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  • Writer's pictureMissy & Lucas

THE COLOMBIA DIARIES: 2 WEEKS



Who doesn't love a good mother-daughter trip (plus Lucas)? It had been a few years since my mom and I had visited San Francisco together, and we had started talking about taking another trip in 2019, but then COVID-19 took over and we had to put aside thoughts of flying.


With things seemingly looking up over the past year, we started brainstorming destinations once again, and thoughts of colourful Colombia came to mind. Right before I hit to confirm tickets for myself and my mom, Lucas decided he couldn't miss out on Colombia and decided to join us!


One thing we didn't entirely pay attention to when booking was how huge Colombia is, though once the planning started we were lucky to find reasonably priced internal flights between some of the places we wanted to visit most.


Once February finally arrived, we hopped on our flight, stopping only in Toronto before making it to the capital, Bogota. We decided to take a domestic flight as soon as possible and ended up flying into Cartagena shortly after.


Since it was still early in the day, we chose to visit the famous beach, Playa Blanca, on a day trip. After an hour of driving (or, more realistically, sleeping) in a taxi, we were pulled over by police. Unfortunately, all three of us have zero Spanish in our vocabulary, but thankfully, Google Translate and gesturing made up for our shortcomings and allowed our driver to share that the police informed him the beach was closed. We decided to attempt one more stop, but after another hour of driving, we were too short on time to take the boat another hour further to the beach.


Instead, we went back to our hotel and jumped in the courtyard pool!


We couldn't dedicate more time to our beach-searching because we had booked an all-you-can-drink sunset boat tour. Drink options included rum or rum. But you could choose whether you prefer your rum with juice or coke!


As we set off, the loud music kicked on, but after a few (strong) drinks, it suddenly didn't seem so loud anymore and we had a blast watching the sunset over the water and city. Somehow we ended up with ALL the extra drinks, and by the end had a pile of drinks sitting in front of us. Suffice it to say it was well worth it!


We grabbed—what we think was—a cheese arepa from the first street food stand we saw after departing the boat. We don't know for sure what it was, but whatever it was was so cheesy and fantastic, especially after a few drinks.


On our walk back to our hotel in the bustling Getsemani neighbourhood, Casa Relax, we passed by Holy Trinity Square. It had come alive after dark and we spent the remainder of the evening enjoying street food, street drinks, and street performances!



In the morning, we made our way to the Old Town for a free walking tour of the area. The architecture and colours were enough to occupy me and Mom since we were horribly inattentive to the history as we were unable to hear the guide. Luckily, Lucas paid enough attention for us all as Mom and I continued to snap photos.





At the end of the tour, we made the trek to Castillo de San Felipe, the fortress built to protect Cartagena against invasion and pirates. More importantly, it offered breathtaking views of the city and creepy tunnels laid out like mazes to confuse invaders, which were the two top features, in my opinion.



Visiting in the heat of the day may not have been my finest decision, but we managed to get some cold water and lime juice, which gave us just enough energy to find the Las Botas Viejas, or the "old boots" statue, which—you guessed it—is a statue of an old pair of boots! This fun, bronze sculpture is a tribute to poet Luis Carlos Lopez, based on his poem "A Mi Ciudad Nativa", and was a fun, short photo-op, even though we were overheated, sweaty, and getting tired from our trekking around the city.




Translated excerpt from "A Mi Ciudad Nativa"

"But today, full of ancient disorder

You still inspire the love

That one has for (comfortable) old shoes…"



With dwindling sunlight left in the day, we made our way to Hotel Movich to grab a drink and a seat overlooking the city as the sun set. At first, we were tucked in close to the bar, and we were already blown away by the views. But with my hawk-eyes keeping an eye out for an open table, we ended up sitting right at the ledge to watch the incredible sunset descend over the Old Town! With seats like that, we had to have more than just one drink...



We ended up back at Holy Trinity Square for some street food, but ended up running into a friend—Cody, from New York—that Lucas had made on the walking tour. We ate way too much street food, had more drinks from the same bartender we befriended the previous night and ended up chatting with so many people from all over the world.



After grabbing contact information from a new friend from Germany, named Katrin, we decided to head back to our hotel for some sleep. Only, after we got back, there were two British bikers, named Taz and Sarah, having drinks at our hotel. So we sat down and visited for a while before we decided (and were encouraged by the staff, due to our loud voices!) to make our way back out on the town with our new friends.


