From arriving to Colombia on Dec 7th, 2015 to leaving on February 12, 2016 the one consistent thought that never left my mind was, "Wow, Colombia is beautiful!" It has easily become my favorite country. Colombia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. To me, it is the perfect mixture of big cities with easy escapes to beautiful beaches, incredible national parks, and getting lost in the jungles. Every day I was there got better and better.
My favorite form of transportation in Colombia are the buses because the landscape is so lush and beautiful. I should warn you that the driving is a little scary, but, mind you, I have also been to India so I might be a little jaded from driving there. The roads can be windy, so I would suggest Dramamine for those who get motion sickness. The buses are comfortable and very affordable for the traveler's budget. To give you an idea, it was 70,000 COP ($20.83 USD) to travel first class on an 8 hour bus ride from Bogota to Pereira. Regular tickets range from 40,000-50,000 COP ($11-14 USD). I splurged for first class because it included seats that reclined all the way, wifi, plugs, personal TV, and a bathroom. Regular tickets have smaller seats but still include wifi and a bathroom. If you don't have much time then flying is your best bet. You can get cheap flights on Viva Colombia, but in my experience with flying Viva Colombia, the flight was delayed 2.5 hours. Flights within the country range from $40-$150 USD depending on the airline and when you book your ticket. Avianca is another airline which pleasantly surprised me and I found to be very nice. You can always find last minute cheap flights on Viva Colombia, but if you book in advance you can find cheap flights on Avianca.
The people of Colombia are wonderful. They are so unbelievably kind and giving. It is a shame there is still such a misconception of Colombia because anyone who hasn't been is missing out. Yes, there are still dangerous places in Colombia, but overall the country is safe to travel to and travel around. As a solo female traveler, I felt comfortable the entire time and look forward to my return.
I was not expecting to spend as much as I did in Colombia, and am actually still in shock with how much I managed to spend. Because the US dollar is so strong in Colombia at the moment, I should have been able to manage my money better. Instead of beating myself up over what I can’t change, I am using it as a lesson learned and will be more mindful about my spending going forward. I splurged quite a bit from time to time with the VIP options over the regular bus seat, but now I know better if I want to continue traveling for a year. I will need to get a job at some point so I can make money along the way and not worry about spending all of my savings.
But I wouldn’t trade my last 9.5 weeks for anything. It was worth every penny. What I would modify and be more mindful of as I continue traveling is how much I am eating compared to how much I am working out. Weight gain is usually inevitable for me when I travel, and since I am traveling open ended, it is a must that I find the proper balance asap. I am reminding myself the less I eat & drink going forward, the more money I will save, which is a win. I did teach yoga along the way which was nice, but a harder personal practice and additional cardio is necessary to make up for all the good eats I'm indulging in. Again, there is no point in beating myself up over what I can't change. Acknowledging the changes I want to make and making them is all I can do now.
As much as I have traveled in my past (28 countries & counting), this trip is the first time where I do not have an end date. I have already learned so much, and am blessed to have the opportunity to come home in between travels and implement necessary changes. The number one mistake I made in my first 9.5 weeks is how much I packed. I packed way more than necessary and learned quickly that all the organizational methods I used were actually making me more disorganized. I originally got an Osprey backpack that I accessed from the top and that was a huge pain. After traveling with others, I was able to pick up on what worked well for them and how I could better prepare. I was lucky enough to get my backpack from REI whose year long return policy really saved my big travel mistake. When I came home, I downsized my backpack from the Osprey Aura 65 AG Pack Women's to the smaller Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Pack. This new backpack opens from the front and comes with a detachable backpack. Having a backpack that opens from the front is more convenient for a traveler who is constantly on the move. The compression bags for my clothes ended up more of a pain than a help, so I will no longer bring them. Because the majority of my flights are standby on United, it was necessary for me to have carry on luggage. I no longer have to check my bag, which is a big money saver.
