It’s been a while since I felt the need to visit Colombia… My love for reggaeton grew massively in the past few years, so listening to J Balvin, Maluma, and Karol G made me really interested into the colombian culture. It all came into a plan just a few days after the latest Disney’s movie release, Encanto, which is set in Colombia. We loved the movie so much that we bought the flights straight away!
We got a really good deal with Avianca, which flies directly from London Heathrow to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital.
We did a 2-week trip around the country, which obviously wasn’t enough to visit everything, but it was good enough to be sure we want to come back for more!
Our itinerary was Bogotá – Santa Marta (Tayrona National Park) – Cartagena – Casa en el Água – Cartagena – San Andres – Medellín
Immunisations: it is important to check vaccination requirements. I use Fit for Travel website, which endorses Hep A, Tetanus and Typhoid boosters. It is recommended for travelers to get the Yellow Fever vaccination to enter Tayrona National Park, although nobody checked our vaccinations.
Medications: it is a good idea to take anti-diarrhea tablets (such as Imodium), plus some painkillers (ibuprofen and paracetamol).
The basics: I must tell you that the plug in Colombia is the same as North America, two flat pin, type of adapter that is used in the US, Canada, Mexico and many Caribbean countries, so you might want to gear up and get an adaptor before coming into the country. The currency in Colombia is Colombian Pesos (COP), and 1€ equals to around COP $4,400.
Mobile and data: Claro has the best deals and the best coverage in the country.
Let’s start with Bogotá… Colombia’s high-altitude capital sits at 2,640 meters above the sea level. So what does this mean? For many people, nothing… Although for us meant altitude sickness! The best thing to do is to land in altitude, which we did, but we still felt awful on the first two days. We definitely did everything we wanted to, however just a bit breathless.
Bogotá is known for its colourful street art and for its food. Have you watched Street Food Latin America on Netflix? There is an episode about Bogotá that you should watch before getting on the plane. The show made us choose our accommodation wisely, at Ibis Bogotá Museo, just next to Plaza de Mercado la Perseverancia. So what can you eat there? Well, mostly everything! I recommend the mote de queso (cheese soup) and also best ajiaco (chicken soup) of Bogotá at Tolú, the famous rompe colchón (coconut fish soup) at Esquina de Mary, the arepas (sort of pancake made from ground maize dough) from La Caseta del Tinto, the amazing ceviche from Ceviche Atómico, and the tamales (maize dough and chicken steamed in plantain leaves) and bandeja paisa (assorted meat platter) from Comidas Pili & Cositas Ricas Doña Maria. This place is the celebration of Colombia’s diversity through food, and definitely worth a visit!
So, what to do when in Bogotá? Well, start by exploring La Candelaria neighborhood, with its colorful houses. Callejón del Embudo is an amazing little nook full of street art. Follow it down past the school to explore a bit more of the neighborhood and find more street art.
Then you should definitely visit Museo Botero. Fernando Botero is a renowned Colombian painter and sculptor, born in Medellín, known for his volumetric stylization of figures and objects. The entrance is free and it is definitely worth visiting.
Head down towards Plaza de Bolivar, where you can find amazing buildings such as la Catedral, Palacio de Justicia, Ayuntamiento y Capitolio Nacional and the Palacio Liévano.
From Cerro Monserrate you can have the best views of the city, at 3,152m of altitude. This incredible view of Bogotá can be reached by climbing steep steps up the hill, or taking the funicular or the cable car. We took the cable car and it was an amazing experience. Expect big queues, especially to descend, but you can avoid the initial queue by buying your ticket online on the links above. Return tickets from Monday to Saturday cost COP $23,500 and on Sundays COP $14,000.
Cerro Monserrate has a little white church at the top, but the real attraction here is the way up and seeing the city from above – stay hydrated and pay attention to the altitude. Up top there are a few overpriced fancy restaurants, but there’s also a snack bar where you can grab drinks and food while you admire the views (they have coca tea to help with altitude sickness).
Now what really matters… Where to eat in Bogotá, besides Plaza de Mercado la Perseverancia?