Heading to the nearby street, it was so busy we almost couldn't make our way through to find a place to sit and have drinks. Once we did, Mom and I ended up getting pulled up by a restaurant host to dance in the street. Hilarious videos for everyone else, but anxiety and embarrassment for us! Especially after he asked Lucas for a tip for dancing with us! I guess we weren't very good!


We had a great night in Cartagena but woke up feeling like we could use a less exciting day to recover.


Less exciting, but never less busy!


First, we passed through the park on our way back to Old Town, and got to see a sloth making his way around a tree! This was very exciting for us as we hadn't seen many sloths coming from the Canadian cold.


Then, the stop that was truly added to the itinerary by me, for me, Abacus Books & Coffee. A cute bookstore / cafe combo? Count me in. And count in anyone else who chooses to travel with me!



While having a coffee and exploring the (mostly Spanish) books, I did find a beautiful, English, illustrated copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by famous Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez.


Afterward—even though we had a great, local breakfast included in our stay—we visited Café de la Mañana for brunch. Not only had I heard the food was excellent, but also that the restaurant itself was cute! We ordered the special and each of us got a ridiculous amount of food, including fruit, bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, avocado, arepas, mimosas, and coffee! Lucas and I can eat, but even we weren't able to finish all of the meal.


After eating our fill, we made our way down Calle de Don Sancho and Calle de la Iglesia for one of the most popular photo spots of Cartagena, where the iconic, yellow Cartagena Cathedral serves as a backdrop to the colourful buildings and overhanging balconies.


Ending our time in the Old Town, we visited the Fat Lady statue, a.k.a. La Gorda Gertrudis by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Superstition says if you touch her breasts you will visit the area / Cartagena again, so of course we had to give ourselves our best chance of going back!



Making our way back to nearby Getsemani, we took the remainder of the day visiting all the colourful streets we had spent the past two and a half days wandering through, including the two Umbrella streets, the Flag Street, streets filled with graffiti, and another with collections of art hung along it. Lucas and Mom had to deal with me insisting on even more photos!


As the sun set, we found a spot for dinner with slightly weird symphonic music playing that did not quite align with the beachy, casual vibes inside. But, good food is good food, and they had excellent shrimp and chorizo risotto!



And with that, and an early morning boat ride in our sights, we said goodbye to Cartagena for the most part, leaving our suitcases at the hotel and only bringing a backpack each as we made our way to Isla Grande of the Rosario Islands.


It was an extremely packed boat for the one-hour journey, and one couple in front of us must have been on a honeymoon with the amount of action happening, but we made it to the hotel without too much action of our own!


On the island we spent the day enjoying the over 35° weather both by, and in, the pool. As a fairly secluded island, all the meals were included (and delicious!), so we only had to worry about relaxing.


Of course, I burned. So bad.



In the evening we had planned a small activity to go see the bioluminescent plankton at sunset, by boat. When the guide arrived to get us, we realized the other couple going on the activity were in swimsuits, so we quickly went and put on ours. We walked through the quiet island to a secluded beach where we got on a tiny boat, and then we were treated to a boat ride around the island as the sun set.


As we got closer, the sun disappeared and we were left boating in the complete darkness, with only the few hotels along the island to provide any light. Pulling into a saltwater river inland, in a mangrove area, we got off the boat and onto a dock in the black of the night. It was surreal putting on our snorkel gear and descending the small ladder off the dock and into the dark ocean water.


Thankfully, the other couple with us spoke both Spanish and English and gave us directions, like not going too far into the water as boats continued to pass through!


Rather than the blue bioluminescence I had imagined rolling onto the beach, instead the black water had little pops of light, like lightning bugs. They actually made an audible popping sound when they lit up. After some time watching the plankton, we eventually made our way back to the hotel. In the dark, bouncing along the waves in the boat was much more disconcerting, especially when a rock, pier, or post passed close by.


We were dropped off at a different secluded beach in the dark, at what appeared to be an abandoned and run-down hotel, which the guide shared was an abandoned hotel of Pablo Escabar's. We waited while the guide went to fix up his boat before walking us back to our hotel.


It was an interesting excursion, to say the least!


After dinner, we made our way to bed in a beachy, second-story bungalow with a balcony overlooking the water. We only had one evening on Isla Grande, and overnight, the wind picked up like crazy. When we woke up, we quickly realized the large waves would prohibit us from going out on a kayak as we had planned.


