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Colombia: The Best and Worst

Trying something new here, let me know if you like it….

Total Days in Colombia-59

Total Days it Didn’t Rain: 8

Amount Spent: $2254

Average Cost per Day: $38 (when you factor in the free accommodation we got for house sitting for 3 weeks, I think $50 a day is probably a more realistic number).

Places Visited: Bogota (39 nights), Villa de Leyva (2), Santa Marta (3), Tayrona National Park (2), Cartagena (3), Medellin (4), Salento (2), Popayan (2), Ipiales (1)

Biggest Misconception: There are a lot of things people assume about Colombia that simply aren’t true. It isn’t super dangerous , cocaine isn’t everywhere (didn’t see it once) and it’s not hot and steamy all the time- I was actually pretty chilly quite often!

Colombia was also more expensive than expected. Although cheaper than the US, I would not call it a budget travel destination: food, entertainment and transportation in particular were pricey.

Favorite Food: Look, nobody comes to Colombia for the food. It’s just… not the highlight of the place. Nonetheless, in addition to the wide world of fruits, I fell a little in love with Colombian hot chocolate and cheese. Yes the cheese goes IN the hot chocolate.

Least Favorite Food: No question: Arepas. Dry crumbly flat-cakes made of cornmeal. Pretty much tasteless and dryer than the sahara. They are a staple served at nearly every meal but I just don’t get them at ALL.

Most Memorable Moment(s): Watching the stars in Tayrona, getting a “mud massage” at the mud volcano outside Cartagena, listening to live music at an impromptu concert outside the old town of Popayan.

Favorite Night Out: Halloween in Bogota was a crazy experience that rivals even the states. Thousands of people flooded the streets in elaborate costumes to drink and club the night away.

Soggiest Moment: It rained on me a LOT- as usual. Since we unfortunately chose to travel during the rainy season (and during an El Nino year), it rained at least a bit every day, usually in the afternoon or evening. The worst was when we were caught in a downpour in Medellin on our way to meet friends. I don’t know why we didn’t bring umbrellas, we were absolutely soaked through in only 5 minutes.

Most Annoying Thing: The bus rides. This is probably a pan-South America thing (I’m actually told they get much worse) but almost every single bus ride was a nauseating, hair raising experience that took at least 2 hours longer than we expected. The worst was trying to get from Villa de Leyva to Santa Marta. It involved 3 bus changes (including one at 3 am) and constant stops. The entire journey took over 24 hours!

Favorite Place: I really enjoyed Medellin, but my absolute favorite was the little city of Popayan. We were only there for two nights but I really loved this beautiful place, known as the White City. The food wasn’t bad either which was a big plus after weeks of chicken and rice.

Least Favorite: Villa de Leyva- there’s nothing wrong with it, I just didn’t find it worth going out of our way for. It was pretty but dull. Wished we’d went up to San Gil instead.

Biggest Regret: Not leaving enough time at the end to properly see southern Colombia. We spent 5 weeks in Bogota, and by the end it was a race to get out of the country before my visa expired. Would have loved to spend more time in the coffee country (the rain prevented us from even seeing a coffee plantation), to visit San Augustine and to really take my time and enjoy places like Popayan.

Best Advice: Don’t believe the hype about Colombia being a dangerous place. During my time their I never felt unsafe or threatened (which is more than I can say about Quito where I am currently writing this). Colombian’s are some of the nicest, most welcoming people and all of the bad stuff happens far away from anywhere you’d want to visit. It’s too cool a country to dismiss because of bad information!

And don’t go during rainy season. Seriously don’t.

Bogota

Would I Come Back? I was pretty eager to leave after two months and to experience something else, but yes, I’d love to go back and spend more time in Medellin and the south. Also to visit all my new friends in Bogota!

Have you been to Colombia? What were your impressions?

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50 Responses to Colombia: The Best and Worst

  1. Sarah December 6, 2011 at 9:14 AM #

    I like the new post lay-out!

    Except for the whole raining-for-51-days-while-you-were-there thing…..

    • Luisa December 6, 2011 at 6:12 PM #

      I agree, I love the new layout. Easier to read and just looks nicer

      • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:47 PM #

        thanks!

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:51 PM #

      Story of my life. story of my life.

  2. Geoff December 6, 2011 at 10:09 AM #

    Totally agree with you re. the arepas, I could never understand why so many of my fellow travellers loved them.

    As for the buses – they don’t necessarily get worse, in fact the buses in Peru, Chile & Argentina in particular are way, way nicer than anything I came across in Colombia, only the Bolivian buses were worse, and even then not much so.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:51 PM #

      The worst bit abuot the colombian buses is that they were crappy AND expensive. Blech.

  3. ElizabethJ_Bird December 6, 2011 at 10:23 AM #

    I love these “wrap up” posts. Gives a lot of really good info for those thinking of going themselves.

    BTW, how did you get the house sitting gig? Is that something that is hard to set up?

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:51 PM #

      This one was actually a friend of ours, but we are signed up for several house-sitting sites. Nothing has panned out yet b/c most gigs seem to be in Europe.

