Travel to Colombia
Before deciding that I wanted to travel to Colombia, I knew hardly anything about the place. It was only through meeting Lina that I became interested and in many ways, the impact of Colombia's old reputation seeped in only gradually.
Getting here from Norway, that I had just moved back to from the U.S., entailed flying from Oslo - London, then via Caracas, Venezuela and on to Bogota before finally, making the last mini-hop to Medellin. Door to door this took about 26 hours.
Initially, the colors, smells, beautiful landscape and charm of the old architecture, street vendors and energy drew me in and inspired me to pick up my camera.
I never felt particularly nervous when eventually deciding to travel to Colombia, even back in 2001 when I made my first visit. Nothing bad has ever happened to me but rather, my experiences have been fairly positive most of the time. That said, now that we've moved here and had our first child who was born at a local hospital, I do notice being far more critical about safety, schooling, road safety and all the usual suspects. A set of mixed feelings you could say.
Colombia on the move
Things have changed since then. It's now far more “developed”; the cities have expanded, roads are improved as have the number of ATMs, restaurants, malls, Internet speed and so on. The number of hostels and hotels has exploded and in many ways, it's transformed from being off the beaten path to becoming a major tourist destination. Some of the old charm is disappearing with old buildings being torn down and being replaced with enormous shopping malls.
The contrasts are enormous. It's a land where beauty and the disturbing are often side by side or can be experienced within a short period of time. To travel to Colombia is to embrace difference.
The multinationals have arrived and their presence is felt. McDonald's is middle class or so-it-seems. The ridiculous Hard Rock Café chain recently landed in Medellin – the hamburgers are awful and expensive. Over the street at El Corral, for 30% less, you can have one of the best burgers I've tried but for some reason, foreign is better. Such a shame.
Urban vs. Rural
There is still a noticeable divide between the cities and the country and smaller settlements. Sometimes it feels like you've entered a different country as soon as you drive an hour outside of the bigger cities. Rural farmland and basic housing. Kids walking home from school in uniforms. Horse and carts holding up the traffic. Sometimes its charming and intensely beautiful, at other times, a town can be fairly poor and you can't help but sense a bit of misery.
Places to Visit
For us, certain places stand out and if you do feel inspired to travel to Colombia, we highly recommend the following:
The old town in Cartagena is romantic and is something of a must for the architecture, narrow streets, excellent boutique hotels and restaurants.
Donde Olano (tel: +5-664 7099
Calle Santo Domingo at the corner with Inquisition Palace
Medellin is pleasant and has a perfect climate but is less cosmopolitan and interesting than Bogota. That said, Medellin is a good location for trips to the Zona Cafatera, Santa Fe de Antioquia – an old colonial town 1.5 hours out of town and to Llangrande and Guatape, 1-2 hours from the city in the surrounding lush and extremely beautiful hills. There is much to explore.
Best restaurant in Llanogrande:
“Quearepaenamorarte” (What do I have to do to make you love me?)
Just off the roundabout to the right when driving to Rionegro from Medellin where the road leads of to El Retiro.
Bogota is great for a few days and of you travel to Colombia, chances are you'll stopover in the capital. Good food, energy and lots to see. Visit the spectacular Gold Museum if you want a sense of the deep history of Colombia – just trust me on this.
Manizales is a picturesque city high in the coffee region about 2 hours from Pereira. Outside of Pereira, if you're in the mood for hanging out at an old converted coffee Hacienda, look up Hacienda San Jose for the mini-vacation of a life time. It's low key with excellent service and just spectacular in terms of attention to detail of old furniture and finishing. It's very beautiful and hidden away.
Lastly, don't go to San Andres but head on to Providencia Island in the Carribbean outside of Nicaragua. They speak pigeon English, it's paradise and laid back. Not fancy nor expensive, but a hidden gem in the sea...
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