Colombia - the newcomer on the world travel map. The country that has been battled by drug wars, civil war and horrendous crime rates, has now started opening doors to travellers. The first thing that strikes you is genuine hospitality, locals are extremely happy to see you here. Foreigners bring with them a feeling of hope and change, that finally this place is opening up to the world and that the world might care.

I started my Colombian journey in Medellin - the city of eternal spring! Medellin is currently one of the most talked about cities on the planet, where crime and drugs gave way to city development, urban art and new possibilities. When you enter El Poblado, the hip neighbourhood, you no longer feel that you are in Colombia. It is filled with cafes, bars, restaurants and more English spoken on it’s streets than Spanish. Once you venture slightly off the tourist track, you get glimpses of the side of the city not everyone wants you to see. This is common to big cities all over the world, although here the difference seemed even more striking seeing how eager everyone is to show you the good sides. If you come to Medellin, I would definitely recommend a trip to the central market to savour the fruit and gaze at the vendors and cable car heading up to Santo Domingo station. Both places offer a way to see the real city and if you take your time to walk around and feel the neighbourhoods, you leave with a slightly better sense of what Medellin is about.

Comuna 13 Comuna 13

After a few days in Medellin I was heading inland to Zona Cafetera. First stop - the town of Jardin. Charming place with a beautiful central plaza filled with locals whiling away their Sunday evenings drinking rum and exchanging neighbourhood gossip.

Next day I was ready to catch my bus to the adorable town of Salento. Located right in the mountains, it offers amazing views onto the neighbouring hills, a variety of coffee fincas nearby and a beautiful Valley Cocora. I only stayed for a few nights as my time in Colombia was running short, one could stay much longer here idling away with a book to the soothing views.

Soon it was time to catch another bus - back towards Medellin to check out the town of Guatape and catch my flight to the Caribbean. Guatape is a perfect holiday town, very popular with Medellin residents, it is tranquil and colourful, ideal for a few days of relaxation away from the bustle of a big city.

Short flight and I am transported to a different world! Cartagena! I land in the evening and right upon the exit from the airport the difference is striking. It is hot, windy, cars gave way to motorbikes and poverty is becoming more apparent. My hostel was located outside the old town walls, hence it was a bit of a walk to reach the main sites. Cartagena feels like a city in a city - the old town is on the coast, full of beautiful cafes, restaurants and of course hordes of tourists. The city itself though is a good 25min car ride and is drowning in poverty and crime. As I was walking along the beach towards the centre, total darkness and quietness gave way to a milliard of lights engulfing the old town. It is as if you enter a fairy tale, where prince charming is about to jump from the horse carriage.

A relatively short bus ride from Cartagena and I am back on the coast.

Palomino - the jungle paradise!

I always knew  Caribbean side of Colombia does not offer consistent surf, hence came here without big expectations. The first stop Palomino is a pleasant village in the jungle, that reminds you more of Thailand than South America. Dirt road, motorbikes, hipster cafes and the most beautiful beach one can imagine. The water is treacherous, the currents are incredibly strong and waves break directly on the coast.

Palomino did not look great for surfing so I decided to try another spot - slightly closer to Tayrona park - the village of Costeno. This place is a lot quieter than the neighbouring Palomino. Obviously  tourist development has not made it’s way up here yet. The scenery and the landscape are spectacular - the jungle is washed by the strong ocean waves, rivers are flowing from the mountains towards the ocean and there is almost no one to disturb the view. Alas you do pay for this with mosquitos and sand flies, but it was ok with the right protection.

The surf here also was not great, as the winds were very strong and so were the currents. But of course nothing stops a surfer close to the water, so I went in anyway :). Despite less than the average surf, I really enjoyed my time here. It was this mix of raw beauty, isolation and good company at the 
Mendihuaca Surf that made this spot exactly right for me.

After almost a week at Costeno, I boarded the bus again to go up to the mountain top - the town of Minca. Minca is probably the most hyped up place in Colombia right now - it’s proximity to the coast and stunning views well suited to that! I chose to stay slightly away from town in Mundo Nuevo Eco Lodge. It is a very hard hike up to get here but the effort is well worth it. You are literally on top of the mountain overlooking the ocean, jungle and Minca itself.

Those who know me realise that I am not the one with passion for mosquito filled jungle and treacherous walks away from the water. I always wanted to see the Amazon, but obviously not enough to take time away from the ocean and battle the insects. So I decided to do a short trip here for a glimpse of the jungle experience and I must say it was way better that I thought. I was well prepared with oil against sand flies, leggings and mosquito spray, so long treks up the hills and waterfalls were in the end extremely enjoyable.

And now my trip is coming to the end. The last stop is Bogota, before I head back to Hamburg.
Most of the people do not enjoy this city, it is busy, dangerous in places and is definitely not as hip as Medellin. For me though it showed way more of real Colombia than some of the other stops on the gringo trail. The architecture is beautiful and it is filled with history and energy of the big country in the midst of transformation.

Bogota Bike Tours is a cool way to see the city in a short time. Our guide shared a lot of insights about the city as we were speeding our way through it’s streets.

And as all good things, the trip has come to the end. I have mixed feelings about Colombia - the country is incredibly beautiful, welcoming and diverse. Most tourists stay on the gringo trail due to safety concerns and difficulties of travelling in a country with such a mountainous landscape. If I do come back, I would love to go further away from the gringo trail to see some real Colombia. The one place I have in my mind is Nuquí. It is a village on the Pacific Coast surrounded by jungle, ocean and little development. It used to be totally off limits for travellers but as things improve, it is becoming more accessible.
I really hope that peace treaty and upcoming elections would make Colombia safer and more prosperous for both travellers and it’s residents; and that the world stops seeing this country just as the shadow of a drug war.

P.S. I came across this statue on top of the Mount Monserrate. There was something powerful about it, a kind of energy one could sense in it’s presence. So I just gonna leave it here as the last picture from this great trip!

And as always a little map with the places I visited.