Luckily the boats back to Cartagena only run in the afternoon, so Lucas and I decided to go on a snorkelling tour while Mom enjoyed the (now 38°!) weather. Although we weren't certain the boat wouldn't get capsized by a large wave, once we reached the snorkelling spot, the waters were crystal clear.


As we floated along looking at the underwater world, I felt a pain in my arm. The salt and my sunburn, I figured.


Until I felt another on my thigh. Then on my chest.


Finally, my eyes focused on the tiny, translucent jellyfish that were stinging us!


In all honesty, it was a relief to figure out it was a jellyfish, but I will admit I was a bit more paranoid swimming as we made our way back to the boat before being taken back to our hotel.


The other consequence of the extreme wind was that our boat ride back to the mainland couldn't go through the ocean without safety hazards due to the winds and waves. So, we were going to experience about 15 minutes of rough unpleasantness before hugging the nearest coast and taking an inland river back to Cartagena. The exciting bit was getting a totally different view and experience on the way back!


After grabbing our bags from our hotel in Cartagena, we were dropped off at a bus depot to grab a minibus (which was surprisingly comfortable for the two-hour journey and for $6 a person) to Barranquilla, home to the second largest Carnival in South America.


From the bus, we had to taxi to our accommodation, which was maybe not in the nicest area of town. We arrived around 10:00 PM and once we had paid and checked in, the owner led us to a room with a door that opened just wide enough to fit in our suitcases. As they left us in the room, and Lucas saw a bug cross the floor and disappear into the wood, we started to get nervous.


I'll be the first to admit I am scared of bugs, though with our travels around the world, we have had to put up with the occasional bug in our room.


Only half joking, Mom suggested we check the mattress for bedbugs. As she flipped off the light, and Lucas lifted the mattress, we started to see ants crawling out of a hole in the dirty underside of the mattress.


Luckily, both Lucas and my mom have stronger backbones than I do and insisted we couldn't stay there. When we let the owner know, they grabbed a can of Raid and sprayed the underside—even as we insisted they don't, which was not understood due to the language barrier—before trying to switch us to another (thankfully bug-free room).


But, the damage was done. Lucas knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with the idea of any bugs living in the mattresses. To be honest, I don't think I would have been alone in that.


We ended up getting a last-minute deal on a room at Wyndham Garden Hotel, which was quite a shift from our usual stay! Satisfied with our clean room, we each showered before going and grabbing a late-night bite out and then heading to bed.


The next day, we went to find more information on the reason we had chosen the visit Barranquilla: Carnival.


We started by walking (and walking, and walking!) the youth parade route and seeing dancing groups including ages from babies to young adults.


We ended up walking to the main parade and the palcos (or bleacher-like areas for better viewing), but the parades for the day were still a few hours away. We asked a few ticket sellers for some pricing estimates and understood it would be around the equivalent of $30 Canadian for three palco tickets.


So off we went to find some outfits at a market.


Mom already had fun clothes, so Lucas and I picked out some matching outfits before making our way back to the parades. When we started looking for a palco, we got pointed to a ticket seller who walked us to a different palco. To mention again, so we don't sound as guilty, we don't speak Spanish, and the ticket sellers did not speak English!


So as we used Google Translate, we told them we had been told $30 for the tickets just shortly before. They said, no, no, 100 dollars.


We insisted we were told $30, and they ushered us into a line and sent Lucas and I through the gate, but stopped Mom to be paid. Mom gave them $40 and waited for change, thinking we were all on the same page, while they were waiting, expecting more money. As we all stood trying to figure out what was happening and all of us getting more confused, they finally ushered us in and just kept the $40.


Turned out, they thought we had agreed to $30 per person, while we thought the bleacher seats only cost $30 in total.


We felt guilty when we sat down and searched online only to realize that, yes, the tickets generally are more expensive than what we gave! We also felt unsure whether by sending two of us through security and stopping one of us, they expected they would separate us and be able to ask for more than the agreed price.


We still aren't sure if it was just an innocent misunderstanding or whether we were ignorant, but it definitely wasn't our favourite experience in Colombia.



In fact, Barranquilla wasn't our favourite place, and Carnival wasn't our favourite experience, in general. Watching the parade was alright as a family-friendly weekend, but not the street event that we envisioned for the second largest Carnival in South America!


Once we had enjoyed our share of the parade, we went looking for a bar to enjoy some drinks and dinner. With Carnival meaning most places were closed, we instead wandered into an amazing supermarket where we grabbed drinks and some fresh food to make our own dinner in the hotel!


I know we are getting old, because, to be honest, the supermarket was amazing and might have been the highlight of Barranquilla.


