Colombia

We loved Colombia, so much that we have been there three times now. This country is full of colour, friendly people and amazing nature. There are a lot of different things to do and see here. This is a must see country in South America.

Destinations Visited

Cartagena

This place is a rather large city, we mostly stayed in the old town which feels very small, it’s beautiful to walk around and for the most part very safe.

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There are a lot of nice places to eat ice cream, drink coffee and eat delicious food. In the evening the thing to do it to go to one of the many squares, buy a couple drinks and just watch the locals. If you are lucky you might even catch a couple of dances with ladies in beautiful dresses.

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Old town city wall with Tim and Jemma

There is also a little market down near the church (pictured above) where you can buy spices, sweet treats or souvenirs.

Mud volcano

One of the top rated activities to do here is to visit the mud volcano. This is around one hour away from Cartagena and you can book a tour through most of the agencies in town. It’s a really fun experience, sitting in a mud bath where you can’t sink.

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The locals are more than happy to give massages, take photos, wash you of in the nearby lake, all for a small payment of course.

I got an old lady to wash me after which was a fun and interesting experience, lets just say they aren’t shy, totally worth the $2.

Santa Marta

This place is not a very nice city in itself, but a great base to go and see all the amazing places in the area.

We stayed at Dreamer hostel, which is a really cool but slightly expensive place. They have a nice swimming pool, great kitchen, TV area, lots of hammocks and can help you organise all the activities.

There is also a really big shopping center near by which is great for getting the cheap groceries. There is also a cinema and a lot of other shops.

We used Dreamer hostel as a base, we would go to another destination for a few days and then come back to dreamers. They will store your big bag for free here.

Minca

Pozo Azul waterfall near Minca

A small town in the mountain not far from Santa Marta. Here there are lots of walks  and hikes to be done. One of the more popular walks is the walk to the waterfall, Pozo Azul, which provides a great dip in some cold water when you get there. If you don’t want to walk both ways its recommended to take a motorbike taxi there and then walk back. You need to hang on as they are slightly crazy! Download MAPS.ME and you can follow the trek really easy.

We stayed at Oscars place, a 20 min walk from the town, up! This is totally worth the walk there. Waking up watching the sun rise is pure beauty. Oscar has both hammocks and dorms available at decent prices. There is no guest kitchen here but they have a hang out area where you can mingle with the other travellers.

Another hostel we stayed in was was Casa Lomo, which has the same beautiful view over the forest and this is only around 10 min walking up from town, they sell food and have cool hammocks with the most amazing view.

Palermo

Palermo is a great place to go tubing down the river. We rented the tubes from locals, they then took us on a motorbike to the start of the trek where we walked for around one hour to the start. There is one point where it looks like a good place to start, after 20 min of walking, don’t stop here but keep going for another 40 min. This way you get way longer on the river. We bought a couple of drinks to bring for the 45 min tubing back into the town. Get off when you see the bridge and walk down the main road back into town.

This is easily done in one day from Santa Marta, no need to stay in Palermo.

The Lost City (Ciudad Peridad)

The lost city is an old Incan ruin in the Santa Marta in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The ruins can only be accessed by foot which adds a nice adventure element to it.

All of the companies charge 700000 peso (Nov 16) and the price is set by the government. If you find it cheaper, it’s usually because the company is compromising on their wage

The hike is usually done over 4 days but can be done in 5 and 6 day tours. The tours all cost the same amount so we decided that extra time means more free nights accommodation and food which is good when you are time rich money poor.

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Cool butterfly on the Lost City Hike

The first day isn’t very exciting, you basically drive from your accommodation out to the starting point, have lunch then walk through mainly farmland to the first campsite. The campsite has the options of beds or hammocks. We would recommend bringing a packet of cards for some entertainment.

The next day you hike past the local indian villages, over rivers and arrive at the campsite at the bottom of the climb for the lost city. All up around 8 hours hiking.

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Local Wewa Indians

On day 3 you get up early and start the climb up the steps to reach the lost city. The steps can be pretty slippery when wet, and they’re wet most of the time in the jungle.

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Steps to the Lost City

It’s a beautiful view at the top over the lost city

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The Lost City Ruins

Once you’ve enjoyed the experience at the top, if you’re on a 4 day tour you need to hike back to around the Wewa camp (half way back) for that nights stay. However on the longer tour you only need to hike a few hours and spread the walk back over 3 days instead of 2

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Comparing the Lost City to Machu Picchu

Comparing the Lost City to Machu Picchu we would say that the Machu Picchu ruins are far more impressive, but Machu Picchu is also very touristy and people can just get the bus there. So when you turn up wet, sweaty and tired to see a bunch of tourists get off in the designer bags and jeans, it can take some of the intrepid feeling away. The Lost City on the other hand just gets better as you make it to the ruins as they generally schedule each group so you get the whole ruins to yourself!

