To be honest, we arrived in Colombia with the pre-conceived notion of a drug and crime ridden country. It was never a key destination when we were planning our trip but Pete was keen to explore the country (if not only because it is well known for plastic surgery), so we decided to visit our 10th country. After spending an unforgettable 9 days in Columbia, not only were our pre-conception unfounded but Columbia proved to be the friendliest place of our trip thus far!
Although we would have loved to sail into Cartagena with San Blas a recent memory, but Panama visa’s proved to be a 2 month affair. So instead we arrived at midnight and took a taxi to what was the “dodgier” side of town called Getsemani. We were all a little apprehensive (symptom of army guards on every second corner) but little did we know what awaited us the following day.
We discovered Cartagena’s charm by exploring the old town within the walls of Las Murallas. Las Murallas are fort walls that were built by the Spaniards to protect the gold but the walls now hold one of the most romantic and picturesque town. With old brightly coloured colonial buildings, with bougainvilleas growing of each balcony, fresh fruit stands and coffee vendors on every corner, it is a gorgeous town and we loved just walking around and having a cup of 100% Colombian coffee at the street side cafes. We visited San Pedro Claver’s monastery and soaked in the views of Cartagena from the church tower.
We topped of the day with strawberry daiquiri sundowners on the town walls while we watched the sunset. John is not a big fan of supporters and our motto is usually “get in and get out” as fast as we can but we really loved Cartagena and were pleasant surprised what a friendly and helpful nation Colombians are.
I hade expected Mexico to look like Taganga. The beautiful Pacific beaches were framed by the high climbing dessert cliffs. The arid terrain was typified by spiky cactuses, acacia like thorn trees and shrubs and we half expected to stumble upon a rattle snakes during our strolls along the cliffs.
We found an awesome spot called Hostel Techos Azul (Blue Roof). The hostel which was set up on the cliffs over looking the beach had awesome beach views, sea breeze, clean rooms and hammocks by the dozen! We were over the moon! This place rocked! The quaint Taganga village had few shops but many café’s and restaurants and many many dives shops! The beach was covered in palm trees and littered with fruit smoothie stalls. Colombia has incredible variety of fruit and is dirt cheap so we had cold, refreshing fruit smoothies at least 4 times a day, especially since they cost R6 for a big glass!
Our days would start with a morning run along the coastal cliffs towards the national park. The run was amazing! Beautiful views along the coast and down into small in claves where local fisherman plied their trade with traditional nets (and swatted away Pelicans from their catch). After a huge breakfast and smoothie we’d just chill on the balcony of our hostel and max relax!
Taganga is famous for its cheap and great diving so on day 2 we headed out to see what all the fuss was about. The dives were completely different to the Caribbean, Honduras dives we had previously done. The water was colder, currents were much stronger and the coral was totally different but it was still great. We saw awesome fish including porcupine fish, stone fish, many huge green and then a couple black and white moray eels.
We loved our time in Taganga and were gutted when we had to pack up and head on our way to Medellin. Taganga was dirt cheap, beautiful and a divers and travelers paradise!
We arrived in Medellin absolutely shattered from the overnight 17 hour bus from Taganga. Having checking into our hostel, Palm Tree, we headed out to the local botanical garden to chill and grab a bight.
We hadn’t eaten for 14 hours, hadn’t slept much and smelt. Otherwise great! Who ever wrote the rave reviews about the botanical gardens must have been blind. The gardens (should I say lawn) were average to say the least but worse every bloody café was either closed or didn’t sell food! Patters and I were at the end of our tether as we tried in vane to find their “mystical cafeteria”! Every sign pointed us in different directions and every turn yielded failure! Defeated and hungry we left the bloody gardens and returned home!
At Palm tree hostel we took to the streets and found an awesome little local corner pub/café. Locals chilled playing cards while one of the chefs made a stew and braai on the road side. We ordered smoothies and fajitas and sat down to play some cards. We were happily (finally) relaxing when all hell erupted! The chef threw a roll of tom thumbs into the street behind us and next thing we knew (“gun fire” as T thought) chaos was ensuing! T turned white and almost jumped under the table. The locals thought it was the best thing they had ever seen and almost killed themselves laughing. The locals were all very friendly and invited us for drinks and to continue the festivities (we learnt it was Colombia week end, as the coming Monday was independence day but the whole week end was used as a build up and thus all the fire works). Having turned down drinks we returned to the hostel for a quick shower and to get ready for the Pablo Escobar tour.
The tour was awesome. We sat in a little combi and were driven around by our local guide. A perfect way to see more of Medellin. Firstly we stopped in at Pablo’s first house, noting where a car bomb planted by the PAPE (People against Pablo Escobar) had ripped apart a side of the building. We also went to his office blocked (also bombed), the scrap yard where all his planes carrying drugs were confiscated and even his grave where he was buried with his bodyguard Limon, the guy protecting on the day he was killed!
An action packed day in Medellin was topped of by an awesome supper in Parque Jarrez!
What would a trip to Columbia be without exploring the “Zona de Cafeteria” (coffee zone)?
After another bus ride south, we ended up in this little coffee village called Salento. Set in the valley of rolling hills, wax palms, flowing rivers, cloud forest and coffee plantations, it is impossible to describe the landscape that surrounded us. We settled into a gm of a hostel run by a British coffee farmer and his Colombian wife. We arrived the weekend of the Colombian Independence day, which meant that the little town had come alive with cafes and make shift restaurants all over the central plaza. We discovered that the local specialty was trout and had a very memorable evening drinking wine and eating fresh trout on the plaza amongst the buzz of the local Colombians celebrating the festivities!
To truly appreciate the surrounding we hiked up to Acaime National Park and had the most spectacular views over looking the valley of the unique wax palms. It was surreal to see these hills of green grass with 25 meter palms sparsely reaching high into the clouds and mist (getting a bit soppy- but really was amazing)!!!
We also did a coffee tour of Don Eduardo’s plantation. It was fascinating to see the effort that goes into one little cup of coffee, (I am really going to appreciate my Vida E latte when I get back home)! We also had an awesome morning sitting in a small local coffee shop where every cup of coffee is a work of art made with love. John and I were in our element, drinking mocachino with a chocolate swan decoration, writing in our journal and learning Spanish!
We were sad to only have 9 days in a country as spectacular as Columbia! We really had an amazing time and we are sure that we will be back to visit, if not only to experience the coffee buzz of Salento!