Jewel-coloured buildings and Pablo Escobar nowhere to be seen: The real Colombia

It’s not often that my travel plans are met with a grimance.

In fact, the only time it had ever happened in the past was when I told my family and friends that I was exploring Morocco on my own. But that was exactly the reaction I received when I told my nearest and dearest that I was visiting Colombia.

I know what you’re thinking: drugs, Pablo Escobar, and maybe something along the lines of human trafficking. But Colombia couldn’t be further from those rumours. With the exception of the two men who stole my passport (more on that later) everyone I met in Colombia was friendly and more than willing to help. From the nail store woman who didn’t speak a word of English who tried regardless to help us to our destination, to the taxi drivers who would always stop to let people walk out in front of their cars. Everyone was lovely.

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Our trip to Colombia followed a strict two week plan, ensuring that we’d experience a range of what the country had to offer. The plan was Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and San Andres. City break, mountains, coastal region and remote island for a spot of relaxation before we headed home.

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Bogotá especially was a glorious surprise. Between the opinions of Google and friends who’d visited the city, I expected a monotonous, black and white high rise city with little going on. I’m going to write a more in-depth post about each city but as an overall: I was a big fan. We stayed in La Candelaria, the historical district with bright colourful buildings, steep hills that put Sheffield to shame and more dogs than I could ever feasibly stroke. Sure, the city centre itself was bustling and crowded, with sellers laying their goods all over the dusty floors and people wrestling for space in every street, but it was more how I imagined it to be in my head than what I’d been geared up to expect.

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After two days we flew to Medellín and immediately fell in love with the surrounding mountain ranges. George spent our 45 minute taxi journey to the centre musing over the initial formation of the mountain ranges and valley between them while I gazed at the millions of lights shining down as we drove towards the city. Here, we stayed in El Poblado: the “cool” district, rumoured to be similar to Shoreditch in east London. Despite both cities being surrounded by huge mountains as far as the eye could see, Medellín felt far more like a typical holiday district than Bogotá. I’m not sure whether it was the blast of 30c heat we received stepping off the plane or the palm tree lined streets that we wandered down in search of dinner. We spent five days in Medellín, which included a day trip to nearby town Guatapé and a brief stint of fear when I thought my purse had been stolen but I´d actually just left it in our hostel room. Medellín was also the city where I considered buying a car, renting a house and moving out there permanently. As you can probably guess, I chose to continue with the rest of my trip instead (for now).

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After burning our incredibly British skin once again we moved on to Cartagena – a far more Caribbean/Cuban influenced city on the north coast. I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love with Colombia more but Cartagena proved me wrong. We arrived around midday and once again stepped off the plane into a heat that my iPhone described as “33c but feels like 39”. We checked into our first hostel and went for an explore around our next temporary neighbourhood – Getsemani. To sum up the district in one sentence, I’d say it felt like the perfect place for day drinking. Perpetually sunny, with floral adorned walls in an entire rainbow of colours, it was a city that made you want to smile and slow down. I lost count of the number of photos I took (and requested George to either take of me or to pose himself) and took pure joy in needing no excuse to don the lightest/most summery clothes I brought with me. Flip flops on, hair up and sunburn glowing for the world to see was how I spent my days in Cartagena.

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The last (or, supposed last) chunk of our Colombia travels was spent in San Andres – a tiny island situated two hours north of Colombia and actually closer to Nicaragua. This was pure holiday zone and we were over the moon at the prospect of a few days of alternating between swimming, sunbathing and eating. Unfortunately, my request to do absolutely nothing seemed to come slightly too literally, as first George and then I was struck down with horrendous food poisoning. The changing of our flight back to the mainland, followed by our low-key afternoon at Bogota airport and the consequent stealing of both of our passports can all be attributed back to this last supposedly delicious supper – in my head at least.

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As I write this, we’re still in Bogotá – ignoring all tourist-y plans and instead making repeated trips to the airport and the British Embassy. I did wonder if I’d devoted enough time to the capital city after we left and it seems that the travel gods were looking down at me and grinning to themselves. As it stands, we’re due to fly home this evening (Wednesday, May 1), arriving back at London Heathrow on Thursday evening – a whole 12 hours before I was due to fly to Murcia for a long weekend! But let’s see what happens: maybe I’ll be renting an apartment and applying for residency afer all, if it doesn’t go according to plan.

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