Colombia: Home away from home
By Denise van de Wolfshaar
Colombia is one of the most versatile destinations in the world when it comes to their natural resources. You can find kilometers of white sandy beaches with turquoise-coloured seawater, a dense jungle with lots of rare species, mountains to climb, and so on… Colombia truly has everything you could ever wish for.
Before I visited Colombia, I had no expectations whatsoever. I did not know about the natural and cultural treasures that this country has to offer and I certainly did not know about the warmness, kindness and hospitality of its inhabitants. With this travel story, I would like to share my personal experiences about traveling through Colombia and I will tell you which highlights need to be on your bucket list when visiting this beautiful country. ¡Vamos!
Tips & Tricks
When visiting Colombia, there are a few things that are good to keep in mind. First of all, Colombians are not (yet) very used to tourism, so most of them cannot speak English. In my experience, I have found it to be very valuable to be able to speak a bit of Spanish, so that I could communicate with the local inhabitants. It is really worth it to try to learn a few Spanish sentences, the locals will really appreciate it and they have a lot of stories to share!
Furthermore, the Colombians are never really in a hurry. This means that it might be that your transportation or your appointment might not show up on time. The local inhabitants are used to this and it does not matter to them. Since you are on your holiday, try to not keep track of time as much as you are used to and go with the flow!
Bogota is the capital city of Colombia. The city is located at a height of 2,640 meters, which makes it a lot cooler – and sometimes even a bit chilly – than other Colombian destinations. While you are in this city, make sure to pay a visit to the Monseratte. The Monseratte is a mountain which is 3,100 meters high and offers some of the most amazing panoramic views of the city. You could opt to climb this mountain or to take the cable car.
Desierto de la Tatacao
This “desert”, called Desierto de la Tatacao, is not an official desert. A lot of travelers choose not to go to this beautiful and rare place because it is a little bit off the beaten track. However, I made the decision to go and visit this desierto and I am very glad I did. In this desert, you will find a lot of cactuses and red and gray rock formations. It is a good place for hiking, riding a bike and you can choose to ride a horse. My tip for you is to stay the night in one of the accommodations, wake up early and watch the sunrise. I promise you, it will not disappoint.
Salento & Valle de Cocora
Salento is a small village in the heart of the coffee region of Colombia. When you visit Salento, you will experience that the authenticity of this village is still very much intact. Wander around in this beautiful village and do not hesitate to try and make conversation with some of the local inhabitants: they are very proud of their roots and culture and will tell you all about it!
Valle de Cocora is located near Salento. Next to amazing views, you will find the highest palm trees in the world in this valley. There are more than a hundred palm trees in this area – most of them being over sixty meters high! This valley is great for both hiking and riding a horse. I must warn you: please put on your hiking shoes because you will climb a lot while hiking through Valle de Cocora.
Medellín is one of the biggest cities in Colombia. Unfortunately, it is still mostly known for being the number one murder capital of the world – this is a miscinception! Ever since the death of Pablo Escobar, this city has been thriving. When you are into arts and culture, a visit to Medellín should definitely be on your list.
Guatapé is a two hours drive away from Medellín and it is hands down the most colorful village you will ever see. Wander around the village and immerse yourself in all the lovely little streets, the houses with (at least!) five different colors on them and visit one of the gelato shops, a real treat! A tuk-tuk drive away from Guatapé, you will find La Piedra del Peñol . This is a huge rock which you can climb and enjoy some amazing panoramic views over Guatapé.
Cartagena: the city of music, arts and culture! At every corner of every street, there is always something happening. People are selling jewelry, women are singing and dancing in the streets, men are trying to sell you cigars… You get the idea. Cartagena is a historic city with a lot of colonial buildings – definitely worth paying a visit and wandering around the city. Oh, and while you are here, you can try and book a salsa class, the inhabitants of this city know like no other how to dance the salsa!
If you are trying to get away from the city, this is the place you are looking for! Minca is a quiet, little village with a few accommodations, shops, bars and a relaxed atmosphere. But most of all, Minca is surrounded by dense jungle and therefore makes a wonderful destination for hiking. Put on your hiking shoes and discover the jungle and all the rare species that can be found in it. If you can speak a little Spanish, try and ask the local inhabitants about what animals can be found in the jungle – they love to tell you all about it! Also, there are lots of local guides nearby who can take you through the jungle and tell you about all the flora and fauna. Mind you: most of them do speak Spanish.
Palomino is – in my eyes – the most laid back village in Colombia. If you want to relax, unwind and do absolutely nothing for a few days, this is the place to be. Palomino is located next to the beach, so there is the possibility to go swimming. Furthermore, there is a river flowing through Palomino which is perfect for tubing. Palomino has a wide range of different restaurants, making it the perfect destination for foodies. The local restaurant and bar owners are very approachable and they are always in for a chat.
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
Tayrona National Park is a very special place. The National Park is located at the beach, where you can go swimming and unwind in one of the hammocks hanging around. However, next to the beach, there is dense jungle where you can get lost for hours. The best of both worlds! Tayrona is quite a large National Park, so I would recommend sleeping here for a night so you can discover all the wonders that Tayrona has to offer.
