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Backpackers Highlights Colombia

Updated on May 6, 2015

Must - See in Colombia!!

When we told our family and friends we would be visiting Colombia, their replies were fearful. Items like drug traffic, shootings and kidnappings popped up. Some of them were certain we would return home in a coffin, if our remains would be found.

We witnessed none of the above in Colombia and had a very pleasant travel experience. We did see a beautiful and hospitable culture with fantastic cities and great people. And again, next in line with Guatemala, it is one of my favorites.

Popayan is the first city we went to. We traveled through Pasto and spend a night there, but didn't want to stay any longer. Popayan on the other hand, is a fun and relaxing town. We found the best hostel in town that was located on the main square. Parklife hostel is a good, clean place with the most amazing staff. We loved it so much that we returned twice. Popayan is a good jumping point to visit a few national parks.

Using Popayan as a base, we visited San Agustin for a few days. The road we took to go there, is in many places not a real road; more like a mud trail. The more it rains, the more fun the ride becomes! At the side of the road there are regular police controls and buses are being stopped for passport and backpack checks. The village of San Agustin is small and time passes by slowly, maybe standing still from time to time. The accommodations in Casa de François are impeccable and charming. The surrounding area hosts ruins and the typical statues San Agustin is known for. A jeep tour can take you to the ruins and meanwhile you visit some nice waterfalls and 'El Estrecho'. El Estrecho is the location where a 30 m wide river gets pushed in between rocks as narrow as 1 m. Underneath the rocks the river has formed big caves. The power of the foaming water is obvious and jumping into the water is not a good idea.

In the coffee region we travel to Salento, a cute little village in the mountains and once again, we stayed in the best guest house in town: La Casona de Lily. The views in the valley are spectacular. We walked to a coffee plantation to get a tour which was interesting to see. Valle de Cocora is also much visit worthy. The valley is known for the giant coco trees. The trail you can walk through the valley is very nice. Paths lead you through the fields into the jungle, past a river and over some artwork bridges. Some of the bridges are difficult to cross but nevertheless a great walk.

The first major city in Colombia we encounter, is Medellin. It's a big town with many things to see and do. We stayed at the Palm Tree Hostel, which was fabulous. We stayed for three weeks, because we enjoyed it so much. There's a good metro system, that will get you to almost every place you want to go. One end of the metro system connect to the cable system to take you up the hill where a good view over the massive city awaits you. Further on the cable system makes you feel like flying over the treetops before you land in the middle of the green lung next to Medellin. The city also counts a lot of museums, activities, parks and places to explore.

Close to Medellin, Guatapé is a definite must-see. When standing on top of 'El Penol de Guatapé' you can see the marvelous surroundings. The area has been flooded and green mountains pop out of the water everywhere. To reach the top, you must climb 740 steps. I do not recommend doing this at mid day. The village itself is a beauty and all houses are painted in happy colors.

Cartagena de Indias is a city at the north coast of Colombia and it's harbor is an important link in Caribbean water transportation. We noticed the heat immediately and started looking for a hostel with cold showers. Due to our narrow budget, the hostel search was a disaster and we ended up sleeping in a very small dorm room, packed with people. The fight for the fan was a fact; we all wanted some of the hot wind to cool us down. The colonial old town offers nice strolls and the city wall has a view over the ocean.

A few days later we continue moving closer to Parque Tayrona. We halt in Taganga to meet some friends and stay in Taganga for a week, doing almost nothing. The heat does a good job keeping us calm. Swimming opportunities vary: swimming pools, beaches, showers, … We rented a small house together with our friends and got a fair price for our fully equipped shelter. Our friends decided to hike the Ciudad Perdida trail, while we moved to the National Park of Tayrona. This is one of the most beautiful and pure places we've been to so far. The total absence of noise, the beauty of the beaches and the feel of nature are absolutely relaxing. You can read more about this Park in my other lens: Parque Tayrona.

After a quick pass through Taganga, we move on through Valledupar, Bogota, straight to Popayan. We felt time getting short and since we had been in Colombia for over 6 weeks, we felt obligated to skip so many great places in Colombia. This only means that have to get back one day, with more time to spend. Places we missed out on: Riohacha, Mompos, San Gil, Villa de Leiva, Bogota and of course Venezuelan Merida.

We did visit Bucaramanga and it's magnificent dental clinics. I'd been having some trouble with a tooth and couldn't keep traveling with the amount of pain I had. Loaded with fear I walked into the clinic and got a root canal treatment. I must say it was the best dental appointment I ever had. If you ever need a dentist while traveling: Colombia is the perfect place. In Bucaramanga is a possibility to para glide. The guys in the Kasa Guane can tell you all about it. On our way to the Ecuador border, we visited Ipiales. The church between the steep cliffs is a nice and mystical view. I expected it to be more stunning than it actually was. But still an interesting site to visit.

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