Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)
ATM withdrawals: Most ATMs charge 10-15k COP ($2.5-3.5), BBVA & Davivienda were free
Languages spoken: Spanish & Indiginous languages
Dominant Religion: Christianity
Visa Requirements: British Click Here Polish Click Here
Health & Vaccinations: Click Here
Ability to communicate in English: 3 – Very difficult
Long distance transportation type: Bus, Plane, Taxi
Electricity: 110V, 2 types of electrical sockets – type A and type B
Greeting: “Hola”, “Buenas”
Vegetarian options-availability: 2 – Difficult but possible
Supermarkets: Exito, Carulla & Olimpica
Budget: £1,100 per person for 5 weeks
Legend: 1 – Good 2 – Difficult but possible 3 – Very difficult
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It allows you to search multi-city tickets, or tickets to “anywhere” – where you can search from your ideal location to find the cheapest flights to anywhere in the world. One other feature we use is the monthly view flight option, which shows you the cheapest price per day throughout each month, so you can select the cheapest date if you’re flexible with your dates.
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Time Visited: July 2022
Duration: 35 days
1. Cartagena – 6 nights
2. Guatapé – 3 nights
3. Medellín – 4 nights
4. Jardín – 4 nights
5. Salento – 4 nights
6. Filandia – 2 nighta
7. Villavieja/Tatacoa Desert – 2 nights
8. Cali – 4 nights
9. Popayán – 2 nights
Colombia is one of those countries that many people come to for just two weeks and end up staying two months. For us, this was an unplanned destination for our trip to South America, and after reaching Cartagena by sailing boat from Panama, we immediately fell in love with the country. The unplanned short stopover turned into five weeks in the country, with us wanting more.
With our time limited to five weeks we had to make sacrifices for some of the incredible locations that Colombia has to offer, but we left with a plan of where to visit on our return.
From Cartagena de Indias, we decided to start heading towards Medellín, Guatapé, Jardín, and the coffee region. As two coffee addicts, we prioritised our caffeine addiction over visiting Caribbean beaches, until next time. After being satisfied by the amount of coffee we consumed we headed off the beaten track towards Villavieja, and explored the Tatacoa Desert.
We couldn’t leave Colombia without a visit to the capital of Salsa, Cali. It was time to get our dancing shoes on and pretend that we know what we are doing. From here we started making our move towards Ecuador, with the last stop in Popayán, just in time for Brett’s birthday.
With so much to offer from tropical beaches, deserts, amazon rainforest and historical cities, Colombia is a popular backpacking destination. Let’s not forget breathtaking hiking, delicious coffee, and the best salsa in the world. There is a reason why Lonely Planet named it one of the best countries to visit in 2017, and since then, loads have continued to add this country to their bucket list, with numbers of visitors growing each year.
Many people associate Colombia with Pablo Escobar, his drug empire, and see Colombia through an image portrayed in the Netflix show, Narcos. Although the drug crisis had its place in their history, Colombia has so much more to offer than this short episode in time.
From the ancient ruins of the Lost City, the multiple cultures of the indigenous communities, chaotic colonial history, gold influence, to a modern day culture full of food, music, and dance. This is the Colombia we experienced, so forget using Netflix drama shows as a source of information, come here and find it out for yourself, and meet the lovely Colombians who will welcome you with a smile and cheerful “Hola”.
You’re easily and affordably connected to most of the popular destinations. Travelling light by air can be an advantage because the most expensive part will be your checked in luggage, without it you can travel for as little as $25. If you have time on your hands, you can travel by bus, but landslides are frequent occurrences which cause delays on certain routes. Our 13 hour bus from Cartagena to Medellín turned 37, so if you’re on a tight schedule, flying might be a better option. If you’re like us and prefer travelling by bus, make sure you bring a sleeping bag, water, and bring more food than you need, just in case.
Known in the past as the most dangerous city in the world, Medellín has transformed with the efforts of the local communities and governments, and is now a thriving and creative city. No matter where you go in South America, you always need to be careful, especially in the bigger cities, don’t flash your jewellery, cameras, and expensive phones around for people to see. Keep a low profile and don’t attract unwanted attention to yourself.
