Travel - Colombia
Getting from Ecuador to Colombia
Usually this post is pretty short but I did want to mention the trip from Ecuador to Colombia. I went from Quito. You have to make your way to the north bus terminal and get a bus to Tulcan. From here you get a taxi or shuttle bus to the border. The border took me ages to get across due to queues so I’d recommend going early (leave Quito at 6 or 7am) and try to go during the week. Once you’ve completed that process, grab another taxi/shuttle to the Ipiales bus station and from here go wherever you want. Most people tend to go there, drop their bags and get a taxi out to the church out by the cliff, Las Lajas Sanctuary. So hopefully that will help others.
Only spent a night here and it was just because it was in a nice spot to get a bus somewhere else. In the end I decided to get a bus to Mocoa which wasn’t a particularly good road but it was a really beautiful drive.
I only spent a night here and all I did was wander around the centre to get some food. You’re right by the Amazon so you’re able to go to some wonderful waterfalls nearby but I was happy to keep on moving to San Agustin. You can get a minibus most of the way until you’re dropped off and basically a taxi will take you the rest of the way.
Again another short one as I stayed just for the night however this is where I properly started to do things in Colombia. I’d planned to stay at least two nights but I was able to do horse riding the day I arrived so I went for it and had a blast. You go around to a bunch of archaeological sites which is cool and there are two parks I believe with loads more however I really did it for the horse riding since I’d missed out in other places. It’s not particularly difficult to get used to, the horses are really well trained so you just need to turn left or right every so often. Once you’re at full speed, it’s an absolute blast.
Just a little something before getting to Salento. I lost my phone on the bus from San Agustin to Cali and the 15 or so people on the bus were helping me find it for about 30 minutes. It was just a very jolly moment. Afterwards they wanted a
So I happened to meet a couple that I met in the Amazon a few weeks ago on my way to Salento. So we grouped up for our time there. I’d planned to stay in a hostel but it was full so I just joined them in Estrellas sin Fronteras which was fine, nothing special. The first day there was very foggy and we arrived in the afternoon so we weren’t able to do too much but we did go for a walk around. Salento is a nice colourful place. It’s extremely touristy, stacked with souvenirs and more global type restaurants. And on that matter, there was a place called brunch de Selento. My friend recommended it and I wasn’t disappointed. It was an American run place, the portions were nice and big and all the food was great. The main thing it’s know for is it’s peanut butter brownies and my god are they good. I want one right now!
Our next full day was jam packed and we were extremely lucky to get really good weather as it had been rough the previous few days. We left the hostel to get into one of the jeep type taxis out to Valley de Cocora. There is a lovely trek out here that takes you through some jungle, to a hummingbird observation and going through the valley were the tallest palm trees in the world are. It’s really cool just because of how different all the terrain is. All in all it’ll take you about 5-6 hours to do and you can pick up another taxi back once it fills up. Oh make sure to stand on the back too, always a nice thing to do.Only gutting thing for me was that my camera was dead so I’ve some photos on my phone but I’m not sure about uploading those yet.
We got back to the centre, grabbed some falafels and headed off the opposite direction towards the coffee bean plantations. It’s only an hour or so walk to the one we went to, Don Elias plantation. There is another one right before it but apparently it’s a bit more touristy. Now as someone who doesn’t drink coffee I actually really enjoyed the tour. The guide gave a lot of really interesting information just about keeping the plantation organic and what natural pesticides they used to do that like certain fruits and trees etc. Of course you get some coffee too which is fine but again, not a coffee guy.
The other main thing we did was head to a bar to play a game called Tejo. In this game you are throwing a metal puck and trying to hit these gunpowder packs or get closest to the centre of the play area. So it’s pretty fun to cause a mini explosion. When the game is played properly in a bar, the loser pays for all the beers so it can be a pretty expensive night. And yes, I did win.
I have to start this off by saying I really enjoyed Medellin. It’s probably my favourite city in all of South America. I feel like it’s a place that has something for everyone. Whether that be strolling around, shopping, sightseeing, nearby attractions, history, going out etc. It has it. I spent just under 2 weeks here just learning Spanish and wandering around the city. In the end Medellin was a place where I did touristy things but also took a break from that and just relaxed a bit, recalibrated after all the travelling. So if anyone has any plans on going to South America or Colombia, I highly recommend it.
