Country #76: Colombia

Depending on who you talk to, Colombia is an amazing and intriguing country to visit. I find that young people are incredibly enthusiastic about this destination while older adults (particularly those who lived through the 90s) are not so much. Both Dan and I were excited to see Colombia based on the reviews we’d heard from friends who had visited recently. 

We spent 12 days in Colombia, covering 3 cities: Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena. Here are my lasting impressions from each. 

One of my favorite pictures from Cartagena

Bogota

After being apart for about 10 days, Dan and I reunited in Bogota. It was by far the cheapest Colombian city to fly into, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case for most other cities in the world. If you’re seeing cheap flights into Colombia, chances are they’re into the country’s capital city. 

I generally categorize cities in my mind as “tourist” destinations or “liveable” destinations. Some of my favorite places in the world were really hard to do well as a tourist. You need days there, and there are sights to see as much as experiences to have. For example, Sao Paulo was much more of a liveable destination. Its top experiences included seeing certain neighborhoods or experiencing certain restaurants. There were some churches or sights that could be seen, but it wasn’t as easy of a city to check the boxes in as New York or London (which both straddle tourist/liveable really well). 

Either way, Bogota struck me as much more of a liveable city; although, it’s becoming more of a tourist destination. Examples of destinations in Bogota include the Botero Museum, Plaza de Bolivar, and Salt Cathedral. 

Dan and I took a much more relaxed approach to the city because of where we stayed. Dan had some points to spend because he switched credit cards. So, we checked off a big bucket list item of mine, and we splurged on the Four Seasons Bogota. Originally, we were supposed to stay at the Casa Medina location, but they switched us to their other location at the last minute.

Dan was disappointed because the Casa Medina did look truly superb, but they upgraded us to a suite and gave us a discount on dinner at the Casa Medina property, so we were still able to enjoy the space. 

After seeing both locations, I actually favored the Four Seasons Bogota over the Casa Medina location anyway both for space reasons and location. The Four Seasons is now at the top of my list of properties I’ve stayed at in the world!

Dan in the Medellin metrocable over Comuna 13

Medellin

If I had to recommend a city in Colombia for people to visit, it would probably be Medellin. I’m not sure it would be the first that I would visit again (that would probably be Cartagena), but Medellin encompasses the Colombia experience so well in my mind. I also think it offers some great day trip options that we weren’t able to take advantage of because of limited time. (Check out Guatapé!) 

If you visit, I highly recommend staying in the El Poblado neighborhood. It’s an affluent area of the city with high-end restaurants, lots of hotel options, fashion boutiques, cute cafes, and hip clubs. It’s vibrant at night and perfect for young people. It’s also generally safe, which the downtown area is not. 

We had several locals tell us that, once it gets dark, the downtown area kind of clears out. I would definitely recommend hopping on public transport to access the downtown and other areas of the city, but I would dawdle down there at night. Poblado was ideal for us. We stayed at the Selina Hostel and Cowork. 

A shot of me on the grounds of El Castillo Museo y Jardines

Be sure to check out the following…

  • Plaza Botero
  • Free walking tour
  • Museo de Antioquia
  • Metrocable 
  • Parque Lleras
  • El Castillo Museo y Jardines
  • Comuna 13

Sitting on the steps in front of El Castillo Museo y Jardines

Cartagena

Cartagena may have been my favorite spot in all of Colombia. It was smaller than Medellin and felt much more manageable. It was also incredibly colorful and quaint. We were delayed from Medellin, so we arrived much later than anticipated. However, when we went out to get food on the first night, there were literally people salsa dancing in the streets. It felt like something out of a movie.

On a colorful street in Cartagena (easy to find!)

There was also an immense amount of street art. The whole city felt so incredibly vibrant, and I think this spot should be on every single person’s list when going to Colombia. While we didn’t have the time for any day trips or excursions because of our work schedule, you can take boats out to smaller islands, which I think would have been a beautiful accent to the trip. 

We do, however, recommend the Selina located right in Getsemaní. My favorite little cafe called Café San Antonio is right around the corner from the hostel, and it was absolutely delightful. I probably went 3 out of the 5 days that we were there while Dan was working in the morning. Dan also found a top-rated restaurant (supposedly one of the best in the world) that we had lunch at during our last day — Restaurante Celele by Proyecto Caribe Lab.

My absolute favorite picture I’ve ever taken of Dan on the streets of Cartagena 

Final Thoughts

I cannot recommend Colombia enough. If you’re feeling hesitant to visit because of something you’ve read in the news or seen on a TV show, put aside your assumptions about this country. It’s beautiful, vibrant, and safe if you’re appropriately cautious (as you’d be in any country). I couldn’t have loved Country #76 more. Come back to read about Country #77: Ecuador soon!

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