Cartagena and San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia
There’s a whole lot to unpack in Cartagena. If you’re coming from the bus terminal, nearly one hour away from the city centre, you’ll pass through what most locals probably see: sprawl, traffic, markets, and your average non-descript Caribbean living situation. Honestly, parts of it reminded me of Guyana.
If you’re coming from the airport like I was (because bussing from Medellín would’ve taken 15 hours), you’ll see affluent suburbs. Follow the road and hug the coastline, and you’ll end up in Bocagrande, a neighbourhood of ritzy hotels (and only hotels) and some city beaches along a narrow peninsula. Seen from afar, you might be reminded of Miami like I was.
If you take a boat tour or come from a cruise, you’ll probably have visited or passed by the white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, with the downside of crowds and touts trying to rip you off for a beach chair, umbrella, drinks, and food. That too sounds a little familiar.
Those are all options though. What everyone comes to Cartagena for are the city walls, the colourful houses and balconies, the sense of being transported to another place… and another time.
Medellín and Guatapé, Colombia
Medellín is everyone’s favourite story. Long notorious for drug cartels and violence, the city was deemed the most dangerous in the world in the late 80s and early 90s. Now, it’s made a remarkable turnaround in security and reputation, and is better known as a world vanguard of urban planning innovations, the cultural capital of the country, and one of the buzziest places in Latin America. Locals love the place, they’re friendly, and they’re proud of its progress. Foreigners flock here in droves, enticed by the backstory, the nightlife, the creature comforts, and the luxury for cheap.
In theory, this is a place that I too should love. I can see why so many people do.
Salento and Valle de Cocora, Colombia
What better way to meet up with a friend for the first time in six years than to arrive in town in the middle of the night, both of us having taken night buses from different cities and unable to sleep from going up and down twisty mountain roads? It’s in a hostel dormitory in Salento where I reunited with Mathieu, a friend with whom I’ve had a storied travel history since 2012. Always a pleasure… Maybe except when we’re both sleep deprived and incoherent.
We didn’t plan to be in Colombia at the same time, but found some overlap in our itineraries. Mat, having lived and worked in Colombia for a year a while back, is on a greatest-hits nostalgia tour of sorts. Of course, that’s gotta involve one of the most scenic and (especially recently) rightly popular regions in the country: the Zona Cafetera. At least that’s why I’m here.
But first, a nap.
Ten years ago, when this blog began, I ended my northwards trip of South America at the equator. What’s past the equator? Colombia. The rest of this trip is addressing unfinished business. While I’m not resuming from where I left off by land, it’s gratifying to be able to celebrate a milestone, reflect on my last ten years and how far they’ve taken me, and also simply to keep a promise I made to myself to return.
Travel itself has changed since ten years ago as well. Not so many travellers I met back then on the gringo trail were visiting Colombia, then a destination with only nascent buzz after its years of instability lent it a reputation of dubious safety. Nowadays, it feels like the whole world has caught on. Everybody is here. Hostels are full, walking tour groups are everywhere, and tourists of all ages and abilities flood the Candelaria, the historic old town and touristic center of Bogotá. Colombia’s in its moment.