Edgar and I spent 2 weeks in Colombia at the end of March into early April. The trip passed quickly because we moved around and did a lot. We never stayed in one place more than 3 nights in order to get to as much as possible. There were some hiccups along the way including being stopped by protests (requiring a whole itinerary pivot) and a bus breakdown in which we sat alongside the road for an hour.
But that’s the joy in traveling on a budget, right? You get some wild and rough experiences that make you appreciate the good times.
Overall we both rated Colombia an 8/10. Our itinerary (in order) consisted of a flight to Cali, a bus to Salento, another bus to Medellín, yet another bus to/ from Guatapé for the day, a flight from Medellín to Cartagena, a bus to/ from Rincón del Mar, a bus back to Cartagena, and finally our flight home (in business class thanks to points!) from Cartagena.
But enough logistics let’s get into everything we did while in Colombia!
To be honest, Cali is not the most exciting place. We were supposed to spend 3 nights there, bookending a trip to Buenaventure, with the goal of taking salsa lessons. Our attempt to reach Buenaventure was halted by peaceful protests which took up our entire first day and meant sitting in a taxi for 5+ hours. Taking the experience as a sign, we decided to move on to our next destination.
If headed to Cali, my recommendation is to stay in the San Antonio neighborhood. It’s artsy, walkable and has great restaurants. We stayed in La Palmera Hostel on our first night which had a social atmosphere but was located in a residential area and not walkable. Casa Ruta Sur is much more laid back, very affordable, and is located in the San Antonio neighborhood.
Salento’s lush mountainous views made it a sight for sore eyes. Salento is known for coffee farms and adventure activities including the Cocora Valley hike which is exactly what we did. We arrived at Viajero Salento hostel, dropped our bags, and set out to explore the colorful town on foot. That evening we finally had our first salsa lesson thanks to the many free activities put on at Viajero. We also enjoyed a free welcome drink (aka multiple shots of the anise-flavored liquor aguardiente) and a Spanish lesson. I love staying at Viajero hostels!
Our three main activities while in Salento were: a premium coffee tour at Finca El Ocaso, horseback riding to a waterfall, and the Cocora Valley hike. The premium coffee tour was around 3 hours and cost $42.13 for the two of us. We had an in-depth cupping experience, toured the farm and facilities (picked ripe fruit), and had a lesson in the various coffee preparation methods. It was well worth the price we paid!
The horseback ride was about an hour up and down a mountain and we stopped at a waterfall along the way ($67.41 for the two of us). After switching horses (my first was a bit wild) I was able to enjoy the foggy views of the surrounding forest/jungle.
Salento is home to the tallest palm trees in the world which makes the Cocora Valley hike so popular. Due to heavy rain the previous day, we decided against doing the 5-hour loop and instead enjoyed a shorter but less muddy up-and-back hike. The valley is gorgeous and worth the hype. Be sure to go in the morning before the crowds descend! We paid $3.79 for a jeep ride to the hike and $4.21 at the entrance to the trail.
We had some good food and drinks while in Salento. Here are some recommendations:
My biggest piece of advice for staying in Medellín is to stay in the El Poblado neighborhood.
After moving our itinerary around I had to find a place to stay for 2 additional nights in Medellín. I ended up picking a hostel in the city center, Centro Hostel, because it was cheap and a private room. While it was fine and served our needs it was definitely not the best area in regards to walkability (felt slightly dangerous) and good shops/ restaurants.
Our last night was at Viajero Medellín in the El Poblado neighborhood and it was great. Even though it is more touristy, I recommend staying in this neighborhood because the streets are much more peaceful and you can easily walk to countless great restaurants/ shops.
On our first day, we left Medellín by bus to see Guatapé: a cool resort town with a huge man-made water reservoir. We kicked things off by climbing the 700+ steps to the top of Piedra del Peñol. Next we hopped on a tuk-tuk and rode into town to see the colorful buildings. In the afternoon we took a boat tour in which we saw a bunch of houses previously or currently owned by famous people (including Pablo Escobar). Our day concluded with eating a quesadilla on a late bus ride back to Medellín.
For day 2 in Medellín we toured Comuna 13. Formerly a dangerous neighborhood, the community has been transformed into a place full of art and culture. We saw performances by breakdancers and rappers, ate multiple local snacks, danced salsa in a local bar, and learned how to graffiti. Highly recommend doing this tour if you have a chance.
Food and drink recs from Guatpé and Medellín:
Rincón del Mar
I read about Dos Aguas in the NYT and rearranged our itinerary to make a stop in the tiny beach town of Rincón del Mar. So glad I did because Dos Aguas was the perfect recharge.
Dos Aguas has several activities you can sign up for each day. We chose the arepa-making class and the canoe ride through the mangroves. Both were excellent and deepened our knowledge of the area and its people. We also swam with bioluminescent plankton on our last night which ended up being one of my favorite adventures of the whole trip!
Most of our food/ drinks were from the Dos Aguas kitchen. They source local ingredients, like ajonjoli, to serve exclusively vegetarian fare.
Cartagena was short but sweet. Our first stop was an Airbnb close to the airport before heading to Rincón del Mar the next morning. After Rincón, our last night of the trip was spent in the luxurious Sofitel Legend Santa Clara. I am nothing if not the queen of balance when it comes to vacation stays.
Walking through Cartagena’s streets felt like a European city with its brightly colored colonial buildings. We enjoyed seeing all the doors with unique and varied knockers from mermaids to lions. Sweating in the streets made the Sofitel’s breezy atmosphere with chilled drinks in the lobby and covered daybeds by the pool that much more opulent. The icing on the cake was the plate of local fruit I had for breakfast, a highlight of the entire trip.
Shopping recommendations: Agua Bendidta where I bought this tank top, the Lexi scarf (!!!), and these swim trunks for Edgar; this double spice bracelet from Mercedes Salazar; two necklaces from a vendor on the beach 🙂