There is always fresh fruit in the streets plus typical savoury snacks, such as pandebono, buñuelos, arepas and carimañolas.
La Puerta Falsa for the best traditional breakfast: tamales (chicken, vegetables, and corn mash, steamed inside a plantain leaf) with coffee or hot chocolate, accompanied with cheese, buttered bread, and a biscuit. And yes, you will see the locals putting the cheese inside their coffee and hot chocolate. It’s cash only.
We had an amazing ajiaco at Casa Mama Luz, right in the Candelaria neighborhood.
Some people recommended Andres Carne de Res in Chía, which specializes in grilled meats and live-music, but we ended not going because of being a bit far from Bogotá.
We had a very nice dinner at El Gato Gris. We had Picada del Gato, which was a mix of Colombian flavours, accompanied with amazing live music.
We ended our time in Bogotá in the best way, by dinning at Leo. Ranked number 48 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Leonor Espinosa’s restaurant, who won the World’s Best Female Chef 2022 award, offers a tour around the Colombian’s native and local communities gastronomy. You can choose between an eight- or 13-course tasting menu. We went for the 13, which was amazing, but we weren’t expecting the portions to be so big. Perhaps we would be ok with the 8-course. The menu includes exotic Colombian ingredients such as different types of ants, larvae, cocoa, weird Amazonian fishes, and even white caiman! It was the best meal I had in my life so far, and I totally recommend this experience to anyone interested in food.
After two full non-stop days in Bogotá, we headed to Santa Marta with Viva Air. We landed early, as we wanted to reach Tayrona National Park as soon as possible. We wanted to hike to Piscinita and Cabo San Juan, and we had only 2 days for that (unfortunately), but it was still worth it! I do not recommend a day-trip to Cabo San Juan, as it can take between 2-3hours (7kms) each way to get there. We decided to sleep right at Cabo San Juan, which was the best idea.
Bare in mind that Tayrona National Park closes 3 times per year, so check that before you plan your trip. You can find updated info here.
We took a taxi from Santa Marta airport to the El Zaino entrance, which cost us COP $90,000, around 21€. Don’t forget to always negotiate the price. Make sure you bring enough cash to Tayrona National Park, it’s mostly cash-only.
Here is a list of costs inside the park:
- Entry: COP $68,000 pp (15€) (sometimes the card machine will be working, sometimes it won’t… better to bring extra cash!)
- Tent rent at Cabo San Juan: COP $100,000 per night for 2 people (23€) (check-in 15:00, check-out 12pm). It can be reserved in advance on WhatsApp +573112589907. More info on their instagram page.
- Mandatory insurance: COP $10,000 pp (2,30€)
- Locker: COP $5,000 per luggage per day (1,15€)
- Bus from the entrance until the start of the trail: COP $5,000 pp each way (1,15€)
- Food: water on the trail COP $5,000 (1,15€), coconut water COP $5,000 (1,15€). At Cabo San Juan, empanadas for COP $6,000 (1,40€), water COP $4,000 (0,90€), coffee COP $2,000 (0,45€). There is a nice restaurant at Cabo San Juan, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. Check the schedule beforehand, as they close between certain hours. Meals cost around COP $40,000 (9,10€).
Cabo San Juan trail is a true adventure in the middle of the jungle! We went during rainy season, and we ended up crossing two rivers and having a lot of mud on the way, so be prepared for everything. I recommend taking the minimum you can with you, include some waterproof boots and slippers. The trail is beautiful, and it is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, as you can see a lot of animals such as endemic monkeys (cotton-top tamarin), monkeys (red howler and capuchin), basilisks, jaguars, iguanas, caimans, you name it! We were lucky enough to see some capuchin and cotton-top tamarin monkeys on our way to Cabo San Juan.
At Cabo San Juan you can sleep in hammocks, tents or cabins. We chose to sleep in a tent and it was really good, big tent with a inflatable mattress, pillows and bedsheets. Bring your own towel for showering. There are four toilets and a few more showers (cold water obviously), but everything is very tidy. There is a place to charge the phone, but I recommend bringing a power bank. It rained so much during the night that I had to eventually cover myself with my rain poncho (see pic below). It was still very hot, but also very humid.
