45 days in Colombia - Our Experience

Old Oct 25th, 2013, 01:11 AM
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45 days in Colombia - Our Experience

During our Round The World, we travelled to Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile & Uruguay but bypassed Colombia, since we were not sure about safety travelling overland. We deeply regretted it, when we listened to the first enthusiastic reports from travelers arriving from there. So we used the next possible opportunity to make up for that mistake and traveled Colombia intensively for 45 days in July and August 2009.
Our main destinations were: Pereira & Salento - Popayan, Tierradentro & San Agustin - Neiva & the Desierto de Tatacoa - Bogota - Villa de Leyva, San Gil, Barichara & Bucaramanga - Medellin - La Guajira - Santa Marta, Taganga & the Parque Nacional Tayrona - Cartagena. Unfortunately we had no time to go to the Pacific Coast and missed out on scuba diving with baby whales. The Amazon we never intended to go to, since we spent quite some time in Bolivia in the Amazon basin.
Let’s start with the big concern many people have. YES, travelling in Colombia is safe, very safe! Actually, Colombia is one of the safest in South America, as far as we can tell. It is light years from its disreputable image of a country of drugs and guns.
Colombia is also a country that is extremely diverse. There is not “the one big highlight” like Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal, but a vast number of places offer impressive, very different experiences.
More information: http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-...ombia-summary/

Those impressions will always stay in our mind when thinking of Colombia:
* Very gentle & helpful people, trying hard to welcome visitors as best as they can, proud that actually visitors from other countries / other continents come to their country / their city. This is unfortunately far less true for the Caribbean Coast, which seem to be both another country and another culture
* Great pride to be Colombian and the wish to show the good sides of the country to visitors
* A very clean and well organized country, where things run astonishingly well
* A country made of small highlights that add up to an impressive experience, so you keep on moving around
* Chivas in the south, which are never full and stop every ten meters to allow passengers to get on or off
* “A la orden”, a phrase which can be heard all day, meant to encourage you to buy something or to offer a service without being pushy
* Vallenato music non stop
* An impressive military presence - but very professional & helpful soldiers / police officers, even ready to exchange a joke with the few foreigners they encounter
* A fair share of party hostels - especially in Bogota, Medellin and on the Caribbean Coast
* And last but not least … Lots of possibilities to develop the touristic infrastructures: except in major cities, there is lack of restaurants that offer anything else than the usual “Pollo con arroz” grub. A few times we could not find enough people to rent a jeep and share the costs, for example in Villa de Leyva. In Riohacha, preparing a tour to La Guajira, we only found one person (!) to join us to go to Punta Gallinas, which made it an expensive tour.

The highlights of these almost seven weeks in Colombia were:
* The people, very gentle & helpful
* The province of Santander, with two remarkable colonial cities, Villa de Leyva (ok, it is almost Santander) & Barichara, and San Gil, the place for great outdoor activities like paragliding, white water rafting or anything of the kind at a very reasonable price
* The Zona Cafetera, Salento and the Valle de Cocora
* The archaeological sites of Tierradentro & San Agustin
* The 3 Colombian deserts: Desierto de Tatacoa, Canyon de Chicamocha & La Guajira, where it feels like arriving at the end of the world
* Medellin, a nice city so easy to discover with its metro & cable cars with the biggest, most vivid, most incredible “Zona Rosa” we have ever seen

A few things we did not like:
* Very basic or pricey hostels. Some of the owners created a great atmosphere, only a few times were we truly content. Either we lacked comfort, or we paid more and were without a backpacker infrastructure and information
* Food gets a bit monotonous if you stick to a cheap fare. Breakfast with the inevitable eggs and sweetish bread & lunch over Comida Corrientes with “Pollo con arroz y frijoles”
* Noisy Taganga with a beach full of rubble
* Many aspects of the Caribbean Coast: extreme noise, with people playing music at full blast every weekend and holiday; lots of plastic garbage everywhere and actually few nice beaches, either on islands or in national parks

A few things we did not do due to lack of time or because it was not a priority:
* Ciudad Perdida: although everybody we talked to loved it, we did not fancy trekking in this heat, we felt we had done our share in Chile, Peru and Venezuela in 2007.
* Scuba diving with whales on the Pacific Coast we would have loved to do, but extra costs and lack of time were the reasons for not going there

