When pop culture depicts Colombia, the most common trends are violence and drugs. These stigmas scare many people away from visiting this beautiful South American country. I can confidently tell any readers that those media depictions are nothing but stereotypes. Colombia is a country filled with cute cafes, breathtaking views, and an unmatched warmth radiating from the Colombian people.
Our first stop was Bogota. We aren’t big city people as we prefer to be out in nature, but Bogota surprised me with how much I liked it! Our first day, we hiked up to Monserrete, a church located on top of a mountain that overlooks the whole city. During the hike, we were approached multiple times by kids asking us if they could ask us questions. We were a little thrown off by this so we awkwardly declined. I’m ashamed to admit at the time that we thought they were trying to scam us for money or something. At the top of the mountain a couple of teenagers asked if they could take a picture with us. Despite our confusion as to why they would want a picture with us, we agreed. As we sat at a little café later that day, a woman approached us with her son, asking us if he could ask us some questions. We were not as thrown off as earlier in the day, so we agreed. (Well Cory agreed. He can speak Spanish very well, and I cannot.) At the end of our short conversation, the little boy opened his arms and said “Welcome to Colombia!” My heart melted right then and there. We realized that people were just curious about where we were from and wanted to have a little chat. We felt so guilty about awkwardly shooing the other kids away. We spent the next day hitting up markets, taking in all of the sights, and relaxing at as many cafes as possible. I am convinced Bogota has the best cafes in the world. After exploring Bogota, Cory and I agreed we could see ourselves living there!
We were then off to my favorite part of the trip, and a place that earned a special place in my heart: Salento!
Salento is a quiet, peaceful mountain town located in Colombia’s coffee triangle. Upon arriving, we booked ourselves a horseback riding excursion for later that day. Horseback riding through the mountains sounded like a relaxing activity, but to this day, it was one of the craziest, action-packed things we have ever done while traveling. I know it sounds silly, but let me explain. It was just a Dutch couple, us, and our trail guide who only spoke one word (“Fantastico!”) during the whole 5 hour expedition. Right when we all geared up on our horses, they started racing each other in a full sprint. I thought for sure that someone was going to get bucked off of their horse within the first 15 minutes. We wound down this mountain while it was pouring rain. I mean torrential downpour to the point where you can’t see anything around you. At one point, my horse was trying to maneuver downhill and fell down in the mud. Miraculously, I stayed on my horse. Then we reached a very fast moving river that we had to cross. Our trail guide looked nervous which made all of us a little on edge. While crossing the river, we had to lift our legs up so they wouldn’t get wet in the water. I was waiting for someone to get swept away on their horse by the river. After we all made it safely across, We reached this little trail leading to a small but mighty waterfall. We quickly took pictures because our trail guide said it was dangerous and we shouldn’t even really be on the trail. Before heading back to the town, we all enjoyed coffee together at this little farm and basked in the enjoyment of what we had just done. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. That was hands down the most exhilarating horseback riding I have ever done. Our trail guide was the sweetest person and he really went above and beyond to make sure we were all having the time of our lives. If you are ever traveling to countries where the USD is significantly more valuable than their currencies, make sure you tip extra. An extra $10 isn’t much for you, but it really goes a long way for them. Salento had already won me over, and we hadn’t even done the thing that we came to this town for: hiking!
The first jeeps set off to Valle de Cocora bright and early at 6:30 AM. They jam pack the jeeps full with as many bodies as possible, and since we got to the plaza 5 minutes before departure, we were the lucky ones chosen to stand on the platform on the back of the jeep. I was a little worried how the 30 minute drive would be with us holding on for dear life on the back of the jeep, but it turned out to be even better than sitting inside. We were able to fully take in the beautiful sights as the fresh, cold air hit us in the face. It really got our adrenaline going and pumped us up for the hike. We did hike the trail backwards, in order to finish the journey with the iconic palm tree view. Valle de Cocora is home to the world’s tallest palm trees, reaching 60 meters (200 ft.) high! During the hike, we didn’t really encounter other people, which made the beauty of the place even more surreal. The views of the valley and palm trees along with the clouds rolling in made it feel like a dream or something out of a Dr. Seuss book. We experienced nothing but euphoria here.
We enjoyed our last day in Salento by doing a coffee tour and basking in the beauty of this charming mountain town. Then we were off for a 10 hour bus ride through the mountains to get to Medellin. If there is one thing I have come to realize during our travels through South America, it is that busses aren’t for the faint hearted. I wrote this exact sentence in my Peru post. Busses through the mountains are gorgeous, and you get to pass through cute little mountain towns, but if the driver is crazy, it is hard to appreciate those once in a lifetime views. Luckily, our bus riding experience in Colombia was pleasant. Our 10 hour bus ride didn’t seem that long, since we had the most beautiful sights to take in.
We only spent a day in Medellin, and indulged in all the yummy restaurants. I wish we could have an extra day to explore more, but we were out of time. From Medellin, we took a three hour bus to the charming little town of Guatape. It is a popular day trip from Medellin, but we decided to stay the night as we prefer to stay in cute sleepy towns as opposed to big cities. (If you have read my other blog posts, it is no secret that we are nature people, not city people.) The most popular thing to do is to climb the “the rock” called El Penol. The hike isn’t too bad if you are in shape and it takes about 20 minutes to get to the top. At least it did for Cory and me. The views are nice at the top, but in my opinion, they aren’t the most spectacular views. This is especially because we were coming from Salento. After the short hike, we walked around the town of Guatape. It is probably the most colorful town I have ever been to. I woke up early the next day to walk around the town and take pictures. I am so glad I did this because I was able to capture in photographs what we experienced the day before! This little town looks so dreamy. We enjoyed it as the last part of our trip because it was very relaxing, but I had heard from other people that they felt it was a little underwhelming. For us, it was the perfect way to conclude our time in Colombia!
Before heading to Colombia, I didn’t really know what to expect. So many people back in the States were worried about us going there because of the reputation Colombia gained from the 90’s. I can confidently say I felt very safe in this beautiful country. The people were extremely friendly and welcoming, and the sights this country has to offer are out of this world. So many times throughout our trip, I felt as if I was in some sort of dream world. I never would have even thought to visit this country until we moved to Panama. I am so happy that we did and I am certain that we will return one day.