Restaurant meals eaten alone: 3
Restaurant meals I wished I was alone: Too many to count
Flights missed: 1
Best moment: Landing on Ciudada Perdida in a helicopter
Times I walked alone at night: 4
Times afraid while walking alone at night: 1
Bogota vs. Medellin: Medellin
Best nightlife: Medellin
Best Beach: Playa Blanca near Cartagena- side note I didn’t make it to Tayrona 😦
Things I’ll miss about Colombia:
The most friendly people I’ve ever met
The lively atmosphere of plazas
Things I won’t:
Rice & beans with every meal
After spending two weeks in Panama in January, I was pleasantly surprised by the superior level of service with a few exceptions on the coast. People move slowly at times but very little tip is included and/or necessary so have patience.
Buses will take nearly anywhere you want to go, and all you have to do is show up at the bus station. If your Spanish is decent and you have a knack for bargaining give it your best shot at the ticket window, it worked for me about half of the time. Bus schedules aren’t meant to be taken seriously, but I noticed they usually left within 10-15 minutes of scheduled time. Note that I took ~13 long distance (at least 4+ hours) buses, so my sample size is relatively small.
Unless flying major worldwide alliance airline (Copa, Lan, Avianca) don’t expect much. I had three Avianca flights and all three were delayed an hour, but that was just coincidence I’m sure. Get to the airport early and expect lines to move painfully slow, and don’t expect pity if you’re close to missing your flight and need to check in ASAP.. ain’t happenin’!
When leaving Colombia don’t be surprised when the police go through your bags piece by piece, looking for drugs I’d assume– otherwise security is a joke. Another side note, don’t even think about trying to sneak in eyebrow scissors in your carry-on– if you saw my eyebrows now you’d understand.
Colombia is a hidden gem that exceeded my expectations is nearly every way. Unlike other Latin American cultures most of the facilities appeared tidy and most bathrooms had toilet paper and soap. I realize this is a strange thing to mention, but it’s a pet peeve of mine in Latin America.. especially when you’re in the only bathroom of a restaurant and there’s no soap. When do you think the cook washed his hands last?
Traveling in the country is relatively easy to figure out with the help of google and The Lonely Planet Colombia Guidebook (pay little attention to prices in the guidebook, even the 2013 edition is terribly off). The cost of traveling in Colombia wasn’t as cheap as I’d expected, and I believe I ended up spending ~$50 a day, excluding flights and shopping. If you plan to do any treks or adventure sports budget more.
Very few people outside of those working in hospitality industry in large cities spoke English, and many people seem embarrassed to speak it. If you’re from The US expect to be treated like a rock star in the interior of the country– many Colombians LOVE American culture, music, movies. It wasn’t unusual to see a man wearing a San Francisco Giants hat or a LA Lakers t-shirt, just because it’s “cool”. Just telling locals I lived in California evoked a starry-eyed grin.
People in the interior of the Country are some of the friendliest, most genuine people I’ve met. Because tourism still hasn’t infiltrated the interior like the coast, people seem genuinely happy to have visitors.
Of course these notes are based solely upon my month long experience in Colombia and my are observations and opinions, go to Colombia and see for yourself.