  4. Adventurous Kate December 6, 2011 at 12:16 PM #

    You had me at “They put the cheese in the chocolate.”

    I agree with Elizabeth — big fan of the wrap-up posts! Learning a lot about Colombia from you.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:50 PM #

      Anything with cheese and chocolate is a win for me.

  5. Scott December 6, 2011 at 12:26 PM #

    I wasn’t a huge fan of Bogota when I was there but didn’t stay long. Ciudad Perdida trek out of Santa Marta was great though (much like the Inca Trail in Peru), but the cocaine presence was obvious (you get a tour around a cocaine factory en route…). Very safe though – was a great place.

    The buses get much worse the further south you go though – the tourist buses in Peru are fine, but step aboard a chicken bus in Boliva and you’ll find religion real fast! 😉

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:49 PM #

      We wanted to do Ciudad Perdida but didn’t have enough time- it sounded really interesting.

  6. Christine December 6, 2011 at 2:29 PM #

    Ahhhh you have the worst weather luck!!! Good to know that Colombia isn’t necessarily a budget destination…I would have thought cheaper.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:48 PM #

      Me too, it was an (unpleasant) surprise.

  7. Global Basecamps Ali December 6, 2011 at 6:54 PM #

    Great advice! Thanks for sharing

  8. Chris December 6, 2011 at 8:29 PM #

    Spent 8 days in Medellin, a little too long but it was awesome, and really dispelled the myths about Colombia being dangerous for me too. It was fine, people are super nice, and Medellin was surprisingly more modern than I expected. Definitely not a cheap backpacker destination though.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:47 PM #

      I liked Medellin a lot, it was the only city in Colombia I could imagine living.

  9. Rachel December 6, 2011 at 8:36 PM #

    I really like this wrap-up post too! I’ve never been to Colombia but I’m definitely interested.

  10. Alex December 6, 2011 at 9:08 PM #

    I love this new round up feature! Keep it coming. I used to do do in country round ups, but then stopped when I wasn’t spending enough quality time in each one.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:46 PM #

      Thanks! I think I’m definitely going to keep it up.

  11. Amanda Kendle December 6, 2011 at 11:11 PM #

    Love this post style. And love that you’re reminding the world Colombia is not what everyone says it is. Our best friends here in Western Australia are Colombian and it makes me so mad when I hear what people say to them (nearly always drug-related) when they hear they’re from Colombia.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:46 PM #

      Yeah it’s such a shame, I hope the perception changes soon.

  12. Roy Marvelous December 6, 2011 at 11:32 PM #

    I remember the mud volcano – that was my highlight from Colombia too!

  13. Erin December 7, 2011 at 2:51 AM #

    I love wrap up posts too. Sorry you had so much rain – it seems to be following you around! I agree that Colombian food isn’t great (and try being vegetarian) but the amazing diverse fruit and juices do make up for it.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:43 PM #

      yeah i think being veggie there would be a challenge!

  14. Paul December 7, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

    Definitely not a fan of the arepas or the rain! Thanks for the write-up and glad you enjoyed Colombia. It’s a beautiful country and the more people we have come and write about it (in an easy-to-read, informative format!) the better.

    Paul

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:42 PM #

      thanks for making us feel welcome!

  15. Hayley Swinson December 7, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

    Hello, I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Check out the specs here: http://bit.ly/tvEEN7

    Happy Blogging!
    -Hayley

  16. Scott December 7, 2011 at 8:37 PM #

    You cannot escape the rain can you Steph? This looks like it pretty much went down pretty well for you! I am not saying I wouldn’t visit one day, but this lack of great food thing is really starting to concern me, ALOT, lol.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:39 PM #

      Luckily food in Ecuador has been a big improvement!

  17. Tran December 7, 2011 at 11:34 PM #

    Worse than arepas (arepas aren’t even that bad, especially when filled with cheese), is the bandeja paisa. Did you try it? Blah! We spent a good amount of time in Colombia too. Fun reliving those memories through your post….

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:38 PM #

      Hmm I liked the bandeja paisa, although I can’t quite understand chicharron….

  18. Ana Maria December 8, 2011 at 2:35 AM #

    Glad you enjoyed the trip!
    Makes me so sad though to read that you hated arepas! Alone they are pretty bland (especially the little tiny ones that come with meals) and they;re best really fresh. BUT if you order an a la cart arepa they come in many different ways. You should ALWAYS put butter on them and they can be served with fresh cheese to crumble or lay slices on top. Some even come with cheese already melted inside the arepa and other come with chopped up chicharon (fried pork) pieces on top. And man, my heart broke with Tran’s comment about the bandeja paisa. It’s too bad she had a bad one because they are incredible offering just a little bit of everything.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:37 PM #

      I tried a whole bunch but I just couldn’t get into them. I did really like Bandeja Paisa, mainly b/c I love EVERYTHING with avocados.

  19. Jaclyn December 8, 2011 at 10:57 PM #

    Love the new layout! I like knowing how much it cost and how many days you stayed. It’s really helpful when making a travel budget.

    • Steph December 9, 2011 at 10:30 PM #

      Excellent, I’m trying to keep better track of that stuff.