We didn't spend too much time stressing over our lack of love for Barranquilla, as in the morning we set off via another bus to Santa Marta.


Santa Marta had arguably one of our favourite hotel stays in Colombia, with Grecian-like column archways opening up to the tiny brick courtyard and pool. Shuttered windows and the matching wooden door opened to a rooftop filled with cacti, succulents, and a view of the nearby church.



With a possible taxi strike beginning the next day, we set out to find the bus depot to ensure we would have the option available for our trip to Tayrona National Park in the morning. After confirming, we wandered through Santa Marta, as well as visiting the Museo del Oro—the gold museum. Even though I am not the biggest museum buff, with free entrance and El Dorado vibes, it was a great stop!


Afterward, we visited the Santa Marta sign along the beach and harbour, before making our way back to the main plaza for a meal and some drinks. Surprisingly, we actually had a harder time finding food than drinks, which were available almost anywhere. Instead, we ended up having a delicious street food snack on our way back to the harbour for some drinks with a view. We tried their pina coladas and mojitos and both were fantastic paired with the sun setting over the boats and water.


Making our way back to the plaza, we grabbed some street food for dinner and started to make our way back to the hotel, but, once again, we ended up running into our friends from England sitting at a restaurant as we passed by! So we joined them for a short time before finally turning in for the night.



The morning found us at the bus depot, getting separated and sitting randomly on the bus. While Mom and Lucas were sitting uncomfortably crammed with others near the front, I was seated half on a bench seat near the back door, with one leg on the stairs to keep myself from toppling over. Which was a bit sketchy when the doors remained open for the majority of the hour-plus bus ride! There was a young guy more precariously situated, standing and hanging out the door, but he was also selling the bus tickets, so he seemed slightly more comfortable with the arrangement.


We were dropped off at the entrance to Tayrona National Park. We had a few expectations about the park, most of which turned out not to be reality.


First expectation? We would enter the park around 9:00 AM. The reality? It ended up taking over an hour and a half to get through the lines and into the park. There was a line to pay the mandatory insurance to enter the park, a line to get a ticket to enter a different line to pay the park entrance fee, then back to the second line for the paid receipt to be signed and for each person to be given a wristband. To be honest, the process made little sense to me, but everyone managed to figure things out!


Expectation? One hour hike to the first beach, stopping to enjoy the water and sun before continuing another hour of hiking to the next beach. Reality? Approximately two hours of hiking to get to the first beach, with the next one only 20 minutes away.


Expectation? The park closes at 5:00 PM, so we would need to start hiking back at 3:00 PM or take a shorter horseback ride. Reality? We had zero confidence in taking the horses on the smooth-rock-elevation inclines and descents and instead booked a boat around 4:30 PM that ended up being the roughest hour-and-a-half boat ride we have ever taken. But, because of this, we ended up getting to Taganga at the perfect time to watch the sunset over the water from the small fishing town!



The next day was primarily dedicated to travelling to our next city, but we managed to dip our toes in the water one more time before making our way to the airport and on to Medellin.


We had intentions to do a walking tour of the famous Communa 13 and take the Metrocable for views of the city, but it was already dark by the time we made our way the hour into the city and then found our hotel for the next two nights. Instead, we went back to a lively street in El Poblado and grabbed some dinner and wandered before turning in.


An early wake-up call was required to take a day trip to Guatape.


The tour was incredible! For $40 per person, we got a two-hour bus ride, breakfast, a visit to the most colourful city in the Americas, the opportunity to hike up—all 700+ steps of—Piedra del Penol, lunch, and a boat ride through the stunning landscape before being driven the two hours back to Medellin.



With only the evening left to enjoy the city, we took part in some of the busy nightlife offered in Medellin. Being a Friday, the streets, bars, and restaurants were packed. We made our way through the (occasionally literal) crowds, stopping for a cocktail at any place that seemed fun, including drinks at the grungy BERLIN 1930 BAR, dinner at the popular Bonhomia, cocktails at La Cruda, and even a performance at the speakeasy-style Z Bar located under the Marquee Hotel.



Medellin would have been a great place to spend another day at least, but on my timetable, we had to squeeze in one last stop to call Colombia complete.


In the morning we flew to Armenia with Viva Air (our only flight on the trip with them).


We arrived early at the airport, and after an unsuccessful attempt at checking in, we were directed to an English-speaking representative. He shared that we had less than fifteen minutes left to confirm our check-in before we would be charged for the check-in. Then, he put us in line with another representative while we filled it out.


