Why we are crazy for Colombia

We fell in love with this country. Colombia has so much going for it, including friendly people, a variety of lush landscapes, beautiful beaches and attractive cities with interesting history and culture. It’s also very affordable for budget travelers, with cheap internal flights between regional centers – a real rarity in South America.

Morning in Salento.
Valle de Corcora
Caribbean Cartagena
A Colombian Caribbean beach

At all times we felt perfectly safe. The troubles that have haunted Colombia for so long appear to be over now, at least as far as foreign tourists are concerned. The occasional presence of soldiers with machine guns on the streets – or even the beach at Playa Blanca – was a reminder of past security problems. I can tell you that violence was far less of a concern to us than an ever-present fear of a car crash involving inadequate seat belts and a speeding taxi driver!

We can’t wait to return to Colombia. In the meantime, these are some of our favourite places and experiences.

Bogota’s Gold Museum (by Eliane)

We really liked the Gold Museum because of all those interesting metals and the clear instruction of how to mold them. It was truly amazing learning all those different properties that we never knew about and couldn’t even imagine. I do not want to say too much in case you are going there so I will only say my favourite things.

The ways to mold the shapes were very interesting. The coolest way I thought was the one where you make the thing you want with wax, and put clay all around it but leave a hole so you can drain the wax out later and fill gold in. There were so many different patterns you couldn’t even count! The museum also included an interesting exhibition about the slave trade and other information about shamans and indigenous cultures in South America.

Coffee, Cowboys & the Corcora Valley

Colombia has a wealth of pueblos (towns or villages) set in beautiful countryside, with traditional – and often very colourful – architecture. We chose to visit Salento in the Coffee Region, which is one of the most famous (and most visited) pueblos.

This may be the most colourful town we’ve ever visited.

While tourism has well and truly taken off here, Salento still has many charms, such as the presence of traditional Colombian cowboys, wearing Colombian-style cowboy attire and sporting massive handlebar moustaches. We met one of these colourful characters when we decided to go horse-riding. Our only regret is that we didn’t take a photo of Oscar before the ride – because at the end we were too sore to do more than hobble off!

Ready to go!

From Maille: We went horse-riding for four hours. We were going down to the river. When we got to the river our horses walked across the river lots of times. The horses splashed across and my horse wet Eliane! We had a little break before getting back on our horses. Eliane and I were led on a string because we were scared. But our horses were really good. When we went back up the hill it was scary because you went straight up on a muddy path.

The scenery got more and more beautiful as we followed the river up the valley.

Probably the biggest single attraction drawing people to Salento is its proximity to the Corcora Valley, famous for its incredibly scenic wax palms – the tallest palm trees in the world.

Our visit to the Valle de Corcora began in Salento’s central plaza, where we paid for a ride out to the Valle in a World War II Willys Jeep. We were lucky and got seats inside both there and back. Those that came a little later had to either hang off the back of the jeep or cling to the roof. There are seemingly no pesky regulations here about the number of people to one vehicle!

The jeeps are brightly coloured and unmissable!

The 12km round trip hike took us through a beautiful valley where the wax palms stand as solitary reminders of the rainforest ecosystem that was there before the land was cleared for pasture. It’s a sad thought that one day the stunning palms will be gone, but I was heartened to see more palms in their original forest – that will hopefully be protected into the future.

Rest stop with a view.
There’s a rest stop with hot chocolate at the top.

After winding uphill past the palms and down into the next valley, we detoured to a hummingbird sanctuary nestled in the rainforest. The place was heaving with people so we didn’t stay long, but we managed to see at least two types of hummingbirds – including a spectacular long-tailed bird – and even got some pics!

Have you ever tried to photograph a hummingbird? Trust us, it’s very tricky as they usually don’t stay still for a second!

The walk through the rainforest held its own adventure, with the path sometimes merging with the creek so that we had to pick our way through to avoid wet feet, and with many fragile-looking swinging bridges to cross.

Lunch stop

Eventually we emerged from the forest into a Hobbiton-like landscape where we followed a narrow path along the stream, past groups of picnickers and back to the jeeps. The girls’ previous hiking experience at Machu Picchu and the Colca Canyon prepared them well for yet another challenging hike at altitude. Maille achieved a new PB for distance and only started to seriously struggle in the last 500m.

Homeward bound.

Enchanting Cartagena

Nos encanta Cartagena! Literally, Cartagena enchants us. This is partly due to its fascinating history.

View of the walled old city (and new city to the left) from the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

One of the first cities built by the Spanish in their conquest of South America, Cartagena was the port through which they shipped their plundered gold back to Spain, and later brought slaves in from Africa to work the colonies. The city was a rich target for Dutch, French and English pirates, such as Sir Francis Drake, and was attacked many times. The attacks prompted the building of a series of increasing fortifications, such as the thick wall around the old city, which you can walk around to this day.

Sunset is party time at Cafe del Mar, at one of the thickest points of the city wall.

Nearby strategic fortifications, including the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, eventually became so impressive and effective that the Spanish enemies decided to turn their attention elsewhere!

The Castillo is riddled with tunnels that defenders could access to blow up their enemies up above.

Cartagena also enchanted us with its beauty and the carnival-type atmosphere in the old city.

We were lucky to stay in a comfortable apartment in one of the beautiful fancy buildings in the centre of the old city. Right in the middle of the action, we could watch the happenings on the streets from our balcony or the rooftop terrace.

Sunset view from the terrace.
Courtyard pool
Party time on the terrace!

Of all the people endeavouring to part you from your money, my personal favourite were the rappers – a small group young guys who would hang out around our intersection and accost passers-by with tailored raps delivered at high speed. If you let it happen, once the first guy reached the end of his sequence another would step in seamlessly with the next verse. We found it hilarious to watch them bail up their victims, and if necessary accompanying them along the street, without missing a word. They mainly targeted middle-aged white men and James had to take evasive action occasionally, such as ducking into a store, to avoid capture.

Cartagena ranks high in our estimation, partly because we met up with some new friends there – Marina and Will and their three girls, Maddie, Anabelle and Natalie. The girls were thrilled to have playmates of their own age, gender and nationality – who were having such similar experiences – and the adults also enjoyed the chance to compare notes on our parallel journeys and the challenges involved!

Drinks at Cafe del Mar was followed by dinner.
By the second night the girls were fast friends.

Finally, Cartagena offers opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for some R&R. A visit to beautiful Playa Blanca for our first swim in the neon-blue Caribbean couldn’t be missed!

Maille’s fishing expedition.
View from our sun loungers.

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