If you’re planning your first journey to the astonishing Latin America and Colombia is in your ‘probable places’ to mark, read this article and be convinced. The country is one of the best areas in the region to be a tourist – transportation is useful and not expensive, and locals have developed ‘people skills’ when it comes to foreigners: politeness is their last name. Cultural diversity, a dynamic environment, the changing mood of landscapes and cheap ethnic food are just the obvious.
Tips for getting your money’s worth:
Colombia is not an expensive destination, but certainly it is not the cheapest spot in Latin America. Regarding money change, 1 Euro = 2,500 Colombian pesos, approximately. The country is extremely tourist friendly, but sometimes this is not an advantage: traders are trained to exploit the budgets of their visitors.
Always, always, always bargain the prices. I mean this. Informal commerce is very common in Colombia, so almost every transaction can be fixed up before hand. They will always ask for more than they truly expect to get paid, so negotiate every single time, don’t let them mislead you.
If you’re taking a taxi, always arrange the price before going. Most of them don’t measure time and money, so you better reach and understanding before travelling, because if not, they’ll charge whatever they think you should pay according to your looks.
When it comes to food, there’s only one true cheap option: “corriente” lunch (or common lunch). The price of this menu can be discussed as well, and nearly every restaurant offers this choice. Prices vary of course, but you can get soup, a main course and a lemonade for virtually 7,500 cops (3 Euros), mostly in the cities, in the coast – prices rise.
When it comes to money exchange, avoid hostels and hotels. Always look for businesses downtown, you will obtain a much better transaction.
Must see sites:
Bogotá: Your flight will probably drop you off at the capital, make sure to spend a few days (no more) to get to know some of the most colourful spots in the country. The centre of the city offers an amazing commerce experience, their dynamic way of life has led Colombians to conceive a very creative way of doing business: you bargain on the streets and everybody shouts out prices. Don’t miss: Boteromuseum, Monserrat Mountain, the city historic centre (La Candelaria) and a ride above “The Transmilenio”. The most expensive area can be found near the park on 93rd street. Stay at Explora Hostel.
Medellín: I felt it was Europe in Colombia. Medellín, has suffered violence and social stigma throughout many years. Countries such as Switzerland have invested money in the city to diversify it, and to alienate the population from decadence. In a result, architecture has become a compendium of art work and social purpose. Don’t miss: El Poblado zone, the “metrocable”, marginal villages in the mounts (be prepared to see misery, visit them only if you are not scared). Stay at Geo Hostel.
Cartagena de Indias: There isn’t much new to say about it, García Marquez has already spoken. Is a crime if you visit Colombia and don’t rent a bike in Cartagena. Hot, extremely hot, driving and colourful, you can walk the small streets over and over, observing, completely lost in translation. Don’t miss: Getsemaní neighbourhood, historic city, La Boquilla beach. Stay at El Viajero Hostel.
The country is not famous for its beaches, not like Cuba or Brazil. There are some breathtaking ones, but they are very specific, like the Island of San Andrés. However, the embracing heat of the neverchanging season requires a splash in the continental area as well.
Barú Island: One of the best places in Colombia. You can arrive by boat or by land (much cheaper) from Cartagena. If you wish to stay the night, take in consideration that there is no electricity, and you should rent a tent or a hammock. Make sure to bring food supplies and water. Amazing experience, but be aware with vendors; they won’t leave you alone trying to sell fruit salads, massages, jewellery, among other things.
Tayrona National Park: From Santa Marta, a particular town that bears nothing special, you can catch a bus to one of the most magnificent places on earth: Tayrona National Park. If you are a student, bring an official ID and you get a special fare. The Park, like many other places, is a protected reserve in the middle of the jungle.
To get to the beach you need to walk and climb for almost an hour, but the destination will not disappoint. Want peace and calm? You got it there. Almost no electricity or running water, you should spend the night in a tent or hammock. Watch out for mosquitoes, bring repellent. There are two nudist beaches, a bit hidden, ask for them if you want to get loose.
Taganga: A small fishers town, it is known for it’s bohemian environment and the astonishing landscape, where the arid mounts meet the green ocean. You can take a taxi from Santa Marta, is very near.
Taganga is extremely cheap (considering it is a very touristy spot), and an excellent pool to practice diving. Stay at Nirvana Hostel and don’t miss the lobster.
Palomino: Up in the north, relatively close to Venezuela, lies this still undiscovered beach town. Is a very poor area, it shades a veil of melodrama, because the atmosphere looks like it’s been plucked out of a novel. Not much to see, but every traveller that gets there ends up staying several days, for its calmness. Stay at The Dreamer Hostel.
Wondering about security? According to the latest international news, Colombian government is close to reaching an understanding with military group FARC, although the “guerrilla” have said that they won’t deliver their weapons.
Nevermindind the complex process to achieve an ideal peace that would take years, the country itself is not more dangerous than any Latin American region. If you travel through the right places (the ones mentioned, and some others) and keep your eyes open, is truly safe to go.