Just Back From… Colombia with Jim Ashworth
Have you been before?
I went 10 years ago as part of a backpacking trip around South America. I only scratched the surface and don’t think I made the most of my time.
If so… notable differences?
It has certainly changed. Cartagena was the only place I could really compare but this has really blossomed in the intervening years. Although tourism is still quieter than in many countries, there are now heaps of great restaurants and bars, and the city is really buzzing.
How did you get there?
I flew via Paris with Air France which is great value, but could have used the new direct service with Avianca. With so many airlines operating the route some great deals on airfares can be found.
How long were you there?
16 days in total. Although you’d have to spend months to really get under the skin of the country!
We flew to Bogota and then travelled overland northwards through the colonial towns of Villa de Leyva and Barichara. A long journey took us to the coast (you could fly) and then we spent time on the beaches at Palomino and Tayrona as well as the fantastic historic cities of Santa Marta and Cartagena.
Which was your favourite…
Place: All of it! Literally. The route meant we got a mix of history, culture, nightlife with beaches and relaxation thrown in. Each place was unique and had its own highlights.
Hotel: Posada de San Antonio – a beautiful former colonial house in Villa de Leyva. The rooms and living areas were completely in keeping with the historic nature of the property, and a central atrium and airy restaurant just added to the experience. The staff were amazingly friendly as well. A stone’s throw from the central plaza it couldn’t be better located.
Excursion: For me it was just absorbing the local culture. Sometimes just wandering round a city at your own pace once you have seen the highlights and visited the museums is a great way to really experience a country. I could people watch for hours in Cartagena, especially if drinking a cold beer in one of the many squares or small cafes.
Appeals to which type of traveller?
In general, Colombia appeals to the second or third time visitor to Latin America, after they have maybe seen the more visited countries. However, I would and already have been recommending it to anyone. If you like history and culture the urban cities will wow you. If you want beaches and warm weather the Caribbean coast offers some of the best on the continent. And let’s be honest, I didn’t even go to half of the other areas that can be seen such as San Agustin, the coffee region or Medellin to name a few. It’s also excellent value whilst you are there!
What did you pack/take with you?
Colombia is generally a warm country but depending on your itinerary you will have to be careful with your clothing choices. The coast is warm so it’s t-shirts and shorts all round. However, Bogota is up in the Andes so the evenings can become pretty cool. Grab a phrase book as well if you don’t speak Spanish. Anyone can get by as the locals are so friendly but a few sentences here and there will certainly help your progress.
Any good food, drinks, restaurants or bars recommendations?
Food and drink in Colombia are excellent value. Bogota and Cartagena offer some fantastically good value and high end eating options. La Cervicheria in Cartagena is up there with the best in the world! Steak is abundant and rivals even the more famous efforts of Argentina and Uruguay these days. Excellent cocktails, cheap cold beer and fresh juices galore mean you’ll never be thirsty either.
Room for improvement?
Like a lot of Latin America countries service can be slower then we expect in Europe, especially in the heat of the Caribbean coastal areas. It’s part of the country though and the wait is worth it.
How would you summarise your trip in a sentence?
It was a real eye-opener even for someone who knows South America very well and it superseded all our expectations. A truly beautiful country with beautiful people.
Any top tips?
If heading into Tayrona National Park they will ask for ID. We had to provide passport numbers (they didn’t mind we didn’t have the actual passports) but to avoid disappointment take a photocopy with you.