Most of what we know, or claim to know about, comes from the media that surrounds our lives; the billboards, commercials on our zombie flat-panels and the conversations our friends connect with about the new ‘it’ series, now free on Netflix. Let me shut out all stigmas you’ve accumulated and have, that’s all they WERE.
Colombia is beyond those years and has twice now, been surveyed as the worlds Happiest country. They have 28 bank holidays, spring weather year round and basically invented the sexiest dance ever, the latin salsa! Join me as I wander this place for 3 months..
I obtained a 3 month tourist visa and landed in the capital of Bogota, Colombia. It’s sits 2,640 m (8,660 ft) in the middle of the Andes Mountains, so bring a pullover and/or rain shell cause you might get a short drizzle.
From the cobblestone, Spanish Colonial-esque center of La Candelaria, grab some fried plantain chips and take a $10,000 Peso ($1.00USD = 3,206 Pesos) taxi to the base of Monserrate. Ride the funicular for $18,000 Pesos to the top! Up there you can grasp the cities population of nearly 10 million. That’s more than the entire Bay Area of California where I’m from!
After site seeing, I needed adventure; I needed rock! For you climbers out there, a MUST GO TO: Suesca, Colombia – It’s a mecca for climbing! Located a $6,000 Peso, 1 hour bus ride north of Bogota, the bus drops you off where I stayed, El Nómada Hostel. Chuck down your heavy 70L, grab the climbing gear and walk around the corner to the railroad that runs adjacent to the beautiful face of what has over 300 bolted routes! Want to skip the hostel to be more one with your tent? Pitch it here, at Campo Base Suesca. From either accommodation, a 15 minutes approach after breakfast and you’ll be ready to tie into your first warm-up climb.
Back to Bogota, the cheapest flight to Medellin landed us in what we didn’t realize, the farthest of the two airports in the voted, most Innovative city in the world. Fog like the limestone floating spires of Avatar, concealed the trees & landing but blinking lights guided us into, and what felt like to me, my soon to be home. I couldn’t sleep on our hour long, 530am flight. I’d flown into many cities these two years of travel but the anticipation of what everyone had spoken so highly of, along with the ethereal energy that radiate around me, grew in intensity like the volume dial to your favorite song. My body was dancing. My hearts beat tempo, hasten. Our taxi ride down the the mountainous road, traded directions with the expensive road cyclists ascending in figuration. Green surrounded us. The lushness was abundant. Then the brown brick winked through the leaves. Buildings, reminded me of my first flight into Manhattan, filling my window vastly like the ocean does during departure. The peanut butter brown bricked waves grew in unison to El Sol’s rays, evaporating the fog, unveiling the beauty of what is known as the Valley of Medellin. Her face lit up my eyes. Mountains enveloped the city I would soon kiss with my feet & walk down it’s isles, with my heart.
I joined the free walking tour with Real City Tours. I’ve been traveling for almost 2 years now and with 9 countries and countless cities it was the most informative, passion guidance through bustling history I’ve experienced!
Walk – through the innovative Botanical Garden.
Explore – their advanced and super clean Metro!
Ride – the funicular above the Favelas to Parque Arvi.
Camera tourist things done? Hop on another bus to El Peñon in Guatapé.
After sitting for awhile, why wouldn’t you want to conquer these 740 steps!? One after another, you’re steps closer to the ice cold michelada’s waiting at the top! Take the spiral steps with that brew of yours and enjoy the view.
Drink coffee? Meeeee too!
13% of the worlds coffee is produced in what is known as the Coffee Triangle of Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia. Salento’s located just a short bus ride north east from Armenia. It’s a quaint small town we were recommended to visit and we weren’t let down!
Stay – at a natural reserve, Kasa Guadua. Nicholas and Carlos have made this a lifelong project. The EcoLodge they’ve created is just a small piece of heaven.. my girlfriend and I couldn’t leave!
I always thought coffee grew on a vine but a farm tour took us through the entire process. El Ocaso has been traditionally farming just like when they opened 100+ years ago.
Did ya know? Coffee beans are actually the seed in fruit! They grow on a tree, ripened, picked, are dried then roasted to what we know them as today.
Need more Adventure? I did. So I took off back to Bogota. I had met friends rock climbing and they invited me for a mountaineering trip to El Cocuy National Park. It wasn’t easy to get to. I took a 3 hour bus from Bogota to Tunja, then my friends drove about 6 hours through the night to arrive for breakfast in Güicán. Another bumpy drive up dirt road, we entered the park.
After a few introductions to their Ranger friends, they joined us for some sport climbing just a few hundred yards past the entrance gate!
After parking, you hike an hour to the only home stay settled in a valley about 2,743 meters (9,000 ft) above sea level. You eat an early dinner, wake up at 11pm and start towards summit around 12am. After gaining a few hours and thousand feet in the dark, you hit snow. Crap-ons, climbing harnesses, helmets, tethered climbing rope and aggressive looking piolets strapped to your wrists are necessary. I was little intimidated. The altitude didn’t help either. After every few steps, I kept needing to stop to catch my breath.
It doesn’t look like much but it was definitely the hardest thing I have personally physically done! I’ll share it, I cried. I was sobbing, panting and grasping for breath. But when we made the final steps, I turned around after hugging everyone, looked at what I just pushed my body to do, and cried..
WE DID IT! Summited Pan de Azúcar, my highest peak at 16,798 ft above sea level!
Colombia has some uber diverse climate. From sun dried, humid valleys to snowly, freezing peaks like Pan de Azúcar. If you traveled farther South East, you would have been in Amazon territory. Or if you’re a sand and sun person, I’ve learned that I’m not, hit either the Pacific or Carribean Coast.. Colombia has both! I ate my first Arepas, drank freshly squeezed juices every morning and ate “menu del dia’s” (menu of the day – soup, rice, meat, salad and juice) for just under $3.00 USD. I learned to Salsa in Cali (where it was first stepped!), joined in street parties during La Feria which is Carnival for Colombia and even learned basic Spanish! How? Cause tourist aren’t all over Colombia (yet) and I HAD to.
Colombians were the warmest people I have met during my travels. It ends the second I fly back to San Francisco at just over 24 months and I sincerely admit, Colombia was my favorite. I did not once have a rude interaction with a Colombian. I was welcoming, taught and loved by many. I came here thinking I would have to watch my back from the T.V. and rumors I summited my opinions to but I’m leaving with not a single negative thought or word to share with future travelers.
Looking for a place that you’ll give you heart to on the first day and leave a piece of it there when you leave, if you leave? Book a ticket to this beauty. It’s not a popular destination, yet. And some travelers like me, like it like that.
Make money, spend a different currency.