I would never be so crazy for going to Motherland of Pablo Escobar on my own, but one year ago in Barcelona, I met Colombians. They helped me to fall in love with their country despite all real or mythical dangers and to think of visiting Colombia – which I actually did. It wasn’t my regular trip, traveling to Colombia turned out the adventure, believe me, or not!
This summer I want to repeat that epic journey, but now I’m going to do it like all normal Americans: with planning a trip to Colombia. I’ll tell you my story, and give you some tips for traveling to Colombia, of course, if you don’t want to be captured by guerrillas. It’s not a joke, besides, it’s my own experience.
Capital’s Streets: How to Enjoy Bogota and Stay Safe
Bogota knocks you down in all senses. The city is located at the height of 2600 metres above sea level, so in the first evening, almost every traveler spends getting over the mountain sickness. The capital of Colombia is huge and very interesting with its architecture.
The Colombian population is more than 7,5 millions people, but to see the building higher than 3 floors is kind of exotic things. It’s hard to miss the division between poor and rich people: middle class lives in well-conditioned quarters hiding behind four-meter barbed-wire fences. They hide from real things – homeless people and beggars removed from urban centers.
Bogota has a museum of “the most Colombian among all the Colombian artists” – museum of Fernando Botero. It’s one of places you need to know before you visit Colombia. Actually, there is not big amount of travelers walking along the Colombian streets, but situation is going to change.
Every year the flow of tourists, willing to acquaint with Colombian life, increases, though pretty slowly. Now more often you can meet foreigners if they are already familiar with Latin America (like me) and want to open up new countries.
All the Colombian guests should follow a few rules for their safety:
- The first rule of streets – don’t show you are rich.
- Hide your technique, or you’ll be robbed.
- Friendly strangers even advise to get rid of the cheapest gadgets (earphones, mobile phones with buttons, charger)
Bogota has its own understanding of wealth and poverty, it’s different from our American mentality. I asked Antonio and Sara, my friends which permissed me to live at their place, is Colombia safe? They laughed and repeated me the same things every day.
You should remember one important rule before traveling to Colombia: the Colombian streets are safe for tourists in the daytime ONLY! There are places in Bogota where even local people would never go. Private cars service is forbidden, you can see this warning in any cafe. But if you know Spanish, you’ll meet much more friends in Colombia who are ready to help you with the mysterious bus schedule.
Read also: Bora Bora Travel Tips by Experienced Blogger
The Colombian Transport
Mountainous terrain, forests, swamps and also big distances create difficulties in the Colombian transport system development. This fact led to active development of air transport in country – the first airlines appeared in Colombia in 1919. Nowadays country counts almost 700 airports, the biggest ones are situated in Bogota, Cali, Medellin, and Barranquilla.
The largest seaports in Colombia are: Barranquilla, Buenaventura, and Cartagena.
The Colombian railway network runs about 4000 kilometres. Atlantic highway connects Santa Marta port on the South of the country with its central regions.
There are buses and minibuses in Colombia which can bring tourists during their trip to all the points of Colombia. Bogota and Medellin are provided with subway and trams. In big cities it’s easier to use taxi, and the safe option for tourists is a licensed taxi. Payment is accounted by counter.
Gorgeous Places you MUST See in Colombia
- Ciudad Perdida – the lost city in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. It is possible to reach only by walk, and travel demands good physical state for the reason of the elevation range. The city was founded in 800, it’s 650 years earlier than popular Machu Picchu.
In 1972 antique cemetery robbers opened the lost city and flooded black market with Indian treasures. In the footsteps of these treasures, authorities managed to find the remains of the lost city. This place is better to visit with a professional guide.
- I want to give you some Cartagena Colombia travel tips because this place is one of the most wonderful in country. Cartagena is a unique city which will be interesting for any traveler. Those who love walk tours and excursions in trip will get excited about diversity of historical and cultural monuments, and fans of shopping can count on great choice of huge noisy and colorful markets. City has perfect conditions for beach rest, so divers will fully appreciate the coast. Submarine world has glory not only about its beauty but also about historical sights: the sunken merchants of British corsairs – I guess it’s one of things from each American’s wish-list. Besides there are many 5-stars hotels, shopping and entertainment centres, and other things for fun visiting Cartagena.
