The moment I saw fellow Instagrammer Darah Ghanem (@darahgram) was in Colombia, I was instantly intrigued as to what drove her to visit this country which is often associated with drugs, violence, and most recently Netflix’s Narcos. Although this notion is falsely exaggerated by the media, Colombia remains a place that is not so high on the average traveler’s bucket list. After her return, I asked Darah about reasons she thinks Colombia is worth a visit, this is what she had to say:
You can follow Darah’s travels on Instagram at @darahgram.
From the moment I arrived in Cartagena to the minute I left Medellin, my experience in Colombia was truly #MagicalRealism. Colombia can be anything — from a relaxing beach-side vacation to a haven for the foodies of the world. As one of my tour guides interestingly said while walking the colorful streets of Cartagena, “the only risk of visiting Colombia is that you’ll never want to leave”. And it’s true — I didn’t want to leave!
Unfortunately, due to the rise of Netflix and bad media reputation, Colombia is in a strange position on the traveler’s bucket list. Thrill seekers want to indulge in the Narcos-themed everything, while others think it’s a danger zone to be avoided. My recent trip to Colombia has proven that it’s an incredibly diverse country with so much to offer. It’s more than just a history of narco-culture (more on that later) and it is definitely safe for travelers.
In a nutshell, my experience was all-round fantastic so here are the 10 reasons why you should visit Colombia right now:
- Play in Mud-Filled Volcanoes: Who would have known that Colombia has inactive volcanos full of mud for you to roll around in? Head to El Totumo, a volcano located in the northern coast of Colombia, where you can take a dip while locals scrub you. Its natural minerals and healing remedies, as well as the fantastic view of the landscape, make it a must-visit experience. Once you’re out of the mud locals wash you off with holy water in the nearby lake. El Totumo is also a source of economic prosperity for the local community who live off of the income from visitors. For those of you who looking for something really special, the El Totumo volcano is a truly unique experience.
- Make Authentic Colombian Coffee: Historically, many of Medellin’s rural farms were dedicated to the manufacturing of narcos and illegal crops. Today, many of them have been converted to coffee farms that make some of the world’s most renowned coffee beans. These farms are the only source of income for some Colombian families, and you can go on a coffee-pricking tour to make your own cup of Joe from scratch! It’s such a beautiful experience, from picking the crop to roasting the beans. Delicious.
- Frolic in Flower Fields: Did you know that Colombia is the one of largest exporters of flowers in the world? Colombian flower fields carry some of the most exotic flora in the continent and you can visit a local flower farm around Medellin to get a flower arranging lesson. These farms compete yearly in Medellin’s Feria de Las Flores (Festival of Flowers) and carry up to 100 kg of flowers on their backs in a traditional backpack called a “segunta”. I’ve never seen so many exotic colors in one place!
- Capture Colorful Architecture: Colombia’s colorful architecture has to be one of its most enticing reasons to visit. Cartagena’s Centro Historico (Historic Centre) is a UNESCO world heritage site that has preserved much of its colorful colonial architecture. It’s been said that during the government’s push to revive Cartagena in the late 90s, a competition was put in place for the most beautifully decorated balcony — and until today Cartagena has some of the most colorful balconies in the world. Perfect for those of you who want that insane Instagram shot!
- See the Street Art: Colombia’s difficult history has resulted in a cultural revolution that has made its major cities hubs for art and culture. Art fanatics will love visiting Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena as their walls are constantly painted and repainted with political and social messages. In the Gestemani neighborhood of Cartagena in particular, which is historically known for harboring artists and “outcasts”, has some of the most colorful and creative walls I’ve ever seen. In Medellin, you can go on a graffiti tour with a local artist in San Javier and paint on the walls too!
- Visit the Lake Houses of Guatape: For those of you who are thrill seekers, you’ll definitely love the ride up to the lake houses of Guatape. Guatape is a town on the outskirts of Medellin that is known for its La Piedra (The Stone). La Piedra is a rock formation that is over 200 meters high and is visible from the surrounding rural area. Book yourself a stay at one of the local lake houses, and hitch a ride on top of a 4×4 to get there. The town of Guatape is also known for its colorful architecture which is worth a visit too!
- Relax in the Caribbean Waters: Colombia is a country that encompasses four gems of the South American continent— the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Amazon, and the Andes. If you’re in the Caribbean department of Bolivar, you’ll be able to quickly transport yourself to a Caribbean holiday by visiting Islas Del Rosario. The Islas are only an hour boat ride away from Bolivar’s capital Cartagena where you can sip cocktails or paddle boat around the crystal clear blue water. It’s the perfect climate you’d imagine it to be.
- Eat Your Way Into a Gluten-Free Food Coma: Colombia is a haven for gluten-free foodies. This is due to the fact that Colombia is an entirely self-sustaining nation that relies on natural local crops such as coconut and corn for their flour intake (i.e. wheat is virtually non-existent!). In cities like Cartagena, you will find food carts on every street corner selling Colombian goodies such as patacones, cheeses, fruits, fish, sausages and the like. Bigger cities like Medellin are food hubs, with innovative restaurants and trendy food concepts popping up in cultural neighborhoods such as El Poblado. Visit La Chagra restaurant in Medellin for an indigenous culinary adventure.
- Dance Till You Drop: Colombians have a fun-loving approach to life. You’ll often find young people dancing in bars or on the streets to Champeta music, a genre of folk/hip-hop music with a heavy Afro-Caribbean flavor, well into the night. Another interesting part of Colombian culture is the Chiva bus, a vehicle previously used for transporting goods but now is a party bus that serves alcoholic drinks and provides live music while driving through the cities. You can hop on at 8 pm and get off as late as 2 am!
- Make an Impact: What made my experience in Colombia all the more special was element of “Responsible Tourism”. Essentially, Responsible Tourism is an alternative travel experience that encourages travelers to make a positive social impact through tourism. I particularly enjoyed volunteering in La Boquilla for an afternoon of jewellery making and women empowerment. Colombia has an abundance of companies that provide alternative travel options and can offer numerous experiences with a social impact. My Responsible Tourism tour was made possible through El Camino Travel and 5 Bogota.
Last but not least, and for those of you interested in the TV show Narcos, there are plenty of tours available for you to take around Medellin, Pablo Escobar’s hometown and place of death. These tours range in price and length and are easy to book once inside the city. However, kindly note that Colombians can be easily offended by the mention of narco-culture, and interest in Escobar’s legacy can be a taboo among some circles.
Have you been to Colombia? What was your favorite experience?