Is Columbia a safe place to visit? Charlie Rheinberg spent three weeks backpacking around this notorious country; here’s how he got on…
Colombia is a full throttle country that doesn’t get as much love from backpackers as it deserves. Yes it can be dangerous – that’s part of the draw – but I reckon it’s only a matter of time before Columbia becomes a real gap year favourite.
I spent three weeks travelling around on a budget of £600-£700…
Columbia’s capital is best viewed from the heights of a cable-car; from there you get a proper sense of its sprawling mass. Make time to wander the streets, dipping in and out of local food joints and markets, and work up an appetite for some seriously good steak (T-Bone restaurant in unbeatable).
When night closes in be sure to have your wits about you. Weekends can be ferocious (in a good way more) so be sure to pack your dancing shoes. Two nights in Bogota is enough before you feel the need to get out intact.
Recommended hostel: Platypus
Get Down in San Gil
Six hours (40,000 pesos/£16) from Bogota will take you to Columbia’s adventure sports hub, San Gil, a quiet town with faded looks that sit in stark contrast to the fierce rivers surrounding it.
Brave grade five rapids, rappel down waterfalls, paraglide and discover a labyrinth of caves. Throw in the couple of nightclubs found underneath the local petrol station and four nights will fly by.
Recommended hostel: Macondo
Party Hard on the Caribbean Coast
The bus from San Gil to Santa Marta will set you back 15 hours and 65,000 pesos (£25). SM itself is only good for the rowdy rooftop at La Brisa Loca, but makes a great base to explore the local area. Nearby Taganga is famous for its after parties; follow the crowd and you won’t be in bed before 6am.
Fancy some beach bum basics? Costeno Beach is a private stretch of white sand, not found in any guide books, only by word of mouth. Make the effort and the reward is stunning. Sleep in hammocks with the waves as your alarm, the place is quiet by day and rum fuelled fun at night. Ask for the Costeno 7 if you need a haircut….
Recommended hostel: La Brisa Loca (Santa Marta)
Costeno Beach is one hour by bus from Santa Marta – catch it at 11,11 Street
Catch Some Culture in Cartegena
Cartegena is Colombia in a nutshell. Old Town is as much a museum as anything, the old buildings and city wall beautiful examples of colonial architecture. Hop on a boat to Playa Blanca and spend the night on sand and sea the Caribbean is renowned for. At night, phosphorescence dances down your limbs if you fancy a dip after dark.
Take a dunk in a mud volcano on a day trip – bob around with 20 strangers and try not to laugh. The real challenge is getting clean – you won’t forget the experience!
Don’t miss Media Luna’s Wednesday night rooftop party – it’s the reason everywhere else is so quiet!
Recommended hostel: El Viajero (cooler and cleaner than Media Luna)
Mingle in Medellin
Bus (16 hours) or fly (slightly more expensive, less time consuming) to one of the most infamous cities on the continent. Understand, appreciate and explore the place drug lord Pablo Escobar called home. Once the murder capital of the World, Medellin is now teeming with affluent Colombians – many with plastic bums and breasts – but the history of Pablo’s playground remains.
Surrounding Medellin are plenty of day trips – water sports and a unique, mammoth-sized volcanic rock that takes 752 steps to scale, are comfortably worth the two hour bus journey to Guatape.
Just seven hours from Bogota, its close enough to eke out every last moment until you hop back to the capital to begrudgingly leave Colombia.
Recommended hostel: Casa Kiwi
Have you ever travelled to Columbia? Would love to hear your thoughts…