I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many countries throughout the world, but none have left such a lasting impression as Colombia. The main reason being that Colombian people are just about the friendliest in the world. From walking you the whole way to your destination when you ask for directions to patiently listening to and correcting my pretty terrible Spanish, the generosity and kindness of the Colombian people will stay with me forever.
I was particularly touched by the people of Medellín, Colombia’s second city and one that has transformed itself into one of the most modern cities in Colombia and one of the most innovative cities in the world. People from this city, Paisas, as they are known amongst Colombians, are immensely proud of the city that Medellin has become, and quite rightly so.
I was enchanted with Medellin before I’d even stepped off the plane. Taking a flight from Santa Marta on the Northern coast of Colombia, down to Medellín was fascinating. I sat with my face firmly glued to the window as beaches turned to beautiful towns nestled in between towering mountains. Medellín is a perfect example of the latter, nestled as it is amongst the green mountains. I was even more impressed by the transfer from the airport to the city, where I discovered Medellín is a lush green city, and for once this isn’t because it rains all year (I’m looking at you Ireland!). Medellin is even affectionately nicknamed La Ciudad de la Primavera Eterna, meaning the City of Eternal Spring because it enjoys clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-20s year round. And city planners have made the most of this. There are some beautiful green spaces including a small but lovely botanical garden and many open plazas, including my personal favorite, Botero Plaza, where you can marvel at 23 of Fernando Botero’s weird but wonderful sculptures. For the best views you can also take the cable car above the city, and whilst this is a fantastic way to experience Medellín as a tourist, it also provides a vital method of transport between Medellín's outlying districts and the city Centre. It is for the inventive and modern public transport systems, and modern art galleries and public spaces that the city of Medellín won the award for most innovative city in the world. I’m sure you’ll agree this is a sign of great things to come from Colombia’s second city.
Whilst I love Medellín for its innovation and modernity, Cartagena is captivating because it sits firmly at the other end of the scale. The old city of Cartagena is a world heritage site and the perfect example of Spanish Colonial architecture, here you will find colourful colonial style villas and antique churches. It is a lively and bustling city, where you’ll undoubtedly see street sellers on bicycles calling hungry passersby to lunch by clanging their spoons on huge serving bowls of food, a favourite being fresh meatballs.
Maybe, like me, you will be serenaded in by a trio of men in traditional Spanish costume whilst eating your lunch in one of the many squares (warning, you may have to give up all your change in exchange for this performance!). If you couldn’t tell, the highlight of Cartagena, aside from the beautiful architecture, is the food. It is here that Colombian cooking gets a Caribbean twist and you’ll find some of the best dishes inspired by tropical ingredients like plantain and coconut.
If this isn’t enough and you need more of a taste of the Caribbean, you can’t miss out on a visit to Tayrona National Park. This is a protected area along Colombia’s Caribbean coast where you can relax and enjoy the fantastic beaches, great Caribbean inspired food and perhaps even spot some monkeys hanging out in the palms.
Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city really gives you the best of both worlds. It is an expansive and bustling city, with a very modern and functional business centre and an extremely well-preserved colonial district named La Candelaria. It is in La Candelaria that Spanish Conquistadors first founded the city of Bogota in 1538, and visiting this part of the city is almost like stepping back in time. And perhaps, like me, you will be surprised to find some of the best graffiti in the world whilst walking along the narrow cobbled streets of Bogota’s oldest town!
For the perfect retreat from the city there’s no place better than the small colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Here again, you will find cobbled streets and a beautiful open plaza lined with bright white colonial style buildings. But what is most fascinating and unique about Villa de Leyva is the sheer number of fossils found in this area, you may even find them underfoot as you walk along the cobbled streets!
If I haven’t convinced you to plan a holiday to Colombia immediately, perhaps this quote from my guide in Medellin, a proud Colombian, will: “Colombia is not a country rich in money, but we do have the best landscapes, most delicious food and friendliest people in the world…oh, and the weather is great all year!”
Llama Travel offers 3 great Colombia holiday itineraries. You can see our Colombia Holidays here.