TRAVEL COLOMBIA

**Edited after my second trip to COLOMBIA**

COLOMBIA. You are one diverse country, and I love you for it.

I’ve now traveled to this magical country twice. First with my travel partner in crime, Laura Grier, and then with the incredible travel experience company, El Camino Travel.

Anyone considering traveling through Central or South America should move Colombia to the top of your list.

Don’t be concerned about safety as I had no issues traveling around with lots of camera gear and an American passport…

Do be concerned about your Spanish language skills. Fortualmente, estudié espanol en la universidad así que puedo hablar con la mayoría de la gente. Y fue genial para practicar tanto. {Translation: Fortunately, I studied spanish in school so I can speak with most people. And it was great to practice so much}. It will be difficult to get around without knowing some key phrases as most people do not speak any English until you get to Cartagena.

Okay so let’s get to it… What should you do and where should you go? Here’s a sneak peek into my wild adventures.

From underground salt cathedrals to ATV riding to exploring the Medellin art scene to meeting Pablo Escobar’s brother to submerging myself in a mud volcano to hiking through the jungle to find waterfalls and hidden beaches to dancing Champeta in Cartagena to eating all the arepas to diving in San Andres and surviving after crashing a moto twice… COLOMBIA is a seriously special place that introduced me to so many memories that I’ll carry in my heart forever.

BOGOTA

HEADLINE: Only stay for one or two days. It’s a big city just like most capitals around the world. And while fun…your time is better spent elsewhere.

STAY: Hotel Casa Deco, Cute little boutique art hotel in a great part of town.

DO:

  • Head to Monserrate. Take a very, very steep tram up to the top of the mountain where you’ll find a charming little market, church and restaurant. With views of the whole city, this spot would be great to visit at sunset time but we went early to avoid the rain.
  • Go underground. Zipaquirá is just a 45 minute drive outside the city {without traffic} and is home to an underground cathedral built within old salt mines 200 meters underground!
  • Eat and dance salsa at Andrés D.C.. Get the bandeja paisa {local dish} or order the steak… and then dance the night away.

 

IF I HAD AN EXTRA DAY…

  • I’d be artsy and check out Museo del Oro {Museum of Gold}.
  • I’d be THAT friend. Supposedly there is a club in Bogota that has EVERYTHING… including a “coat check” for your drunk friend. I can’t make this up… it’s a cold room with ample amounts of water and an attendant where you can check in your drunk friend, continue dancing and come back later to check out said drunk friend.  I did not have the honor of finding such a room.

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-01 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-02 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-03 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-04

MEDELLIN

HEADLINE: Don’t just think Pablo Escobar. This city has so much to offer and the design, art, architecture and transportation will blow you away.

STAY: Art Hotel Medellin, STAY HERE!!! My favorite hotel of the trip with the friendliest staff and a super cool rooftop. Plus it’s in the safe neighborhood {Poblado} and walking distance to a square with lots of restaurants and bars.

DO:

  • Metro up through the comunas to Biblioteca España in Santo Domingo {Psssttt… Say comunas not favelas, they don’t use the phrase favelas or shanties because they want all the neighborhoods to feel respected} This is one area where you should try to blend in and not have your iPhone sticking out of your back pocket… Check out the views, learn about the architecture revival of Medellin and grab an empenada.
  • Go ATVing in Guarne. You can reserve through WhatsApp and some guides speak a bit of English. Do the Tour de la trucha {trout tour} where you get a mixture of hillsides, gorgeous views and rivers. You get super muddy so bring old sneakers and wear something that you don’t want the rest of the trip…
  • Take a Pablo Escobar tour. With Narcos breaking the internet, everyone is obsessed with Pablo. He’s the reason Medellin became so dangerous thanks to the notorious drug cartels that distributed cocaine successfully to America for the first time in history. Don’t do a group tour, pay a little extra to take a private tour with Jaime! He can be reached at +57 314 815 0291.  He’s the best and was actually Pablo’s bodyguard back in the day.  He rarely admits this to most groups unless they’re private and he likes you. So be nice and tell him Jodee sent you. They offer the guide in English if you’d like. And hopefully you go soon because Pablo’s brother and accountant from back in the day {Roberto} is signing books at the end of the tour {video below so you know I’m not joking}.
  • Visit on the eve of December 1st {if you can}. We had no idea December 1st was such a huge holiday for Colombia when we arrived, and then we discovered that these people celebrate Christmas BIG, like ALL MONTH BIG, and kick it off with a bang at midnight with 360 degree fireworks {mainly in the shanty towns} to celebrate the start of December. Oh yeah, and there are lights on every street and covering the plazas.
  • Head to Laguna de Guatape, it’s a 2 hour drive from Medellin and totally worth it for the scenic views and lake vibes. Make a day trip out of it and be sure to hit up the zip line for a thrill.
  • Admire street art and tour Comuna 13. One of the artists, Chota, shared his experience growing up in this neighborhood that has suffered a lot. It’s such an amazing thing to see how they’ve rose above all the violence and reclaimed their neighborhood with pride.
  • Visit the slides at the top of Comuna 13. They are actually a memorial to a little boy that was killed in a crossfire and they’re there to remind everyone about this sad incident but also celebrate his life and remind everyone of the joy to be a child.
  • Shop at all the cute boutiques and check out the trendy bars along Vía Primavera and La Zona Rosa in El Poblado. This part of the city is known for its choice of gastronomy and creative designs.

 

IF I HAD AN EXTRA DAY…

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-06 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-08 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-09 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-12 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-13 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-14

TAYRONA

HEADLINE: Head here if you want to get off the beaten path, if you want to be active on your vacation and if you’re cool with mosquito bites.

