Colombia Trip Summary

When I was planning this trip I began to see similarities in some characteristics with cities in Mexico where I’ve lived or visited, especially in altitude and climate.

Bogotá and Mexico City, the capitals of each country, sit at about 8,500ft above sea level. The climate is the coldest of the cities I visited. Cold is relative; Bogotá may be colder that Medellín and Cartagena, but compared to Minnesota in the winter, it’s tropical. In Colombia, though, people from Bogotá are called “las neveras” or “the fridges.”

Medellín and Oaxaca, the city where I live in Mexico, are called “ciudades de la eterna primavera” or “cities of eternal spring and sit at ~5000ft. Beyond that they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Medellín has built itself into a totally modern city while Oaxaca has clung to its colonial roots. I like both but for different reasons; as I mentioned in a previous post, Medellín would be my home in Colombia.

Cartagena and Puerto Escondido, my first destination in Mexico, have hot and humid tropical climates.

So you can tell that Colombia, like Mexico, has a climate to suit any desire.

Things I Learned About Colombia

  • One of Colombia’s nicknames is “The Gateway to the Amazon.”
  • It’s also famous for its biodiversity. Colombia’s Amazon region makes up a vast percentage of the country. Almost a third of Colombia is made up of jungle regions, and the south of Colombia is crisscrossed by some of the most important rivers of Amazonia: the Putumayo, Caqueta, Orinoco, Apaporis, and, of course, the mighty Amazon itself. (from Wikipedia)
  • Colombians have an aggressive nature. It’s first evident in their driving. I’ll give an example. Walking in Bogotá’s center in the middle of of a block, I and the four or five people walking near me almost got hit by a car that abruptly turned in front of us. Like, a foot in front of us. How was this possible? He was turning into a parking garage and couldn’t wait until we passed the entrance. Scared the crap out of us.
  • A more humorous learning experience occurred the day I went to Usaquén. Two Colombian women in their 50’s or 60’s were sitting halfway across the patio at the bar where I was enjoying a craft beer. It seemed like they wanted to talk to me and after about 15 minutes, the first one walked over to me. After a couple of sentences in Spanish she began speaking English. Then her friend joined us. Here’s a capsule of our conversation, or their monologs to be more precise.
  • “Do you like Bogotá?” “Have you been to Monserrate?” “Why not?” “Where are you going in Colombia?” “You should go to ____.” “No? Why not? Finally, one of them said, “We’re Colombian, we attack.” We all laughed at that line. It also explained the barrage of questions. In the end, one of the women invited me to her coffee plantation outside of Medellín.
  • Most Americans probably believe a person would have to live in a remote place without electricity not to know about 9/11. Well…I asked a 25 year old in Cartagena if she had ever heard about it. Nope. And a 50-something woman said to me, “I heard something about it.”
  • Sometimes in my travels I find Coca-Cola made with real sugar. Colombia is one of those places. It’s truly the only time I drink it. Takes me back to my childhood.
  • In most of the countries I visit the bus and the train are my main means of intercity transportation. In Colombia I flew. I was advised to travel this way because the buses are uncomfortable, unreliable and the rides through the mountains take forever. For the most part flying intracountry is reasonably priced. My ticket from Bogotá to Medellín cost $22.

Venezuelan Refugees

Because of the turmoil in Venezuela many of its citizens have fled to other countries. It’s estimated that over 1 million Venezuelans are refugees in Colombia as a result. I wondered what impact this has had, so I asked our Bogotá walking tour guide. This is what he told me. I can’t verify the veracity of his claims.

He stated that there has been no discernable negative reaction to the Venezuelans as 75% of them are in Colombia legally. Most of them have been absorbed into the society (economy).

Personally, I’m not sure if that’s totally true because I’ve seen video of women who are prostitutes. And was told by a different tour guide that men work in the informal economy at the intersections, i.e., selling water and snacks or cleaning windshields. Maybe they are the other 25%?

Cost of the trip

I stayed in Colombia for 24 days. The total cost came to $2,225. That’s ~$93/day. That includes plane tickets to and from the country. My Airbnb stays, mostly in studio apartments, averaged $25/night including cleaning and Airbnb fees.

I could have saved money by taking the bus from BOG/MED and MED/CART, but no way was I going ride 12 hours in an uncomfortable bus.

I think Colombia is a good deal, especially if you are a budget traveler like me. As a comparison, my 14-day trip to San Juan in April cost ~$2,000.

Next Trip

Thanks for reading my blog. I don’t have a lot of readers, but they literally live in every corner of the world.

In April 2020 I’ll be traveling to Spain for a month. My route will be Andalucia and Costa del Sol.

Until then…

Bogotá – Day 1 & 2

The more I travel the more my trips focus on food and people. Museums, churches and ruins–well, I’ve seen enough of them to last me until my final breath. There will be exceptions, of course, as I found a museum here that intrigued me.

I’ve taken 5 Ubers so far and none of the drivers spoke English. I don’t expect that to change over the next 3 1/2 weeks. This means my Spanish improves with each ride; my confidence has surged and I have found that my knowledge of grammar and vocabulary is greater than I thought. We’ve had some wonderful conversations once I say, “Habla lentamente, por favor.” (Speak slowly, please.) 😁

Graffiti Tour

If you want to be educated about the social and political struggles and issues of the indigenous peoples of Colombia, take the Graffiti Tour. Led by actual graffiti artists, they explain the background of the artists whose work you’ll see, the messages behind the works as well as the history of graffiti and street art in Bogotá. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but are different. Graffiti is word-based; street art is image-based. We saw mostly street art on the tour.

We had the opportunity to watch artists working on a new project. They are funded by the organization that gives the free tour. A percentage of the tips they receive they give back to the community. Very cool!

The Botero Museum

Fernando Botero Angulo (born 19 April 1932) is a Colombian figurative artist and sculptor. Born in Medellín , his signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume, which can represent political criticism or humor, depending on the piece.

The black and white piece is Adam and Eve.

Street Food

While I ate food from the street vendors when I lived in New York City, it wasn’t until I got to China that I became a street food fanatic.

We’ll start with photos of lechón, arepas and empeñadas.

Next is a dessert/snack made with shaved coconut, nuts and panela. Panela is raw, unrefined cane sugar from Colombia. With a lightly sweet molasses taste and warm, caramel undertones. It’s a unique ingredient that’s flavorful and aromatic. Panela has been traditionally handmade for centuries by dehydrating
raw sugarcane juice over low heat.

This is my new favorite street food sweet. 😋

That’s it for now. Next post will include some restaurant food, a description of where I’m staying in Bogotá and other stuff, I’m sure.

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I can’t state exactly why I chose Colombia for my inaugural visit to South America. The best reason could be ignorance. Aside from FARC and Pablo Escobar, I know close to nothing about the country.

I’ll spend 24 days in three cities and an island: Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and San Andrés (the island).

I arrive in Bogotá on the 24th and my first post will appear shortly thereafter.