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Our 3 Week Colombian Odyssey: Highlights & Itinerary

Our 3 Week Colombian Odyssey: Highlights & Itinerary

Old Jul 3, 19, 6:09 am
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Join Date: Aug 2018
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Our 3 Week Colombian Odyssey: Highlights & Itinerary


So, we hear you’re looking for an adventure? Aah, then maybe soaring Andes summits, charming colonial towns, vibrant Caribbean coast life and long-lost archaeological ruins located smack in the middle of lush jungle could entice you? If this sounds about right, then by all means read on. Colombia has all that and more – and we’re sure you’ll LOVE it as much as we did!

But just who are we, you may ask? We’re Naick & Kim, a Belgian couple (of weirdo’s) who quit our jobs to devote all of 2019 to what we love doing most – travel. We just spent 4.5 incredible months in Latin America, exploring Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras & Colombia. And for me (Kim) Colombia may have been my personal favourite country of the trip…

Best of Colombia

- Medellín

Our first stop in Colombia was beautiful Medellín, in the Antioquia province of Colombia. Situated in a narrow valley amidst rolling hills, this place is one of the most vibrant and interesting places we’ve visited on our Latin America trip. You can grab some boluenos (a fried cheeseball snack that’s typical of the region) as you walk through the city’s many squares and parks, then take the world-famous cable car to the incredible viewpoint overlooking the city for a dramatic, colourful sunset.

Highlight: the undisputed highlight of our visit to Medellín was a graffiti walking tour of Comuna 13, previously known as Medellín’s most dangerous neighbourhood known for its horrible violence and skyhigh crime rate. The tour taught us a lot about the neighbourhood’s dark history and how the people, together with the government, eventually turned this around in Comuna 13.

What (NOT?) to do: What’s the first thing you think about when we say Colombia? Are you, like us, now humming the Narcos theme song in your mind? Indeed, Pablo Escobar has left his mark on this beautiful country and on Medellín, his home turf, in particular.

These days, there are still people who idolize him for being a hero who shared part of his wealth with the poor, and who rationalize that that’s more than the government ever did for them. But there are probably many, many more people in Medellín who despise the man for the violence he wielded and who wish he had never put Colombia on the map in such a terrible way.

If you head to Medellín, you’ll come across many Escobar-themed activities. Whether it’s a guided Narcos-themed walking tour of the city by some of the man’s relatives, or a paintball match in his former 10 million USD mansion, think carefully before you sign up for these things. A lot of Colombians take some insult in the fact that tourists so eagerly go for this stuff since they just want to get rid of Escobar’s legacy. You can, of course, still partake in these tours if you wish. But knowing that it’s sensitive with the locals, I guess there is a chance that – like us – you may not want to anymore (despite the undeniable upfront cool factor).

- Guatapé

Just a short 2-hour bus ride outside of Medellín is the beautiful small town of Guatapé. This place makes for one of the best day trips from Medellín! The main attraction here is the impressive Rock of Guatapé (El Peñón de Guatapé or Piedra Del Peñol in Spanish), a 200 meters high granitic rock which offers incredible views of the area's artificial lake. The rock is located just a short tuktuk ride from Guatapé's city center and climbing it is by far the most rewarding thing to do in the area!

Highlight: Aside from climbing the rock, the highlight of our visit to Guatapé was our hostel, Galeria Guatape Hostel. It sits on the edge of the artificial lake and has incredible views of the rock. The panoramic picture below was taken on the deck. At 10 EUR per person per night, including breakfast, doesn’t that sound like a very, very sweet deal?

- Cartagena

Cartagena is the most charming town we have ever seen: a maze of cobblestone streets, jampacked with colourful colonial buildings, and surrounded by a centuries old stone wall that overlooks the Carribean coast. What’s not to love?

Highlight: If you only have 1 day in Cartagena (make sure you have more though), then spend it strolling through the beautiful streets of the walled, Unesco Heritage old town, from one leafy plaza to the next, making your way on top of the city walls on the Caribbean coast side where you can watch the sun sink into the ocean while sipping aperitif in Cartagena’s most popular bar, Café Del Mar.

