Let’s not beat about the bush, Colombia’s got a terrible rep. It’s home to some of the most infamous and feared drugs barons in the world, the location of a long running and brutal civil war and has one of the highest kidnap rates in South America. You only have to watch Narcos to know all that! So you’d have to be pretty crazy to go, right?
Well people, here’s the thing. Pablo Escobar was killed over two decades ago, the government recently signed a peace deal with the FARC rebels, and kidnappings are now so rare they’re no longer a concern. Things are starting to change, so much so that Colombia keeps being named as one of the most up and coming, must-visit destinations for this year. Here are just a few of the reasons you should go.
The Caribbean Coast
Yeah, that’s right, Colombia’s got a Caribbean coast! We knew nothing about it either, but it’s a distinguished and special part of Colombia that really deserves exploring. Think golden beaches, vibrant nightlife and lots and lots of dangerously delicious rum.
Our visit to the Caribbean part of Colombia started in the popular town of Cartagena, with its laid back atmosphere and brightly coloured, slightly ramshackle colonial buildings. It’s probably the most famous place along this coast (it used to be the playground of the ridiculously rich drugs cartels) and it’s extremely popular with tourists from both abroad and within Colombia. We also flew to San Andres, a tiny island in the Caribbean sea that’s got a real tropical flavour. You can get around the whole thing on a motorcycle in a couple of hours but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see or do. We did scuba diving and snorkelling in some of the clearest waters in the world partied till the sun came up at the awesome night spots and chilled out on the tiny quays that surround San Andres.
Pig out on the amazing food a drink
Brazilian, Argentine and Peruvian cuisines have all become hugely popular over recent years and we’re shouting Colombian food to be the next big culinary craze. A pinch of spice, a punch of flavour and a lot of love goes into the food here giving it all the ingredients for global domination. Our favourites were the gut-busting Bandeja Paisa (a huge plate of various meats, beans, salad and a fried egg), Arepas (a fluffy corn bread stuffed with anything from cheese to spicy chicken) and fried Empanadas (small pastries containing any number of exciting fillings). Yum!
And then there are the drinks. Aguardiente is an aniseed-flavoured spirit made from sugarcane. It’s the national drink and we enjoyed far too many shots with the Colombian friends we made. For us, though, rum was the drink of choice and particularly the Coco Loco cocktails that are popular on the Caribbean coast. After an evening drinking those we were in need of some Colombian coffee to perk us up the next morning, luckily it’s renowned as some of the world’s best. And then for rehydration, we indulged in pure coconut water, fresh from the shell. Thirsty yet?
Colombia is an incredibly diverse country where the terrain, the climate and the culture varies massively depending on which region you’re in. However, one thing that we found remained the same wherever we went was the friendly people and their genuine warmth towards us. We made friends everywhere we went, even with our patchy (terrible) Spanish.
Colombian people like to enjoy life and it is impossible not to get swept up in that atmosphere. One of the guys we met summed it up by explaining that Colombians have suffered so much over recent years that people place a lot of importance on not taking life for granted. They make enjoying themselves a real focus no matter what they are going through, which in turn makes it an incredibly welcoming country.
The Lost City
You’re probably quite familiar with Machu Picchu, but there’s every chance you’ve never heard of Colombia’s Lost City. It’s older than Machu Picchu, harder to get to and far less busy. There is only one way to reach the Lost City and that’s to complete an Indiana Jones style, 4 day trek through thick jungle. Along the way, we encountered ancient tribes still following their traditional way of life, jumped off 6 metre cliffs into freshwater pools and waded through fast flowing rivers.
The Lost City itself is a set of impeccably preserved terraces built high into the mountains which used to be home to thousands of Tairona people. If like us you’re up for a bit of adventure then you’ll love this trek, it’s unquestionably one of the highlights of our travels so far. Just watch out for the snakes.
Naturally, we were a little bit apprehensive when we decided to travel to Colombia, but what we found was a country that’s really starting to shed its past and embrace its growing tourism industry.
You can find more of our travel stories on our blog The Whole World Or Nothing. Why not tweet us if you loved this article or you've been to any of these places? Find us on Insta too for more Wanderlust-inducing travel shots!
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