“I heard it’s dangerous,” they said. “Don’t go, it’s not safe,” they said. “Why on earth would you go there on holiday?” they said. These were just some of the many responses I had when I told people I was going to Colombia on a two-week adventure.
Colombia was amazing! Despite all the negative criticisms from people who have never been to Colombia or even South America, (but thought watching Narcos was enough evidence to deter me from going) my trip to Colombia was one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on.
To begin with, the holiday started off surprisingly well. I joined my two friends in a hotel room they had already been in for the previous night. What they failed to tell me that our £XXX room included a private outdoor roof terrace with a Jacuzzi! As soon as I saw this, I knew that this holiday was going to be full of pleasant surprises. I must admit, I did not leave this hotel room (can you blame me) until the following morning when we caught a flight to Barranquilla.
Barranquilla is not a holiday destination and there isn’t anything particularly special about the city apart from one thing, the self proclaimed second largest carnival in the world after Rio. The carnival itself, I must admit was not as grand as I expected. Once we arrived at the carnival, the first thing I noticed was the lack of people around. For a carnival that claimed to be the second biggest, I was expecting to be crushed between bodies upon entry, as is sometimes the case at Notting Hill Carnival. Instead we walked along the carnival route looking for a seat at a bargain price. Once we got a dodgy but cheap deal for a seat we continued to be surprised by the lack of attendees. Nevertheless, the carnival atmosphere was still lively and we watched and danced along to the numerous parades that went past us. However, the best part, unbeknown to us, was yet to come. The after party was basically a massive street party that went so far along the road I don’t actually know how long it is. Stage after stage of bands playing music in what felt like the worlds greatest party. In my opinion the carnival can be missed but the street party alone is worth a trip to Barranquilla.
The following day we caught a taxi to Cartagena. We got the hotel to order us a taxi and we were greeted with a taxi whose boot broke when we put our bags in it. We then had a very slow ride to Cartagena and the driver seemed to be having issues with his operator. This was not the first poor taxi experience, as we had also been ripped off in a taxi in Bogota and my mistrust for Colombian taxis (or taxis anywhere in the world for that matter) was reaffirmed. Luckily, arriving in Cartagena was worth the stressful journey. Within the old town walls lay colourful buildings which absorbed the scorching sun that blessed this Caribbean coastal city. This Instagrammers dream was as rich in history as it was in beauty. Each beautiful building told an ugly story that stemmed from the town’s colonial past and the slave trade. It was a lovely place to walk around endlessly, and if History is your thing, I would definitely recommend a guided tour to really bring this place to life.
During our time in Cartagena we also went on an organized tour to the Rosario Islands. It was just as I have always imagined a Caribbean coast to look like. Golden sand, clear blue sea and under the sun. I was not disappointed. The tour took us on a speed boat to the various islands and beaches (some were far too busy but luckily, we didn’t spend too much time at those places). I was speechless the whole day to be honest. As we cruised through the waters that changed from crystal blue to a deep turquoise hue, I was just at peace with one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. We snorkeled, ate fried fish with coconut rice and laid on the beach with local women successfully convincing us to pay them for a massage as the sunset shone down on our now glistening skin. The tour ended with a magical tour to the “enchanted lagoon” to see the Phosphorescent plankton. In simple terms, in pitch black darkness we jumped into a lake and we literally lit up as if we were coated in sparkling diamonds. I am so upset that my camera could not capture the light so I can not prove that I was Disney on water (does not exist but if it did this would be it) it will stay in my memory forever.
The next day we left the colourful Cartagena for Santa Marta. Santa Marta is not a tourist destination but there are plenty of tourists. It’s a base for many of the surrounding tourist towns and destinations close to this city. I must admit I was petrified for our next destination. Never have I gotten so close to God, because he knows how much I needed him. Our next stop was a four-day trek to Ciudad Perdida or “Lost city” in English. This lost city was Colombia’s version of Machu Picchu (and it is actually 650 years older, so therefore better). I was so scared as to how my lazy self, who can easily justify taking a bus one stop rather than cross the road, was going to trek 28 miles up and down mountains. This trek was not easy at all! There were times I thought I wasn’t going to make it and, and we were so deep in the jungle I was prepared to see Tarzan pop out the trees and hopefully save me. Yet, I was fine and it was a lovely experience. I made great friends and each day we would arrive at a campsite equipped with a bunk bed, clean blankets and adequate outdoor showering facilities. After dropping our bags and changing out of our literally soaking wet clothes (I am sorry to say but this is from sweat and not rain) we would head for a nearby river and jump in to cool ourselves. The feeling of then having a shower and eating what was actually too much food (I did not lose any weight on that trek, if anything I came back fatter) seemed next to heaven. The four days of trekking up mountains with the sun shining on us was made more memorable by seeing how the indigenous tribes Kogi and Wiwa continue to preserve their traditions and added a special touch. We were even given a talk by one of the indigenous people and our tour guide translated for us. Of course, the part that we all waited/suffered for was the Lost City. Not everyone was impressed when we arrived but it was still a sight to see how this marvellous engineering had stood the test of time. I could write an entire blog on this trek experience alone, and there are countless blogs and YouTube videos on the experience if you wish to learn more. What I will say was that it was an amazing four days, and whilst I sit here in miserable England in Lockdown, I would do anything to be sweating on those mountains.