I overdid it on toiletries I thought I would need. I have scaled down to bringing shampoo, conditioner, bodywash, facewash, leave in conditioner (its a ten), toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, deodorant, baby powder, comb, & nail clippers. I will bring bug spray, sunscreen, and some medicine as well. Before, I overdid it and packed too many face products, hair products, and I hardly used a thing. It was a waste of space.
I may still be packing too many clothes. Since I lived in 3 of my tees the majority of the time, I adjusted my wardrobe and added 3 more tank tops. If I realize I have too much, then I will need to practice non-attachment and rid myself of items as I go.
Now that I am traveling to Australia, I am going far enough away from home to not have the option to pop home and readjust. My plan is to start in Australia, then head to Southeast Asia and get lost for a few months. I am enjoying not having an actual plan. I love meeting people as I travel and discovering places that are a must from other travelers. The second I have a plan, I feel as if it limits me. Living day by day, free of a plan, allows me to be spontaneous. Of course, if my budget comes in to question, then I will need to find a workaway or way to save money along my journey.
The best part about this trip is learning as I go and improving each day. I am happy to be the guinea pig and relay this information to others who are planning a round the world (RTW) travel. Please note, this is my own personal experience and my recommendations come from self reflection and talking with other travelers along the way. Check out my break down below of the places I visited and what my overall expenditures were for my time in Colombia.
Review of Colombia
Time spent in Colombia:
9.5 weeks | 67 days | Dec 7, 2015 - February 12, 2016
Warm. Hottest places - Cali, Cartagena, Santa Marta. Coldest place - Bogota
National holidays While I was There:
Little Candles, Feria de Calle, Christmas, Carnaval de Barranquilla
Bogota, Granada, Cartago, Salento, Cali, Buga, Medellin, Guatape, Santa Marta, Minca, Barranquilla, Cartagena
Highlights of my trip:
The friends I made, Paragliding, Spending Christmas with a Colombian family, 58 Feria de Cali, My birthday in Cartagena in with my friends, Teaching yoga at Casa Elemento, Hiking through Valle de Cocora in Salento, Carnaval de Barranquilla 2016
My goal while traveling is to keep it real and be honest about what I am spending. There seems to be a taboo around sharing this type of information, but I think it is important to be honest and open about it. That being said, I still cannot believe I spent as much as I did and can only attribute it to living large and having a little too much fun in my first two months of travel. My birthday can account for a few of my big splurges. I was not very strict with my budget, and I have learned quickly that I need to be better about this if I want my travels to last. The average budget traveler can expect to spend much less. My total amount spent overall was $3459.32. Broken down by the days I was there would be on average $51 a day. Please note you could do Colombia for much cheaper, if you wanted. I met travelers who spent 600,000 COP ($178 USD) a week. On average that is $25 dollars a day.
I've broken down my budget into 5 categories; accommodation, transportation, food & drink, fun activities, and miscellaneous for the things I couldn't pinpoint.
Total spent on Accommodation: $1044.59
Total spent on Food & Drinks: $1019.76
Total spent on Transportation: $458.79 (This price does not include two flights that I bought before I started my adventure. If I include these then my overall transportation cost is $750.79)
Total spent on Fun Activities: $381.24
Total spent on Miscellaneous: $554.94 (I wasn't able to pinpoint these items on a particular experience but would assume these accounted for a lot of my fun experiences)
Number of buses taken: 13
Number of taxis: countless
Motorbike rides: 4
Number of flights: 2
Bogota is one of the largest cities in Colombia. The population of Bogota according to the latest demographics index is 8.7 million. If visiting Bogota, it is a must to check out the bike tour for 40,000 COP ($11.92 USD) or the free walking tour which usually requires a donation of 20,000-30,000 COP ($8.94 USD). Both tours are totally worth it and are easy to arrange through your hostel. The La Candelaria district is a great place for travelers to stay. It's walking distance to everything you need including Monserrate, which is an incredible view of the city.
Things to do:
- Bogota Bike Tour
- Bogota free walking tour
- Bogota Grafitti tour
- Visit Monserrate
- Try Crepes & Waffles -This restaurant is all over Colombia and is delicious. They have amazing savory crepes, sandwiches, and delicious ice cream. A cool fact is they only hire single mothers.
