The Wish List Tourist: Colourful Colombia

The Wish List Tourist has experienced the highs and lows of Colombia
The Wish List Tourist has experienced the highs and lows of Colombia

A Northamptonshire woman has set off on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

You can follow her progress with the Northants Telegraph.

Here we catch up with Rebecca in Colombia – a country of contrasts.

Arriving in a foreign country with a bad reputation, alone and with hardly any knowledge of the language is, expectedly, daunting.

Doing that at night and being dropped off at the wrong hotel in a run-down neighbourhood after a 21-hour journey and no sleep is frightening.

But working my way through a conversation using a phrasebook with a friendly receptionist who showed me where I should be and then arriving at my hotel safely was an adventure.

Colombia has been a rollercoaster – the north is covered with mosquitoes and butterflies.

There are quaint, old-fashioned towns like Sante Fe and Guatapé and ugly, crime-ridden cities like Medellin and Cali.

A sign on a restaurant door tells customers that weapons aren’t allowed, but the people inside were polite and happy.

I got offered cocaine on the way home from a club where I salsa-danced the night away.

And on the route to Playa Blanca, a little piece of Caribbean paradise, men threatened to slash our truck tyres with a big kitchen knife if we didn’t pay their ‘toll’.

I chose to start my travels with a specialist overland tour company called Dragoman – this style of travel means you get to know countries more intimately, with safety in numbers in dangerous areas.

There were 26 of us on the first leg from Cartagena des Indias to Quito, in Ecuador, ranging in age from 19 to 69 – a full group – with people from the UK, Australia, Norway, Sweden and Malaysia.

Overlanding means someone else does the serious thinking for you, but in some respects you lose the satisfaction of DIY tourism.

In 16 days I visited four cities, three towns and a coffee plantation, the latter of which was the highlight for me.

The juxtaposition of the tiny humming birds and the exciting enormity from the rumble of a volcano set a scene in the bottom of a valley which I will never forget.

Hacienda Valencia is a special place. It is basic, but a welcome retreat from the tension and mayhem of the cities.

And Popayan is so quaint it felt like I’d walked on to a film set, with its colourful balloons in the trees, little girls taking pony rides in the square, bubbles floating in the air and white buildings everywhere.

In Santa Fe men in ponchos ride mules among the old colonial-style buildings and near Cartagena locals offer volcanic mud massages.

I never tired of the scenery as we followed the Andes south, driving just below cloud level and experiencing the challenges of thin, windy roads with sheer drops and high and lows from sea level to around 3km above.

In the end, these are the memories of Colombia that will remain with me, the ones that brought sheer pleasure and real rewards for not succumbing to the niggling doubt I had about visiting such a passionate country.

Travellers’ tips

Even though I had no trouble in Colombia, stay safe.

There is extreme poverty in this country, which feels third world in places.

Take strong mosquito repellent for the hotter areas and wear it during the day.

Have a basic understanding of Spanish before arriving and take a phrase book – English is hardly spoken.


Eat: pandebono

Drink: coffee (obviously) and fruit juice

Loved the vibrancy and colour of this nation – every country should paint its houses in bright colours.

Hated to see the human toll of civil war.

Where I stayed

Hotel Villa Colonial, Cartagena

Los Corales, Playa Blanca

Hacienda Venecia, Menizales

Where I ate

As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I got bored of rice and beans quickly.

Colombia’s kitchen is appreciated far better by carnivores; the street food, particularly the empañadas, was popular.

What I saw

Cartagena des Indias wall

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

El Peñón de Guatapé

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Guatapé Monastary

Santa Fe suspension bridge

A rainbow over San Francisco

Musical memory

My first salsa lesson on the porch of the hostel at Hacienda Venecia coffee plantation.

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