- Planning your trip to Colombia don’t forget visiting Medellin – the second largest city in country. Many quarters in Medellin are uncommon for American tourists, these places are different at all. I would advise you to visit Plaza Botero square and Plaza de Toros La Macarena, also Medellin has very beautiful churches: Basilica of Candelaria and Catedral Metropolitana. But still, the most popular place in Medellin is Botanical garden. One of the best stands of garden is fully dedicated to orchids, there are 10 kinds of these wonderful flowers.
- MUSTSEE! Colombia is a Coffee region or Coffee Triangle. Colombian coffee is popular because of its high quality and soft balanced taste: with distinct sour, fruity, citrus and chocolate flavours. Columbia is the third country in the world which has a glory of perfect coffee production. Three main kinds of coffee are called like the cities where coffee was made: Medellin Supremo, Armenia and Manizales. Three countries make something like a triangle, and it’s the most popular excursion in Columbia – to coffee plantations!
The Best Time to Visit Columbia
People in Colombia are very positive and don’t feel any moping even while rainy season. Besides, there is no clear season separation in Colombia, I didn’t know it planning this trip last year. It’s one of the important things you have to know before you visit Colombia. Winter is a rainy season in APRIL, MAY, OCTOBER, and NOVEMBER! Not common for Americans, right?
But even these months rainfall is not constant, usually, real raining happens once per day. Summer in Colombia implies dry period from December till March and from July till August. So now you know when is the hot and humid weather in Colombia.
The Colombian Mentality and Language
The Colombian humor is amazing and different from the citizens of the USA. People here are very open-hearted and fun if you won a way to their heart. The best way is respect to their language – it’s Spanish, so not that difficult to learn some phrases before planning a trip to Colombia. Colombians never pass up a chance to make fun of fisher who hopes to catch fish even in rainy weather. “Este hombre va a pescar un resfriado” – “He will catch nothing but cold here”.
Mountain farms are located in many kilometres from each other, but in general neighbours are relatives who help each other, spend time and grow up children together. Antonio and Sara suggested me to go to the top of one hill, and I agreed, but when I was going to come closer for taking photo, they shouted: “No! This place can be rigged!” Silent and safe country Colombia.
Cuisine Particular Qualities
As you know, I had luck to spend my trip living in the house of Colombians’ couple, it gave me full understanding of this country’s culture and sure – cuisine.
Colombians usually take rest with families. They watch TV, have diner, sometimes cut the mangos. The same as Americans peel potatoes in evenings, nothing special. Families meet in one room, each one is given a knife and pot, and they get juice from peeled fruits.
In other things Colombia is country of amazing people with bad food habits. They LOVE fried food, they fry EVERYTHING: tacos, greasy pork, fish, “vegetable” plantain bananas. If avoid expensive restaurants in Bogota with European choice, it’s impossible to find the place in Colombia where you could enjoy salad. Exception is sweetish vegetable “chontaduro” which looks like a potato. It’s must be eaten with honey and salt. So one of my Colombia travel tips: don’t save money on food.
This summer I want to repeat this trip, I gave you some Cartagena Colombia travel tips, so actually Cartagena is my choice: there are wonderful hotels with ancient architecture, perfect beaches, and well-developed tourist infrastructure.
You can ask me: why do I want to come back there, being scared by robbers, heat and thin air? Not only for Amazon Jungle, amazing music, Caribbean coastline, colonial architecture and unbelievably delicious coffee.
The most important advantage of Colombia is new routes with great beauty of places and nature, and also – friendly people who saved eternal optimism to life even when it’s really difficult!
I hope my Colombia travel tips were useful for you! Feel the spirit of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Motherland and just for week let yourself to forget about diets!
If you want to visit Europe, read my guide “The Best Party Cities in Europe“!