- Right outside Bogota is Varsana Eco Yoga Farm - you can volunteer here or visit.
I volunteered at a yoga ashram, Mayapurita Eco Yoga Farm for a week. It was my first workaway experience and a really great one at that. I taught yoga every morning and volunteered for 3-4 hours in the afternoon. I learned new vegetarian dishes and made some great friends. The Ashram was along the river and the bugs were the hardest part about my stay. When visiting any jungle in Colombia, insect repellent is a MUST. Even with 100% deet and using the local repellents, I still had over 30 bites on my legs alone. Not to scare you with the bug bites, just be prepared. The place was incredibly beautiful and worth the pain.
Things to do:
- Walk around the town of Cartago
- Volunteer at Mayapurita Eco Yoga Farm
Cali is a beautiful city with the most authentic Colombian feel. It is the salsa capital of Colombia and I was lucky enough to be there for 58 Feria De Cali. Feria de Cali is the main cultural event in Cali that is celebrated over a 6 day salsa festival filled with free concerts and parades. I stayed with a friend who's been living in Colombia for the last year, and had the best time. We went to free concerts at night and watched bands that had created all their instruments from recycled materials. The people I met were some of the kindest in the world. Everyone went out of their way for me to ensure I had the best visit.
Things to do:
- Teatro Magico del Sabor - A unique dining experience with amazing food. Watch the chef prepare the dinner while keeping the audience entertained with witty comments. Not recommended for anyone who is easily offended.
- Explore the graffiti
- Salsa clubs is a must!
- Yoga Meet ups
- Visit Cristo Rey
Buga is one of the oldest colonial cities in Colombia. It is home to a microbrewery which was the main reason I went. A German guy started Holy Water Ale, a hostel, pizzeria, & brewery, which is a must visit. The owner was extremely nice and even gave us a tour of the brewery. I found this to be some of the best craft beer in Colombia. If you are traveling down to Cali, stopping in Buga along the way is a fun place to stay for the night.
My favorite place in Colombia! Salento is located in the coffee region and is known for Valle de Cocora, which is an incredible hike with unreal landscapes and the Colombia national tree, the wax palm. The hike itself is 5 hours and goes through 3 different eco systems. It begins in a beautiful valley that leads into the jungle where you can hike to Acaime, a hummingbird sanctuary, and backtracks to a farm with incredible views before ending in the Cocora valley, home of the wax palms. If you only see one of these, the Cocora valley with the wax palms is a sight to see. The view is surreal and the most stunning place I've been in the world.
Things to do:
- Valle de Cocora - 5 hour hike
- Eat at Brunch and try the peanutbutter brownie - holy yum!
- Walk around the town and walk up the long street
- Bike tour around the coffee farms
This city is a favorite by most travelers. Unfortunately, I did not get the total experience of Medellin, and need to go back to explore all there is. The most popular advice from all travelers I met was to take the free walking tour in Medellin. The Poblado neighborhood is a favorite of travelers and has many good restaurant and hostels.
Things to do:
- Envy Roof Top at the Charlee Hotel is an amazing bar with incredible views of Medellin
- Medellin walking tour
- Day trips to Guatape
- Pablo Escobar's grave
It's a colorful town with many shops and restaurants. I wish I had spent more time here. This is a place I will need to come back to and explore more. Hiking up the rock is one of the most incredible views and worth it.
Things to do:
- El Penol - incredible views of Guatape
- Paintballing at one of Pablo Escobar's old mansions
Santa Marta is a great stopping point to get to other places. I didn't explore much of the town, I used it more as a home base when exploring places nearby like Tayrona National Park, Minca, and Taganga.
Things to do:
- Lost City Trek - I didn't do it but met a lot of travelers who had, and the overall feedback was worth it. It isn't an easy hike but the experience is worth it.
