Colombia was a last-minute addition to my itinerary based on the rave reports I’d read from other travel bloggers, and as I travelled through Central America, I heard more and more people gushing about how it was their favourite country in South America. So how did it turn out?
After a very disappointing start in Bogota, I ended up loving the country. For a country with such a dangerous reputation, I actually felt safer in Colombia than any other country so far. You’d never know either that mass tourism is relatively new here either – it’s a very easy country to get around andI stayed in some of the nicest hostels to date.
There were plenty of highlights – Villa de Leyva is one of the finest little colonial towns I’ve seen so far; Tayrona gave me the best beaches I’ve ever seen; climbing Nevado del Ruiz took me above 5,000m for the first time; Medellin is one of the most fun cities I’ve ever visited; visiting Hacienda Guayabal to see how coffee is grown and made was both beautiful and fascinating; San Gil gave me the opportunity to try paragliding, and the Lost City trek is the best hike I’ve ever done.
I even grew to love Bogota in the end. It’s funny how much of a difference the weather can make to my enjoyment of a place – after a cold, wet and grey first experience, on my second visit I arrived to glorious sunshine, blue skies, and warm weather. And suddenly the city looked beautiful (and not like Croydon so much). I ended up in a much nicer hostel (the fantastic DN) in a slightly safer-feeling area, discovered some beautiful little side streets and some of the nicest and friendliest little bars and restaurants I’ve seen on my trip so far.
Every country has its downsides, and for me the only real letdown was the food. The Colombians seem to have a penchant for deep-frying everything, which was not great, and pretty much everything that wasn’t deep-fried seemed to be stuffed with cheese (even when you least expect it). It was generally quite expensive too, compared to other countries I’ve been to, and even the supermarkets were poor – I found a better selection of many things even in Guatemala, a much poorer country. There were some highlights, such as the hot chocolate with cheese, and some excellent street-food chorizos, but on the whole it was all a bit disappointing.
But my happiest memory of Colombia is nothing intrinsic to the country – it was instead the other travellers I spent time with. In the Macondo hostel in San Gil I met a fantastic selection of Brits, Irish & Americans. I did the Lost City trek with six of them, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better group of people. After that, every place I visited ended up being with a selection of the group from San Gil. Thanks for helping make Colombia such a special experience.
I’m now getting used to the fact that each country never turns out to be as cheap as I was hoping, and Colombia was no exception. I found food to be especially on the costly side, although as usual I did myself no favours by spending far too much partying. Still, on the brightside I spent the least since Guatemala, and only a touch more than I spent in Mexico. Here are the daily averages:
Museums, activities & excursions: $9.58
Food & drink: $24.52
And now onto the serious business – here’s how Colombia shapes up in numerical terms (and what’s really noticeable now is how much church fatigue has set in – the number has plummeted since Mexico)
Hammocks slept in 5
Night buses attempted to sleep on in the face of over-enthusiastic aircon and suicidal drivers 3
National Parks 3
Hot springs 1
Phone calls 3
Cash withdrawals 12
Lost cities 1
Volcanoes 2 (1 mud, 1 normal)
Coffee farms 2
Cable Cars 2
Days spent hiking 8
Paraglides 1 (disappointing)
Water Parks 1
Ants eaten – several (which was probably several too many)
On the people I met front, the biggest disappointment is that I didn’t get to spend more time with Colombians – all the ones I met on the street and so on were incredibly friendly, but because I met such a fantastic group of travellers early on in San Gil, I ended up spending most of my time with them and didn’t make enough of an effort to go out and meet more locals. Must try harder. On a positive (geeky) note, Colombia did give me the opportunity to add a few more unusual countries to my list (French Guiana, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Egypt)
Isle of Man 1
French Guiana 1