Once synonymous with cocaine, crime, and coffee, Colombia is making a comeback. Day by day, this lesser-known Latin star is establishing itself as one of today’s most alluring destinations. We’ve heard so much about it recently that we decided we needed to check it out for ourselves. So, last week, Brooke Garnett and I hopped on a flight southbound and 5.5 hours later we stepped foot in Colombia.
Equipped with a brilliant Caribbean coast, seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, a buzzing capital city, a pulsing culinary scene, and the wild Amazon rainforest, Colombia is packed with diversity. But for all its history, Colombia actually feels fresh because it’s being seen for the first time by so many, giving it a youthful energy that fits in perfectly with the bright striking vistas you take in around every bend in Cartagena’s narrow cobbled streets or the electric green hillsides of the Cocora Valley. We couldn’t get enough of this stunning country not yet lost to swarms of tour buses. Colombia is as charming as it gets.
A handful of reasons why you will love Colombia as much as we did:
Colombia is close!
Our world is packed with thrilling travel experiences, but few are as close and as authentic as Colombia. The capital city of Bogotá is just a 5.5 hour flight from New York City and there is a direct 2.5 hour flight from Miami to Cartagena. Many people don’t realize that Colombia is just as close as her popular neighbors Aruba and Costa Rica. Plus, it’s in the same time zone as New York City, meaning no jet lag and more time to enjoy every minute of this lively country so few have considered.
There is not a simple pleasure in the world that compares to sipping coconut water straight from a young coconut! When we were taking a break from replenishing our Vitamin D in the afternoon sunshine or capping off a perfect day of hiking through lush jungle by gazing into star-studded skies, we unapologetically indulged in the local fruit as we smiled ear to ear.
No trip to Colombia is complete without a visit to Cartagena. Anyone lucky enough to find themselves in the picturesque old city must dedicate one day to wandering her narrow streets, no place in particular to go, just stopping wherever tickles your fancy. Taste test the local vendors’ street side specialties before trying on that Panama Hat at the corner store (we couldn’t resist, as you can see!). Marvel at the vibrant colors at every turn, but don’t forget to take in the city’s architectural treasures like the San Felipe Fortress. Stop to chat (en español) with the locals about two of their most revered Colombians, famed painter Fernando Botero and venerated writer Gabriel García Márquez . And watch how as the sun goes down, Cartagena warms up; drink a Maracuyá Mojito or Club Colombia (the local beer) with the locals before, during, and after dinner to unwind before putting on your dancing shoes to salsa the night away! The culture and historic sites may be a reason you head to Colombia, but a sultry night on the town will certainly be one of the top reasons you return.
The fresh juices alone are reason enough for me to plan my return trip to Colombia. Add the local delicacies like cazuelas, sopa de mondongo, maracuyá, limonada de coco, langoustine ceviche, arroz con coco, and sancocho and you officially have a foodie’s dream destination. We will never forget our walk through La Plaza de Mercado de Basurto with our culinary guide for the day, Jorge Escandon. A ceviche master whose fame skyrocketed overnight after Anthony Bourdain requested Jorge to be his Colombian food guru, he was the perfect host. We were honored to have the opportunity to explore the local markets that feed most of Cartagena with this connected insider. Prepping lunch back at his seaside home was quite possibly one of the most fulfilling days of my life (emphasis on the filling!).
After sipping your morning “tinto” (black coffee) at your hacienda, head out for a hike through the Cocora Valley. We promise you will never witness a landscape quite like it; dramatic towering wax palm trees up to 200 feet tall dot the vibrant green hillsides. When your legs need a break, make sure to give the local specialty a try (cheese dipped in your coffee or hot chocolate).
For curious travelers seeking something they haven’t experienced before, consider Colombia. Go for its charisma, its authenticity, and its Jugo de Lulo (best juice we’ve ever tasted, hands down). You will probably be the first of your friends to have a Colombia stamp in your passport, but you better hurry up… discerning travelers who have already been there are probably already planning their trip back with their friends (we are). Colombia is teetering on the brink of being recognized as something fabulous. It certainly should be.
Reach out to Absolute Travel’s South America Specialist, Brooke Garnett, to chat more about our brand spanking new Colombia programs and stay tuned to learn more about Colombia in our upcoming e-newsletter!
Katie & Brooke