Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Colombia was a trip. Literally and figuratively. I had a great time, but a lot of things rubbed me the wrong way. Here are 5 things I adored and despised about my recent trip to Colombia.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to visit Colombia. I was painting Colombian landscapes before I’d ever seen it. Some of my favorite musical artists like Lido Pimienta are from Colombia. And some of my best friends in the world call Colombia home. It’s been on my bucket list for a while. So, when I finally convinced myself that COVID is winding down and maybe it’s time to travel again, I thought it’d be a good time to go and visit Colombia.
I had high expectations but I have to say, I didn’t always do my homework. I underestimated the impact that COVID had on the local economy, and I didn’t really think too much about Pablo Escobar and the narcotrafficking history the country had.
When I returned, I had mixed feelings about the place I had dreamed so much about. Some things were better than expected while others left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Here are 5 things I absolutely loved (and really hated) about my trip to Colombia.
I LOVED: the food
Colombia does not get the credit it deserves for how good the food is. The quality of the food is so much better than what’s served in the US. Tomatoes aren’t watery and flavorless, seafood isn’t previously frozen and stuffed with fake colors, and tropical drinks are actually fruity and so darn delicious.
But most importantly, the culinary scene in Medellín specifically was AMAZING. My boyfriend and I went to some of the nicest restaurants in Medellín and we couldn’t believe the flavors we experienced and the price tag that came with it.
You can tell Medellín not only attracts international tourists but international chefs. Many restaurants have sister restaurants in other culinary hubs like Miami and New York.
One notable restaurant we went to was Carmen in the Poblado district. They’re known for being a 4-star restaurant with ultra-fine dining. And I gotta say, their steak (both vegan and meat-based) were to live for. After a hearty appetizer, two expertly made entrees, two glasses of wine, and a dessert, we only spent $50, and that included a 15% tip. Can I get an AMEN?!
Other places for food and beverages in Medellín that are totally worth visiting are:
I HATED: the pickpocketing and stalking culture
On the first night we were in Medellín, my boyfriend and I got to experience how smart, fast, and professional pickpocketers are in Medellín. We were walking home from a lovely dinner and a few drinks out, when we were approached by a street vendor with a tray of candies.
We thought nothing of it since we’d been approached by street vendors everywhere we’d gone that day. Most of the time, we’d walk by without saying anything or politely say no thank you. But this street vendor was different. He was a younger man, maybe in his late teens, and he had a very aggressive way of asking us to buy. He approached us with his tray of candies and shoved his tray into our pelvises urging us to buy.
This was the first time we've had a street vendor actually touch us with their product. He kept urging us to buy and we said what felt like a million times no thank you. When he finally left, we felt relieved. Until my boyfriend felt around for his phone and noticed it was missing. We immediately turned around and knew we’d been robbed. We turned around and realized it wasn’t the street vendor that stole the phone, it was another guy that acted as an accomplice.
The street vendor turned out to be a distraction while another guy pushed the bottom of my boyfriend’s pocket up in order to grab the phone from behind. Having realized we’d been duped, we ran after the accomplice and turned him around. In his hands was my boyfriend’s iPhone. We snatched it from his grip and gave him the meanest look that could possibly come from us. A look of disappointment, disgust, and anger. The accomplice let it go and walked in the opposite direction.
This was the worst example of pickpocketing we’d experienced in Medellín, but all over Colombia, we felt that being tourists made us targets for pickpocketing and other types of solicitation. In more than one city, we felt all eyes on our backs, pockets, and valuables. And if someone felt brave enough to approach us, we were often stalked until we gave something.
Yes, you read that right, I said STALKED. A person would walk up to us, ask for money, we’d say no, and they would follow us, sometimes for blocks, until we gave them something. It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I had in Colombia.
I’ve traveled to many places around the world and interacted with lots of people who wished to solicit me for money. But never have I been stalked for blocks before I gave something from my wallet. That behavior is totally unacceptable and I wish it hadn’t happened. The pickpocketing and the literal stalking put a really bad taste in my mouth and made me feel virtually unsafe in every city I visited in Colombia.
I LOVED: the nature
During our time in Colombia, it was super important for us to diversify our surroundings and not just be trapped in the city. So, we decided to head south to the Central Andes and visit some of the beautiful mountains in the southwest of Colombia.
A good friend of mine lived in a town not far from a famous national park we wanted to visit: Los Nevados National Park. So, we went to visit her and the next day, embarked on a full-day trip to the park.