I stayed in a new hostel called Chillin District Hostel and it was an extremely pleasant experience. The owners were a couple and helped me with any issue I had. Lauren thought me Spanish at the hostel for 35000 peso which was very reasonable for private lessons. It might have been better if she spoke in Spanish more but overall the lessons were excellent and I might go back if I do go back to Medellin for a flight to Panama. On top of that, the hostel was very modern, beds were great, kitchen was great.. honestly a fantastic hostel. Only slight issues was that there was there were a few mosquitos which was unusual (and they fumigated the place the day I left) and in my room, if you’re close to the bathroom, door, shower area, it’ll be a little noisy. But that by itself was amazing, 2 bathrooms and 3 showers in a dorm.. unheard of! It was only 23000 peso too. I guarantee it’ll be a lot more expensive in a few months when it’s more popular.
So as I mentioned Medellin is just a lovely city to go around. It has the only metro in Colombia that’s very clean and easy to use. With one ticket you can go on different lines, cable cars and back in just a round trip. It’s great. Making your way to San Antonio or Parque Bierro is your best bet for just walking around. You’ll see a bunch of cool sights, the downtown area, overflowing with stalls and people, square of lights, Case de la Memoria etc. You can do a lot by just exploring this area.
Some of the main things I did in Medellin
- Free Walking Tour - Goes through the area I just mentioned. Really good walking tour, one of the best ones I’ve done and you need to book a day in advance.
- Communa 13 - Street art area. Go to San Antonio, then switch to San Javier and get the bus across the road “Escalara electrica” to the area itself. This place is really cool. Lots of really good street art, you’ll probably meet one or two artists there too. You can also do get a tour if you’d prefer that.
- Cable Cars - You can go from two-three areas I believe but I did it in San Javier since I was there. It’s a nice thing to do. I imagine much better at night
- Botanical Gardens/North park - I went for the Christmas lights and they were really good. There were a load of people and food/drink stalls around too so it was just a very cool place to hang out at.
-Guatape Day Trip - So this is a place about two hours away, really colourful town that you can stay at. I just did a tour which included a trip out to Pablo Escobar’s mansion, paint balling, boat trip, wander around the town and climb up El Penon de Guatape which is really cool and has some beautiful views. So an excellent day out but you could do it a lot cheaper if you went yourself and it seems like a lovely place to stay.
- General shopping and repairs - You’ll find a lot of shopping malls and handymen around Medellin. I got my rucksack fixed for a dollar which was fantastic, my glasses tightened for free and bought the odd clothes item just to refresh my old clothes.
So those were the main things I did but you can still do more, and I might myself if I’ve a day to spare before flying out to Panama. I wanted to check out Casa de la Memoria myself but it was closed the times I went due to the holidays.
Update - I did indeed get back to Medellin before my flight to Panama and I managed to check out Casa de la Memoria. It's very interesting but I highly recommend at least some knowledge of Spanish or maybe take someone who speaks it with you as pretty much everything is in Spanish.
Side Note: For getting to the airport, you can just make your way to San Diego mall with a taxi or Uber and at the Texaco you should see a bunch of white cars with blue stripes. These are shared taxis that go out there for about 14000 peso. Once they are full, they’ll head off.
I flew into Santa Marta from Medellin (had a tonne of hassle booking this with Viva Colombia but the fine folk at Chillin Hostel helped me out). Fortunately I was able to share a cab with two guys I’d met in the hostel too so it wasn’t as expensive to get in. Still 26000 peso.
Anyway there isn’t much to say about Santa Marta. It’s a hub to get to other places like Tayrona park, Taganga, Minca etc. I stayed in North Bay Hostel which seems good. You even get a curtain for your bed, very Japanese! Oh it is super hot in the north of Colombia so if you have the money, go for a place with air con.