- Tayrona National Park - be sure to plan accordingly depending on the time of year you go. December & January is holiday for Colombians as well so January can be a very busy time to visit Tayrona. My first experience, we were turned away because the park had reached capacity. So be sure to get there early (Gates open at 7am) to ensure a ticket into the park. If you plan to stay overnight in the park, you need to wait in additional lines to reserve a hammock or tent. Again, we missed the hammocks because we got in line late, so we ended up hiking out of the park that evening. Prepare if you plan to visit.
- Visit Minca!
- Past Tayrona National Park are a few hostels, Costeno Surf and Rancho Relaxo, that I would recommend visiting or staying at. If you're going to Palomino, these hostels are on the way.
Hostels to Stay in the Area of Santa Marta:
- The Dreamer - a bit overpriced but a nice place to stay and enjoy the pool & chill vibes.
- Drop Bear - This is an old Narcos home and great place to stay in between trips. They have a giant TV room with couches that are relaxing for any traveler.
A fishing & island town close to Santa Marta. You can take boats from Taganga into Tayrona National Park.
My second favorite place in Colombia! Minca is a hidden gem. There are beautiful waterfalls, tours of coffee farms, and hikes in the jungle. You can take a jeep or bus from Santa Marta to the town, then transfer to a motorbike to get to the different hostels located in the jungles. The best hostel and most incredible view comes from Casa Elemento, home of the biggest hammocks in South America.The construction of roads is lacking in this area, so it takes an adventurous soul to hop on a motorbike with an experienced local and hold on tight for one hell of a ride. It costs 20,000 COP ($5.96 USD) for a 45 minute ride to Casa Elemento. Once I got on and started going up, I knew I was in for quite the adventure because the motorbike ride is the furthest thing from smooth, but oh so fun! What started as a few days' visit turned into 3 weeks and staffing at Casa Elemento. Casa Elemento was my favorite hostel in Colombia. It is the best adult playground. There are multiple hammocks to hang out and read, star gaze, or meet travelers. The hammocks range in size and hold between 8-10 people. There is a tree-house for chilling which also became my favorite place to sleep. Waking up with a view overlooking the jungle and Santa Marta felt like a dream every morning. Jungle town was another favorite spot at Casa Elemento. It consisted of a ropes course, rock climbing wall and another large hammock in the jungle.
Oscar's Place is another good hostel in Minca and has different views overlooking Santa Marta. Oscar's Place is lower than Casa Elemento and a chiller vibe. Oscar is one of the most caring souls I have met. He is so welcoming and known to have a joint in his mouth at all hours.
Places to Stay:
- Casa Elemento
- Oscar's Place
Things to do:
- Visit Casa Elemento for a day trip 10,000 COP ($2.98 USD) or stay the night, but be sure to call for reservations, they are always booked!
- Visit the Waterfalls
- Explore the coffee farms
- Ropes Course at Casa Elemento
Be prepared for hot weather because Cartagena is easily the hottest place I went. It took a few days to adjust to the 90 degree weather and humidity, but it is worth it. The old city in Cartagena is beautiful! The buildings are unique and painted all sorts of colors. It's easy to get lost walking the streets but you will feel safe inside the old city walls. This a place where wealthy Colombians travel, so the prices are a little higher within the city.
Places to Stay:
- El Viajero - Great hostel located throughout Colombia but especially great in Cartagena. It is located in the city walls and arranges fun events every night from Spanish lessons, salsa lessons, bbqs, to game nights. This is a great place for travelers to meet others and it's affordable.
Things to do:
- Visit the islands - Playa Blanca
- Rooftop pools! Bastion Luxury Hotel was incredible and charges 60,000 COP ($17.88 USD) to visit the pool for the day. These are a must to escape the heat and enjoy looking out over Cartagena
- Mud Volcanos - Such a neat experience
- Kite surfing
Home of the second largest Carnival in the world. I went to Barranquilla for Carnival with friends I had met along my travels. I didn't know what to expect when I went to carnival, but what I can recommend to anyone going is to make sure they see the Parade on the first day! This is the day where the floats & costumes are the most done up. The second day is for more traditional dances and the third day has ladies in feathers and dances. The parties at night vary throughout different neighborhoods and are always packed. It is a very fun event with little sleep.