After spending a few weeks in Mexico we headed to Colombia (we know we are geographically impaired) to celebrate the holidays in South America’s new “it” destination! We primarily wanted to visit Colombia because everyone we have talked to who has been simply raves about it. It is a country with a bad reputation due to its unfortunate past, but its backpacker and travel scene is thriving amidst Colombia’s fresh start.
We started our Colombian travels in the belly of the best, Bogota. As with most capital cities, Bogota is said to be dangerous so we were extra cautious but overall we were pleasantly surprised. We had low expectations for the city and were primarily using it as a hub to start our travels but we quickly discovered Bogota has a lot of its own not to be missed charm.
This was our first time spending Christmas away from our friends and families and while we missed them a lot (thank God for FaceTime and decent WiFi) we had a nice time celebrating abroad. The Colombian people as a whole are very kind and welcoming. We walked along the cobblestone streets in the Old Walled City which was decorated with beautiful Christmas lights and we even attended a Christmas Eve Service at a gorgeous cathedral. On Christmas Day we drank champagne, watched The Grinch on Netflix, and ate ceviche for lunch. It truly was a blended holiday!
We had a few days to kill before our friends arrived to celebrate New Year’s with us so we headed to the Caribbean Islands off the coast of Cartagena! We spent our days happily disconnected with no WiFi, but with plenty of snorkeling, beach naps, and fresh fish.
We rang in the New Year with
lots of champagne Montezuma’a Revenge. Due to some bad tap water Grant and I started off our 2018 in bed! Thankfully, we quickly recovered and had an amazing time. Although we weren’t well enough to celebrate, it was interesting to see the locals ringing in the new year. The streets were packed with people dancing and drinking until dawn. Unfortunately our new year got worse before it got better. Grant’s backpack with his laptop, our go-pro, and his journal were stolen at the Cartagena airport! We were able to replace everything but it was expensive and super inconvenient (we spent 6 hours at the cargo and customs office in Bogota!)
Read more about the water quality and safety below and read about our trip to Cartagena here.
We loved Medellin! This city of the eternal spring reminded us of San Francisco with a variety of cuisines and shopping. It was the perfect place to celebrate my 28th birthday!
We took a day trip from Medellin to visit Guatapé and to hike over 600 steps to the peak of the Piedra del Peñol.
As we are avid coffee lovers, we had to visit coffee country! Salento is a sleepy little town between gorgeous green mountains and the famous Cocora Valley with palm trees over 60m tall! It was one of our favorite places we visited in Colombia.
Volunteering in Colombia
One day in Bogota we volunteered at a local school for at-risk youth. We attempted to teach them English and passed out Christmas gifts. They were so sweet and fun to hang out with!
Need to Know Spanish Phrases in Colombia
Each Spanish speaking country varies on its word usage and slang and Colombia is no different. Here are some good to know phrases to help you get by with the local lingo.
- ¡Qué chévere! = “That’s cool.”
- A la orden = ANYTHING! They use this to say “how can I help you”, “At your order”, “You’re welcome”, “okay” … you get it.
- Con gusto = “with pleasure”, “you’re welcome”, “it’s my pleasure”
The Food in Colombia
The food in Colombia isn’t bad but it definitely isn’t comparable to our favorite Mexican food. The typical food consists of soup, bandeja paisa (a platter of meat, beans, rice, and other sides), and arepas (corn meal patties stuffed or topped with meat and cheese).The arepas are everywhere! They are the traditional street food and accompany almost anything you order.
On the coast, Mojarra (whole fish) is served with plantains and coconut rice while trucha (trout) is the specialty in Salento. Colombia has an impressive fruit selection that is just as sour as it is colorful! We tried a lot of fruits on our bike tour in Bogota. The avocados here are massive, way bigger than California!
The Water Quality in Colombia
As I mentioned, we did get sick from the tap water at our VRBO in Cartagena, but we were not expecting it since we drank the water at our Cartagena hotel and were fine. We drank the water in Bogota and Medellin (Medellin is known for being pure) without any problems. The bottled water is cheap so err on the side of caution when in doubt.
Safety in Colombia
Contrary to our Instagram highlight reel, traveling in Colombia isn’t always glamourous. Our bag was stolen in Cartagena but fortunately no one was harmed and most everything was replaceable. We met some people in our hostels who had similar things happen as well, but it definitely wasn’t the norm. To be extra careful, we didn’t use our iPhones or wear our wedding rings in Bogota, but we did in Medellin, Cartagena, and Salento.
We had read things about not taking regular cabs but we had no problem and used them throughout the country. Be smart, don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself and you’ll most likely be fine. As a whole, the Colombian people are very kind and want to promote tourism. Don’t let a few bad stories stop you from exploring this amazing country.
Colombia wasn’t as easy to travel as other countries, but the effort was worth it! The landscape varies dramatically from each city and is so beautiful. The people are great and the culture is just as rich as the coffee.
Next stop, Guatemala!