The next day I wanted to go to Tayrona Park and got a bus from the mercado there. However I did not realise it was going to be insanely busy. Unfortunately I could only book for Saturday at the earliest to enter the park so instead I went for Tuesday, got the next bus back to Santa Marta and made my way to Tanganga to do diving.
Update - The update is I don't really have anything else to add. On my return I found a hostel just outside the city called Alnaua Casa de Huéspedes which had air conditioned rooms, good wifi and a decent breakfast, so everytime I went back to Santa Marta I stayed there. The good thing is it was near the national bus station (to go to Cartagena) and a spot (the texaco to the east) where buses and mototaxis stopped to go to Tayrona and Minca.
As I mentioned I got a 15 minute bus to Tanganga from Santa Marta. This is a place that is clearly unprepared for the amount of traffic they get, especially since I’m in high season too. It’s just a tiny town basically, if even. Lots of dust roads and trash around the place but everyone comes to dive and get boats around the place.
And now we’re up to the present for the first time ever on this blog. I couldn’t get any hostel I looked up initially and was directed to an extremely basic place but it did the job for one night. I did manage to find a diving instructor so I’ve a day to learn some theory before going into a pool on Saturday to learn the basics. And as I finish this post in a very nice cafe (Cafe Bonsai), I’m heading to a different hostel where hopefully there is a better area to study and use wifi!
Update - I'm going to leave the above part just because I like it being when I wrote it. So I did get to a different hostel (Cielo Hostel) however it was overbooked due to an issue with the booking sites. However the host was fantastic and even though it was overbooked by at least 3 people, she found beds for all of us to sleep in. The hostel was still in the process of being built too so it should be even nicer once complete. I was very happy with the switch (click).
So with that sorted I did do my beginners diving course. Apparently it's the cheapest in the world at 670,000 peso (Roughly $230). First day was in a pool learning the basics, the second day myself and Callum (also learning) decided to do the theory test first and passed that, then we had our first dive in open water, took off our dive gear on the boat, then had to swim to shore, second dive that day (12m deep) and on our final day we went to 18m and we both got on fine. I'd a toothache at one stage so I might pass on the advanced course in Hondorus but we'll see. I will eventually need to get that checked out if I do dive a lot. The cool thing is I got to see a lot more aquatic life than I'd expected. Lots of moray eels, lion fish, puffer fish etc along with coral.
Not much else to say about Taganga, it's a small spot that isn't really worth visiting unless you do plan to dive or get a boat to Tayrona. It does have two really nice places to eat that were both european. Babaganoush is run by a dutch couple I believe and you get a three course meal for 37000 peso and it's absolutely delicious, one of the best meals I had. The other place was A Deriva which is run by a few french people and again is really nice.
So I was finally able to get to Tayrona. My plan was to stay there overnight. So I got there pretty early, queued up a little bit to get a wristband and started walking in. Tayrona is beautiful. It's a huge park with a lot to offer, forests and beaches, wildlife if you're lucky (I saw a Caiman pretty nearby to a beach.) In the end though I'd the same issue I had with a lot of places here, it was high season and it was crazy busy. I eventually got to the main beach and there were a bunch of people surrounding the receptionist looking for hammocks and tents and in the end, with my poor Spanish, I just decided I'm not staying here. So I did just spend the day here, got to the major points I wanted to (cabo san juan) and chilled out there until about 3pm as it's roughly an hour and a half to two hours to get back to the entrance and grab a bus back to Santa Marta.
I think I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge beach person so if you are, and you're around for a quieter period of time, I can imagine Tayrona being a really nice place to stay for a night. It just wasn't worth it to me.
Minca is a nice little break from the heat by the coast. It's like a cloud forest in is probably 3-4 degrees cooler than Santa Marta with a lot of cover so it makes a big difference. I got a mototaxi to Minca and then another to my hostel which was in La Victoria, a coffee plantation. Again I'd planned to stay to nights but due to some issues I was having with flights, I decided to just stay for the night. Realistically you could stay here a few days. The area is huge, there are a load of different treks you can do, tours to one of the diverse bird observatories, coffee plantation, chocolate plantation. In the hostel I stayed in (caso viejo) I was able to do yoga and they offered treks and meditation too. It was actually a really nice hostel and they did some really good dinners and breakfast. Considering how remote it is, it's not too expensive either. We were also able to watch a movie on a projector (documentary actually).
