If you can't tell yet, Colombia is our absolute favorite country that we have visited so far (we are currently in Ecuador, so we haven't gotten much farther). This is not to say that all the other countries we have been to are awful. To the contrary, we've loved our time in every place, and each one is unique and enjoyable in its own way. At the moment of writing this, we have driven from the US through every country in Central America and into South America, and it has been amazing. But Tim and I both agree that there was something particularly magical about Colombia.
One of the greatest things about Colombia is a bit ironic. Because of its turbulent recent past, Colombia has not had the onslaught of tourism and modernization that other countries have. In fact, most tourists avoided Colombia for a very long time, and it wasn't until recently, as in the past ten years, that it really started to open up.
Things of course may change, but for the moment at least, Colombia is authentic and pristine, and Colombians seem happier than the average Latin American, which is hard to do since Latin Americans are in general very happy, optimistic people. But in my opinion, Colombians were the pinnacle of joyous, and they loved to have a good time more than most. Maybe this is because it's the first time in recent history that things have been good for them. But whatever the reason, their exuberance for life was contagious.
Colombia is also a very clean country. As far as trash on the streets and even diesel fumes, I feel it's way ahead of most Central American countries. And from what we've heard from other travelers, it is the cleanest country of South America, especially compared to Peru and Bolivia.
So below I've described a few of the highlights of our time in Colombia. They are not in chronological order, but are in order of our favorites first. And because I'm sure you're going to want to pack your bags by the time you finish this, if you want any further advice on what to see and do in Colombia, feel free to contact us.
Off-Road in Santander
Santander's most famous colonial town is Barichara, and it is probably the cutest town on the planet. Every building it constructed in a historically colonial style using the beige stone quarried in the region, and everything has been restored to perfection.
El Cocuy one of Colombia's many national parks, but it is very special in that the mountains of El Cocuy are so tall, they have glaciers atop them and are always covered in snow. It is also home to the world's largest flying bird, the Andean Condor. We had quite an adventure traversing some backroads near El Cocuy, all backdropped by glaciers.
Coffee country in Colombia (a.k.a. eje cafetero, just west of Bogotá) is also known for its chocolate farms. Coffee is not an endemic crop to the region of South America, but chocolate is, and Colombia certainly does it right. Many of Europe's chocolatiers purchase their pure cocoa from Colombia, so we thought why not go straight to the source? We did, and to see what we thought of eating the white slime around raw chocolate beans, check out our video above.
Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast
But its not all sleek and modern. We unloaded the bike, did our paperwork at customs, and then spent the next few days exploring the city's other side: the historic quarter. Quaint and colorful Spanish-style buildings line streets with horses and buggies that can take you around, but the place doesn't really come to life until night, when restaurants turn into hopping bars and clubs, and the music pumping perfectly blends into the energy of Cartagena after sunset.
Unfortunately while we were there, a small cold I had turned into pneumonia, and I spent our days on the beach laying on my hammock barely aware of my surroundings. So if it wasn't for that, I probably would have enjoyed our amazing surroundings more. Don't worry, I took some strong pills and successfully treated my pneumonia.
Things We Missed
Here's a short list:
- San Agustín - An archeological site with incredibly-carved statues and faces.
- Tatacoa Desert - Desert in Colombia? Apparently yes, and it looks stunning.
- El Trampolín de la Muerte - Death Road. Sounds enticing.
- The Amazon Region - Only accessible by plane, so definitely hard to do by motorcycle, the Colombian Amazon is opening up to tourism for the first time ever.
- Medellín - Pablo Escobar's old stomping grounds, but nowadays people absolutely love the beauty and friendly vibe of this city.
- Cali - Colombia's Pacific port city, with 90% of its population having African heritage, and so it's a place where these African roots blend with Latino culture.
Well, I guess it's always good to save some things for next time.
Our Colombia Travel Tips
2) If you're looking to eat local, order bandeja, which means “platter" (usually consists of meat, rice, a small salad, lentils or beans, and possibly a fried plantain or a couple of arepas). It's Colombia's typical dish, and Bandeja Paisa, or bandeja from the Paisa region, has sausage and a fried egg on top. But I'm going to be honest and say that after eating this dish every day for lunch and dinner for nearly three months, we got tired of it. But try the ajiaco soup as well, since Colombians can definitely make a mean soup.
So all in all, I have one phrase to sum up our time in Colombia, a phrase that you hear from Colombians all the time, “How wonderful!" or “¡Qué chévere!"