Trip Report: Colombia
I took a pause from climate research to go visit Colombia for the past two weeks. The trip was really excellent, and I wanted to briefly write about my time there. I decided the easiest format would be a “trip report” where I simply talk about what I did and suggestions that I have for future travelers. I’ve skipped out on being more reflective just to be quicker at writing and publishing anything at all about the trip.
We took one domestic flight and visited 4 cities: Medellin, Jardin, Bogota, and Suesca. The country is filled with incredible nature, which is my favorite thing to engage in with traveling. From my brief research, there are at least 5 distinct additional cities I’d like to visit in the future. The country is a paradise of adventure.
I travelled with three friends:
- David - my best friend who lives nearby in SF
- Pio - from the east coast, has lived in Colombia and other places in South America for over a year
- Fausto - Pio’s husband. Born and raised in Colombia. Speaks mostly Spanish.
We turned out to be very similar in our interests, chillness, and interest in adventures. There’s something very special about being able to travel with others so effectively — I’m happy how well this group worked out.
Medellin is a gorgeous city. The main areas of the city sit in a valley with mountains flanking both sides. A short, beautiful, gondola ride up into these hills (both East and West) will give you some stunning views. Medellin is also incredibly lush given the temperate weather and decent rainfall, and the wealthier neighborhoods are filled with plants on their balconies.
The people are outstandingly kind and friendly. We went during the peak rainy season (late April), and despite a weather forecast of rain every single day, it only drizzled. Anecdotally I’ve heard that the rain comes in fits and starts, so even during a rainy day you can often just wait it out for half an hour. But you might as well not go in April/May in case I’m wrong about this.
I didn’t go to any museums. I also heard that https://realcitytours.com/ has some good walking tours, which I wish I had time to go to. But of the things that I did go to, I loved:
- Parque Natural Cerro El Volador
- Hilly park. Lovely nature. Lots of stairs. Didn’t fully get to explore, but I figure the views are also great.
- Pueblito Paisa
- Smaller hilly park. Lovely nature. Lots of stairs. Food at the top where I had dinner.
- Atanasio Girardot Stadium
- This place is boppin’ with people doing all sorts of sportsball™️ activities. We went roller skating like many of the locals were doing and also did a small track run 😎
- Comuna 13 + possible Gondala ride
- We did a walking tour here which wasn’t that great, but Comuna 13 itself is absolutely a place you should visit. The history in the tour was overly simplified, and instead the focus was on a few key experiences that we stopped at: hip hop dancers, freestyle rappers, some delicious fruit ice popsicles, an art gallery, graffiti, escalators, and a rooftop bar/club. Individually each of these things were really really cool, but the tour guide didn’t really add much. As long as you know to look for these things, you’d do ok with some pre-reading of your own and could skip the tour.
- Or, if you can find some more unique/private tour that might be better. We were a group of ~15, so it was a bit like herding cats, especially given how busy things were. We were also there on a Sunday which is apparently the most busy day, so maybe try a different day?
- Parque Arví + Gondala ride
- I didn’t get to explore here that much given how big the park is. Being on foot meant I only saw a small section of the park. The one surprising thing I learned from one of the park attendants: the trails outside of the main small trails at the center of the park are somewhat dangerous. He recommended I didn’t go due to potentially getting robbed. I was surprised because this is the largest, most built-up park in Medellin. This was just one person who told me this, so take it with a grain of salt.
- The Gondola ride and views were incredible. There are also lots of food/knick-knack stores around the park and at the park entrance.
- If I were to go again, I’d consider checking if there were longer trails that were safe, and do one of those to a nearby lake.
- You can rent bikes or horses in this park. I think the bikes are only for the roads though, but it still seems like some solid fun.
- I loved the markets in Mexico City, and it turns out there are also several in Medellin and Bogota. Though I didn’t go to any in Medellin, this guide seems good.
Jardin + Cerra Tusa (driving distance from Medellin)
The highlight of Medellin was not Medellin itself, but a 4ish hour drive away.
- Cerra Tusa
- This is halfway between Medellin and Jardin (below). It’s an incredibly steep and tough hike which involved us scooting down on our butts on the way down for safety (in the lightning and rain too!). But the top is unbelievable .. a tiny 200 sq ft flat top, with incredible views and sharp drops on every side.