I did was a trek to two waterfalls, one I could swim in. And it's really nice due to the different areas you go through. You get great views of the area and Santa Marta in the distance, go through coffee plantation, go through bamboo forests. It's really nice and the guide was good too.
The day I arrived, a few of us went up to a 'secret view' of the sunset. In the end we're not sure we actually made it to the view but it was still beautiful up there.
Yoga the following morning. First time I'd done it and it's been a while since I've done any proper exercise so I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I'd do it consistently, I feel like I'd get bored of it but it was a nice experience in the forest surrounded by all the wildlife ambience.
I didn't go the the largest hammock in the world or one of the most famous waterfalls in the area but they were very busy and I was a bit further out from Minca itself. I did like it here and I'd recommend going. The mototaxi will cost about 15000 to get to Minca at least and if you need to get to La Victoria it's 10000 or all the way to that hostel is 20000. If i'd known about the path from La Victoria to the hostel, I'd probably just pay that but it is a bit tough with all your bags.
Which reminds me, do not bring a lot with you. Just leave your bags in Santa Marta. Decide how long you'll stay and bring the essentials. It's not worth bringing your big bag as it's always a pain to carry and even more so on a mototaxi which is an experience in itself.
Firstly, I grabbed a bus from Santa Marta for 30000 peso and it took about 4-5 hours I believe. The bus station is a good bit away from the main part of Cartagena so you can get a taxi or a bus (only 2000 peso) to the old town. So as usual after a bus journey, I didn't do too much on the first day bar roam around a little to grab something to eat.
I only had 2 more days in Cartagena so I decided to do the walking tour the next morning. However I got to the point (by the clock gate) and there didn't appear to be anyone there. A Norwegian girl was doing the same thing and in the end we just decided to walk around the old town ourselves which was actually really nice. We obviously didn't have any main path or get any history about the place but we were able to go where we want and do what we want and the old town itself has a lot of colourful buildings and churches to check out within it's walls. We also got a lot of free chocolate from a chocolate store/museum which was pretty damn good.
After that we went outside the town to the south to an area called Getsemani which has some street art and colourful buildings. Both of these areas are very tourist focused.
The following day I went to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas which was a fortress built in the 1600s. You have to pay to enter. I think it's kind of cool. Walking around the outside is okay but getting inside has a pretty cool vibe. You can walk down these dark dead ends so it makes it a bit creepy.
So for the rest of the day I didn't really do anything touristy. I watched Liverpool play Manchester United (I had to) and then I made my way back to the bus station by walking back to where I was dropped off the first day (Near La India Catalina). You can actually bargain the bus prices pretty easily at the bus station. I barely said anything and the price went from 158,000 to 130,000 pretty quickly back to Medellin and it wasn't a very nice night bus to Medellin.
That's everywhere I was in Colombia. Just a small bit on some things I tried.
I'm after realising I didn't really try a huge amount of Colombian food but I think that's just because a lot of it is very similar to what I already had in other places in South America. Empanadas, some form of meat with rice and beans, cerviche (I do still love cerviche).
In fairness, some of the empanadas were pretty damn good and the other thing I had were arepas which is basically a lot of dough with cheese, or at least that's what I was getting and they were pretty good with all the sauces they usually have to choose from.
In Taganga I did get this really nice limonada de coco which was just super refreshing.
Four and a half months later and I've finished with my travels in South America. Next stop is Panama in Central America. For Panama and Costa Rica you do need proof of onward travel. I did this by just using the site flyonwards, renting the ticket for the day of my flight and bringing the reservation and booking code so they can verify you're on this flight. Then once that rental is over, flyonwards will void the ticket so make sure it's not void when you grab your flight. It costs 10 dollars for 24 hours.
Anyway, thanks for reading the blog. I know it's pretty awful but it's a useful thing for me to have at least.
Please be excited for Central America. :D