Without neither any major expectations nor detailed plans, we landed in Bogotá on November 3. We used the time on our 3 flights from Iceland to read in the Lonely Planet’s Top 10 attractions and make some plans of what we wanted to do. Originally, the motivation for coming to Colombia was that:

  1. It was at the top of the South American continent which was on our bucket list, and
  2. Neither one of us had been there before (contrary to the countries of Peru and further South which Anna travelled in 2011)

The search in the only 6 pages in the Lonely Planet World edition (first time we noticed that maybe it wasn’t that useful of a travel guide after all) gave the following results:

  • Bogotá and its museums
  • Cartagena with the colonial old town in the northern Caribbean coast
  • National Park Tayrona, as well on the Caribbean coast
  • Coffee fincas

Needless to say that plans changed quite a bit in the next days and weeks 🙂

Travel itinerary

The first stay at our Bogotá hostel was quite useful for our travel planning as there were a number of other travellers to talk to and Colombia dedicated travel guides. Meeting fellow Travellers at the hostel proved very useful in detailing our travel plans. We find that while we may not have all the local travel guide books, most other Travellers do and they’re willing to share their recommendations with us. So no need for us to get all the travel guides ourselves 🙂 As a result of the conversations, we added a trek to the Lost City/Ciudad Perdida to the itinerary and also the two colonial cities of Barichara and Mompós/Mompox. What we excluded from our plan in the end was the coffee fincas – this post is written as we are spending 3 days on such a farm in Ecuador 🙂

Overall, we spent ~3 weeks to discover Colombia from Bogotá further north both east and west until we reached the Caribbean Sea. Getting around is easy – as every guide book or website will tell you – but is it is also really slow in case of overland travel. As an example, the 240km from Bogotá to Barichara translate into >8 hours on the bus 🙂 We usually took buses to get from A to B and even had an okay night in a night bus. We thought it wasn’t worth it to spend a whole day (13h) travelling and could rather do it during the night. So this is what we did (detailed day recaps on FindPenguins can be found from here to here):

  • Bogotá: 3 days of getting acclimatized, learning about Colombian history, and visiting museums
  • Barichara: 2 days in the nice colonial town, not overly touristy and with a great AirBnB host Diana
  • Mompós/Mompox: 1 day to explore the Magdalena River front, watch iguanas and relax in the swampy heat
  • Cartagena: 2 days to visit the old town, explore the fortress, and NOT walk onto the city mountain with a monastery (on our way there, residents warned us of muggers so we decided to heed their advice and returned)
  • Santa Marta: 2 days in a much more quiet and authentic coastal city – it’s the connection to the Sierra Nevada tours
  • Ciudad Perdida: 4 days (short version – you can take up to 6 days in the jungle which you likely do not want :-)) hiking to the ruins of a large city in the midth of the rain forest, built by an indigenous population in the year 800 AD
  • Tayrona National Park: 3 days of relaxing on the beach, meeting new friends from the Ciudad Perdida trek, and enjoying the beautiful coast

Our highlights in Colombia

First, we were both really impressed by the hospitality of the Colombian people. Most of them turned out very helpful, and we first had to loose our “rip-off-instinct” to appreciate that and not think that everybody wanted to take advantage of us tourists. We also really appreciate that we spent quite some time with private people in their homes (via AirBnB) which gave us the opportunity to learn more about ordinary Colombians lives, get insider tips (such as an impromptu back-garden cinema evening) and, of course speak more Spanish 😉

We both loved Bogotá’s museums and especially learning more about Colombia’s quite difficult and violent past which made the Colombian citizens suffer much under narcoterrorism, political party conflicts, Guerilla wars, and paramilitary groups. The walking tour with “Heroes Tour” in Bogotá was definitely worth our time and money thanks to Alvaro’s great explanations. Apart from that, most towns still have some form of colonial past on display – we actually think that some less polished versions, like in Santa Marta, are more charming than the perfectly restored districts in Cartagena.

There were also nice discoveries on the food and drinks front – we both fell for lulo juice, its sweet and sour taste is the perfect refreshment in most of the country. But honestly, most fresh juices and lemonades are awesome this country 🙂 Apart from that we liked the corn meal patties called arepas and the plantain patties patacones. We also took advantage of tasting (good and bad ;-)) Colombian coffee whenever possible. Only thing we did not like too much: hormigas culonas (big-bottomed ants) 🙂

We also enjoyed that in most parts it felt safe enough to roam around just on our own. Most notably, the hike from Barichara to Guane was a nice self-organized adventure and the exploration of Santa Marta with our frequent colectivo mini bus rides, for example, to Simon Bolívar’s sugar cane estate. As London by as you use your basic safety instincts, you can get around very safely. As soon as it got dark we stuck to more lively and touristy places. It also felt like the bigger cities (Bogotá, Cartagena) are less safe than the smaller ones (Mompox, Barichara, Santa Marta) where we felt really safe enough to walk in most parts of the town.

Finally, as outdoor enthusiasts, we must say that the Colombian nature is really great for hiking, trekking or slacklining 🙂 it felt great to sleep outdoors in the tent or huts and escape the cities which all exhibit varying degrees of dirtiness.

Columbia was a great start for our travels in South America. We really look forward to visiting the other Latin American countries, but Colombia was already a great highlight on this trip. 🙂 Next up: Ecuador…