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Colombia – So Much More than Beautiful Women and Loads of People Trying to Sell Drugs

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 21 July 2011 | Views [2151]

In recent years, Colombia has become a bit of a tourist mecca and with damn good reason. After sailing from Panama, we arrived in Cartagena – our favourite city so far. We got a comically small taxi from the dock to the old city, and after a bit of a mix up, caught up with our travel mates from the sailing trip at our hotel. In the 5 minutes it took to do this, we’d been offered cocaine twice, in the ‘not dingy’ part of town.

The old city is spectacular – gorgeous old buildings painted nice and brightly, bougainvillea spilling over balconies, almost as many horse and carts clattering over the cobblestones as micro-sized taxis, tasteful sculptures littered around the streets. The city is surrounded by a large wall designed to keep pirates out and the gold in, and offers great views over the city, especially over a beer in the evenings. Street drinking is the norm and venders wander around selling cold beer and ice-cream throughout the day. Rather than creating an unpleasant vibe throughout the city, it creates a real sense of joy in the streets. At 2am, where the streets in most cities would be a hellish melange of fist fights, urine and sleaze, the streets of Cartagena were packed with revellers dancing salsa, tango or ramba; blurring the line between the discotecas and the streets. Rather than more typically pungent drinker smells, the nose was treated to meats and sausages grilling on street vendors.

The whole crew from the sailing trip through the San Blas Islands

To be sure, there are more grungy areas, Getsamini being the standout. In the evening time, the prostitutes jostle with the drug dealers to get prime position to try and separate tourists from pesos. Even in these areas, there were some great spots, like a restaurant with excellent pork crackling and plantain, typico cocktails and an incredible local game, similar to bocce, only instead of throwing large balls at a smaller ball, you throw weights at small packets of gunpowder which explodes when hit.

The city is watched by the imposing and beautifully designed Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. The fortress has an impressive maze tunnel system, and would have taken a lot of work for an invading force to take. It also offers lovely views over the new and old city, a pretty cool site.

From Cartagena, we headed to Tayrona National Park, a coastal park. To reach the accommodation, it’s necessary to hike in, through mud and jungle. Tayrona is a super park – lots of nice beaches, some great for swimming, some impressive to look at, some with good body surfing and nude bathing, a surprise when wondering in from the jungle. There is an old ruin located within the park, a nice hike through the jungle from the main accommodation areas. En route, we encountered a band of monkeys who tried to scare us off by jumping to break sticks over our heads, and tapirs hiding in the jungle.

Next stop was surprise packet San Gil. For whatever reason, we hadn’t heard many people speak of San Gil, which is a little perplexing, because it’s excellent. In San Gil, we were able to visit waterfalls, go paragliding for $US30 and visit a nearby Barichara for some great hiking and to eat the local delicacy – hormiga. Hormiga is a fat-arsed ant, and is dried before having the wings, legs and head removed. It is crunchy, and makes a great beer snack or a topping for steak. It also makes a damn fine sauce for steak, as we discovered at Color de Hormiga, a restaurant in Barichara.

The paragliding was a real highlight – flying high over the Colombian countryside was breathtaking, if at times a little stomach churning. The pilots are really skilled, and the equipment really responsive, meaning you get to experience some pretty exciting stunts, including death spirals and free falls. Great stuff.

Our last stop in Colombia, before a marathon 48 hour journey to Quito in Ecuador was the capital city, Bogota. The city itself was, well, a city, nothing of real note. But there were two nice attractions – the first was the Salt Cathedral. Within a large working salt mine, a cathedral has been cut into the rock, along with Stations of the Cross, sculptures and nice lighting. The cathedral isn’t an actual cathedral, and only a nearby chapel is used for the bi-weekly services, but it’s still very good to look at.

The second stop that is worth mentioning was the Museo de Oro, the gold museum. Thousands of gold pieces, along with some very nice pottery pieces are found in the museum. The indigenous tribes developed a very high standard of gold working – there were some spectacular pieces. The museum was put together really well, and explained the basics of working gold, and the different techniques developed over time, and then the uses and importance of the gold. Definitely one of the more interesting museums we’ve visited to date. The sad thing is, the prevalence and skill with gold of the indigenous helped lead to their conquering, with the Spanish unable to resist such an allure.

Colombia – the FARC have been all but destroyed, so kidnappings aren’t an issue any more. It’s an incredibly diverse country, and easy and cheap to get around. The people are lovely, the water’s even drinkable in the cities. The women are beautiful, the culture full of fun. As the tourism commissions clever slogan states: Colombia – the only risk is wanting to stay.

At night, there is dancing everywhere!

Tags: beaches, colombia, paragliding


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