Travel Colombia

Travel Colombia: 10 Reasons Why YOU Should Go

A plaza in Bogota, Colombia

We’ve all heard the rumors, the ones from the U.S. government, from the Canadian government, from some European governments, that warn us not to travel Colombia. It’s dangerous, they say. Don’t get kidnapped, say your friends. What about the drugs? ask others. The truth? Colombia is just like any other country, which means it’s not 100% safe, but mostly so. Like any big city in The States or Canada or Europe, one should be careful of the areas they choose to walk alone at night, or be weary of mischevious looking groups, but for the most part it’s safe. It’s not the Colombia it was 10 years ago, where the drug cartels ran the show, offering rewards to any thug who “popped a cop.” And though Pablo Escobar (the leader of one of the biggest cartels) is gone and the drug scene has greatly diminished or been pushed further into the Amazons, it’s not completely gone, just like it’s not completely gone anywhere else in the world. But I didn’t see it, and the chances you will are unlikely, too.

I also didn’t get kidnapped and I didn’t get drugged with Devil’s Breath, though I saw the tree from which it grows. Actually, the scariest thing that happened while I was there was crashing on a motorcycle. Aside from this, I never felt threatened in any situation; I never felt unsafe. In fact, I had nothing but positive experiences (we even survived the crash without much harm!), and I’m sure you will have the same.

10 Reasons to Travel Colombia

1. The People

Travel Colombia

Two guys having a coffee break in Medellin.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Colombian people are fabulous. They are amongst the most friendly I’ve met, always greeting with a smile and a conversation. They’re also patient, caring and amazing hosts. We were fortunate to stay with a local family in a village outside Pereira, and were spoiled with food, attention, care and conversation (even if we didn’t understand a lot of it). And, when our motorcycle ended up under a truck, at least ten witnesses stopped to make sure we were okay, offering any care they could provide. Then, they stuck around to help us move the bike, and then get it repaired. It was a fantastic display of mankind at its best, and the people continue to be the one thing I always remember about travel.

2. The Mountains

Travel Colombia

The mountains in Pereira, Colombia.

Needless to say, they’re hard to miss. When the Andes range enters Colombia from Ecuador, it splits into three, covering a large portion of this sizeable country. In just 14 days of riding, we crossed over all three of them, and not a day went by without spectacular mountain views, each a luscious green from the tropical rains, and buzzing with animal and human life. It’s amazing some of the settlers ended up where they did, with the steep climbs they had to endure and the high altitudes literally taking their breath away.

3. The Cities

Travel Colombia

Medellin from above.

It seemed every city or small town we entered was surrounded by the mountains mentioned above. The cities began in the low valleys below but many, like Medellin featured above, have expanded into the mountainsides creating a large bowl-shaped city of 4 million people. One of the coolest parts about this design, though, is that even the houses built of metal scraps and brick have a million dollar view.

4. The Oceans

Travel Colombia

A pelican on the beach in Cartagena.

Colombia is the only country in South America to have beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Most Americans don’t consider it a Caribbean destination for pina coladas and sunning, but it’s as fine as any island you might hop to, and the port in Cartagena is already a popular cruise boat stop. While we only saw two beaches on our tour – Santa Marta and Cartagena – and neither were ideal for an extended beach getaway, I’ve heard and read about several locations where one could easily while away a week or two (Tayrona is one).

5. The Coffee

Travel Colombia

Tim brewing us coffee at a coffee plantation.

Though we drank a cup of locally grown tinto (Colombia slang for black coffee) every day, we did a coffee tour on one of my last days there, and learned a LOT about the local coffee production. For instance, Colombia produces some of the highest quality beans in the world, though they’re surpassed in quantity by Brazil, and they hand select the good beans from the bad ones. Unfortunately for Colombians, all but 30% of the best beans are exported to the U.S. and other countries, while the ones deemed “bad” are left for the locals to consume at fair prices. The remaining 30% of the quality beans are sold expensively, making what we drank for the prior two weeks worse coffee than we likely drink back home. I bought a bag of good quality beans for $5, more than what some locals earn in a day.

