"Columbia-A Country of Contrasts" Colombia by wrldtrvlr3341
Colombia Travel Guide: 4,082 reviews and 11,974 photos
I recently spent 2 weeks in October, 2010 in Cartegena vacationing and studying Spanish. By day, the coastal city is a charming conglomeration of forts, open squares, cobblestone side streets streaming with vendors in a sauna like atmosphere and temperature. There is no getting comfortable in the day time. I live in Florida, and I have never experienced the likes of this heat and humidity. However by night, the city comes alive with lights to rival Paris, the city of lights. It casts a comfortable temperature, many romantic outdoor restaurants with live music, and streets teaming with tourists. Unless you know where to eat, dining is extremely expensive. In October, November, December, it rains daily, and I mean downpours that soak one to the bone. Since I was living in the Pied de la Popa area, where it practically flooded with every rain, no taxis would take my fare. I got drenched often.
Since Columbia has over 100 holidays, I experienced 4 during my 6 weeks there. I took the opportunity to visit Santa Marta on the coast where Tayrona national Park is located. Tayrona has an interesting history. It is the site of opium farms that were napalmed by the U.S. during the 80's & 90's I am told. It has returned as a lush forest that caters to eco tourism. A magnificent park with georgeous beaches and waterfalls, however 2 star accomodations at 5 star prices. Best stay in a hostel and leave satisfied with what you got for your money. It is a must see. There is a photo below.
I can´t say Cartegena is a favorite city, or experience of mine, as the school was a poor choice, and it is also in Cartegena, at the Rapida Ochoa Bus area, that I was robbed of all my money, video, and netbook as I was leaving for Medellin by bus on Rapida Ochoa bus lines. The state department travel page had warned of travel by bus in Columbia, but I took the word of a teacher and traveled by bus anyway. Not only did I lose all my money and netbook, the bus encountered an accident with a bull. We hit a bull in the middle of the highway and the window cracked with a pop, and the bus swerved to a halt. I was thinking as I heard the pop. Are we being hijacked by the FARC? While the bus company stated within an hour, that they had my bag, with computer, credit cards, passport, but no money and would send it on the next bus, the driver whose name and number they had provided, denied having it, after I waited all day to be the first person there when the bus door opened. After much deliberation, the driver produced the bag after I left the office for a few minutes. When I returned, the bag magically appeared without computer & credit card, but with my passport and a toothbrush remaining. I was grateful for the return of the passport.
Despite these ordeals, I can say that I met a lot of nice people while there. I also learned that many of the hostels offer spanish classes right in the hostels at a more attractive rate. I won't mention the name of the school I attended because their other sites in Columbia are actually good schools. Cartegena however, they should scratch. I also managed to meet a guide who corrected my Spanish as we walked and will go to your hotel to teach you Spanish, as well as guide you around the city. What I will say, is that here I met many wonderful people, and had many adventures.
Medellin brought a reprieve from the scorching and humid weather, the teacher was excellent, and the transportation system very easy and inexpensive to navigate. There are cable cars attached to the Metro called Metrocable, and transports one up the mountains as homes are built into the mountainside. i actually met a young person on MetroCable that still thinks Americans are all rich. I assumed he had not been watching much T.V. about how so many Americans are out of work. I then thought, perhaps that is why they steal so easily from Americans, because of the mistaken assumption they are rich.
When a native tells you that an area is "peligroso" (dangerous), after my ordeal, I believed them, so there were several areas I wanted to visit and did not. I simply viewed some areas from Metro.
I admire the entreprenuerial spirit of the Columbians as everywhere, almost everyone, is selling something. You can walk 2 steps away and get the same thing for a mil or 2 less. Competition among street vendors is fierce. While there is not much English spoken here, people are very friendly and will help if you speak just a little spanish.
Boteri, the artist who made the obese figure famous, is Columbian, and his art and statutes are all over the city. There is Boteri Plaza with dozens of his larger than life statues, and many museums, etc. Medellin is the center of textiles and manufacturing, and where many of the clothing originates so there are many outlet malls here. Don´t get excited as the clothing is not as much of a bargain as one can get at home in the U.S. I was forced to purchase a coat for my impending trip to Bogota which I was told would be very cold. I had checked out the average temperatures on the Internet for the different cities before traveling. My advice, always travel with a warm jacket & a pair of shorts because this country has extreme opposites in temperatures.
Medellin is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, so it is hilly, and I lived at the top of one of those hills in Envigado, a surburb of Medellin. A beautiful, modern city with lots of flowers, and a river running through it. The airport however is quite a challenge. It is quite a distance out, and with minimal lighting, and few signs, even the locals have trouble making the correct turns. Yet, everyone here considers bus travel to be dangerous.
Bogota is a large metropolitan city and is as large cities go. There are ample restaurants, discos, bars, etc. Restaurants here come in all ranges, and I found some very cheap ones with fair food. I was a bit disappointed that there is not much taste to much of the food, e.g. seasonings. Portions are good, but it is a shock to see rice, potatoes, and spegetthi all on the same plate. A carbohyrdate heaven.
Ladies may be happy to know that you can get a manicure, pedicure, and hairdo for about $15 USD total. It was the best bargain of the entire trip. Since we traveled around by public transport, I got to know public transportation quite well. There is never more than a 5 minute wait for transportation. I noticed that people always got up to give my travel partner a seat, because of her gray hair. I then realized there is a sign on public transportation asking you to give up your seat for elders. I can´t compare this to the U.S. because I have never taken public transportation in the U.S. as it takes all day to get across town on a bus in my city, the land of Mickey Mouse.
The school here has been quite good, with emphasis on grammer. As I have come to know, traveling to different Spanish speaking countries, the grammer changes slightly from city to city, and definitely from country to country.
In Columbia, I have noticed hat appears to be a money making venture at the cost of tourists. It is important that you check your passport before leaving the customs desk to be sure that you have been given the amount of time in country requested, as getting an extension, as hundreds of people end up having to do, is a nightmare.
There has not been that much I wanted to photograph here except the Salt Cathederal, a cathederal built underground in a salt mine of salt block. Since I did not have my tripod getting a good shot would have been futile, however let me tell you it is worth seeing. I also visited Monserrate, a site virtual touristers indicated a must see. Since it rained in Bogota every day I was there, the day I visited Monserrate, I could barely see 15 feet in front of me. Located at the top of the highest mountain in Bogota, it was covered in clouds and mist. I am sure it must be a beautiful view on a nice day, during the summer months. The rains were so relentless, it had caused a disaster and deaths in some of the poorer neighborhoods to the North. I returned home 2 days ago, having enjoyed most of my visit, but happy to be leaving. I met the loveliest families during my visit, so I will remember the good part about Columbia.
- Pros:Public transportaion cheap, easy to navigate, dependable.
- Cons:Travel between cities by long distance bus, dangerous, at your own risk..
- In a nutshell:Columbia, Getting Better, But Still A Way To Go!
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