  20. Emily in Chile December 10, 2011 at 2:37 PM #

    Buses in Chile are actually really nice and usually pretty direct, so don’t despair. I’m sorry it rained on you so much though – hope your luck changes soon!

  21. Bret @ Green Global Travel December 10, 2011 at 3:20 PM #

    The only Colombian city I’ve been to is Cartagena, but I absolutely loved it. The history, architecture, people and culture were all really incredible, and of course the women were gorgeous. My favorite day was the day we went out to the Rosario Islands, which were virtually empty and really beautiful. Did you make it out there?

    • Steph December 22, 2011 at 3:58 PM #

      Sadly no, not on this trip- the look sooo pretty though!

  22. Runaway Brit December 24, 2011 at 1:59 AM #

    I’m in Colombia now. It’s still raining. The Colombian bus I went on the other day is far worse than any other bus I’ve been on in South America (including Bolivia!!). Even more annoying as it was so expensive!!!

    • Steph January 10, 2012 at 7:07 AM #

      So annoying!

  23. SteveC January 8, 2012 at 4:46 PM #

    While I do agree that unless the arepas are stuffed with chicken, beef or shrimp like they are in Venezuela, they are pretty bland and just weird to eat. I do have to disagree with the misconceptions of not being dangerous. While visiting for a few months and not encountering danger may have been lucky and happens with many, however what about those foreigners that have gotten killed for not giving up a gold chain, or the blogger that got robbed at gunpoint mid day in his taxi. The stabbings at ATM machines. I think by telling your readers its so safe, they may tend to think it is just like going to NY or Miami.

    • Steph January 9, 2012 at 8:33 AM #

      Hey Steve,
      Colombia is relatively safe- all of the things you mentioned could happen to travelers anywhere in South America (I’ve heard plenty of stories in Quito and BA) and yes, even in New York or Miami who are not exactly cities with low crime rates.
      Crime is always a danger anywhere in the world, particularly if you are foreign. I did not find the danger level in Colombia to be any higher than anywhere else I’ve been.

  24. TinaM January 21, 2012 at 2:01 PM #

    Hi Steph, I’m wondering what was your favourite place to travel alone? I really want to go travelling somewhere for a few months.. I’m not the type of person to do anything alone so I think I will really learn loads about myself..where did you find most accommodating to women? Thanks in advance

    • Steph January 22, 2012 at 10:09 AM #

      Hi Tina, it’s slightly pricey but I think Japan is the perfect spot for a first time solo traveler. It’s pretty easy to get around and the people are all really nice and helpful even if they don’t speak English. It’s also incredibly safe and they are very respectful to women so there aren’t too many worries on that point. It’s also an amazing place!

  25. Daniel February 4, 2013 at 10:01 PM #

    Great Post! I think that staying in Bogota that long really gave you a pretty skewed perception of costs in Colombia. Bogota is really expensive! Highly recommend coming back and looking around north of Villa de Leyva, much better than Villa de Leyva it self and all around the Coffee Region. It has so many gems that you’d stay another 60 days and maybe more! 🙂 Happy Travels!

  26. Lhoppen February 8, 2013 at 8:53 AM #

    There’s actually a wide variety of food and amazing dishes in colombia that more than surpass American cuisine. However, u have to visit restaurants. The average colombian lives on chicken, arepa, rice and beans. Not everyone in this world can afford steak everyday. Also, beware of the “gringo tax”! Ask people cuanto menos rather than cuanta cuesta. Its not “correct” spanish but it’s a very paisa expression that almost insinuates that youre asking for a bargain.

  27. Jcm Gómez January 31, 2014 at 5:25 PM #

    As a Colombian, our country went trough something like what Mexico is enduring right now back in the late 80s early 90s, yes you’ve probably heard of Pablo E Escobar, although Colombia is now a completely different place (as the links will show at the end of this comment.) we made the terrible mistakes in the 90s, it was devastating, I hope we can help our Mexican brother trough our experiences, as i mentiones Colombia for many years now as un example has been largely free of violence and cocain trade, I am a US citizen, and a Colombian now living in There again, working as an Account Manager at Facebook Latin America. I invite everybody and anybody to come and see for themselves a rich beautiful country like no other on earth, the land of Marques´s Magic realism comed to life! With great opportunities for business and pleasure, the greatest diversity in sceneries in America, highly recommend Cartagena And my hometown of Bogota, its an amazing wonder of the world hidden to the narowminded for the past 40 years. Don’t take my word for it jut read these articles and see for yourself. (and just so you know Cocaine is very frowned upon and not at all part of the countries couture!)

    -Frendliest country on earth: http://stesand.hubpages.com/hub/The-Friendliest-Countries-in-the-World

    Happiest: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/colombia-happiest-country-in-the-world-in-2012-survey-finds_n_2426667.html
    -Colombia’s economy among world’s fastest growing: http://colombiareports.co/colombias-economy-among-worlds-fastest-growing/

    -Medellin most inovative City IN THE WORLD: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21638308

    10 reasons to choose Colombia as your next vacation destination: http://www.gadling.com/2010/09/29/10-reasons-to-choose-colombia-as-your-next-vacation-destination/

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