Colombia is one of the most backpacker friendly destinations that we have been to, offering a variety of hostels at every price and quality. From $13 a night, for 2 in a private room in Popayan, to being in the heart of the walled city in Cartagena for $29, for 2 a night in a dorm room, to our ultimate favourite accommodation ever in Cali for just $16 a night for two in a dorm – it even comes with free salsa lessons.
Mosts of the hostels will include breakfast, and you can expect some scrambled eggs, a bowl of fruit, juice and coffee. After a few months in South America it’s likely you will no longer be able to look at eggs again, that’s where we are right now. Your bowl of fruit will most likely consist of more papaya than you’d like, we even started questioning if there are people on this planet that like papaya – if there are, they must be serial killers!
Great thing about hostels in South America is the fact that a great number of them have shared kitchens, which makes preparing meals and cooking on a budget a lot easier, rather than constantly eating out.
Even though it’s backpacker friendly and offers a great variety of hostels, you can easily find more exclusive accommodation in boutique hotels, airbnb’s, and world famous hotels.
We will share our favourite accommodation for each destination in the individual posts for the places.
Our Top choices in Colombia:
Cali – La Palmera Hostel
Salento – Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel
Cartagena de Indias – The Clock Hostel & Suites
Banks and ATMs
The official currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso, you can either enter the country with the money already exchanged from your own country, or you can easily withdraw from the local ATMs, or use a currency exchange to convert popular currencies of Euro, British Pound, or US Dollar.
ATMs are easily available throughout the country and card payments are widely accepted in restaurants and shops. Most ATMs charge a withdrawal fee of $3 per transaction, luckily we found bank BBVA & Davivienda offered free withdrawals, although this was not the case for others we tried.
If the ATM asks you to accept the conversion, always say NO, as you’ll get a better rate through your bank. Doing it saved us a lot of money.
Culture & Customs
The colonisation process began in the 16th century by the Spanish, and Colombia soon became an integral part of the Spanish Empire. Their main focus was setting up an establishment in Cartagena de Indias and taking advantage of the large gold resources. What they were not prepared for was the hot Caribbean climate and diseases such as malaria that soon weakened their forces.
In order to overcome these problems the solution was to bring slaves from Africa, which contributed to the ethnic diversity of modern day Colombia. Colombia has a large population of mixed race citizens, Mestizos (European & Indigenous mix), Mulatto (African & European mix), and Zombos (African & European mix).
Any travel guide or photos from Cartagena will most likely include an image of Palenqueras, these are the women wearing colourful dresses and baskets of fruits on their heads. Originally, runaway slaves who established a free town in San Basilio de Palenque in 1691. They came to the town to sell the fruit, until one day a tourist asked them for a photo for a tip, and soon they realised it was more profitable to sell their image, rather than fruit.
Music and dancing are a trademark of Colombia, the way Colombians celebrate any achievement or victory is through their expression through dance and music on the streets. The most popular dance is Salsa, but you can also see people dancing merengue, champeta, bachata, or cumbia. Dancing and music run through their veins. Talking about music, you may have heard of Shakira, she is an internationally recognised treasure, but if you enjoy latino rhythms we also recommend listening to Carlos Vives, Juanes, J Balvin, or Maluma. Music never ends in Colombia.
Do you like everything fat? Botero does! He is the most popular painter and sculptor in Colombia, who is known for creating large and exaggerated figures and people. Born in Medellín, he cares a great deal about this city and has donated a large volume of his collection to the city, which is seen within the streets and squares of Medellín, as well as the Museum of Antioquia.
Life revolves around family, and family and social life revolves around food. When eating with Colombians, don’t forget to say “buen provecho” before eating, which means enjoy your meal.
In conversation with Colombians, try avoiding controversial stereotypes, such as mentioning drugs and Pablo Escobar. A lot of Colombians were affected by his actions, or are simply ashamed of that part of their country’s history.
When you hear “soon” from a Colombian, it can mean 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days. Nobody knows, they live according to their own time. So if you are waiting for a bus, or your food to be served, be patient.
