To begin, Colombia has an incredibly unwarranted reputation as a place that is dangerous and full of drugs. When I arrived in the airport in Cartagena I thought that this reputation would hold true when I got ripped off by the cab driver, but from then on the experience has been incredible. The beach isn’t as good as the Dominican, it’s not as easy to get around as the Bahamas, as developed as Chile, and there is not wildlife readily available like Costa Rica, but it is nonetheless a wonderful place.
Cartagena (Spend at least 4 days here, I did 7) –
I feel like Cartagena especially is perfect for someone who has done Europe, but has been hitherto afraid to venture into South America. There is an incredible culture/history that is deeper than the few other Latin American I have been to. It’s also safe enough to where I never felt nervous or in danger, and the people are eager/willing to help. If you go, I recommend staying in the Walled City. It’s the original town the Spanish walled so as to protect the port where they shipped out their gold. There, it seems to be 1/3 tourists, 1/3 travelers and 1/3 locals, with those proportions varying throughout the day and night. For context, I would say that someone who stays in a hotel and checks a bag is more likely a tourist, and a traveler stays in hostels/does their best to eat local food and experience local cultures. I try to be more the latter than the former, but there is nothing wrong with either.
I was a bit nervous about traveling by myself. However, when I was waiting in line at customs I struck up a conversation with some very well researched girls from Chicago traveling together (named Monica and Monika funny enough), and shared a cab with them to the hostel. There, I met Micah, a travel writer/political activist out of D.C. From then on the four of us were almost inseparable. They were fun, easy-going, considerate, and we all kind of filled-in one each other’s’ gaps. It reminded me again just how important it is to find good people to travel with. Don’t just invite anyone with you on your adventures, it is much better to be alone than to babysit, and even better to find some great people while you are already there. I’ve lucked out with Toni and Anna in Panama, Lauren in the Bahamas, and of course the MBA group in Chile, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all get a bit nervous of traveling solo.
As far as food goes, it’s pretty good, not the best, but still nothing to complain about. Also, don’t be afraid to go to the “poor neighborhood” as they call one part of the city. Its super safe, and the food is half to a third as much as in the “upper” and “middle” income areas. The plantains aren’t as good as they are in Africa, but they have wonderful street food. For beaches, they are sadly quite mediocre. A step above Texas beaches, but not as nice as Florida, and nowhere near as good the Dominican or the Bahamas. However, for a short boat ride, you can go to some pretty nice beaches. I decided against it in the interest of time and money, but I know people really enjoyed it when they went. So, if you do want good beaches, they are available.
For a time, this entrance to the city was water, and there was a draw-bridge leading up to that main door. Rich and middle class homes were on the other side of that wall, but they still protected the lower class neighborhoods, because that is where the freshwater is.
So, these “buttons” were apparently a symbol of your wealth back in those days. Additionally, the servant’s door wasn’t used for the owner of the house, he had the knocker placed high up so that he could use it on horseback.
This is at cafe del mar I believe. A really popular bar on the wall of the old city, a great spot for sunsets.
This is where Micah and I watched the sun rise. That was a long night.
These guys were my awesome kite-surfing instructors. They took me out later and showed me around.
Beautiful view of kiteboarding. Can’t wait to get back out there.
This is an old church with a fantastic view of the city. It’s in-between the old city and the airport.
On my last day Micah and the girls had left, and so I decided to continue working on my kiteboarding. If you don’t know what kiteboarding is, it’s essentially a wakeboard with a kite to propel you. People can go 10, 20, 30ft and even higher in the air. I started learning in October of 2013 in Cape Town, then again in December 2014 in the Dominican, and finally in May 2015 in Cartagena. There is a steep learning curve to get started, and my significant gaps in lessons doesn’t help, but after maybe 12 hours of lessons, and hundreds of dollars, I finally got up and rode a wave a bit. So, I decided to extend my stay, and hung out with the kiteboard crew here. So, if you want to take up kitesurfing, I highly recommend doing it in Cartagena. It’s half as much per hour as anywhere else I have seen, and the instructors are incredible. They even let me go out and party with them afterwards (also, one of them hosts AirBnb for $10/night and so you can just ride with him to work).
Medellin (Spend at least 3 days here, I did 2) –
Best known for being Pablo Escobar’s stronghold, Medellin is a peculiarly beautiful city. The buildings are mostly bland/boring brick, but somehow the surrounding area creates this beautiful atmosphere. It’s in the middle of a mountain range and is quite a big city, but with an easy to use metro and friendly people. I loved Medellin, and the are surrounding it.
One of those areas was El Penon de Guatape. This is the set of steps to get to the top, most of the 740 steps it takes to get there.
The view is totally worth it though.
Back in Medellin that night, I met some really great Swiss guys. The two directly next to me inparticular. I highly suggest looking up “The Zibbz” on Youtube. The guy on the right is in the band with his sister, and they have a really great sound to them. Also, he’s just a really cool guy. On the left of me is a hockey player out of Switzerland who was easily the most chill and fun “famous” person I’ve met (famous for Switzerland at least). So, we had a blast.
Bogota (Spend 2 days here, I did 1) –
Bogota is a surprisingly large city. You can’t see the details too well, but what you see behind me is probably just 30% of the city, if not less. However, despite it being so big, it’s the least exciting of the three Colombian cities I went to. I spent about a day here and that was a little short, but not so short that I feel like I need to go back. I recommend this city for experienced travelers who want to experience the culture, and who knows how to take care of themselves. It can get dangerous at night, in many neighborhoods, and there are rumors of sketchy cabs and “Devil’s Dust.” So, with that in mind if you are going through it there is still some good stuff to see, but if you just have a weekend I would see Cartagena.
Bogota is in the background. Just like in Cartagena, this is an old monastery or church.
Street food is everywhere, but this particular moment was in Bogota. It is super cheap, and I wish we did this in the states.
If anyone knows what this game is, please tell me, I saw people playing it everywhere but didn’t know what it was.
Business Opportunity –
One general opportunity is in technology. I heard from numerous sources that there just wasn’t much emphasis here, and that there was a huge demand for technology services and abilities in the country. As far as opportunities for normal people (who don’t know coding, or technology in general) we didn’t see many chill/relax bars. All of the bars in Colombia play loud music all the time, and most of them don’t serve food. So, you eat at a restaurant and maybe have wine, but then you leave for a bar, where there is rarely bar food. Pretty interesting, and an opportunity for Colombians to take advantage of. For what we could take from them, I largely think the street food is a great opportunity (if our laws/regulations allowed it. Too much red tape now).
Anyways, thanks for being a truly fantastic host Colombia. I highly recommend Cartagena for people looking to do something fun/different on a four day weekend, you won’t regret it.
Country level of difficulty – 5/10