Very few countries in the world suffer from an outdated reputation more than Colombia. When we first arrived in Bogota, we asked one of the local tourism representatives which parts of the country were safe. She laughed and told us the country’s tourism slogan – “The only risk is that you won’t want to leave”.
Border regions can often be zones of tension and hostilities. Our goal for travelling in South America was to start in Colombia and head south overland. This meant that we would be crossing a number of potentially interesting borders. The first on our list – overland from Colombia to Ecuador – was perhaps the most intimidating border we could have started with. According to the Canadian Foreign Affairs travel advisory for Colombia, the southern region between Popayán and the Colombia-Ecuador border should be a no-go zone. More specifically it states:
Before crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador, we stopped in to see Las Lajas near Ipiales. It’s a Disney-like cathedrawl built on the side of a valley overlooking a river. It’s really stunning and worth a drop in if you are making the trip south across the border as we were. The cathedral was built to commenmorate the appearance of The Virgin Marry and has since been attributed to a number of miracles. Indeed, the walkway down to the cathedral is covered with engravings offering thanks for one miracle or another. It’s quite touching. Here are some of the photos.
There’s a sign in Salento, Colombia which says “Salento is a town suspended in time. Live it!” After spending a few days hiking the hills, visiting the nearby coffee farms and in general, lounging around while Susana recovered from a cold, we can safely say, the sign is right. The cute houses look like they haven’t changed in a hundred years. I know this is true because our hostel has a photo hanging on the wall from 1912 and it looks exactly the same now as it did then. The people here are friendly and enjoy a simple living which is only interrupted by a few tourists looking to ride horses or bike some trails. Other than that, it’s a quiet town that lives life the way it has always lived it; in the slow lane with a coffee in hand.
Few cities embodied the violence and drug trade of Colombia quite like Medellin. Home of the famous Pablo Escobar until his death in 1993, one used to be able to hire child assassins on the street for mere dollars. Today, Medellin is a city on the mend and is better known now as home of the famous Colombian artist, Botero and his popular and adorable “fat” art. The city sports a brand new and impeccably clean metro which can get you around the downtown core as well as climbing up and out of the valley on an integrated cable car system.
If you are looking for a little bit of paradise, I can tell you where to find it. It’s in the Valle de Cocora near Salento, Colombia. If you don’t believe me, then you’ll have to look at the pictures below and tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead. Check them out. I’ll wait.
Told you. The valley is quiet and stunningly beautiful. We took a 5 hour hike around the area and were richly rewarded with a visit to a hummingbird sanctuary as well as some stunning shots of the valley. I can appreciate why Colombia would not want to share their secrets with the rest of the world and instead just keep this little bit of paradise all to themselves. It’s one of the most incredibly serene places I think I have ever seen.
I woke up with a soreness in my stomach. It came and went some days and I never really knew why. But some days I would wake up and feel like I had to eat and go to the toilet at the same time. It’s a crazy feeling so I did both. Then I lay down for a little bit while Sue got cleaned up.
The sweat drips off my forehead as the sound of my heartbeat thumps in my ears. It drips freely as I’ve stopped trying to staunch the flow. There is little point as I’m already bathing in it. At this point I don’t give a damn about how I look, I just want to make it to camp. And this is day one.
We’ve been going straight up for over 40 minutes and every turn of the road only brings more road. I’ve underestimated the difficulty of the climb and am lagging in the back with Alex, a fellow trekker from Kansas, short of breath and struggling ever upwards through the 30 degree heat and thick humidity. Gabriel, our ever smiling guide, slowly matches our footsteps and councils patience. “Lento y seguro,” he says.
The city of Cartagena is a modern city on the Caribbean coast of northern Colombia. It’s a mixture of old Spanish charm with modern new developments. Mostly we kicked around in the older, more photogenic part of town. You can walk the old city wall which is perhaps most famously known for its role in the movie “Romancing The Stone”. Truth be told, the movie wasn’t filmed in Colombia so the exact make up of the city may somewhat dissappoint. But the legacy lives on and indeed you’ll come across a few stores playing on the “romancing” theme.
The Lost City is a gem in the north of Colombia. It’s not accessible by anything other than foot which means it sees a lot fewer travelers than more popular destinations such as the train accessible Machu Picchu. That said, if you are in good condition, don’t mind being constantly soaking wet and exhausted and can put up with a bunch of mosquitoes, then you too could be one of the relative handful to visit “The Lost City” of Colombia. But be warned, this hike is NOT a stroll in the park. It requires a good amount of personal fitness and good footing. Along the trip, we both experienced a lot of bruises, cuts and so forth. Peter lost his pants to a tear which eventually was accentuated by a river crossing rending him with only one pant leg. Here are some photos for inspiration.