We are all aware that Colombia has a reputation of being a dangerous country. The country has been battered by drug cartels, guerrilla wars and public kidnappings i.e. Ingrid Betancur.
After spending traveling in Colombia for over a month, we now consider it one of our favorite Latin American countries. The country of Colombia has much to offer its foreign and national tourists.
Cartagena is a beautiful colonial city with many open plazas adorned with flowers, cafes, high-end hotels and beautiful surrounding beaches, making it an amazing vacation spot.
Just 4 hours northwest of Cartagena is Tayrona Park. This park is a gorgeous gem with pristine beaches and untouched forest that provides a great weekend getaway into a natural paradise. This can be considered one of the most beautiful natural beaches in South America.
The greatest trek in Colombia is a 5-day trek through the jungle to the “Lost City” or Ciudad Perdida. Just an hour outside of Cartagena, Colombia you can visit Volcano Totumo and experience a volcanic mud bath.
Bogotá was once only a transportation hub for Colombia, but now travelers are staying for a few days to explore what the city has to offer. Considered a world city and one of the most economically important cities in South America, Bogotá has turned it’s focus to tourism and is succeeding.
Medellín is an impressively developed city with great architecture, a modern rail metro system, brand name shopping, paragliding and an exciting night life. December is one of the best times to visit Medellin when they decorate both sides of Medellín River with thousand of colorful lights and designs for the holidays. You can spend two days visiting the many libraries and museums, which are architecturally stunning. We took our recommendations from Dave Lee’s Medellin Travel Guide.
Cali is the 3rd largest city in Colombia and home to some incredible restaurants and many nightclubs. You must go out and salsa dance in what many consider the salsa capital of Colombia.
Don’t miss the beautiful Coffee Region. The natural landscapes make you forget you’re in the scary Colombia you’ve heard and read about. Some of the best coffee in the world is grown in this region and the production occurs in Manizales.
Sit down at a Juan Valdez Cafe and you will think you are in a Starbucks. We visited Salento, home of the tallest palm trees in the world.
Traveling Colombia we were able to experience many wonderful places and there is so much more that we didn’t have a chance to see.
- Beaches of Tayrona National Park, Colombia
- Discover Cartagena, Colombia
- Mud Bath in Volcano Totumo, Colombia
- Discover Salento, Colombia
Despite all this, Colombia doesn’t come so easy. We had experiences in Colombia that we did not elsewhere. Here’s a list of what else to expect when traveling through this beautiful country.
1. Frequent security check points
When taking a bus from city to city you will arrive at various security check points where passengers must disembark the bus to be checked. Men and women get separated. Women get their bags searched and men get a full body frisk. At one particular security check point everyone in the bus had their face filmed. We were told that there have been cases where people ride the bus acting as passengers and then attempt to hijack the bus. Therefore, as a security measure, they video tape everyone on the bus, and in case something like this happens again they can identify the perpetrators.
2. Public demonstrations
Colombia is currently going through a transformation period. There seems to be various different laws being put in place and the local people are voicing their opinions regarding these changes. For a traveler, witnessing a demonstration can be intimidating. In our case, we witnessed two. In Medellin they were protesting the increased control of street vendors. In Cali protesters were against the consolidation of bus routes, which would eliminate private bus companies. Aracely and I curiously watched as tear gas and smoke bombs were used against the Colombia protesters and us. Click the link to watch the crazy video.
3. Colombia Cocaine
We were offered cocaine by random people on the street very often. We also experienced two of our dorm mates snorting cocaine in our hostel dorm room right in front of us. Every night in the hostels you could hear other travelers planning their cocaine purchases. A local explained to us that the authorities tend to look away when tourists are engaging in drugs or prostitution. Sadly, actions like this feed the Colombian stereotypes.
Lonely Planet listed Colombia as a top 10 destination for 2010. NY Times recently touted Colombia, as well as CNBC and National Geographic. Crime rates are being compared to large cities in America. It’s time we ventured out and explored the vastly unknown Colombia!