When I first visited Colombia 6 years ago, people thought I was a little bit crazy. They had heard rumours of drugs, kidnappings and guerrillas. Around this time, Colombia was running a successful tourism campaign with the slogan “The only danger is you’ll never want to leave.” I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Colombia and put it on my list of places to return. Flash forward a few years and shows like Narcos have blast Colombia back into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. A friend of mine asked if Colombia was safe? “Is Medellin okay to visit? Isn’t that where Narcos is set?”
Yes, Narcos is set in Colombia and based on the true story of Pablo Escobar, however, what I found this time (even more than the last time), was a country full of people determined to demonstrate that their country is not full of Narcos and drug traffickers. Some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people you’ll meet in the world, Colombians are willing to welcome tourists with open arms and go out of their ways to show you how great their country is.
Here’s how I spent an amazing two weeks in Colombia:
Cartagena, The Heroic City. 3/4 days
This beautiful walled city on the North Caribbean coast is rich in history. As you wander through the colonial streets, you will notice the beautiful architecture, colourful buildings covered in creeping flowering vines and amazing photo opportunities on every corner.
- Free walking tour of the walled city. You can book this online and they start at 10am or 4pm every day. Totally worth it to find out a different perspective of the city. I’d recommend this on your first dayso you can get your bearings in the city and also get some local tips on where to eat.
- Castle de San Felipe de Barajas. You will see this castle just outside the old walled city. We went late in the afternoon when it wasn’t so hot (you only need around 2 hours to explore here), and then we had an amazing view of the sunset. I also highly recommend taking the time to watch the movie (in a nice airconditioned cosy theatre at the top of the castle), which was very informative. This castle was impenetrable. It featured fake entrances so that enemies would think they had conquered the castle and they would be shot at coming up the ramp. There’s also a bunch of underground tunnels you can explore, which served as a way to blow up the ground around the castle if enemies were attacking.
- Soak up the sun! While Cartagena is surrounded by beaches, they were a little windy when we were there. We stayed at GHL Relax Corales de Indias and they had a beautiful pool area which was great to relax at and enjoy a lemonade.
- Sunset at Cafe del Mar. What a way to finish the day!
- Enjoy the street art, trendy cafes and bars in Getsemani. Located just south of the walled city, it is an up and coming, lively area.
- Go out clubbing in the Clock Tower Square (try Eivissa, the local gringo hangout which has a rooftop bar and also a dancefloor downstairs), or Salsa dancing at Cafe Havana.
- Visit the Islas Rosarios. There’s a lot of beaches nearby you can visit by car or speedboat. Playa Blanca, Bendita Beach to name a few.
Where to stay:
GHL Relax Corales de Indias is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the sun while still being close enough to the walled city. The hotel is reasonably priced (Click here to get £15 off on booking.com), and has a pool, bar, restaurant with buffet breakfast, gym and every room has beautiful views of the beach. You could probably spend a few days just at the hotel and not get bored as they have daily activities, exercise classes, live music, and a games room!
It’s worth stopping by the restaurant to try the mojarra deshuesada (deboned Mojarra). I am a big fan of whole grilled fish, but they way they deboned it for you blew my mind! You can eat it like a steak without worrying about choking on bones. Not to mention it had a delicious mango and shrimp sauce. For only 33,000 COP ($10.60 USD!), I could probably have this for dinner every day!
Santa Marta + Lost City Trek – 4-6 days
If you enjoy trekking, the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) is a must! This deserves a blog of it’s own, but here’s some pictures in the meantime.
Medellin – 3/4 days
Medellin. What can I say? One of my favourite cities in the world! The city has a dramatic past of narco-traffickers, guerrillas and gangs. But Medellin is overcoming its shadowy past to a brighter future. A city so vibrant and green, I wouldn’t listen to the rumours of it not being safe. I even caught the metro, and it felt safer (and cleaner) than the tube in London!
What to do:
- Take the metro! It is a safe and cheap way to get around the city. It only costs 2550 per person and often is faster than getting a taxi due to bad traffic. You only need one ticket no matter how many stops you are making (just make sure you don’t leave the station at any point). You can take the metro all the way to San Javier and from there get a cable car which heads west and up over a mountain then back down again. It is quite impressive to see such an efficient mode of transport and also some incredible views of the city.
- Get the cable car up to Parque Arví. You will need to get a cable car from Acevado to Santo Domingo, then get out of the station and purchase another ticket (4000 COP) which will take you up to the park. The park is 30km away from the center of Medellin and is worth a trip just to see how impressive the cable car is. Once at the park, there are plenty of hiking trails ranging from an hour to all day.
- Day trip to Guatape. I seriously want to buy a house and retire there! What a beautiful place. Guatape is home to Colombia’s most colourful city, and also an extensive lake system which provides water for (___%) of the area. This manmade lake is beautiful and you can experience it by taking a boat around the lake. As you are driving or boating around, you will notice a large rock. In fact, this is the second biggest rock in South America, and you can climb it by walking up close to 700 stairs. A very steep climb, but worth it when you see the view from the top!
- Paintball in Pablo Escobar’s house. I was considering doing a Pablo tour of Medellin but decided against it after visiting his house and hearing about his history. While he has been glorified in the media and Netflix recently, this is a man who caused a lot of pain in Colombia. Even our guide was also eager to make sure we knew that Colombia had a lot more to offer than just Pablo Escobar. Nowadays the house is in ruins as it was bombed by his enemies in the 90s.
- Visit Communa 13 and check out the street art, escalators and trendy cafes and gift shops. I’d recommend doing this on a tour so you can get a sense of the incredible history of this area. We went with Zippy Tours, which offers a free 2.5 hour walking tour around Communa 13 twice a day (10am and 2pm). You need to reserve online but it is free and you only need give your guide a tip.
- Dinner and drinks in the trendy El Poblado area.
Where to stay:
Hotel 574 (cuenco siete cuatro). A boutique hotel in a safe area, close enough to El Poblado that you can walk, but far enough away that you can’t hear duf duf music all night. Very reasonably priced and you can get £15 off your first booking.com by using my code: Click here.
Bogota – 2/3 days
You don’t need a lot of time to explore Bogota. If I’m honest, I’d rather allocate more time to Medellin. However, a lot of flights in and out of Colombia start in Bogota, so if you are in the area then there are some things worth checking out.
- Explore the Old Town/ La Candelaria. There’s also a good pre-Colombian gold museum here (Museo del Oro), which costs 4000 COP for entry.
- Take the teleférico up to Montserrate. There are beautiful views from the top, a pretty church which overlooks the city from 3100 masl. You can also enjoy coca tea and eat some delicious cakes at the cafe
- Go to Andres DC for dinner and dancing! Trust me, you won’t regret it! This place is a lot of fun, has excellent traditional Colombian food (I recommend you HAVE to try Ajiaco at least once in Bogota). Andres is massive, has a different theme on each of its four levels and gets rowdy after dinner, especially on the weekends. It might be good to make a reservation in advance, otherwise, you might be waiting for a while for a table. Also nearby is Furia Rooftop bar which is newer and also fun for a drink
- Visit the salt mine cathedral. If you have more time, then this is quite impressive to visit. A cathedral completely underground, carved into the salt rocks.
Where to stay:
Anywhere in Zona Rosa/Zona T. There’s a number of hotels here to suit all budgets. You will be close to lots of restaurants and nightlife and well situated to explore the rest of the city.
I can’t wait for my next trip back to Colombia, it is one of my favourite countries! Any questions, feel free to get in touch via email or write in the comments!
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