When I decided to take a 2.5-week solo trip to Colombia, I wanted to pack in as much variety as possible.

Cities and rural areas, destinations for both locals and international travelers. And I wanted to do it on a budget — not a shoestring, but enough of a budget to save money while still staying in private rooms, going on tours, and taking occasional flights to save hours of travel.

My first trip took me from Cartagena to Medellín, Salento, and Bogotá, with side trips to Guatapé, El Peñol, the Valle del Cocora, and Zipaquirá. This wasn’t quite what I originally envisioned — I had hopes of exploring more of the Caribbean coast, but August’s storms and humidity had me scrap the rest of the Caribbean coast and head to the mountains instead.

Even so, I feel like I got the perfect first-timer’s overview of Colombia. I’d love to kick off my Colombia coverage by sharing my favorite moments with you.

 

Learning About All the Colombian Fruits in Medellín

Colombia has some of the greatest fruit diversity in the world — who knew? Here you’ll soon discover carts piled with tons of fruits you won’t recognize. On my trip to Guatapé, I stared at the strange brown produce our driver gave us until I tore one apart and discovered the lightest, sweetest passionfruit: my firstgranadilla.

The best way to get to know these fruits? Take a fruit tour! Real City Tours in Medellín has a wonderful fruit tour in the Miraflores market, a place where very few gringos venture (and where taxi driver may refuse to take you, saying the neighborhood is un poquito peligroso. Have them take you anyway; it’s okay because you’re with a local guide).

This tour was one of the best things I did in Colombia because I used my newfound knowledge on every remaining day of the trip. Soon I was at fruit stands picking out my own tomates de arbol (tree tomatoes), bringing home dark green feijoas for breakfast the next morning, and drinking sweet and sour lulo juice every day.

 

Hiking through the Valle del Cocora

All I knew about the Valle del Cocora was that it was full of super-tall palm trees. There wasn’t much more information than that in my guidebook or online, so I decided to wing it, hopping into a jeep on Salento’s plaza and hoping there would at least be a toilet there.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry — there were plenty of facilities there, including restaurants. I spent the day exploring the hiking trails and marveling at those otherworldly palms. In true Colombian style, there were no maps or even signs on the trail — people just asked each other where things were and how the trail was.

Sometimes the views left me speechless. The Valle del Cocora was easily my favorite natural wonder in Colombia.

 

Enjoying Salsa at Cafe Havana in Cartagena

It was nice to make friends with a fellow Manhattanite on a food tour in Cartagena; it was even better when he invited me to check out a salsa club with him that night. Nightlife is something I rarely explore solo, especially in Latin America when solo women are often hounded by men constantly, even when just walking down the street.

How good was the club? It was outstanding. The band was one of the best live acts I’ve seen recently, huge and passionate and in perfect harmony. The crowd was loving every minute of it. And the mojitos? Perhaps the best mojitos I’ve tasted. I’m so glad I went!

 

Relaxing in the Early Evening in Salento

Salento was my favorite place in Colombia. This small colonial town is the perfect antidote from big cities like Bogotá and Medellín and popular tourist zones like Cartagena. The tourists here tend to be Colombian tourists (though there is a backpacking presence) and because of that, it’s much more chilled out.

Like many cities around the world, just before sunset is when Salento is at its best. People spill out onto the plaza, enjoying beers or fresh juices as music plays. And while Salento is brilliantly colorful, the buildings are at its most vibrant during golden hour.

 

Making Colombian Friends

It can be hard to get to know people when there’s a language barrier, and the language barrier is significant in colombia. That said, young people in the major cities are more likely to speak at least a little bit of English, and that’s how I met these girls.

I was hiking in the Valle del Cocora when two girls asked me, in Spanish, how long the hike was and what it was like. I struggled through Spanish for about five minutes before one of them asked, “Would you like us to speak English instead?” Would I!

Soon they decided to hike a different trail and invited me to come with them. Their names were Adriana and Joanna, they were from Bogotá, and I learned more about Colombian culture in two hours of hiking with them than I had on my entire trip until then. Little things like how they called every strangeramigo/amiga to them shrugging at the lack of information about the trail, I felt like I got to know Colombia’s subtleties a little bit better.

 

Source : www.adventurouskate.com

 

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