One thing about places like this is that it is very important to have very low expectations about the weather. It can rain for many days non-stop, therefore you better have a different mind-set. A rain poncho will definitely be your best friend! It did rain a bit for us, and it was overcast most of the time. Despite that, Mother Earth presented us with one of the best sunsets of our lives!
Cabo San Juan is just a dream. I will leave you with some photos of this incredible place.
After Tayrona, we took a bus to Santa Marta (COP $8,000), which runs every 15mins, so we could catch a bus to Cartagena. The buses to Cartagena depart from Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta. All the buses are terrible, they tell you it takes 4hrs to Cartagena and they end up taking 7hrs, or saying they go directly to the destination but they will stop at Barranquilla. Give yourself enough time for this trip and try to enjoy the ride! Some tickets can be bought online here. There isn’t a single bus company with good reviews online, so catch the first available bus. Ah, and be careful with the hold luggage, keep an eye on it at all times. You will understand that in Colombia it is normal to have random vendors getting on while the bus is running and getting off the same way! The same happens for passengers… And it also has a very special way of air conditioning…
After a long bus journey, we eventually arrived in Cartagena! You can use Uber, which is cheaper than normal taxis, to get anywhere.
We stayed at Casa Helda, which I couldn’t recommend more! It is a lovely colonial house, managed by Lucy, a lovely lady. Every member of staff is so nice, and the breakfast was the best we had in Colombia! And it is located just inside the old town walls, the perfect location. It really looks like the Encanto house.
What to do in Cartagena:
- Explore the Ciudad Amurallada and take a photo with the Palenqueras.
- Enjoy the views from Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.
- Wonder around the Getsemaní neighborhood and all its street art.
- Cartagena has loads of nice rooftop bars with breathtaking views. I can recommend Movich Hotel Rooftop, Alquímico Bar, Townhouse Rooftop, and Sophia Rooftop. Here is the view from Movich Hotel Rooftop.
- Go “de fiesta” to the famous Café Havana, where there is live latin music every night. If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, you can just stay at the window outside.
Relax on catamaran cruise to Islas del Rosario with Bonavida Catamaranes. We went on this trip, and even though it rained, it was an amazing experience! It starts at 8:30 and it lasts until 16:00, and it includes a meal, drinks and snacks. It costs COP $290,000/65€ pp. It was really funny as it was Election Day, so no alcohol should be served on the mainland, so there were people selling cocktails on canoes. I can’t understand how they didn’t spill anything!
Where to eat:
- Celele, an incredible experience with Caribbean flavours, awarded with the number 91 Latin America’s Best Restaurants. You can choose between à la carte menu and the 10-course tasting menu. Book in advance!
- La Cevicheria, with amazing ceviche and seafood. I recommend to book a table inside, as street performers can get a bit overwhelming outside.
- Rebelión Alma & Sabor, where you can eat a delicious Caribbean food, such as mote de queso.
- Donde Magola, for tasty arepas.
We used Casa Helda as our base in Cartagena, and Lucy was so nice that she let us leave our big backpacks before heading to San Bernardo Archipelago.
Casa en el Água (House on the Water) was my favourite place of this trip. Imagine an eco hostel in the middle of the Caribbean Sea? Yes, that’s right!
To get there, it’s a 2-hour boat ride from Cartagena with Tranq it Easy, and it costs COP $260,000/60€ return per person.
We stayed for two nights in the Mangal room. It was so, so good! We met a lot of travelers from different countries, and we made a lot of new friends. Nevertheless, it is important to say that some people might not feel comfortable in a place like this, where there is little privacy, no hot water, and no internet. It was amazing to completely disconnect for 2 days.
The toilet is ecological, where you need to cover your number 2 with a mixture of chalk and saw dust. To shower, due to the lack of fresh water, you only get a few buckets to shower. To be honest, I never finished using all my daily fresh water allowance, as it was more than enough. You can only shower once a day, from 18:00 to 21:00, when fresh water is brought. There are two toilets and two cabins for showering.