If you have more time (did we mention you need more time?), then explore the Castillo San Felipe fortress – and don’t forget to check out the remarkably cool tunnels. Cartagena is B-O-I-L-I-N-G hot most of the year (we’re talking standard 35° C in the daytime, sometimes more) and you’ll need a bit of cooling down every now and then. If you don’t like tunnels, then just spend another night at Café Del Mar. We’re not judging, promise (we went back too…).

- Santa Marta

After Cartagena, we made our way to Santa Marta. Admittedly, as far as we could see this town serves mostly as a jumping off point into the region. And so for us our time there was mostly spent preparing for our biggest adventure in Colombia, the Lost City trek.

Highlight: But Santa Marta does get an honorable mention here because of the great hostel we stayed in, Masaya Hostel. At only 11 EUR per person per night, the place has a rooftop bar and two pools – one on the rooftop and one in the ground floor courtyard. If you want to see how much we loved those, just look at this picture. That just about sums it up.

- Lost City Trek

Best experience in Colombia? Hiking 4 days through the jungle and mountains of the Sierra Nevada to find the legendary Lost City. It's a tough hike but the views are really, really worth it. It's actually generally regarded as one of the best hikes in all of South America!

There's nothing easy about this trek - the distance, the continuous ups and downs (and we’re not just talking about the terrain here!), the sweltering heat… But this was one of the coolest things we did in Colombia and even in our 4.5 month trip through Latin America.

We did the trek with Expotur and it cost us around 300 EUR per person for 4 days, including campsites, all meals, fruits and snacks several times per day. You can also do a 5- or 6- day version of the trek if you prefer – interestingly, this does not raise the price. The prices for the trek are set by the government and so there should not be much difference between the agencies.

Highlight: the Lost City itself was really cool, but even more than that we loved the experience of hiking through the jungle on steep mountain trails, with more epic views showing up behind every new corner we rounded. If you want to get a feel for the journey, then check out this video. Warning: there’s bad humour in there (let’s blame the heat!). But the river crossing alone makes the video worth watching!

- Tayrona

After our jungle adventure, we first spent a few days in what just HAS to be Colombia’s best hostel, Viajero Tayrona Hostel & Ecohabs just outside Tayrona National Park. Infinity pool on the beach – need we say more? It’s an all-in resort at hostel prices.

After that well-deserved dose of relaxation, we spent 2 days exploring Tayrona National Park. There’s a range of places to stay in the park, but we chose to make our way to the last point on the trail, Cabo San Juan De Guia. And we’re so happy we did!

Highlight: Camping in a tent on Cabo San Juan De Guia, on the best beach we’ve seen in Colombia and maybe even the Caribbean. The inlet we were in was beautiful, sheltered from the coast by the big boulder rocks that Tayrona is so famous for, surrounded by towering palm trees and white sand.

Introducing Colombia’s finest treasure…

South America has been on the backpacker trail for a while now – just think of countries like Peru, where there’s a well-worn Gringo trail and ample tourist infrastructure. But Colombia, largely due to its turbulent past, hasn’t seen that level of development yet. Travellers are just starting to trickle in here, and the best way that shows through is in the locals’ attitude towards them.

We have loved getting to know locals in all the countries we visited on this trip and they have always been kind, warm and welcoming. But Colombians took this to a new level. When we were doing free walking tours, it wasn’t odd at all for locals to walk by in curious regard of what these pale foreigners were doing, to stop and quietly listen to our guide’s explanations, only then to ask him in Spanish if he could welcome the group on their behalf and tell us how happy they were that we were there. Or locals walking up to you asking if they can practice their English with you for a minute, curious about where you’re from and what you think of their country. Colombians have a warm heart and they’re not afraid to show it. Together with the heavy dose of adventure Colombia offers, that’s probably why I liked this country best.

But wait, there’s more!

Unfortunately our trip to Latin America was cut a little short because of a family emergency that meant we had to head back home for a few weeks, but in the meantime we’ve hit the road again, and we’re eastward bound.

If you think Colombia sounds like a big adventure, then you won’t believe what’s next on our list: a 12,000 km overland journey, hitchhiking, taking buses and trains to make our way across the Asian continent. Curious for more details on the biggest adventure we’ve EVER undertaken? Then head to our YouTube channel for the full breakdown tomorrow (& subscribe so the announcement video shows up in your YouTube suggestions once it's online!). See you there!

Safe & happy travels,
Naick & Kim
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