Unfortunately, as I have mentioned, our Spanish is non-existent. The translation of Viva Air emails and their website were also seemingly non-existent.


Then, the second employee we were directed to would not assist us and just gestured to other lines. To be fair, they were dealing with a group of people who were rapidly arguing, and, although we had a language barrier, I still understood the profuse swears being thrown in.


Eventually, we went back to the English-speaking rep and asked him to assist with the online portion as we couldn't get it to switch to English, which he kindly accommodated.


We can't complain, since that was our most stressful flight experience on a trip including four internal flights (in addition to the flights to and from)!


We landed in Armenia, at one of the smallest airports we have been to. From there, we still had a one-hour taxi to get to our final destination: Salento.


Immediately upon checking in, we started walking to our first goal in the coffee region, Finca El Ocaso. We had about 40 minutes to get there before the last tour, but Google Maps said we could do it in 30! Only minutes into our walk, we were directed onto a driveway to private property, with a gate blocking us from continuing the path. Luckily, the family happened to be outside so we used broken language and our map to explain where we were trying to go. After a few crucial minutes where someone explained it would take hours to get there, a gentleman told the person helping us that a brand new bridge had been built that would allow us to get there in the 30 minutes shown. We are still shocked that Google Maps managed to pick out this route, as it was more like a goat path.


With the clock ticking down, we started to hustle.


We were so relieved to encounter the bridge and cross the roaring river, but we continued up the muddy creek path through the jungle, with bugs accosting us, passing an electrified fence, and finally arriving at the Finca just moments after the last tour started.


Out of breath, I ran up to the counter and asked if we could join, and they kindly obliged, though they did motion to either breathe or quiet down since the tour had started, I am still undecided which.


On the tour we not only got to drink some fresh Colombian coffee (I drank Mom's, so she ran all that way just to appease me), but we also learned about the production and roasting methods of Colombian coffee, as well as how to choose a great local variety.



As dusk started to set in, we waited with a couple for a "Willy", the local four-by-four taxi. When it arrived, they already had a full vehicle, but the five of us, plus the guide who had led the tour, hopped on. All told we had approximately eleven people in the back of the jeep, not counting those behind the wheel or in the cab.


Back in Salento, we wandered and found a simple patio-type restaurant offering either chorizo or a burger. When I say simple, I mean those were literally the only two options. And their liquor of choice was beer. It was perfect for a simple dinner outside while enjoying a beautiful night.


Our stay was 5-10 minutes outside of Salento, but we had a five-person, two-level lodge to ourselves.


Aside from being a coffee production region, Salento is also home to the Cocora Valley. Known for being home to the tallest palm trees in the world, the Cocora Valley also was used as the inspiration for the setting of Disney's Encanto!


Obviously, we had to visit and hike around. After another Willy to the entrance, we began hiking around the lush green hills dotted with palm trees. It felt like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.


There were multiple viewpoints, or Miradors, along the way, each looking to be within one kilometre of each other. We made our way to the first in good time. We saw signs showing the second was not too much further, and continued along until we came across it. Then, another sign directed us to the farmhouse and our last viewpoint before we would turn around and head back down. At this point, we had already done some significant steps and elevation, and the further we went, the more we doubted the distances on the map.


Finally, after a long while hiking, we saw a sign saying only one kilometre to go. We walked at least another three beyond that before reaching the farmhouse and our final view, turning around and knowing we still had a long hike down ahead of us.


At the end of our day in the Cocora Valley, we had hiked over 12km! And did I mention that my mom did this after a complete knee replacement only 4 months prior?



After such a busy—but beautiful—day, we had only the evening left to enjoy Colombia. We went to a cute place for drinks outside, and while mom found us a table, Lucas and I hustled to climb the many steps up to the Mirador (or viewpoint) looking out over Salento before trekking back down to join her for our drinks.



The next day we had to make our way one hour back to Armenia to catch our flight to Bogota, spending the night there.


In the Bogota airport, we heard chanting and assumed there was a protest of some sort occurring, but we made our way to our flight and before we knew it were connecting in Toronto. When we landed we received an email from the Government of Canada indicating that the Bogota airport was experiencing flight delays and cancellations due to the protests (which were apparently caused by or related to some Viva Air delays!), so we had left at the exact right time!


After such an eventful trip, I think I can speak for us all and say we need a vacation from this vacation!


If you've made it this far, thank you for following along on our adventure through Colombia!

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