Food & Drink
We usually start this topic with food, but we are talking about Colombia, so coffee first. Arguably one of the best coffee in the world is grown and processed here. Any trip to Colombia would be incomplete without visiting the coffee region, where you can not only drink your fair share of coffee in one of the many charming coffee shops, but also visit a coffee finca (farm), where you can learn about the coffee history, growing and processing. Compared to other countries we have visited, most of our “food budget” was spent in coffee shops. The big debate is – is it food or is it an activity?
Food is fried, smashed, fried, seasoned, and fried again. At least street food is. You need to at least try some of it, but you increase your risk of a heart attack if you have too much. The street food we enjoyed included patacones, arepas, buñuelos, and empanadas, which are basically different types of dough stuffed with cheese. There are many other options of street food available that we didn’t try as vegetarian, but if you’re not, go ahead and enjoy it all.
For the ones trying to stay healthy, Colombia offers an insane amount of tropical fruits. We can’t remember the names of everything we tried, but we would end up going to a local fruit shop and buying all the different weird looking fruits, to try as much as possible. If you don’t feel like snacking, but still want to get your vitamins in, Jugos (fresh juice) is found on every street corner. Locals will have a fish tank full of lemonade if you want to cool down on a hot day too.
Most traditional Colombian dishes are meat based so we didn’t get to try them, but every restaurant would offer traditional food so you can easily get to try these if you are a meat eater.
The best budget option for a meal is menu del día, served during lunch which is known for being economical and a large portion. It would usually include a soup, main, desert and a drink. So if you’re on a budget, this is the way to go.
Our Top Activities
1. Comuna 13 in Medellín
Once the most dangerous neighbourhood within the most dangerous city in the world, now this re-designed neighbourhood, with the efforts of the community, has switched crime and violence for music and art. Filled with endless street art, dancing and music, this is a big community collective that works towards promoting a new version of Medellín. You HAVE to visit this place, and we recommend doing a walking tour to learn about the history, the struggles, and the future hopes for this place.
2. People watching in Jardín
In our opinion the best town in the world! Sit back, relax and enjoy people watching. Of all the touristy places in Colombia, this was the most local and authentic place we visited in the country. You’ll find locals pouring out of the bars and dancing salsa on the street on the weekends, and occasionally bringing their horse to a bar for a pint. Apart from that, there are some great hikes around, and if you’re an adrenaline junkie, paragliding with an incredible view will offer some extra thrill.
3. Walled city in Cartagena
We talked about its history, but we didn’t mention the gorgeous colonial architecture that will take your breath away. You can enjoy an entire day getting lost in a maze of colourful streets. If it gets too hot, and you need a break, there is a huge range of bars, restaurants and coffee shops where you can recharge.
4. Cocora Valley
Known for the tallest palm trees in the world. Even getting there is a thrill in itself, as you may be lucky to hang out of the back of the jeep that takes you from Salento to the Valley. You can either hike around the valley, or just go to the main attraction for some photos. Whatever you decide to do, the views will take your breath away. Also, don’t be lazy, do the trek. It’s worth it!
5. Dancing in Cali
Even J.Lo chose Cali salsa dancers to perform with her. They are simply the best since they perfected their skills in the salsa capital of the world. Even though our white European bodies have little rhythm, it was a dream to take salsa classes in this place. Our skills improved… but J.Lo will not be taking us on tour.
6. Drinking coffee in the coffee region
Just do it! Even if you’re not a coffee addict like us, watching different methods of coffee preparation is an entertainment in itself. In some coffee shops it was like watching a chemical experiment being performed by a coffee scientist. Even if you don’t appreciate the coffee flavour, enjoy it, and savour the taste of cheesecake that can come with it.
We can’t imagine our life without ever going back to Colombia again. This was Sandra’s second time visiting this country and definitely will not be her last. We felt more home than anywhere else in the world, we even had a conversation about potentially moving to this magical country one day. What a coffee addiction can do to a person.
There is a never ending list of places to visit and things to do, and between that and probably the friendliest people we have ever met, this is just the place to go and come back to.
If you’ve never visited Colombia, you should, and if you have, you’ll probably come back again, we know we will.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Reading this made me feel like I was there with you guys. Very cool trip👍👍
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. Your kind words mean so much to us. We will be posting more content soon and hopefully can take you on more “journeys” with us very soon. Hope to see you soon in Poland or the USA. Miss you (Sandra).