Today’s blog post comes from Flora Moffat who works at STA Travel’s headquarters in London
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Colombia a bit…well…dangerous?
I had to answer this very question every time I was asked where my next holiday was (which, when you work in travel, is a LOT). There are definitely a few rules here; don’t walk around late at night on your own with your SLR on your shoulder and your iPhone headphones in (but in what city is it okay to do that anyway?). Just be safe and cautious and you will experience one of the most fantastic places on earth.
Colombia’s got everything, and I mean everything. It’s a diverse mix of stunning beaches, breath taking views, the lushest, greenest mountains I’ve ever seen (outside of The Shire) vast amounts of wildlife and jaw dropping sunsets. Need I go on? Oh ok then…
Why Colombia is the best country in Latin America
Get out there
My first stop on my 2 week trip was the capital city of Bogotá. It’s full of museums, beautiful churches, cobbled streets, and graffitied walls. Stay in the enchanting La Candelaria in one of the many hostels and take a wander through the historical quarters. There’s more than enough to keep you occupied for a few days (and some pretty awesome bars and clubs for evenings).
As my journey was a short 2 week trip rather than a long jaunt, I skipped most buses and hopped on a few planes. First stop after Bogota was beautiful Salento, home of Colombia’s national symbol, the 60 metre wax palms. I ventured on a 3 hour trek through the grassland and criss-crossed a creek into a cloud forest. Nothing prepared me for the amazing views over Valle de Cocora. I think that’s what makes Colombia so spectacular, you just don’t expect such incredible views.
Chillin' in Salento
As I left behind Salento, smelling of fresh coffee beans and with a spring in my step, I jumped on a bus to Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia. It’s a complete contrast to the sophisticated and historic Bogota (think Melbourne vs Sydney or Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh). I’d only chosen to pass through Medellin because it was the quickest route from Salento to Santa Marta and I wish I’d known to plan a longer stay. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan and the night-life is amazing. You can see the city from a cable car, take a wander through the gorgeous Botanical Gardens and join the locals around the streets lined with market stalls. Life isn’t perfect here by any means. The slopes around the city are crowded with makeshift slums, a constant reminder of the inequality that plagues not just Medellin but all of Latin America.
Oh hello, paradise
After a week inland it was time to venture up to the Caribbean coast (hard life). I was imagining sipping an ice cold beer, lying on a sunbed whilst listening to the clear crystal waters lapping against the pure white fluffy sand. I was right. Welcome to the Colombian Caribbean coast. Welcome to paradise.
Tayrona National Park
My first stop on the 1760 km coastline was Tayrona National Park, a real cultural treasure. Now, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, it’s a mission to get to. You will need to navigate around Santa Marta in 35 degree heat trying to find a bus from the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11, pass through the park entrance (don’t forget your passport!), and hop on another bus to the start of the 2 hour trek into the park. I can imagine you’re thinking the same thing I was (“that’s not ideal”), but Tayrona National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have been fortunate enough to visit.
On recommendation from the copious backpackers I met along the way I trekked to El Cabo campsite, the furthest campsite you can reach. I showed up dripping with sweat, dehydrated and exhausted. But once you step onto the beach, the long 4/5 hour journey is forgotten. I spent the next 3 days and nights (I originally only planned 2 days) sleeping in a hammock, devouring fish for dinner, keeping cool on fruit juices, washing only in salt sea water and reading book after book whilst relaxing on the heavenly and serene beaches.
Oh hello paradise – again!
The next stop on my epic adventure around Colombia was Cartagena. Here forget all your usual sightseeing routines and get lost around the maze of cobbled alleys, leafy plazas and beautiful colonial homes. When you’ve had enough of this enchanting city (which might take a while), you can move on to the heavenly Playa Blanca beach and the Rosario Islands.
What can I say about Playa Blanca? It’s as close to paradise you’re going to get. There’s no running water or electricity and simple accommodation so if you need your daily dose of your iPhone or a pair of hair straighteners, this isn’t the place for you. Although saying that, I’m normally that person and I lost all my inhabitations in Colombia. I slept in a cabana right on the beach for 2 days. I ate crab and lobster, fresh out the sea that day for dinner and drank cocktails out of coconuts. Sat and watched the sunset alone on the beach, swam in crystal clear, tranquil waters.
I also had a braid platted into my hair (don’t judge me). Please make sure you stay a night here because at around 5pm the hordes of people disappear back to Cartagena on their boats and you are left, alone to enjoy the gorgeous beach all to yourself.
If you can take away any piece of advice from me right now: go to Colombia. Go for 2 weeks, go for 6 months, go forever! Just go!