I challenge you to think a bit before you start reading. Think about what you know about this country, or what you knew about it before visiting Colombia. What do you know about its politics, internal situation, its people, and maybe about the performances in sports. Mexico, before getting there, meant to me only tacos and immigrants to USA. Colombia was for me a mystery. Other than the success in football and the famous football players Valderrama and Zapata, I only knew that people here are loving, cheerful, and that every traveler I met fell in love with Colombia. I assume you are curious to see if my impression of Colombia is different.
The day I landed in Colombia, I first set foot in Bogota! First contact with South America. Big airport, civilized people, hell, a lot better organized in terms of transportation than Bucharest or Vienna. My first shock was to see a city this big (8 mil people) being on the move and successfully reaching their jobs every day, thanks to the dedicated bus lanes. It was a nice coincidence that I actually shared the plane with my CS host from Panama City, Erlich. We met his friends in probably the best decorated restaurant in Bogota – “Andres Carne de Res”. It’s quite an unique place, where everything looks like a Mexican tattoo, a mural, embroidered with a mix of forged metal with red glass. On the way there I see people holding hands, kissing, showing affection on the streets regardless of the sexual orientation. Yes, gay couples are a common sighting in Bogota. After so many months of the colder Central America, all of a sudden I finally see more of that latino heat, openness, expressed feelings, all in this colorful environment, with awesome murals all over the buildings and city walls (don’t miss the pictures).
I spent maybe 5 days in Bogota, wandering the streets of Candelaria and Chapinero, checking out the city from above in Monserrate, and testing the local crafts beer, BBC, with new friends at the hostel (Kristian, Abby, Olgi). Oh, and I admit it, yes, chasing Pokemons for almost a whole day before uninstalling the app. As I already mentioned on fb, the city has a lot o streets permanently closed to traffic, open only for pedestrians and bicycles, in an effort to encourage sports and movement. Almost 500km of streets and boulevards – it is unbelievable to watch so many people biking, running, or just walking on a Sunday morning. That might sound odd, since people usually party late on a Saturday night (like I did), but yes, they do wake up early to work out. If there’s something you shouldn’t miss in Bogota, is the graffiti tour on Candelaria. It’s more of a story about the Colombian culture, current bad and oppressive politics, the level of corruption, and the talented youngsters than a walking tour telling you where to look and what to see. Something to skip: the free walking tour. So boring I left 10 minutes later.
Bogota is where I met Abby and traveled together to Bucaramanga, unfortunately skipping San Gil. Bucaramanga was a stop in the middle of our journey to the Northern coast. Quite a fortunate stop I might say, because here’s where I met a sweet Colombian girl, Angie. Not much to do in Bucaramanga, so I continued with Abby to Santa Marta (still not much to do) and further to the National Park of Tayrona. Meanwhile, our crew grew to four: Rosie(UK) and Lena(DE) joined in for two wonderful days of hiking and swimming in Tayrona. The 4h hike to Pueblito (a small indigenous, almost abandoned, village within the national park) was definitely better than sweating my bum on the beach along with hundreds of day-tourists. However, the highly recommended Palomino was a little disappointing. I failed to see anything worth mentioning in this wanna-be hippie dusty village. For my Romanian friends, it looked like Vama Veche right before they started building stuff, minus the people with fancy cars. One night there was enough, yet I feel I missed something, maybe the 1h floating-on-a-doughnut tour on the river.
One might say the route I further took was a bit chaotic, but since I have time, I decided to go places for people, or follow nice people. So here I am, back to Santa Marta with Abby and Rosie. And since Tinder is on fire in Colombia, Abby decided to spend some time in Santa Marta, while I went to Barranquilla, Shakira’s birth place, to meet Angie again. Barranquilla has probably less stuff to offer to tourists than Santa Marta, but at least it’s rich in beautiful ladies.
A couple of days later, after a delicious sangria shared with Angie on the beach of Puerto Colombia, I left to Cartagena – the highlight of the North coast. By the time I got there, I started to miss the quality street food of Mexico. Bogota treated me with wonderful pastry, close in quality and taste to the Romanian street pastry. I have to mention here the bonhuelos – delicious cheese-dough balls… But, other than the sweet pastry, there is nothing worth mentioning. Then in Cartagena I discovered “arepas” – a more expensive, chicken filled version of the pupusas from El Salvador. Not as good, but still delicious. I also keep trying the empanadas, hoping to find ones as savory as the ones above the Darien gap. But enough about food! I spent my first day in Cartagena with Scott, Sari and Lara, guys I met on the free walking tour (not a bad tour), and the second day with Angie, who joined me for a day trip from Barranquilla – looks like I’m not the only one traveling to meet people. And with no set plans, I went back to Barranquilla for a couple of days with Angie.
I already got to know the friendly folks of Meeting Point hostel in Barranquilla, and even the dog, JLo, was glad to see me coming back. Coincidence or not, the grill was on fire, like welcoming me back with style. By the time I left Barranquilla, I already lost count of the days in Colombia and the money spent on Uber. If it wasn’t a coastal (and really hot) city, I would’ve opened a second hostel for the really lost wanderers who reached this (really widespread) city.
So far I simply love Colombia and the people, yet some are uneducated and really annoying trying to sell you stuff, grabbing you, treating you like a stupid person and calling you names behind your back like you don’t speak their language (that’s a first so far on this trip). The food I can live with, and the roads are quite good. The insane driving style for both cars and motorcycles is nothing after a few days in traffic. There’s still something to figure out: what they honk for when approaching an intersection, or out of nowhere while stuck in traffic.
Today I made it to Medellin, where the “Feria de las Flores” festival is happening. Free concerts and nightlife, here I come!
Whole journey map