Ipiales – Santuario de las lajas

There is nothing to do here pretty much, other than seeing a spectacular church in a gorge. This is worth stopping here if you are in the area to take a look at this church. The bus from town is around 3000 pesos each, or you can take a taxi for 8,000 pesos. There is a small walk when you get there. Walk all the way to the bottom of the hill and look up! This church is truly magnificent.

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Salento

This is place to come to visit the Cocora valley with the giant palm trees. The wax palm trees are in the cloud forest and a great day spent walking around in this area. The palm trees grow up to 60 m and just looking at them it makes you feel tiny.

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Hummingbirds on the Cocora Valley hike
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Massive trees

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If you don’t care about the walk, there is no need to walk the whole route as the giant palm trees are in the beginning/end of the route, depending on which way you decide to walk.

Again here we recommended to download MAPS.ME and follow the trek as a lot of people seem to be getting lost in that area.

The town itself is super touristy, saying that it’s still a nice place to spend a couple of days and enjoy the very colourful town and the different markets they have over the weekend.

Jardin

This is one of our favorite places in Colombia. The town is really small, there isn’t that much to do and yet we still found this place a super nice relaxing and authentic place to stay. The town is a bit of a mix between Guatape and Salento, with less tourists.

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The place we ended up spending all our time was in the main square in the middle of the town, where it also seems that all the locals where hanging out drinking their coffee and chatting. For me this is what travelling is all about. Meeting the locals in their environment and seeing what their day-to-day life is all about, which here, seems like drinking coffee.

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Once we got bored with watching other people drinking coffee we got on one of the two cable cars which brought us up to a place where we got a view over  the whole city for 3,000.  From there we walked back to town.

There is also another cable car, this one is slightly older and is operated out of a shed. I am sure it’s perfectly safe, however we didn’t go on this one.

If you like looking at weird-looking birds this is the place for you. There are some really interesting birds called “cock on the rock”, you can mostly only see them in the morning and night and there is a place you can go to see them easily, 5 min from town. There is an entrance fee here of around 10,000 pesos, you do get to see the birds at super close range.

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One of the reason we really likes this town is because is not yet on the set backpacker route. Jardin only has two hostels but a lot of hotels.

In terms of getting there it is a bit of a mission if you’re coming from the south heading north. We were in Salento before and wanting to come here. The distance is only around 150 km, however it still took around 8 hours.

This was our route:

Salento to Pereira, 7,000

Pereira to Riosucio 17,500

Riosucio to Jardin 19,000

Jardon to Medellin, 2.5 hours – 25,000

Coming from south to north is probably just as easy to go from Salento to Medellin and then back to Jardin, however that sounds less exciting.

Medellin

The biggest city in Colombia, yet not the capital. Most people will know this town from the Netflix series, Narcos.

Its best not to mention that name Pablo Escobar when outside of hostels, as some the locals don’t really like him much and they have very strong opinions of him. So unless you are prepared to have a discussion in spanish about him, don’t mention his name.

The best thing we did here was the walking tour. It lasted 4 hours in total and took us all around the center of town with a very knowledgeable guide. The walking tour in itself is free, however you do need to tip the guide. We had a guy called Pablo and he was extremely good. Five min after we started the tour he knew all 28 of our names, that’s impressive! Pablo, the tour guide, always referred to Pablo Escobar as the world famous criminal, or the criminal that shares the same name as me. This was in order to not attract even more attention when walking around with 28 gringos talking about the history and how Medellin is doing now.

The tour needs to be booked online, that can be done here http://www.realcitytours.com/

Another cool thing to do here is jump on a cable car and see Medellin from the top. They are super cheap and well worth a couple of hours.

There are a few Pablo Escobar tours that can be booked to, including playing paintballing at one of his old mansions. However we prefer not to support anything to do with Pablo Escobar.

Tip – If leaving Colombia by plane ensure you ask for tax back. If you have been in the country for less than 60 days you might be lucky and receive some money back. At the check in counter we received around $25usd back each

Guatape

A small town around 2 hours on bus from Medellin. This town us just full over colour and a place worth stopping at.

Not far from the town there is a big rock you can walk up to get the most amazing views of the area. The climb is well worth it, even with the entrance fee of around 20,000 pesos.

Other than visiting the rock there are a bunch of activities here including, kayaking, boat cruises, jet skiing, zip lines, horse riding and enjoying good food.

Tip – if you are leaving Guatape on a Sunday make sure you book the bus in the morning as most of the afternoon buses are booked out as a lot of locals come here for the weekend.

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