Colombia – The Great Outdoors

My Outdoor Adventures in Colombia

Here are the highlights of everything I did in Colombia. I’ve also included a final thought on Colombia at the end.


For more information on (nearly) everything Colombia check out my ‘Highlights’ and travel tips with links for places to stay, things to see and do and places to eat, drink and be merry!


Bogota

We took time to explore Colombia’s capital. Parts of it can be pretty rough around the edges but La Candelaria has a fantastic art scene (read more about that in my blog – World-Class Art in Bogota, Colombia).

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Look up! Local artist, Jorge Olave has sculpted green figures from recycled materials and placed them all over La Candelaria – peering down from rooftops, window ledges and balconies. They represent the local comuneros (common people) of the city.

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Even Bogota has some breath-taking views. We took a cable car to the top of Mount Monserrate (Cerro de Monserrate)…

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Villa de Leyva

The beautiful open skies of Villa de Leyva – my favourite place in all of Colombia. Also, the friendliest place in Colombia!

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We went on a mountain bike tour to the surrounding valleys and desert terrain and popped into to the local vineyard (of course!). We booked with CicloTrip.

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The guy who runs the tour is super knowledgeable and friendly and will take you anywhere you want, or provide you with a map so you can venture out alone. He is the only trained professional guide with decent bikes in town.

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San Gil

A little bit over crowded is San Gil but it’s an ideal base (albeit on the Gringo trail) for:

Paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon (Only $170,000 COP – about £40  for 40 minutes).

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White Water Rafting

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A day trip to the nearby 180m waterfalls of Juan Curi, (20km from San Gil on the road to Charala) is a must, as is a swim in the pool at the bottom

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Whilst in San Gil we took a bus to the local town of Barichara to admire its sweeping views over orange terrain and lush green landscape, set against bright blue skies!

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Palomino and Tayrona Park

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is of course all about beaches and the national park of Tayrona, and the little ‘Titi’ Monkeys who live there. That’s right – Titi Monkeys. To be honest, I’ve been to better beaches but then I was coming from Cuba and Mexico.

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A highlight on this coastline, besides the beaches was tubing down the Palomino River. Beautiful! But watch out for Caimans! We spotted a small one at the end of our trip by the bridge near town.

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Medellin

We took the night bus south from Cartagena to the city of Medellin, the second largest and most modern city in Colombia. It is located in the Aburra Valley, a central region of the Andes Mountains in South America.

A ride in the cable cars over the city is obligatory:

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As is a visit the Botero Plaza for the chubby sculptures!

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Manizales

From Medellin we travelled south to Manizales, to enjoy the natural thermal pools of Termales Tierra Viva and hidden national parks outside of the busy (slightly unattractive) city – oh and we met a Spectacled bear called Chucho who lives in the Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco. Chucho’s kind is sadly endangered, hence the enclosure but he is well cared for by the park rangers and has a massive, wild space to wander around.

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Salento

Beautiful and stunning – coffee farms and spectacular scenery make Salento a Colombia must!

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A highlight of our stay in Salento was visiting the nearby Valle de Cocora with its Wax Palm reserve. The Wax Palm is the tallest palm in the world, reaching up to 60 metres in height!

Here’s Seamus standing next to one:

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On our hike through the valley we enjoyed:

Seeing hundreds of Humming Birds

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A ride in the back of an old WWII Willys Jeep, and a stunning, adventurous hike:

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Finally…hundreds upon hundreds of sky-high Wax Palms in beautiful cloud forest surroundings:

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Beautiful – just beautiful!


The Amazon

After Salento we headed back to Bogota to catch a flight to Leticia in The Amazon. Read more about my Amazon experience here: The Amazon Colombia

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Hiking Amacayacu:

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Night-time trekking with scorpions, tarantula, boa-constrictors and disgusting bugs.

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And first prize goes to anyone who can tell me what in the hell this weird and gross looking creature is:

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On our last day we took a boat back to Leticia and hired a tuk-tuk to take us down the road to Brazil before catching our flight back to Bogota.

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Desert Tatacoa

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The landscape of this arid desert is spectacular. The clay surfaces have all been eroded by a lake that once existed, creating a labyrinth effect. This is unlike any other desert landscape in the world.

The Tatacoa Desert is best known for having two distinctive colors: ochre in the area of Cusco

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And grey in the Los Hoyos area.

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Star Gazing

Because of the dry, clear conditions, lack of light pollution and location near the equator, Tatacoa is a great spot for stargazing the skies above the northern and southern hemispheres.

Every evening at 7pm, a local astrologer takes you to the top of the observatory for a full-on night show.

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The Milky Way was totally visible and we saw Venus and Mars and a whole heap of constellations that the astrologer pointed out excitedly using a green laser. It was awesome!

Only COP 10,000 for 2 hours (£3!)

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Unfortunately, an encounter with a desert scorpion (measuring approx. 15cm) led to a visit to the hospital on the last day. Luckily it wasn’t of the deadly kind.

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San Agustin

Rolling hills of pastures green, brilliant blue skies, humming birds, hammocks and red wine…YES PLEASE! Our last long stop and a firm favourite, San Agustin is a very special place indeed.

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Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, San Agustin holds the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America in a wild, spectacular landscape.

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We stayed at Casa de Francois, a hostel located slightly outside of town at the top of a hill. Beautiful scenery, incredible food and great wine!

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A perfect place to end our Colombian adventure.


My Thoughts on Colombia


I’ve not written a great deal about my time in Colombia. The outdoors life, as I’ve accounted for above was superb but to be honest, on the whole there was something about Colombia that I just didn’t like.

I can’t quite put my finger on it. It might have something to do with the way people looked at me with a certain disdain because I was a tourist – warning me with their glares not to even step foot into their bars, or it might have something to do with the fact that I was contstantly charged three times the amount for a bus trip than a local, and the bus operator would smirk thinking he’d got one over on me. Shop owners, waiters, bar tenders would make up prices simply because they could see I was a foreigner. It was outrageous.

‘Colombia Time’ is a phrase I heard constantly and it pissed me off! I was left waiting for over an hour for a vegetarian pizza and the waiters excuse for it taking so long is that it was being prepared to Colombian time. Some Colombians are generally so lazy that they’ve invented a saying which they use as an excuse!

People in general (with the excepton of people in small towns and communities), were not welcoming or friendly. My Spanish isn’t great but I understand when someone says, “What are you doing putting me on the same table as a fucking gringo?” Hmmmm.

However, tourism is fairly new in Colombia and I can sort of understand people’s fear of change and American westernisation, and how I can become a target because I’m seen as a representative of that world which people think will one day eventually take away all that is good to them.

I’ve tried to see past it. I don’t care about other people’s attitudes towards me, as I know myself and I am comfortable in my own skin but it was tiring having to keep smiling and saying hello only to have a set of dagger eyes and silence meet me in exchange.

Sorry Colombia, but it ruins your perfect view.

There have been exceptions

People on the whole have not been friendly, welcoming or accepting with the exception of people living in smaller communities such as Villa de Leyva, Salento and San Agustin, and in the modern city of Medellin.

It’s a real shame though because Colombia is a very beautiful country and the outdoors adventures I’ve experienced have been magnificent. My experience here would have just been a bit nicer had the people been more welcoming.

Saying that I’m incredibly grateful for my time in Villa de Leyva, Salento and San Agustin – owing not only to the magnificent scenery but to the people who made me feel at home in their small towns.

However, I don’t think I’ll be returning to Colombia any time soon. There are just nicer places out there.


Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: CubaMexicoColombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos IslandsArgentinaLAFijiNew Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.


 

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