We had soooo much fun! The bar is very dangerous… the drinks are too good!
Prices start at COP $190,000 for hammocks, COP $240,000 on a 6-bed dorm, private double rooms from COP $380,000 without sea view, and COP $400,000 with sea view. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner (fish/seafood or vegetarian), coffee and potable water, bath towels and bedsheets and a tour to the Islote de Santa Cruz. Reservations open 2 months in advance (for October, opens 1st of August), and you can make your reservation here or via e-mail to [email protected] Be sure to bring enough cash to pay the remaining value of the stay plus extra activities and drinks.
The food there is amazing, super fresh. You can pay extra to eat crab or lobster, but the meal that is included is so good that it is not needed. We had lots of fresh fish, cooked in different ways: curry, fried, grilled, and even crab pasta! Everything was so delicious…
At Casa en el Água you can rent a paddle board or snorkel equipment, although I would recommend you bring your own mask for snorkelling.
One activity I really recommend is the plankton tour, where you swim in the bioluminescent plankton. It was a truly magical experience! It starts at 19:00 and you pay COP $40,000 for this tour.
From Casa en el Água we went back to Cartagena, where we stayed one more night at Casa Helda.
We then took a flight with Wingo to San Andrés island. We stayed at By the Sea Guest House, which had an amazing breakfast and it was close to the city centre, 25 minute walk or by bus with Coobusan COP $3,600 one way, which comes every 5-10 minutes.
Unfortunately, we got caught in the middle of a 3-day storm, and we only saw the sunshine for around 3 hours during our 3-day stay. We managed to rent a mule with David for COP $250,000 and we were also going to do a boat tour around Rocky Cay, Acuario and the Mr. Goby and White Watta shipwreck, but the weather was too bad to go.
We managed to go around and explore the island with the mule, and we managed to go to the beach for 2 hours on the last day, before a huge rainfall.
The weather was so bad that we ended up staying without electricity, water, phone coverage and internet for 7-hours straight! The rain poncho and flip-flops were our salvation. Proper tropical storm, Caribbean style… Although, we had plenty of rest – and now we know how important it is to keep the expectations low and accept what Mother Nature has to give you!
We had food at the amazing La Regatta – be sure you book plenty in advance. They specialise in seafood, and I recommend the tuna tartar and lobster. The remaining meals we had at the guest house, as the rain didn’t stop and it was difficult to go anywhere.
If you want to leave your luggage during the day while you wait for your flight, you can leave it at the airport just under the stairs, for a small fee of COP $7,000 per bag. It works everyday until 20:00.
On the last day, the sun eventually decided to shine, and we did enjoy the beach and the amazing water.
We definitely need to come back to San Andrés, to be able to explore the Sea of Seven Colours, most probably during January/February time.
From San Andrés, we took a flight to Medellín with Latam Airlines.
Medellín is known for being the ‘City of Eternal Spring’, because of its mild weather. It was one of the highlights of the trip. The people! The people! The people! The locals are so nice and polite, grateful for the small things. And, most important, I felt safe.
From the airport to the city centre is still a long way, around 40 minutes by car, so we met Fabian, a very nice driver (I can give you his contact if you wish), and he did our return journey to the airport. Expect to pay around COP $90,000/20€ each way. You can also share a taxi ride, or take the local bus (COP $12,000). The bus leaves every 15 minutes and will take you either to San Diego Mall or to the city centre of Medellín, behind Nutibara Hotel. Make sure you ask the driver “San Diego” or “Centro” in order to confirm that you’re taking the correct bus.
We stayed at 61 Prado Hotel, which I totally recommend. It is located at Prado, and not in El Poblado, the party zone, so it is a quiet and typical neighbourhood.
In Medellín is super easy to get everywhere with metro. You buy a Cívica card and you top it up with trips. You can use the same card for several people. It costs COP $2930/0,70€ per trip. You can get more info about schedules and prices here.