6. The Adventure

Travel Colombia

A mountain biker out for a crazy ride over the Andes.

From zip lining, motorcycling, paragliding, horseback riding, dirt biking, dune buggies, mountain biking and rapelling down waterfalls, Colombia has just about any adventure sport you can imagine. If you’re an adventure junkie, you’ll have no problem finding a tour or outing to fit your desire. If you’re looking for a motorcycle or dirt bike tour, check out Motolombia. If you’re looking for another kind of tour, visit See Colombia. And if you’d rather go find the adventure on your own (which is much more adventurous anyway!), you’ll have no problem finding something to suit your fancy.

7. The Lack of Tourists

Travel Colombia

Street art in Bogota

Outside of Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena, we saw maybe a handful of other foreign tourists, and even the cities were less frequented than I had imagined with all the talk of Colombia on the rise. Before long, the word will really be out and people will flock, so go now, while it’s still quite pure. Things are already changing quickly, with the fairly recent free trade agreement with the U.S., and Subway restaurants and Hilton Hotels and KFC’s are popping up everywhere.

8. The Beer

Travel Colombia

Medellin Beer Factory

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest and then migrating to Colorado, one thing I usually miss while traveling is a good, quality, handcrafted brew. Throughout Asia I never once saw a local brewery, and getting a good beer meant paying high dollar for a Guiness, but Colombia has caught on to the trend with the Bogota Beer Company and the Medellin Beer Factory. Both served up delicious and frothy beers of varying tastes and colors, and either could have easily fit in in Oregon or Colorado, and probably given some of the big names like Deschutes or New Belgium a run for their money.

9. The Language

Travel Colombia

Learn to speak Spanish in Bogota!

If you speak Spanish or you want to learn, Colombia is the perfect place to practice. Colombians are known for speaking one of the purest forms of the language, with their slow and clear pronunciation. With the exception of Medellin (where the locals say there’s a thick accent), Colombia is the best classroom for picking up some Spanish.

10. The Cowboys

Travel Colombia

An ice cream eating cowboy in a village outside Pereira.

It’s true: the South American stereotype of the “real” cowboys. We saw people on horseback almost everywhere we went, but my favorite scene was the roadside bars on Sundays, where six or seven saddled horses waited patiently outside for their riders to stumble back out. Riding in from the mountainside farm to grab a beer or a bottle of local aguardiente (the Colombian drink of choice – a clear liquid that tastes of a strong black licorice flavor – that differs a bit in every region. They pass it around or take shots until it’s gone, then order another.) with buddies is the perfect way to wind down after a hard week’s work. Or, like the cowboy above, just ride into town and grab yourself an ice cream. How’s that for a leisurely stroll?

I hope Colombia is on your bucket list, and that you’ll have the chance to cross it off soon. With all of these fabulous reasons to go, what’s stopping you?

If you’ve been to Colombia, what was your favorite part? What would you recommend to others?

*All photos taken by either Mads Kragelund or myself.


Travel Colombia: 10 Reasons Why YOU Should Go

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22 Comments

  1. Frank says:

    Excellent post Jessica and I couldn’t agree more with all the reasons you state! The people stand out, the geography is fantastic, and as you say, not many tourists (which also accounts for the incredibly friendly and welcoming people). I’m glad you mention about the coffee – it is a bit disappointing (was the same thing for us in Costa Rica). But we enjoyed every other aspect of Colombia.
    I did a guide on Colombia: http://bbqboy.net/colombia-travel-tips/. If you don’t mind I’ll link this post to it, I think it’s a good supplement to what I have.
    Glad you loved Colombia!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • jessicajhill says:

      I just read through your guide and loved it! I wish I would have read it before I went, but I missed it somehow! I’d be honored if you link my post to it. It seems we’ve have very similar experiences of Colombia!

