The Colombia Guide
I've been fortunate enough to spend a bit of time frolicking around South America, and while I had never been to Colombia I was certain that I had at least an idea of what it would be like. I assumed that it was going to be beautiful in it's grit, a little bit dangerous but filled with friendly people and somewhat rundown in an oddly endearing way.
Well, it was all those things but honestly completely exceeded my expectations. Colombia is one of my favorite trips I've done. The people were incredible, the landscape was beautiful and vastly diverse, and the culture was nothing short of impressive and inclusive.
Colombia, I got hooked on you.
Now this trip was not the "grab a backpack and move around from place to place with no real sense of direction" trip. It was intentional but lose where it needed to be. It was actually a honeymoon... or a "#friendmoon" as we called it. I made my through the Colombian countryside with a best friend by my side, and I must say we took the "friendmoon-ing" very seriously. We stayed in only the finest hotels, wined and dined ourselves into pure relaxation and experienced the country's gems without a single worry a day. This itinerary is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to have one of the best vacations of your life.
BOLD statement, I know.
Our trip was 10 days so that you have an idea of timeframe. Feel free to add or subtract anything that doesn't sound fitting for what you're into or the time you've got.
If you google images of Cartagena, you'll see a vibrant city with a multitude of colors, outdoor vendors with flower headpieces and beautiful little cobblestone streets. Well, yep that's about right. If you go to Cartagena, you'll want to stay within the old city walls. There wasn't much going on outside of them other than locals living (which is ALWAYS good to check out, but I don't recommend staying out there). While the weather was HOT, our hotel was exquisite and had a heavy flow of air conditioning. After walking around the streets (and sweating through the light layer of clothing that was covering me) we would enter our hotel and immediately be placed in heaven. I'm telling you, THIS PLACE WAS MAGICAL. Casa San Augustin is your ticket. I honestly see this hotel in my dreams.
After a couple days of strolling around the adorable city shops, taking photos next to all the colorful walls and awe-ing at the ladies walking with fruit bowls on their heads we decided to head out to a private island for a day of swimming. It was about an hour boat ride (that our incredible hotel hooked us up with) to get to Isla Del Rosario. There are a couple islands that you can go out to from Cartagena, but this is the smallest (and most private) island. It was PURE MAGIC. The waters were turquoise, the temperature was perfect, and this little island had a hotel on it that you could stay at if wanted. That's it. A hotel on an island... and everything beautiful, amazing and perfect all in one. I actually cried in the waters I was so happy. Not kidding.
TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
After a couple days in the Cartagena and the private island we headed to Tayrona National Park. Now, because we were being booshie we decided to take a private car from our hotel straight to our huts into the National Park. However, you can take a bus for MUCH cheaper but I suggest just paying for the car... we met a couple people who experienced a less-than-ideal bus situation. It's one of those moments where you realize you're really in South America. Their 4 hour drive ended up taking closer to 12 hours... and after being cramped into a bus with no air conditioning they were not in the best of spirits upon arrival to the National Park. I mean, I don't blame them.
Just take the car. You can thank me later.
Once in Tayrona National Park there are only two places to stay. You can either hike in 2 hours and camp on the beach, or you can drive into these "booshie" huts that are on a hillside in the jungle overlooking the water. Naturally, we chose the huts. Surprise, surprise.
While the huts are definitely overpriced for what they are, the alternative is camping in the hot jungle getting bitten by bugs or staying outside the entrance to the park where you have to wait in line and watch an thirty minute video to have access to the park everyday. You don't want to do that, promise.
The huts don't have air conditioning but they do have adorable hammocks around a little table, a comfortable bed (ask for mosquito nets) and a jungle breeze that calms every part of your body the moment it touches your skin. They have a restaurant on site (which is really the only place to eat in the jungle) that serves mediocre food, but it does the trick. I don't think I've ever eaten so many plantain chips in my life. My body was sweating so much (it's the Finnish blood in me) that I was craving salt with every meal.
We stayed in the jungle for two nights and three days. That was perfect for us. On the second day we took a trek through the jungle. It is WHY you should go to Tayrona National Park.
Directly from our huts we were able to walk onto a trail that takes you two hours through the jungle. You hit a couple beaches along the way, climb up (small) mountains and down into the sandy beaches, and back up again. The end point is this beautiful beach that you can ONLY get to by foot. How amazing is that? There are a couple of hammocks on the top of a rock that you can rent for the night (if you're 20 years old and traveling the world on $1/day) and a little shack to grab some food to fuel you up for the trek home. After spending the day taking in the views we decided to head back as it looked as though a storm was coming in. We used the storm (naturally) as an excuse to hire horses for the ride home instead of walk back.
I recommend remembering the trail you took in as we... well... didn't. We ended up losing our horse guide (and horse owner). In all fairness he was on FOOT and we were on HORSES. We trotted our way through the jungle (immediately losing our guide) and stumbled upon a handful of other trips that were laughing at the two girls on horses with no one around them. It was perfect, actually. We even had a baby horse following along. Eventually we made our way back to our huts and dropped the horses off at someone else's horse stand. We just assumed they would somehow make their way back to the proper owner, right?
The third day we took in the rocky beach near our huts (THAT HAVE GOLD FLECKS IN THE SAND) and drank one last local beer before heading out to the Santa Marta airport to catch a flight to Medellin.
After a couple days in the hot jungle we were delighted to head into the "city of eternal spring", as Medellin is called. The weather in Medellin was perfect.... and always is apparently. Medellin was all about going out at night, dancing until sunrise, meandering the city streets and chatting with the incredible expat community that Medellin holds. It seemed as though Medellin was somewhat of a melting pot of South America.
The city itself looks like a computer generated city. All the buildings are built with the same red brick and the tree to building ratio was insane. I'm not sure I've seen such a lush city center!
We stayed at Hotel Charlee which was in the lively neighborhood of Poblano (if you don't stay at Charlee make sure to stay in or around this neighborhood). At the hotel we had our own private hot tub on the balcony, with glasses of champagne (of course). After taking a Pablo Escobar tour (we stood on his grave!) we danced the night away at a local bar. We were the only ones speaking english, and AWE it was amazing. The city was nothing short of vibrant with its hip-shaking beats and boundless energy.
If I were to live in South America, this would be the city for me (so far). It offered more excitement and heart than I ever expected. If you have the time, please experience Colombia. It's a true gem if I do say so myself.