Colombia Travel Guide
Commonly considered by many to be a horribly dangerous country, Colombia appears to be anything but when travelers actually take the plunge and visit this unspeakably beautiful place.
The very real risks that were a reality a couple decades ago due to the civil insurrection and drug war that was ongoing during that time has largely been swept to the wayside, making the vast majority of this nation safe for adventure travel.
From the dreamy beach destinations of the Caribbean coast, to the delightfully cool cities of the Colombian Altiplano, your fears about this nation will quickly subside, and will be replaced by thoughts of the destinations that you did not have time to visit, but you will get to on your second trip to this amazing nation in South America.
Currency: Colombian Pesos
What To Do
A common way to travel Colombia is to enter from the north by flying into the city of Cartagena. An important port city situated along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the Spanish used this heavily fortified settlement to ship “found” or mined gold across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.
One of their most fearsome fortresses in the area was none other than Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, which offered dominating views of both land and sea approaches to Cartagena. Its vexing design made it nearly impossible to defeat individual batteries without destroying the entire defensive structure all at once, making its construction a wonder in terms of global military history.
This rendered the city strong and well-protected for almost two hundred years after its construction, until it was finally defeated by French privateer Baron de Pointis in 1697. Today, this impressive castle offers stunning views of both the colonial center of Cartagena, and the modern skyscrapers that dot its waterfront, making it worth the somewhat pricey admission fee.
After exploring Cartagena for several days, make your way eastward along Colombia’s Caribbean coast to the beach side city of Santa Marta. After enjoying its delights, you can enjoy wilder and more beautiful beaches within the boundaries of Tayrona National Natural Park, which is located within a short bus ride to the east.
While the waters off these beaches are reputed to have a nasty undertow, those that take good care of themselves will enjoy this place both for its beauty and its recreational opportunities.
Those looking for a little Caribbean flavor in their Colombian holidays will want to hop a plane to the islands of San Andrés and Providencia, which are located a couple hundred kilometers off the coast of Nicaragua.
San Andres is the island you’ll want to go to if you seek all the amenities that tourists desire during a beach holiday, while those that desire a more authentic Caribbean holidays will want to head to Providencia.
Regardless of your choice, you will find plenty of crystal clear light aquamarine water and droopy palms that one typically envisions when they think of the Caribbean.
Soon enough, you’ll make your way to Bogota, Colombia’s capital and largest city. Located at 8,500 feet above sea level, it is significantly colder than the Caribbean coast, so prepare for this eventuality by putting on a sweater or light jacket before you get on the airplane to go to this Andean city.
While there are many creature comforts here that one would expect in a city that is among the largest in South America, one tourist attraction that you should check out before leaving for other destinations in Colombia is Museo del Oro.
Its exhibits and vaults contain the world’s largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts, the most spectacular of which is the Muisca raft. This intricate gold piece refers to the legend of El Dorado, which was a legendary city, country, or empire that was renowned for its vast quantities of wealth, mostly in gold (hence the name).
While extensive explorations throughout the 18th and 19th century led to it being considered a myth, the idea of this place still persists in the daydreams of many explorers even to this day.
Next, head southwest to the city of Medellin. If the thought of doing this gives you pause, don’t worry: while Medellin was once the most dangerous city in the world, the days when Pablo Escobar and his henchmen once terrorized the streets of this city are long gone, leaving behind a place that is considered to be one of the most livable cities in South America.
While there are still neighborhoods where you should not wander without local accompaniment, they are usually places that you would normally not go to as a tourist anyways.
Noted for its modern infrastructure, spectacular museums, and outstanding Paisa cuisine, it is the kind of place that you may budget a few days for in your Colombian adventure, yet you may find yourself staying a week or longer instead.
When the time comes to get up out of the city and back into the countryside, head to Salento. A town in the heart of Colombian coffee country, not only is it famous for some of the strongest and most flavorful java produced in the world, but it is also close by to some of the tallest palm trees on the planet.
The park where they are located is a relatively short taxi ride away from the town center, and once there, you will be astounded by the imposing stature of these wax palm trees. Some of the tallest exceed 200 feet in height; some of the best places to shoot these wonders of nature are available from their base, and from a hilltop above the most populated grove, which will give you shots that will undoubtedly amaze your friends back home.
If you are taking the land route out of Colombia towards Ecuador, do not head to the border without taking the opportunity to check out Sanctuario de las Lajas. While the town of Ipiales is nothing to write home about, the religious sanctuary located just outside town most certainly is, as it is suspended above a valley at roughly 9,000 feet above sea level.
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the church by itself is spectacular, but taken together with its natural surroundings, numerous prayer plaques, and an assortment of shrines and statues, this side trip well worth the time that you invest in it.
What To Eat
When the time comes to search for a snack in Colombia, the one thing that you should definitely seek out in your first days in the country should be the Arepa.
A pocket of cornbread that is typically stuffed with cheese, but have other fillings that include egg and various meats, it is one of the most common snacks and breakfast items that can be found on the street corners and in convenience stores in Colombia.
If you feel like having soup at lunch during one of your days in Colombia, treat yourself to some Ajiaco. Originating from the capital of Bogota, this hearty bowl of goodness will warm you up on a cool rainy day in this mountainous city.
Containing three types of potato, meat (chicken, beef, or pork are all common) and a variety of vegetables, it will fill you up and prepare you for the rest of your day of sightseeing.
Finally, be sure to have some Bandeja Paisa as your main course at dinner at least once before leaving the country. Considered to be Colombia’s national dish, this well-balanced plate contains copious amounts of beans, meat such as pork belly and ground beef, plantains, sliced avocado, rice, black pudding, and even arepas on the side. Loosen your belt before having this meal: you have been warned.