And wow. The landscape in the Central Andes was something I hadn’t seen before. It was a mix of high-desert with a tropical twist. We saw desert plants that absolutely did not exist in the States, but also breezy palm trees, rolling hills, and so many tropical birds like parakeets.
Tour guides were mandatory in the national park, so we found BioTravel and they took us up to the Santa Isabel mountain. Up there, we were able to get to the rim of the mountain and witness an endangered glacier. Yes, Colombia has glaciers, y’all. And many of them are endangered due to the greenhouse gas effects of climate change.
Outside of the horrors of witnessing climate change before our eyes, we were happy to have gone and seen the beauty of Colombia’s landscape. The air was very fresh but incredibly thin at 15,000 ft. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed being surrounded by so much vastness and beauty.
After the Central Andes, we flew to Cartagena and really enjoyed the coastal side of Colombia, too. The water was blue and clean with pillow-soft sand. It was hot and humid, but that’s what you can expect from an equatorial place. We spent several days walking in Cartagena and enjoying the natural beauty of the beach, lounging, and swimming.
I HATED: pot-hole ridden roads and infrastructure issues
One of the worst parts of Colombia was driving from city to city. HA! If you can fly from place to place, do it. Trust me.
Not only is Colombia full of traffic with crazy ass drivers swerving from lane to lane, but you’re also dealing with serious road issues like unmarked potholes. The kind of potholes that if you weren’t paying attention, could take the wheel of your car in a quick second.
We had the bright idea of taking a “leisure” trip down south from Medellín towards the Central Andes. MAJOR MISTAKE. What we found were horrible Google detours through pot-hole ridden backwood farms and razor-thin unpaved roads where trucks were scraping by with fears of falling off a cliff.
What was supposed to be a chill 3-hour drive south turned into a 6-hour nightmare where we constantly had to be vigilant of bad drivers, potholes, random pedestrians crossing, and doing all of this while driving a stick.
Driving in Colombia was a test of patience and manual skills. If you don’t have the patience or time, just fly. You’ll thank me later.
I LOVED: the energy of the people
Despite the negative experiences with some people, overall, we loved the energy of Colombians. It was hot as hell in most places and there were plenty of opportunities for people to feel irritable, lethargic, or not in the mood, but most people we met were super kind and in good spirits.
In Medellín, Salsa music blared in every cafe, nightclub, and convenience store. People were dancing in the streets in between their work shifts. In Cartagena, smiling, energetic, and warm faces greeted us from stand to stand as we maneuvered through town. In the Central Andes, young people were doing capoeira and playing music in the park, inviting strangers to enjoy it with them.
No matter where we went, if we were lost, we could ask a local and they were happy to point us in the right direction. Or the street vendor selling food wanted to crack a joke and laugh with us while we picked up a snack. Or the police officers happily give us their best guess on the tastiest coffee shop in town.
One of my favorite experiences was going to a hookah bar/dance club in Medellín and watching the dance floor get taken over by 20 and 30 somethings who broke it down on the floor. From Salsa to Bachata and then bumping and grinding, it became clear to me that Colombians can dance all night.
Whether we were wandering the streets or in a nightclub or cafe, the social life in Colombia amazed me. I felt like I could talk to any stranger and didn’t feel like I was bothering them. The energy of Colombians felt like that of comradery, family, and wanting to have fun. There wasn’t a boring moment with any of the people we met in Colombia, both good and bad experiences alike.
All in all, we loved Colombia but won’t be back anytime soon
I got it out of my system. I went to Colombia and saw the good, bad, beautiful, and ugly. Colombia is a complicated place. But so is any place. And with most places, you can’t have the good without the bad. So, for all the bad things that happened in Colombia, we were still so touched by the good things. Seeing an old friend, hiking gorgeous mountains, partying in Medellín, bouncing around different coffee shops, and eating some of the best food we’ve ever had was all worth it.
With that said, we won’t be going back to Colombia anytime soon. COVID had a huge impact on Colombia. Much of the time, we were still required to wear masks because COVID was spiking all over the country and we saw how many people were struggling without the abundant tourist dollars they were used to seeing pre-pandemic. When Colombia gets back on its feet with COVID and when tourism comes roaring back, we may return then. But for now, we good.
Notable places to see and sleep in Colombia:
If you are looking to visit Colombia and see it for yourself here are a few places we went and slept that we would definitely recommend.
Museo El Castillo - Medellín
Comuna 13 - Medellín
Take the cable cars - Medellín
Los Nevados National Park - Pereira
Bio Travel Adventure Tour Company - Pereira
Playa Castillo Grande - Cartagena