While researching before I left and also while on the on the road, literally dozens of people speak at length of their love for Colombia.
No longer the narcotic homeland, the gateway to South America is a backpackers dream; wide, diverse locations, mountains, jungle, beaches, busy cities, charming towns, friendly people, cheap food.
My time in Colombia was spread between two very different cities, Cartagena and Medellin, and some small/medium towns that were amazing.
1. Colourful Cartagena
I made it! I’ve landed in South America *tick*.
That was what I thought when departing my plane in Cartagena, a charming city on the north coast of Colombia.
This city was my first experience of the country and although I was ill for some time, I still had blast.
Bumping into Ashley and Jo again, we went on a long tour of the old city that we were staying in.
This part of town is all brightly painted buildings with balconies and small parks. Definitely not what the folks at home thought where I was!
I really experienced the friendliness of the Colombians here. Being directed on the street with smiles, being checked up on by my hostel staff when I had a fever.
This city was so different from anything I’d experienced in Central, it had such a vibe. Even at night, where I got the ceviche pictured for tuppance.
2. aMazing Medellín
After recovering from my bout of sickness, I caught a flight and headed to the bustling city of Medellín.
Although this city is mostly famous for its connection to Pablo Escobar (see below), it has been through a HUGE redevelopment, modernisation and has so much on offer, it’s a little overwhelming!
The famous Real City Tour was amazing, educating us on the redevelopment the city has been though and their pride about flipping ideas on their head.
The Park of Lights for example (the forest of man-made poles) now a illuminate public park in the city was, only a few years ago, home to many homeless people and drug addicts. So, the mayor funded lots of local (the next block over) (free) homeless shelters and (free) rehab facilities and literally bought light into the area.
The Comuna 13 tour showed us this huge neighbourhood built and constantly growing on the side of one of Medellín’s many hills, home to lots of meaningful and beautiful street art. Although, twenty years ago it was home to some of the worst shoot-outs of the country.
Here, I met a great girl called Marta and together we went up on one of the cable cars (built to help those in the barrios get into town faster) up to one of the parks. We didn’t even need to get out of the car as the journey had us soar above the Jurassic Park like park! (We did stop off for chicken though, with free plastic gloves so you don’t get your hands messy!).
Medellín is also home to lots of bars and clubs. The only night I had out saw us visit a bar with a ball pit. Need I say more?
3. He Who Shall Not Be Named
Although Pablo Escobar is so tightly tied to Medellín, you don’t mention him in public.
The opinion of the Piasa people is not to remember the havoc and mess that he made.
This could be related to their amazing ideology, of only remembering the good – no matter how small – and bringing this into the forefront of your memory.
Personally, I wanted to come and learn about the proper story and hear from some people who were there. Since all I know is Narcos, which I know, is a terrible source.
Even mentioning Pablo on the street wasn’t done. My tour guides would say “the criminal guy” or “the drug guy”.
Although one of my tour guides told me not to go on a tour about him – because some people make him out to be a hero / shouldn’t be making money off of his war – I did go on one.
This tour was organised through my hostel and saw us driven to some important landmarks of his rise and fall.
It was neutral and not biased, and I learnt a lot. Our driver was even one of Pablo’s bodyguards for the plantations, so hearing his side about how he was happy and sad when the guy died, but would have given his life for him, was very interesting.
4. Signing in Salento
Following Medellín, I headed to coffee country!
A lovely little town called Salento was where I rested my head for a few nights (on a double bed bunk bed, Lili’s, check it out).
Here, I went on a coffee plantation tour, learnt about the bean and followed a similar process to that in Nicaragua with the cacao bean.
We made coffee and while drinking it at the end of our tour, I met a young American guy called Asher!
Asher became my travelling companion for a while and taught me quite a bit, mostly American Sign Language!
Asher is my American friend who happens to be deaf and for some reason, I picked up ASL faster than expected!
I learnt some signs while we ventured around the Cocora Valley, home to many bridges, hummingbirds and HUGE PALM TREES.
These things were gigantic! Seriously. Can you spot me in the photos?
Also in Salento I had these dish called patacones, which is like plantain nachos! Delicious.
5. The Colourful Guatapé
A day trip out from Medellín took me to Guatapé. A town with a giant rock you climb up (pictured) for amazing views (also pictured).
This town also has lots of cool paintings/murals on each house.
Nothing more to say other than it’s super nice and I got to meet Laura again!
6. The Lows of Ipiales
Ipiales was my final Colombian town, situated a short distance from the Ecuadorian border.
Although the town is underwhelming, outside of the town is the Sanctuary of Lajas – built into the middle of a valley and something I was looking forward to seeing for a while!
This was definitely the highlight of my short stay in Ipiales, as my hostel felt more like a motel and the next day I had to wait 7 hours at the border. But more of that to come in the next blog!
Total Spent: £452.30
Total Nights: 13
Cost per Night: £34.76
Notes: Two flights included definitely brought this up.