Of course, few things we should have done differently:
* Visit Medellin during the Fiesta de las Flores only with a reservation for a liveable accommodation
* Spend less time on the Caribbean Coast, more time in Santander and the south
* Travel at a lower pace: travelling in Colombia is challenging and tiring, with huge travel times especially in the south

Conclusion?
Colombia is a great destination to travel, with an immense diversity to discover and enjoy, the kindest people you can imagine, picturesque colonial cities, magnificent scenery, some of the oldest archaeological sites of the Americas and if this is what you are looking for, great places to party.
“El riesgo es que te quieras quedar”. The risk is you may want to stay, as the Colombian Tourist Board’s clever slogan claims!
OneYearOff is offline  
Old Oct 26th, 2013, 09:20 AM
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Enjoyed reading your impressions of Colombia. They're similar to the those we had when we returned from a 2 month trip there a couple years ago. Indeed it's a beautiful country with super nice people. We'll have to go back and see some of the places of your itin that we missed - the 3 deserts and the archeological sites. We loved both Medellin and Salento. Salento and Valle de Cocora may have been my favorites. Barichara is just lovely also. Too many in VdeL when we were there during Jan. holidays!

More folks should put Colombia on their list. It's not be missed.
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Old Oct 26th, 2013, 02:02 PM
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We spent just over 2 weeks in Colombia a couple of years ago (and we ran into Glover!). We didn't see nearly as much as you both did obviously, but we really enjoyed our time there. I would definitely go back and explore more.
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Old Nov 14th, 2013, 08:13 AM
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I didn't see Cali in that list? A lot of people tend to avoid Cali when they come to Colombia because of the government website warnings. I have been here 6 months so far and love this city... Not as much as Medellin lol, but Cali is still great!
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Old Nov 14th, 2013, 10:26 AM
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Indeed, we just drove through...
I know it sounds crazy, but we simply did not have enough time...

Cheers
Gilles
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Old Jun 13th, 2016, 09:12 AM
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All those of you who have been to Medellin -- what were the safety concerns -- I am a large white women -- my husband and his family are Colombian but I fear I may draw attention and be a "mark" for crime -- any thoughts??

We are going to Armenia area first....and were thinking possibly doing some time in Medellin.

Thanks in advance for the help.
Christine
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Old Jun 13th, 2016, 10:01 AM
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Hi Christine,
I know it was a few years back, but Medellin is quite a safe city.
Or course, basics apply, but I wouldn't be overly concerned...
Cheers, Gilles
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 08:43 PM
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We are heading to Medellin via Armenia next week. I will let you know how it goes..

So far we have come up from the Ecuadorian border via Pasto, Popoyan and San Augustin and not felt any less safe than anywhere else in South America. However, there does seem to be more begging going on than anywhere else.

There is also a heavy police and army presence everywhere but I think that it due to a national strike and protests by farmers, truck drivers and anyone else who has a gripe against the government!

My main concern so far, has been the driving. Colombians are the worst drivers of anywhere we have been, including our time living in West Africa, which until now, I thought had the worst drivers in the world!
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 08:53 PM
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Blog post time crellston!
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Old Dec 12th, 2016, 08:46 AM
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We are just finishing 7 weeks in Colombia, 3 with Amakuna Travel and a month in Medellin renting in Provenza, Poblado. See saltandpeppertravel.com for reflections.

Some observations: open, friendly locals, great guides and good attitude, little English, gorgeous flowers, windy roads and longer than desirable travel, too much traffic and construction in Medellin, lovely mountains and seashore but too rough to swim near Tayrona, poor airport in Santa Marta but good in Nieva,the loud music is tiresome, the pizza good, the taxis cheap, the museums very well done.

Use the bike and walk pedestrian lanes on Sundays in both Bogota and Medellin.
Avoid the Bethel Bio lodge in Tatacoa Desert. Enjoy the Rosales Plaza in Bogota. Our favorite hotel was Hacienda Buenavista, $$$$.

We met very few ex-pats or retired English speakers so Spanish is helpful for sure.
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