The first thing to do that I recommend is to take a tour of the Comuna 13. After searching for the best tour, we went with Zippy Tour, which is done by locals of the Comuna. It was mind-blowing! In the 80’s and 90’s, this neighbourhood had such high murder rates that it was considered the most dangerous place in the world. It was run by violent drug trafficking organisations, such as the sadly famous Pablo Escobar, who used the place as a transit route in and out of the city, and served as a stronghold for gangs, paramilitaries, and guerrillas.
It is now a beautiful and authentic place, full of art: murals, music, rap, dance,… After the tour, you can explore it at your own pace, and try the micheladas and arepas quesudas (cheesy arepas) on the way down. Then, take your time going up and down the hill of the Comuna 13 with metrocable (cable car) line J, and enjoy the best views.
Pedro flew the drone, and he got amazing aerial views of the Comuna 13.
Don’t forget to eat the famous arepas quesudas and to have a beer!
On the way to the metrocable, visit the Cementerio Parroquial La America, the only cemetery in the world with ‘official’ graffiti. They tell the stories about the people who died in the Comuna 13.
The metrocable is a public transport system of Medellín that changed the lives of those living up in the mountains. With only one ticket, you can get all the way up and down the hill and then take the metro to another place. It is super cheap. There are 6 lines: K to Santo Domingo, L to Parque Arví (it was recommended by a local but unfortunately the weather didn’t permit), J in Comuna 13, H to Villa Sierra, M to Trece de Noviembre, and P to Picacho. If you can’t make them all, I definitely recommend the lines J, K and L.
What else can you do in Medellín?
- Visit Plaza Botero and the Museo de Antioquía for a great collection of Fernando Botero’s art.
- Take a free walking tour by Real City Tours.
- Explore the Botanical Gardens.
- Take the metrocable K to Santo Domingo and wonder around the neighbourhood (during the day only) and visit the Biblioteca España (Spanish Library), a modern library built from black slate.
- Wander around fancy El Poblado, and go partying at Parque Lleras. All the indoor houseplants we struggle to keep alive thrive on the streets of Medellín.
- Go to a football match. You can get cheap tickets to see Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín playing. When we were in Medellín, Atlético Nacional won the cup and there was a massive party!
- If you still have time, go to El Castillo Museo y Jardines, a French-inspired 20th-century castle.
Where to eat in Medellín:
- Modongo’s, traditional food
- Carmen, innovative Colombia food, number 76 on the top 100 Latin America’s restaurants
- The best local burgers at El Corral
- La Causa, for good ceviche and sushi
- Crepes & Waffles
- La Matriarca, for the best meats and bandeja paisa (a big tray full of different meats, rice and beans, typical from Antioquia) in town. Their volcan de arequipe is a must!
Once in Medellín, we took a bus for a day-trip to Guatapé, a picturesque, colorful lake town. It is only a 2-hour bus ride away from Medellín’s Terminal Norte, and the trip costs COP $17,000 each way. Mostly everything in Guatapé is cash only, so make sure to bring enough cash – this includes the bus tickets.
From Medellín, you can ask the bus to stop at El Peñol, and from there you can take a taxi to town.
The most popular activity is climbing the 740 steps up El Peñol, a giant rock, for an amazing view of the islands and water beneath. It is the second-largest monolithic rock in South America next to only Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, in Brasil. Climbing the rock costs COP $20,000, but trust me, it is so worth it.
In town, wander around the colorful streets, and eat some bandeja paisa at La Fogata.
Mirador Alto de la Virgen has an amazing view to El Peñol. From there, pass through Calle del Recuerdo and end at Plazoleta de Los Zócalos, where you can eat the best obleas with arequipe at Waffles & Caprichos.
If you want to stay a few more days in Guatapé, my friend Diego recommends staying at Bosko.
We then ended our 2-week Colombia trip in Medellín, and we flew back to Bogotá and then to London. A tip: if you are flying back with Avianca, try to get the domestic flight also with them. If any delays occur and you miss your long-haul flight, just like us, you will have to pay for a new flight. We were lucky to buy the two flights with Avianca, so they relocated us on the next flight.
I truly felt at home in Colombia.
I hope with this post to inspire you to discover Colombia!