As safety has increased there over the past 20 years, Colombia has become a popular tourist destination. With its gorgeous beaches, vast mountains, friendly locals, rich culture, cheap prices, and delicious cuisine, who wouldn’t want to visit!? In this article, I’ll share with you what I learned from my trip there. As I like to mention in each of my posts, by no means did I cover the whole country, but I definitely feel like I hit the main spots. Here we go!
Tip #1: Avoid the jungle and most rural areas
Although drug trafficking has decreased significantly in recent years, there are definitely still dangerous areas where drug traffickers pose a threat. If you rent a car, do not drive through the jungle. If you’re out hiking in the jungle, make sure you have a proper guide. Just stick to the typical tourist areas and you’ll be completely fine!
Tip #2: Learn some Spanish (or have a really good translator app)
Not a lot of Colombians speak English. Out of all the countries I’ve been to, it was one of the most difficult places to find English speakers. Not that you should ever expect people to speak English in a non-English speaking country, but in most countries you can get around pretty decently with only speaking English. That is not the case in Colombia, at least it wasn’t in my experience there. Luckily I was traveling with my friend of Mexican heritage who speaks fluent Spanish, but if I had not been with her I probably would have felt a bit lost and helpless at times. I was definitely grateful more than once to have her. However, in some ways I think it would have been better if I hadn’t been traveling with a Spanish speaker because it would have forced me to try harder to communicate and form connections with the locals.
Tip #3: Be careful of street food and only drink bottled water
Don’t get me wrong, the street food is delicious in South America, but you should be cautious about it. I personally chose not to eat any meat being sold on the street (this was before I became an actual vegetarian), especially poultry, as you never know how well it has been cooked. Also, as is the case for most countries in South America, do not drink the tap water. Bottled water is cheap and readily available, so don’t risk wasting days of your trip feeling sick on the toilet!
Now, for the fun part!
Recommended Destinations and Activities
-Take a day trip to one of the many islands. There are many tour options. My friend Julia and I paid a little extra to spend the day on a private island called Isla Del El Rosario, where we had our own cabana to relax, along with a gorgeous ocean view. It was a pretty unbelievable way to spend a Monday 😉
Chilling on my private island 😉
-Have a bath in the mud volcanoes. As you descend into this 10,500-foot natural mud volcano, your back and legs will be massaged and you will have the option to cover yourself fully with mud (it’s great for your skin!). Afterward you will get cleaned off in a nearby lake with the help of some local women. Be sure to bring change with you to tip your helpers.
So incredibly relaxed in my mud bath!
-Ride on the tourist bus and get off at different sights. The Hop-On-Hop-Off bus hits the top tourist spots in Cartagena. I definitely recommend it, at least to visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (famous castle).
-Visit Choco Museo and try some delicious chocolates. They also have a lot of different unique gifts with chocolate, so it’s a fun place to buy something for a friend or loved one back home to make them laugh!
-Take a day trip to explore the beautiful town of Guatapé and hike to the top of El Peñol (the Rock of Guatapé). Guatapé is a town full of vibrant colors and unique shopping and El Peñol (accent) is a famous structure that rewards you with gorgeous views after a steep but brief climb up the stairs. The Andes Mountains are so beautiful!!
Us ladies in colorful Guatapé
The view from the top of El Peñol! It was my birthday, hence the crown 🙂
-Go paragliding!! With its expansive views of the Andes Mountains and often windy weather, Medellín is the perfect paragliding destination. If you enjoy adrenaline activities and the outdoors, I highly recommend this! You can find many companies offering paragliding there.
-Go on a Pablo Escobar tour. Medellín has a dark history as it is the hometown of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. Be careful not to say his name in the streets of Colombia, though; the locals, rightly so, become very upset when they hear his name, especially if it’s amidst a conversation in English (because they won’t understand the context – as I said, most people do not speak English there). Most of the tours I went on referred to him as something like “the man Colombia is famous for” (although I’m not quite sure that’s much better). My friend and I went on a day tour of Escobar’s home, prison, and grave and it was honestly one of the highlights of my trip. Our driver used to be one of Escobar’s drivers and told us some pretty crazy stories. It was a really interesting day and I found it extremely fascinating, albeit sad. Although it’s a disturbing, horrific part of history, I believe it’s important to learn about the history of a place wherever you go in the world, whether it’s good or bad history.
Me with one of Pablo Escobar’s drivers – this guy was definitely a character!
-Go on a free city tour. We learned a lot by going on a 4-hour walking tour around the city. It’s completely free; you just have to tip the guide whatever you feel is deserved. These kinds of tours are common around the world and are a great way to learn a lot about a culture and the history of a place without breaking the bank. We went with Real City Tours and they were great, but there are many other options there.
Group pic from our walking tour
-Visit Museo El Castillo. If you like castles, go check out this cute one near Medellín. Be forewarned though, if you don’t speak Spanish or at least have a basic comprehension of the language, you may not enjoy a visit there. The tours are in Spanish only, and the tour is the whole point of the visit. My friend tried to translate for me during the tour but it became a bit too complicated and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get most of the information.
Julia and me feeling like princesses at the castle
-Visit Communa 13. I highly recommend walking around funky, colorful Communa 13. This is a neighborhood in Medellín that features lots of graffiti and beautiful artistic expression. Even if you’re not super into art, it’s worth a visit. So much character!
Artist doing some graffiti in Communa 13
-Ride the famous cable car. This is just your basic cable car, but it gives you lovely panoramic views of the city. If you go paragliding, I’d say skip the cable car – you’ll get even better views from the sky.
Cable car ride
-Take a dance class. In South America, there are many different types of dance to choose from. My friend and I went to a kizomba dance class and it was super fun learning a new way to move. There are lots of places that offer dance classes – salsa, etc. Definitely something I recommend for a fun night out!
-Attend a language exchange. Our dance class actually started out as a language exchange for the first hour and a half. It was a great way to meet people from all different backgrounds and to practice my second language (French 🙂 ).
-Ride the cable car (or hike) to the top of Cerro Monserrate. The panoramic view of the city is beautiful from the top of this popular mountain. The best view, of course, is when it’s sunny; however, it was cloudy when we went up there, and I actually thought the grey sky added a certain mystery and enchantment. The weather is extremely changeable in Bogotá and can change in a matter of minutes, so you never really know what you’re going to get. Be prepared for any kind of weather while sightseeing there, and definitely carry around an umbrella or poncho in case it starts beating down rain.
View from the top of Monserrate on a cloudy day
-Go on a walking tour. We also went on a free walking tour of Bogotá and learned a lot about the history of the city, so I recommend doing one here as well. It will hit all the main spots (Plaza Bolívar and more).
-Visit the Gold Museum. This is a famous museum full of incredible gold figures. It’s one of the most visited sights in Colombia and definitely a must if you’re passing through Bogotá!
Whether you’re looking for chill beaches, hiking in the mountains, an adrenaline rush, historical lessons, or simply to enjoy some tasty food, drinks, and cigars, Colombia’s got you covered. Don’t listen to the rumors that Colombia is dangerous or unfriendly. I felt very safe there and I’m really happy I got a first-hand glimpse of this welcoming, proud culture.
As always, leave any questions or suggestions you have in the comments and I will get back to you! Have you been to Colombia? Share your experience in the comments, or let me know anything I missed!
Happy Adventuring! 🙂