In this latest series, I will be going through all the countries I’ve travelled to on my mission to visit every single country in the world. In this article, we will be covering country #34: Colombia. If you haven’t gotten a chance already, read this story first to find out why I’m trying to visit all 193 UN-recognized countries.
After visiting 89 countries as of August 2020, I would have to say that Colombia is the second favourite country I have ever visited in my entire life. The country is nowhere near as dangerous as it once was. Whether you like nature, cities or living as a digital nomad, this country has everything you can ask for. And I can certainly see myself living here for part of the year someday in the future.
VIDEO – Country #34: Colombia
Blog post on Colombia
- How to Cross from Ecuador to Colombia in 7 Steps (From Quito to Ipiales)
- My 38 Days Colombia Spending Breakdown
- 7 Reasons Why You Must Visit Barichara and Villa de Leyva in Colombia
- Guatape – My Unforgettable Experience Living in this Colombian City
- Living the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Around Medellin Colombia
Visiting Las Lajas
After crossing over from Ecuador, I ended up in Ipiales which is the border city of Colombia. The following day, I decided to visit Las Lajas which is the popular touristy site in this area.
To do that, I went to a shared taxi depot and got a ride to the popular river church for around 2000 COP.
The church did not disappoint. It beautifully sits in between a river. I went during some sort of holiday and there were tons of Colombians visiting this place. I even saw other international tourists here.
On the way back, the shared taxi driver tried scamming me for more money. Thankfully, the locals defended me and told the guy not to do that. Colombia is a country full of friendly people. But, I would have to say that the border city is less friendly.
24-hour bus ride to Bogota
After checking out Las Lajas, I took a bus to a city called Pasto where I would be taking a long bus ride all the way to Bogota. At first, I was confused and couldn’t figure out which bus company to take. Many would tell me that they are sold out and I should try another bus company. A friendly Colombian man told me I went to the wrong place. He said I tried buying tickets for the crappy cheap bus and I should instead buy tickets for the nicer bus with toilets in them.
Thankfully, I took his advice, and before long, I was off to Bogota.
I was warned not to take the long overnight bus ride from Pasto to Bogota because there are apparently hijacking at night. During my bus ride, I befriended a Colombian guy who works for American Airlines and spoke good English. He explained to me that the long bus ride is now safe and not to worry.
After the lengthy bus ride, we arrived in Bogota. Immediately, I took a cab to go to my accommodation. The cab driver was freaking hilarious. The first thing he says to me is that he likes Jacky Chan. There are hardly any Asians in Colombia so I got a lot of Jacky Chan jokes during my time there.
Eventually, I made it to my hotel. I stayed at a Sheraton Hotel here and redeemed 2000-3000 Starwood points (now part of Marriott). I’ve been backpacking for many months and many times, it gets old staying in hostels. I wanted some privacy and a proper shower and this next few days was a godsend.
Renewing my Canadian passport at the Canadian embassy in Bogota
My main purpose in going to Bogota first was to renew my Canadian passport. After travelling for over 6 months, my passport was running out of pages. The guy working in the embassy was really friendly and accommodating. I didn’t have a passport photo handy and he said he’d wait for me to get one even though they were closing soon. I hurried across the embassy and got myself a passport photo taken.
After returning back to the office, he told me that I can keep my current passport but I have to pay an extra fee. He said I cannot travel in Colombia without a passport handy so I need to keep mine until my new one is processed. I thanked the friendly man and planned on returning close to 30 days later when the passport is ready for pickup.
Villa de Leyva
When I was in Ecuador, I was told that I cannot miss Villa de Leyva. I decided to take a bus there from Bogota which was an adventure on its own.
By the time I arrived in Villa de Leyva, it was getting quite late. One thing that surprised me about Colombia is how the taxi drivers don’t scam you. I hired a taxi driver and only paid 4000 COP ($2 CAD). I was shocked by how cheap it was.
Luck was also on my side as I scored cheap accommodation. Basically, I got a private room with a private washroom for just $10 CAD. It even came with a giant breakfast. It sure saves money travelling during off-peak season.
The next day, after stuffing my face with the monstrous breakfast, I explored the town square and took some photos.
The city looks to be an old colonial town that is well preserved. I was told it’s super busy during the holidays.
My next stop after Villa de Leyva is Barichara.
Journey to Barichara
Getting to Barichara was an adventure on its own. I first had to go to a city called San Gil and from there, go to a different bus depot and take a bus to Barichara.
I got lucky when I arrived in San Gil. There was some young Colombians who spoke some English and they guided me to the bus depot going to Barichara.
The Colombian people are very nice.
Upon arriving in Barichara, I hiked to my hostel and checked in. The owner was super friendly and spoke good English. He told me that him and his wife used to live in Bogota but decided to get out because it was too hustle and bustle. They wanted a more peaceful life and settled in Barichara.
The next morning during breakfast, their friendly dog started jumping on me non-stop. He was a hyper guy.
The wife started asking me questions and told me they only get one Asian tourist a year. They told me that they also never talk to them and I’m the first one to actually socialize with them. I took that as a compliment but truthfully, it’s because I’m extroverted and grew up in Canada so I’m used to talking to new people.
After breakfast, it was time to explore Barichara. The main sightseeing spot here is the Camino hike down the hill all way to a small town called Guane at the bottom.