If you are into speed, heights, acceleration and adventure, San Gil is the place for you. It is mostly known for being an “outdoor Valhalla”, because of all the different adventure sports and activities you can practice here. It is a small town surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, speedy rivers, immense mountains and lots of caves. If you are feeling adventurous, take a look at all the different activities that San Gil has to offer. A few examples are: rafting on the speedy rivers, mountain biking and paragliding above the mountains. I did the latter – the views were beyond spectacular and it was an experience that I will never forget.
Barichara is a little village which is known as one of the most authentic, beautiful and best preserved colonial villages in Colombia. When you are visiting Barichara, you can pay a visit to one of the historic churches – there are lots of them and they are all very different! If there is one thing that needs to be on your bucket list when visiting this village is a hike track which is called Camino Reale . It takes you through a picturesque landscape, meadows and mountains with lots of adorable, white cows. This is one of my favorite tracks in Colombia.
Not if, but when
I have enjoyed my time in Colombia tremendously. If you are looking for a versatile destination, where you can find mountains, beaches , jungle and even an unofficial desert, then Colombia is the place to go. This is a destination which surprises you and exceeds your expectations in every way. I have experienced such warmness and kindness from the local inhabitants and I can truly say that I have never experienced such a homely feeling during my travels abroad. I definitely want to visit Colombia again, the question is not if but when…
A jungle dream hostel with close bonds to the indigenous community in the Sierra Nevada, Colombia
Fleur van der Neut and Caitlyn van der Meij
Last December, I traveled through Colombia with a friend. After exploring central Colombia, my friend and I made our way up to the coast. Once we were there, we found out that we had two nights still unplanned. So, spontaneously, we booked this “off-grid regenerative hostel” called La Ponderosa Reserve. We knew very little about it, just that it looked pretty, had amazing reviews and was pretty cheap. They send us an email saying that we needed to take a 40 minute moto-taxi ride to get there. Well, it is safe to say that we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. When we arrived in the little village where we were supposed to take this moto-taxi, two Colombian men showed up with the motor cycles and told us to hop on.Naively, I thought a moto-taxi was some sort of Tuktuk and had at least 3 wheels. Of course, it was just a motorcycle. so, there I was, squeezed in between my big backpack and a sweaty Colombian man that I couldn’t understand, driving into the mountains on a road so bad that you wouldn’t want to tell your mom. After putting our feet on the ground again, we were suddenly in the midst of a jungle in the Sierra Nevada. The Colombian men told us to cross a river, and then follow the yellow arrows. After crossing one river by foot, and one by a hand-made raft, we finally arrived at our destination, La Ponderosa Reserve.We were kindly greeted by three Brits who gave up their jobs in London to start this sustainable, regenerative hostel on this secluded location in the Colombian jungle. They state that they are not “just a hostel, powered 100% by solar energy, La Ponderosa strives to showcase a regenerative model of tourism, striving for zero waste and supporting local resettlement projects.” Besides that, they have very close connections with the indigenous communities that live besides them in the jungle. They strive to be zero-waste, which they make possible by having their own permaculture garden and food supply comes from local farmers on horseback.Some activities that they offer are: treks to a number of local indigenous communities, permaculture tours around their farm, and a jungle hike to the remote mountain village of Quebrada del Sol.
My friend and I chose to do the tour of a traditional indigenous village. A man called Martin from the Kogui (an indigenous community living in the Sierra Nevada mountains) came to the hostel to pick us up. It took us on a walk through the mountains, explaining things about the trees and plants. I, unfortunately, could not understand him, as I do not speak Spanish. But my friend tried to translate as much as possible. Eventually he took us to his village. I wasn’t expecting actually going to a village, but what I saw there amazed me. They live deep into the mountains, in huts made of dirt and leaves. They sleep in self-made hammocks or on the ground and they make handicraft bags. It was super interesting.We even went into the river there, which was a nice refreshment after such a sweaty walk. After, he showed us the school, which was an open construction made of leaves and wood as well. They live off selling their handicrafts and farming. But now tourism has entered the game as well, as La Ponderosa works closely with them and offers an Indigenous walk 3 times a week.
Therefore, this short trip to the La Ponderosa reserve has been very meaningful. The combination of the beautiful, untouched nature, the (striving to be a) zero-waste regenerative hostel concept and their close bonds with the indigenous community show us that it is still possible for us to live in a sustainable way with respect for nature and the indigenous communities. I would recommend to everybody who travels through Colombia to visit La Ponderosa reserve and see it for themselves. Have a happy, healthy day!
(I have attached a link to the hostel, as well as a link to a documentary made by the Kogui themselves to help us understand how to avoid the destruction of the world that they are trying to protect, and of ourselves. It is a very impactful documentary which I highly recommend for everybody to watch.)
The documentary: Watch Aluna the Movie : An Ecological Warning from the Kogi