Expect to be frustrated by something getting to Colombia:
The Latin American community has a tendency to 1) Always be on individual time schedules 2) Is not aware of what personal space is and 3) Doesn’t care.
On all of our flights to Colombia our seats were taken because parents wanted to sit with their children but didn’t want to pay to choose seats together when booking. This is normally something I would have brushed off but on EVERY flight!? This is not a damn coincidence and your son is 16, give it up! So don’t be surprised if this happens, you then have a good chance of sitting next to a cool ass person who will tell you everything you need to know about Colombia, like I did.
Customs wasn’t outrageous and you don’t need a visa to go to Colombia but you do need a grasp on the language. Of the Latin American countries I’ve visited, I found Colombia’s dialect to be pretty easy, that is if you’re a spanglish speaker/context clues interpreter like myself. Tourism isn’t as highly depended upon there so you’ll come across less English speakers than you would in a place like Punta Cana, DR. Brush up! I love Coffee Break Spanish podcasts for its quick lessons that I can listen to in the car on the way to work, or the app Tiny Cards makes it extremely easy to learn words and phrases.. sometimes they even throw in matching cartoon pictures for us dumb American folk.
It’s easy to travel domestically if you want to bounce around Colombia. There’s a lot to see and I encourage you not to stay in one place. Be aware that Colombia has the second most holidays in the world and places will shut down, or tickets will be expensive or sold out domestically. Otherwise the tickets should be VERY cheap within Colombia.
It’s not a fashion show:
Obviously research the weather for the time of year you’re going but it rains about 300 days a year in certain areas. Pack a waterproof jacket and boots/shoes you don’t care about. We got really lucky with the weather especially for going during the wet season, which is guaranteed to rain every day. Just manage your expectations so you aren’t disappointed by a little rain.
Our first domestic flight to Medellin was cancelled and hours later we were put on another one where we sat on the tarmac for over an hour. Being in the Andes Mountains, the rain and humidity naturally can cause fog and due to that we were told the Medellin Airport had shut down. Actually, they blamed it on about three different reasons. The local business man I sat next to on the plane literally told me, “Colombians will listen to you complain all day but they don’t give a fuck.”
The Andes is the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia, and it’s also the longest continental mountain range in the world. So, the weather will depend on where in Colombia you are, the altitude and how close you are to the sea. I visited Bogota, Medellin and Guatape where you have the possibility of experiencing all four seasons in one day. Medellin will be warmer, more stylish and less wet than Bogota, hence why I’m wearing a dress with a flannel below.
I packed a mixture of tanks and long sleeves, leggings and jeans, boots and sneakers. Mostly plain and no sandals or shorts. My Colombian friend said we would stick out like a sore thumb if we dressed like we were from Florida so we decided not to look like tourists. In Medellin, we never felt as if we were in danger but I always suggest blending in as much as you can in a different country.
In Bogota I would highly suggest NOT looking like a tourist. Shit is crazy in Bogota! People are sketchy and Bogota will be a separate post.
Moral of the story: Blogs will tell you it’s a fashion show in Colombia, it’s really not. You absolutely don’t need to over pack or dress to impress. Jeans and a nice top with boots will suffice if you want to go out and party.
So you’ve landed in Medellin and desperately want to shower:
The nice Colombian man on the plane told me to take an Uber to our hostel. We landed and called the Uber just to be yelled at by the airport attendants who are ushering you to a an “Airport” labeled taxi. If you can get an Uber to pick you up nonchalantly then more power to you. If you take an airport taxi it shouldn’t be more than 60COP; agree on the price before you get in.
It’s about a 45-60 minute ride to Parque Lleras El Poblado, which is the neighborhood you will want to stay in to be able to walk to everything. Do you like the young, frat scene? Questionable green alcoholic punch with a life’s worth amount of sugar? Constant music and partying? Desk attendants who act clueless? Then stay here:
The Happy Buddha Hostel
Don’t get me wrong, they have a tree bar overlooking the neighborhood, the location is great and there are plenty of people just waiting to be your friend. But there are plenty of places to stay in this neighborhood that are the same amount or less. It was a good experience but I wouldn’t stay again. But we did share our room with a bad bitch, Terry from Florida. She was in her 70s and had been backpacking around the world for 18 months, was robbed three times in Costa Rica and still was unphased. Terry is my spirit animal.
Now you’re clean and hangry:
In Parque Lleras El Poblado there’s a hip strip of restaurants. You can walk along that area, and people will be drinking outside in the streets. You can listen to two latin men DJ house music to pair perfectly with your overpriced dinner and craft cocktails, then stumble safely to your hostel. Eat, drink and be trendy!
The cable car everyone says you HAVE to take is cheap and cool but not that cool. Do it if you have time to kill because it is very beautiful and humbling to see the struggling neighborhoods. I think it’s mostly impressive that they have the infrastructure.
Save this map! It’s a busy terminal and people use it to get to work and students will bum rush you trying to get home. Take the blue-ish purple line up to Acevedo and get off the tram onto the green line cable car. You can get out at Santo Domingo, which is a great neighborhood if you’re into photography. Or you can ride further to Parque Arvi, which is the last stop on this line.
At the top is a tiny eco-park with hydroponic gardens. I would suggest going pee before getting on the cable car — they’ll charge you to use theirs once you get up here. But if you drank beers the whole way up like we did, you’ll pay any amount of money.
Once you get off the cable cars, walk past this globe in the picture below. Depending on the time of day there will be a market. If you walk past that market, there’s a nicer restaurant on your right and if you keep on walking, there’s an entrance to a forest where guys are waiting with their horses and you can take a trail tour. Or you can support the locals and drink their beers at the tiny restaurants on the corners.
Just some random things you’ll see walking around. Colombian traffic jams.
Medellin is pretty self-explanatory as far as tourist sight-seeing goes, and any hostel you stay in can arrange your tour the night before you want to go. There’s no need to go all out planning prior to arriving here, and walking around the city/stumbling upon sights is half the fun. Don’t forget to leave space for spontaneity! If you’re staying for any length of time in Medellin and plan on doing a Pablo Escobar tour, stay tuned for my post on the beautiful town of Guatape.