My Travel Plan

My plan was to spend a few weeks exploring Bogota, Medellin, the coffee plantation region and Cartagena—that should be enough to learn about the country. I spent the first night in Bogota with a plan to return on my way back home, then flew to Medellin and Cartagena.

Once it was well known for its drug violence, but no longer it’s the case, in my observation Colombia is definitely one of the remarkable destinations in South America. Believe it or not, this country has changed a great deal and cities like Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin should be on the top of your travel list.

During my several trips, I have not felt unsafe at all. Every country and every city has its good places and bad ones, and Colombia is no different. Like me, you may have also discouraged by friends and family and tired of hearing questions and concern about safety. But that did not stop me from doing my own fact-finding research and exploring Colombia.

Colombia is really big it’s equal to combine landmasses of Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

 Best Time to Visit Colombia

As when you are planning any vacation, you generally pay attention to the weather, events going on at the time, transportation costs, and availability for taking vacation time at work. Planning a trip to Colombia is no different.
All of the related variables should be in consideration when planning your trip, and today I am going to try to give you a little bit of information that may make your decision of when to visit Colombia a little easier.

In Colombian temperature is consistent year-round, since it is so close to the equator. In fact temperatures in Colombia are based on the altitude of a location. For instance, due to the altitude at which they are found, like Bogotá to be a cool city, Medellín a warmer city (mild), and Cartagena a hot city. Thus, in terms of temperature, deciding where to go is more important than when, as the temperature will be relatively the same any time of the year.

Paying attention to the rainy season will give advantages, usually, it’s between March – June and again between September – November.

Top Things To Do In Colombia

Dramatic Change, Medellin

Medellin is located in a valley surrounded by mountains, and the city sprawls for as long as the eye can see. Skyscrapers, parks, and villages built right into the rock face of the mountains.

The city was once known as the “murder capital of the world” a place synonymous with cocaine and drugs, especially during and just after the life of Pablo Escobar and the reign of his Medellín Cartel. But a lot has changed in Medellín in the last ten years, making this city one of the fastest-growing and entrepreneurial in the region. Interestingly enough, urban planning has a lot to do with it.

Taking the cable car to the neighborhoods located in the mountains.

It has only been in the past few years that it is safe for tourists to visit Medellin. Now it has become a “can’t miss” city on many backpackers’ itineraries (including our own) and has become home to several expats.

Recently, the city built a cable car system that reaches up to the highest neighborhoods so that its people can use it to commute to work in the city. This has created opportunities that have enabled people to rise out of poverty and live with dignity.

Riding the cable car alongside people who were commuting home from a day of work was pretty powerful, not to mention beautiful as well. The cable car provided stunning views of the city from afar, and the barrios below us. We saw people going about their everyday lives in their homes and on the streets.

La Piedra Del Peñol ( The Rock of Guatapé )

La Piedra Del Peñol (Spanish for “The Rock of Guatapé”), Colombia

Just two hours from Medellin this town called Guatape worth a visit. The town’s main attraction is the gigantic rock, visible pretty much anywhere you are in the city. The massive stone was formed millions of years ago.

The Tahamies Indians, former inhabitants of this region, worshiped the rock of Guatape and now can be accessed by an astounding staircase.

At its highest part has an elevation of  7,005 ft (2,135 meters) over sea level. 659 steps lead you to the top The Rock of Guatapé.

Once on the top, we saw shops selling souvenirs. Food vendors have outdoor tables where you can enjoy snacks with a bottle of beer and enjoying the outstanding 360 vista that stretches out to the horizon in every direction. The scenery from the viewing platform is beautiful, as you can imagine.

Colorful Old Town Cartagena

Cartagena is one of those cities where it’s best to just forget about the map and allow yourself get lost. Believe it, you can’t go too far as it’s a walled city, too difficult to get lost.

Street view of colorful Old Town Cartagena

Whether you are coming for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a trip with friends, there are interesting things to do during your trip to Cartagena. Places like Getsemani, wall city, Baru and Rosario Islands, San Felipe Castle, beautiful Punta Arena Beach, Bazurto Market, modern city etc should be on your to do list.

Visiting Coffee Country

Beautiful Coffee country in Colombia.

The beautiful scenery of lush, mountainous landscapes and coffee plantations, coupled with the traditional architecture of terracotta-roofed farm houses, led UNESCO to add the area to its list of World Heritage Sites in 2011.

The area is slightly cooler than the coastal region, temperatures ranging between 10°C and 25°C. This, combined with the higher altitude and better soil quality, has provided optimal conditions for growing Colombia’s internationally renowned coffee. During our visit, we also learned how coffee is processed starting from the beginning.

Tayrona National Park

Sunset at wonderful Cabo San Juan beach, Colombia.