Hiking through Barichara was pleasant. All the well preserved colonial buildings in Barichara really gave this city character. I loved it.
Before long, I was at the trailhead of the Camino downhill hike.
Despite being in the rainy season, it didn’t rain at all that day. The hike down was lengthy but pleasant.
Before long I reached the small town of Guane at the bottom. The people there were weird as they kept giving me a weird look. I guess I look like an alien to them since there are no Asian people in Colombia.
After waiting for some time, I took a shared bus back to Barichara and explored this city a bit more before calling it a day.
The next day, the hostel owner and his wife took me to the world’s second-biggest canyon. The Chicamocha Canyon is popular amongst the local for paragliding. And that’s what the husband and wife did as I gazed at the view.
There were also a lot of Americans here for some weird reason. I thought it was fascinating to see them here of all places.
After hanging out in the Chicamocha Canyon, the couple dropped me off in the middle of the road somewhere. They told me to just stand there and wait for a bus to come by. If I see a bus come by, I was told to hail at the bus and it will pick me up and drive me to Bucaramanga which is my next destination.
Many people would probably think this is sketchy but I didn’t feel in danger at all. Upon boarding the shared bus, I noticed there’s a random Korean guy sitting at the back. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we were both surprised to see a fellow Asian here.
The bus dropped me off in Bucaramanga where I got a taxi with the Korean guy to drop us off at our respective accommodation. I stayed in one of the worst accommodations I’ve ever stayed in. The place was dirty and the bed had bed bugs.
On the bright side, Bucaramanga is actually a really nice city and I wished I stayed there longer.
The following day, I took a long bus ride going all the way to Medellin. The bus ride was very windy and felt like I was in a washing machine.
After 8 hours, we arrived in Medellin and I took a cab to my hostel located in El Poblado. The hostel I stayed at had tons of friendly people and made friends with my fellow dormmates.
El Poblado had a lot of Americans also and some were not very nice. I saw one American old man that was down talking in a very condescending way to Colombians working at a supermarket. It wasn’t a pleasant sight to see.
Eventually, I got sick of hanging out in El Poblado and decided to check out the quieter city of Laureles.
Here, I made some friends with other backpackers and explored the mall with them. I also took the time to just relax here and even booked an Airbnb at some point just to get some alone time and watch some TV shows.
Before long, I was back staying in hostels and wondering how long my funds will last me. I decided to start doing volunteer work to get free accommodation and save my money. At first, I tried doing volunteer work at a hostel in Laureles but I didn’t quite click with the owner. I then went to Workaway.info and secured a volunteer gig working at a hostel in Guatape.
This turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made during my one year trip around the world.
When I took the bus from Medellin to Guatape, I befriended three Texan Americans during the journey. Turns out they were going to the same hostel as me. They were so funny. Two of them, it was their first time travelling outside the USA and they were in their 50s.
One of the guys actually works in a prison and told me my method of travelling is braver than him working at a penitentiary.
My volunteer work in Guatape was awesome. I made friends with the kitchen staff and they taught me how to speak Spanish while I was washing dishes and cutting vegetables.
The hostel I volunteered at also had a Thai restaurant in it. I joked that the reason they hired me to volunteer there was to legitimize the Thai restaurant by having an Asian work there.
Life in Guatape was amazing. I made so many friends from fellow volunteers and the owner, Greg, was a cool guy.
At one point, I took the owner to the local gym and taught him how to do trigger point therapy to himself. He had some shoulder issues and he was surprised at the instant gratification of doing trigger point work on himself.
When I wasn’t hanging out with my friends, I was just savouring the beautiful mornings staring at the mirror-like still-lake.
I can’t imagine a more perfect morning when I ate breakfast, stared at the lake view and worked on my blog.
For lunch, I ate at the exact same place every day. The owner pretty much expected me to be there because I ate there so much.
Guatape is also famous for the big rock in the middle of the town called “La Piedra”. At this rock, you basically hike up the stairs until you get to the top to see an amazing view of Guatape.
The view at the top is incredible and I always remember how magical this city was to me.
After nearly two weeks in Guatape, I get a message from the tour group I was joining in Venezuela that I had to be there on a specific date. Getting in Venezuela is hard and dangerous and I had to enter from Brazil to be safe. After determining how I would get myself there, I sadly said goodbye to the hostel owner and off I went back to Bogota.
Picking up my passport in Bogota
At Bogota, I stayed at Sheraton again, redeeming my Starwood points to stay for three days. At first, I tried getting a Brazilian Visa in Bogota but their processing time was 30 days long. I needed a place to get it faster. After doing a little research, it turns out Iguazu Falls in Argentina has a 24-hour turn around time for processing Visas to Brazil.
I then redeemed my British Airways Avios for a flight to Argentina and said goodbye to the amazing country of Colombia.
I spent 38 days in Colombia and it was one of the most magical experiences of my one year trip around the world. Unlike my favourite country of all time (South Africa), Colombia is a place I can see myself returning over and over again. I can even see myself purchasing an apartment here one day and living there for part of the year. That’s how much I love this country.
It’s not a matter of if but when I go back here again one day and make it one of my annual go-to places to visit. If you’ve never been to Colombia before, you must prioritize it as one of your must-visit travel destinations. You won’t regret it.
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