  2. Not that I needed anymore reasons to hit up Colombia, but this list is great! Colombian Coffee, Awesome people, & lack of Tourists, sounds like a dream!

  3. Derek Freal says:

    Yes, yes, YEESSSSSS! I’ve been wanting to visit Colombia for so long! Made it as far as Panama in 2009 but then had to head back north. You’ve thoroughly convinced me that I need to go now rather than later….it’s just a shame I’m all the way over here in Vietnam now. Plus I concur with Devlin, although with a slightly different equation: Awesome people + lack of tourists + great beer = dream come true! Plus I already speak Spanish so now really the only question I’m asking myself is “why haven’t I visited Colombia yet????” :)

    • jessicajhill says:

      That sounds like a rhetorical question to me! Get your butt to Colombia! Though Vietnam is equally impressive, so I can see your debate. Perhaps it can be your next stop, whenever you’re finished with all that beautiful coastline, amazing food, wonderful villages and constant chaos!

  4. Colombia really looks amazing. I’ve been having a hard time warming up to the idea of traveling anywhere other than Asia, but now I can say that I actually really want to visit Colombia!

    • jessicajhill says:

      As you know, I’m also very biased toward Asia, but I found Colombia to be nothing like it, and for that it was special. It very much has it’s own identity, but I couldn’t help feeling like I could easily move there and live an easier life than I did in Asia, if only because the culture is more like my own in a lot of ways, and we didn’t get the awkward foreigner stares so common around Asia. I hope you’ll give it a chance!

  5. Brad West says:

    I’ve long wanted to travel South America but I’ve been too afraid. How does it feel compared to Asia?

    • jessicajhill says:

      Don’t be scared! I think our governments often say similar things about Asian countries as well, and as you know, they’re not so bad. It’s totally different from Asia, I’d say, in that it has it’s own style, it’s own vibe, but it’s similar in the fact that it’s very family oriented and the people are extremely friendly. About 90% (maybe more) of the country identifies as Christian, so you don’t encounter the strong religious feeling you do in Thailand, for example, but it’s more relateable for that reason as well.

  6. Richard J. Wilder says:

    Dear Jessica, I called this one around June 2013, at PZ. I said you would be crossing Columbia in no time at all. No big news from PZ, moving to new apartments soon. Can’t wait to see the pics before going back to Chini. Richard PZ

    • jessicajhill says:

      I do believe you said that! You must be a fortune teller, for even I had no idea Colombia was on my list until December. Glad all is well at PZ. Are you planning to stay there much longer?

  7. Diego Gallego says:

    Hej Jessica, I am glad you could enjoy soo much the trip, it was nice to read what a U.S. american think about visiting the country where i come from. It was also for us a good experience to have such as exotic and friendly visitors! Have a great day!!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Diego! Thanks for reading and commenting. I really loved Colombia, and I hope to return one day soon! We are the lucky ones to have been visitors in your family’s home – thank you so much for having us and showing us a great time. It was a highlight of the journey!

  8. Reasons 5 and 7 are all I need. But the rest are a fun bonuses. :)

  9. Jennifer says:

    Fantastic photos and teaser of your adventure in Colombia! I can’t wait to read more about it.

  10. Brilliant list, Jessica. I agree, people should visit the place now while it's pure. I love Colombia and I'm happy that its tourism is starting to boom. In fact, RawTravel will be featuring Colombia this week on TV. This will surely help boost the place's popularity. Here's a preview of the upcoming show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsEYEJnkbH0

    I'm planning to visit Colombia, especially Bogota, again after two years. I'm very excited!

    • jessicajhill says:

      That’s a great plan, to go back again and see how much things have changed in two years. I will finish my M.A. degree in a little over a year, and I’m hoping to go back afterward as well!

  11. Jasmine Allgood says:

    Thank you Mrs. Jassica this really helped me with my project this is Jasmines son .I had a really ,really long project it was called the Nation noet book project .I had to talk on my board about why you should visit Colombia and so I looked that question up and I found it on your website so once again thank you so much

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