More Thoughts On Colombia – YES!

A country full of wild beauty and amazing diversity of landscape

Colombia, I’ve now discovered for myself, is a fascinating country. It’s so unfortunate that most of us will be too afraid to go because of rumors of violence and drugs, and now the unfortunate events in Venezuela. For a relatively small country, Colombia has amazing diversity. There are plateaus, there are the Andes mountains, and there are superb islands with blues and greens so alluring I dare you to not feel you have to jump in to that water. The zoo in Cali is one of the best ones I’ve ever been to, and a great place to spend at least half a day. 

One of many amazing views of the Andes.

Photo by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019.

In my last post I wrote about my feelings about safety in Colombia. By the end of my stay, I walked alone near dark and felt fine. I also dared to cross the street several times and once used to the driving culture, felt more confident about when and where to dart across safely. In fact, I was beginning to feel so much more comfortable that I would have stayed there longer had I not felt the need to get to Southern Argentina before winter made the temperatures too cold. I realize now that I had so much fear and conditioning about danger in Colombia put upon me by the media and loved ones concerned about my welfare that it took an extra long time for me to let the experience in front of my face have more relevance than all the warnings I had received and read about. I’m sure there is danger, but I am also sure, having seen it first hand, that it’s possible to be ok if you inform yourself of safe places and don’t flaunt valuable items.

“Don’t let the bad reputation of the past be your guide for the present.”

What you’re truly missing out on if you don’t go to Colombia is the diversity. There are these unbelievable scenic views just around the corner. The turns and folds of the Andes create beautiful twists and turns covered with green. You could lose yourself for days or weeks taking in the mountains and, if you’re lucky, some cows grazing on them. (YES I did see some cows, but it was during a car ride and they were too far away to photograph.)

A street food vendor in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Photograph by Heather Markel

Then you can go to a place like Cartagena and find yourself among the most colorful buildings and murals on the wall. San Antonio, in Cali, was a small sample of what was a huge part of Cartagena, and from what I understand, Medellin (pronounced “Med-ay-jin”) as well. Cartagena replaces the rolling mountains with eye-catching artwork and colors and dancing in the streets. The seafood is fresh and some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. A man came by on the beach with a cooler full of fresh oysters which he shucked and served right into our hands, wow.

What truly amazed me, though, was that in addition to the most beautiful views of the Andes and the most vivid colors dotting the architecture, Colombia also has some of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever seen. The water in front of us at the Isla de el Rosario was three different colors, each of them so alluring it called to you to swim and enjoy. I ate barracuda for the first time! It was caught earlier that day, shown to us before being cooked, and then served on a platter of deliciousness. Then we were boated off to another island with five other people on it to swim and enjoy the setting sun.

Some quirks of Colombia – they don’t seem to drink black tea. So, if you’re like me and like your morning caffeine in the form of tea, you’ll need to bring your own or buy some in a local supermarket and ask for hot water to go with it. If you pay by credit card you’ll have to specify whether it’s credit or debit and request that the charge be billed “en un compto” – at one time – or whether you want it split over several charges. It’s relatively inexpensive, at least in smaller cities. (Cartagena was closer to New York prices, but easy enough to find budget-friendly food, if not hotels.) Definitely negotiate if you buy anything. I bought a hair band that was 10,000 pesos (roughly $3.25) for 5,000 pesos (roughly $1.50) at a local market. Even in stores if I bought more than one item, I asked for a bundled discount and usually got one. All-in-all, I highly recommend a visit!

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