- Waterfalls (Cascada del Amor is walking distance from downtown, but there are other ones on bigger hikes)
- Mirador la Herrerita
- Incredible views of Jardin. They’ve also built a net you can sit in to add to the atmosphere.
- Reserva Natural Jardín de Rocas
- A bird reserve. Somehow this cool red bird only hangs out around this area. Also generally a beautiful place near the water. Strong jungle vibes.
- We booked a random coffee tour in downtown Jardin. I think they partner with several coffee farmers and pair you with the ones that are available at the time. The one we went to was called Vascafé (it’s on google maps). You can probably just directly book with them by sending them a message. The tour was really excellent. They are a small farm with revenues of <$10k USD/year, and they sell to Nescafe. Note that it’s all in Spanish, though.
- Walking around downtown and the plaza were also nice. At night, there’s lots of dancing, and during the day there’s lots of flowers and exceptional cafes.
- Every Sunday, 70+ miles of road are closed to cars. It turns out that Bogota has been running this far longer than most other places, running this regularly since the 90s! The city comes alive with hundreds of thousands of people taking advantage of these closed roads running, biking, and roller skating. There’s also a famous hill climb called “Patios” where thousands of people ride up, especially on Sundays.
- Related links:
- Atlas Obscura
- Cyclovia Map
- Colombian Road Heights rented me a nice bike for ~$50 USD per day
- They also have a map of some solid bike routes
- They’ll even deliver it. I’m a huge fan. They also have a cafe ~1.5hr biking distance from Bogota where many of the great climbs are.
- Monserrate / Guadalupe peaks
- I love long staircases and the Monserrate staircase is particularly incredible. It’s probably the longest staircase I’ve ever climbed, and there are some incredible views at the top. You can take a Gondola (or train) back down to the start so that you don’t have to kill your knees on the way down. You can also use it on the way up if you just want some great views.
- There’s an even higher peak called Guadalupe peak, but Monserrate is already sufficiently high that I wouldn’t say Guadalupe is any better. And you’ll need some sort of taxi to get up to Guadalupe. You may want to have a plan for getting a ride down — the three of us that went up there didn’t have cell phone service and had to walk all the way down. Some taxis will be willing to wait for you at the top, for ~$20 USD (expensive for Colombia)
- Breaking Borders tour
- Tripadvisor Link
- You can get a tour of one of the poorer Barrios (neighborhoods) from community members that are working to make improve the place. One of the tour guides even showed us into her house, which was really nice of her. It was only in Spanish, but they do have translators they can bring.
- Walking tour, focused on history
- Beyond Colombia Tour
- I loved this tour. It was in the city center / Candelaria / old town, and really gave me some good context about Colombian history. I took quite a few notes if you’d like to see them.
- Our walking tour guide took us to the District Market Square in La Concordia, where he said that the best Chicha is sold. Given that Chicha is technically illegal, it’s not well regulated, and so you need to know the right places to buy it. Most Chicha has some fruit additives, but this place is entirely natural.
- Museums: Botero and Gold Museum
- The Botero museum is free and the Gold museum is ~$1 USD. They’re both beautiful places and worth going to if you happen to be in la Candelaria, though in both cases I went through them quickly because I wasn’t super interested in museums on this trip in general.
- Fruit market / shopping
- Colombia is known for having a wide variety of fruits that are uncommon in the US. I was introduced to 4+ new ones, most of which were delicious. I wish we had them in the US.
- Colombia plays a social/party sport called Tejo, where you throw a rock (called a Tejo) at a target that has some exploding gunpowder targets. I recommend looking up a bar that has Tejo and playing.
- I briefly stopped by Parque 93. It’s a very hip/upscale neighborhood, but I found it to be too much so. It seems the main thing to do is simply buy and eat things, as it’s very commercial. I’ve heard many people like it though, and given how little time I spent there, you should hold some skepticism for my anti-recommendation.
Other ideas on things to do
- Visit a nearby Páramo ecosystem
- This is a special high-altitude ecosystem that only exists in the Andes. My walking tour guide strongly recommended visiting it.
- Some huge night clubs
- La Chorrera and Chiflon waterfalls
Suesca is a climbing destination located just an hour’s drive north of Bogota. It offers an incredible set of rocks to climb. Check out this helpful guide for more information. If you’re curious about Suesca, feel free to ask me! You can rent equipment and buy a guidebook in town. Both sport and traditional climbing are available.