STAY: Villa Maria Tayrona, super close to the National Park but hard to find when driving {especially at night, make sure to call ahead if you’re showing up late}. Gorgeous eco bungalow in the middle of the jungle.

DO:

  • Quebrada Valencia. Hike a brief 20 minutes to waterfalls. Climb to the top because each level gets better with new pools where you can swim and cliffs that you can jump off.
  • Venture through the Tayrona National Park. We did the 2 hour hike both ways {an aggressive, uphill, downhill situation} to discover La Piscina {literally translates to pool in Spanish and is a reef-enclosed ocean area}. Keep going to find El Cabo, a gorgeous two-pronged beach where you can grab lunch and relax in hammocks in a cabana perched on a hill overlooking both beaches. Make sure to hydrate with coconut water provided for you by the indigenous Kogi tribe along the way and bring extra socks/band aids for your poor feet.

 

IF I HAD AN EXTRA DAY…

  • Float the lazy river {Rio Don Diego} where you can see monkeys from your float, but don’t go too far because you could end up in crocodile-infested waters.

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-26 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-28 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-29 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-30 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-32 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-34 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-36 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-37 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-39 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-41 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-42 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-44 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-47 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-48 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-52 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-53

SIDE TRIP – VOLCAN DEL TOTUMO

You can go here on the way to Tayrona {it’s right off the main road} or as an activity while staying in Cartagena {it’s only 45 minutes outside of the city}. Make sure to find an ideal time to go, so it’s not too busy with tourists. We found that right around sunset was perfect because all the tourist buses clear out. Then you can submerge yourself into this mud volcano in peace. After getting massaged and very, very dirty, you climb out and are washed in a warm lagoon. Get ready to get intimate with the woman that washes you, they are not shy and you shouldn’t be either. Also, make sure to bring lots of small bills. Going into the volcano costs nothing, but they expect tips.

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-17 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-19 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-20 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-22

CARTAGENA

HEADLINE: If you can only go to one place in Colombia, THIS IS IT. Might possibly be my favorite city I’ve ever visited.

STAY: An airBnb villa, Hotel Santa Clara (if you want to be swanky) or Hotel Tres Banderas. No matter what, stay in the old walled-in city.

DO:

  • Head out on a boat to explore Islas del Rosario {the 26 islands off Cartagena}, they’re a one hour boat ride off the coast. Playa Blanca is my favorite because it’s a bit more serene and private. But there is also Playa Grande, more Cabo style, with a crowded beach and jet skis for rent
  • Contact my girl Kristy, who offers an incredible walking food and art tour. It’s a super helpful way to understand the lay of the land and also try all the eats of Cartagena.
  • See the sights in a horse-drawn carriage ride or wander around the bright, colorful streets
  • Go salsa dancing at Cafe Havana
  • Eat at Alma
  • Get drinks at the Sofitel Santa Clara bar
  • Order “arepa de huevo con carne” at Mila Bakery
  • Eat fresh ceviche at La Cevicheria (Anthony Bourdain approved)
  • Check out the people while sitting in the Plaza Santo Domingo and sipping wine
  • Watch the fireworks, they have them almost every night thanks to all the weddings…
  • Go on a Chiva tour! Decorated old buses take you around the city as a live band plays on the bus and dancing never ends.
  • Don’t forget to check out Getsemani, which is also part of old Cartagena but across from the bell tower and more hipster/street art. {Spoiler alert: if you do the tour with Kristy, you end up here}

 

IF I HAD AN EXTRA DAY…

  • Do more of everything, I love this city.

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-59 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-61 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-127 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-119 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-64 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-65 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-62 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-66 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-67 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-68 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-70 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-71 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-74 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-75 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-76

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-78

 

SAN ANDRES

HEADLINE: Only go if you’re super into diving or obsessed with Captain Morgan (the pirate… not the rum)

STAY: Playa Tranquilo, cute hotel with great people and dive instructors

DO:

  • Go diving {even if it’s only a discovery dive}, there are reefs everywhere and ship wreck dives worth checking out.
  • Kayak in a glass bottom boat through the mangroves and find jellyfish.
  • Catch a ride over to Johnny Cay and walk army style, bags overhead to El Acuario {less people are here and better drinks}. Make sure to meet Bibi of Bibi’s Place {a super random Rastafari bar on a remote island off another remote island off of an island off of Colombia}.
  • Wander through La Cueva de Morgan {Morgan’s cave} where Captain Morgan used to hide his treasures.

IF I HAD AN EXTRA DAY…

  • More diving.

COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-81 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-83 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-85 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-86 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-87 COLOMBIA-Jodee Debes Photography-88

ON THE WAY HOME… PANAMA CITY

HEADLINE: I now need to plan a whole trip to Panama thanks to one night here.

STAY: Tantalo Hotel, the hippest spot in Casco Antiguo {the old city of Panama}. The whole hotel is inspired by art and each room is themed.

DO:

  • Eat at the hotel.. it’s that good.
  • Give yourself your own walking tour, there are signs around the old part of the city to teach you fun facts like where you can wait if you want to shake the President’s hand.
  • Head to the bar on top of Tantalo where you can hang with locals and drink with a view of the new city.

 

IF I HAD AN EXTRA DAY…

  • Stay tuned! I didn’t even tap into all you can do in Panama, and I have a feeling there’s going to be lots to say on this subject very soon…

 

share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NAH, NEVERMIND

* indicates required
Who are you? Check all that apply.

LET'S STAY IN TOUCH!