The popular Tayrona National Park lies at the Caribbean coast near Santa Marta in Colombia. Where we found some of the loveliest coastline. This wonderful Cabo San Juan beach is located about 30 minutes from the city of Rodadero where you can enjoy the beautiful beach side activities like renting a hammock for the night, have local food, spend hours hiking and surfing. You can also get a guide to take you to a native village in the nearby mountains.

The beauty of Tayrona is that you are going back to basics, with limited electricity, limited phone coverage, no internet or TV and completely cut off from the rest of the world. Of course, there is always the typical guitar guy in these type of places to provide entertainment whenever you travel!

Bogota a City in Transit

If you are headed anywhere in Colombia chances are you may use Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport solely as a transit point, I suggest that you spend a day or two there. If you do, here is a quick guide to discovering the best of Bogota.

Bogota is a Metropolis with a population of almost  10 million people, ranked after Mexico City and NYC. The capital megacity is a mixed with old and new due to rapid growth and modernization in recent years. To simplify things, the street are named by the number instead of names, which is easier to find where you are.

The city is constructed in a sort of grid pattern. Carreras run parallel to the mountains from South to North. Carrera numbers increase from East to West, away from the mountains. Calles cross the Carreras and run from East to West.

Officially the first neighborhood in Bogota, the capital city was founded here in 1538. The colorful neighborhood is full of cobblestone streets and buildings that are hundreds of years old.

Bolivar Square

Arguably the heart of Bogota, the massive square is a beautiful and very popular gathering place. Expect to see food vendors, street performers and even farmers offering llama rides for children.

Monserrate

The mountain of Monserrate is not only a valuable landmark for getting around the city; a trip to the top via the cable car is also a perfect way to get a real feel for the scale of this urban center. The cable car is 14.000 pesos per ticket before 5:30 p.m., when it then becomes 17.000 pesos (or around $4.50 and $5.50 respectively).

How To Get Around?

By Air:

Domestic air network connecting major cities is excellent in Colombia, including those in the Caribbean coastal area. The main domestic carriers are Avianca, Lan Colombia, Copa Airlines and Satena. There are also flights from most major mainland cities to the islands of San Andres and Providencia.

By Road:

Colombian roads condition varies massively. The Panamerican Highway is mostly well paved, but when you start to venturing out off the beaten track the roads tends to et bumpier. Expect landslides in the more mountainous regions during the rainy season.

Rental Car:

You can pick up the renal car at the airport from any of the major international rental company, but driving int he cities is not recommended. I have tried it in big cities like Lima and bogota but for many, it could be real difficult.

Taxi:

Taxis are cheap, convenient and plenty in major cities and most midsize towns. They are also considered fairly safe to hail in the street. You may get charged a bit more for being a non Spanish speaking passenger; in Bogota, Cali and Medellin they have meters (taximetros), but in smaller places, you have to negotiate the price.

I usually don’t use taxis with a driver and somebody else inside regardless it’s a friend or someone for security reasons, such a situation may be unsafe for me; a common tactic for robbery. Good idea to use one of the taxi apps like Uber, Tappsi, and Easy Taxi with your smartphone for a safer ride in most major cities.

Motorbike:

Some northern cities use motorbike-taxis, which is a quick way of getting around if you’re solo. These may not be the safest and are even illegal in some places like Cartagena but not enforced.

You may find options for renting a motorbike in resort areas like San Andres

Visa Requirement

Colombia tourist visa is not required for citizens of United States of America for a stay up to 90 days. All U.S. citizens who do not also hold Colombian citizenship must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia.

Where did I stay in Colombia

Hotel CityFlats, Carrera 8 No 81 – 31 Bogota Distrito Capital

I recommend staying somewhere close to Bolivar Square so you don’t have to worry about long commutes to the touristy section of town. Alternatively, La Candeleria is a lovely and safe place to base your stay.

Do note that neighborhoods can quickly change from safe to “sketchy.” Ask your hotel or apartment rental where it is appropriate to walk, and when you should take public transportation

Hotel Dann Carlton Belfort Medellin, Calle 17 No. 40 B 300 Medellin Antioquia


Booking.com


 

My Favorite Local Colombian Food

Next, at the hotel, there were so many traditional local food restaurants. I was happy to try a few of them. It was so delicious and cheap. Here are some of the items I tried there.

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Sancocho de Cola (Oxtail Colombian Soup)
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Colombian Style Fried Whole Fish
Carne Asada – Colombian-style Grilled Flank Steak

Collection of Travel Pictures That May Tell The Trip Story

Have you been to Colombia? Any additional tips to share?

Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you to improve my knowledge. 

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Hasan Mahmud

Traveler, Blogger, and Travel Photographer!

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