Now that I successfully survived what I once believed was the unthinkable, we went back to Santa Marta and stayed two nights in the nearby town of Minca. To be honest, I was slightly disappointed with Minca. After spending four days in the jungle with glistening see-through streams, pausing in my tracks for snakes on mountains that pierced the fluffy white clouds above me, seeing even more rugged terrain and some waterfalls did not compare. The waterfalls were spectacular and I do not regret going, I think maybe as someone who prefers the city it was a bit too much nature for me. Regardless, Minca was a cute little town with very few eateries and a great place to hide and be with nature. If you want to spend time to see waterfalls and be in a peaceful and actually quite touristy small town then Minca is great. However, for me I would say you could easily give it a miss. Everything is so spread out and most of the roads are not paved. Combine this with the fact that the roads twist and wind up the mountains with no barriers between the road and the cliff edges, it is not safe and I would not advise anyone with a fear of heights or young and old people to visit. Some of the hostels are in fact a 30-minute gruelling motor taxi ride away, and you are at risk of your bag ripping on the bumpy mountain side road and your belongings somewhere in the distance behind you. The only other option is an off-road jeep (which most definitely will partially come off the road) and this can make a grown person cry their eyes out. Sound dramatic? This all happened to me and my friends.
Anyways, after leaving the picture-perfect hell of Minca (sorry that’s how I feel) we also spent a day at Tayrona National Park. We were back in paradise. We left Santa Marta Market on a bus that would have buskers and someone carrying a live chicken. Once on the fast convenient bus, we arrived at the gates of the national park. Strangely you have to pay for insurance (about £1) and then an entrance fee. You then are free to roam the expansive 58 mile square miles national park at your own leisure. Luckily there is a shuttle bus that in 10 minutes shaves off an hour’s walking time. We then began our two-hour beach hopping walk, saying hello to the monkeys that greeted us along the way. We finally rested at the most famous beach Cabo San Juan and accidentally fell asleep. We woke up at about 5:30pm as the sun began to set. Lord did not prepare me for what waited for me on the return to the shuttle bus. What was an idyllic trek to the beach was undoubtedly the scariest moment of my life (this beat the previous record of the jeep ride in Minca). We literally ran up and down boulders for two hours, alone, in pitch black whilst bats swung straight over our heads and large animals that I cannot nor do I want to identify came out for their night play. It’s by God’s grace I was not their dinner!
Our last day in Santa Marta we once again risked it all to go 2 hours away to the town of palomino. The main attraction of this slightly hippy tourist town is the river tubing. This river tubing was about 3 hours of sitting in a tube going down a tree lined stream with your friends. Peaceful and relaxing, little more needs to be said.
That night we caught a flight to Medellin. This bustling second city of Colombia was a lovely city break to the natural paradise that we left behind. I spent a day visiting the city and I would definitely recommend a visit to communa 13, a place that was once the most dangerous in the place within the Worlds former murder capital. Today it is home to graffiti and street performances that bring this area to life. A ride on the nearby cable cars is also a must to see a different world to the loud bars, and fancy shopping centre on the other side of the city. These loud bars were also more than audible in our hostel where someone tried to steal from my friend’s bag. Luckily my friend caught her in the act and after receiving a refund (ironically, the previous day the manager tried to overcharge us) we left for a much more peaceful private dorm elsewhere. This was all forgotten as we headed to a Reggaeton club. It was a great time, and it was a cultural shock seeing white Colombians dancing as if it was a bashment rave (I will leave that to your imagination).
The next day me and my friends departed from each other and I spent my last night in Jardin. A cute countryside town with men in cowboy hats racing horses along cobbled streets with brightly painted houses. This place, despite its limited activities was well worth the visit to see the real Colombia. Nothing makes the real Colombian experience better than its hospitality. In Minca and all over the country I met the kindest people i have ever met on a holiday. Most people would immediately take out their phone and get google translate if you had a query. Most Airbnb hosts were unbelievable. Within seconds I was made to feel like a family member as they came to collect me, got to know me (despite the language barrier) and even made me breakfast. Their kindness really was the icing on the cake for what was an amazing holiday.
This holiday we really squashed in a lot of activities and destinations in a short space of time. We started off in amazing hotels with swimming pools and private jacuzzies to trekking in a jungle, not so great hostels and looking ashy as hell. But this was all part of the experience. Would I do it all again? Yes, yes and yes (although I personally will not stay in a shared dorm hostel unless my life depended on it). In the space of 2 weeks, I managed to experience the beautiful towns of the Colombian coast, partying in Medellin and enjoying the best of what nature has got to offer. This post is very lengthy but it could be so much longer, I didn’t even get to speak about the bird watching, interesting travellers, the food and the countless pina coladas I had! Colombia is really a hidden gem and the only danger is that this secret gets out! Until then, I would highly recommend a trip to Colombia to anyone and I definitely hope to return one day