After a great solo trip in Panama in Feb 2019 (check it out here), I flew Colombia to join The Wind Collective on their group trip, which I promise you is like none other you may have been on before. You quickly feel like you’re travelling with long time friends and the vibe is on point from day one!
Colombia is fast becoming one of Latin America’s hottest destinations to visit and if you haven’t been already and love good food, rich culture, beautiful weather and people then now is the time to go! Here is what I got up to during my week here…
1. Bogotá which the capital of Colombia, is where we started our tour. From London, you can get a direct flight with Avianca who I’ve flown with before to Peru and have found to be great so far.
We stayed in 2 different hotels at the start and end of the trip. The first was Hotel Monserrate and Spa which is located in La Candelaria (cool area with beautiful street art, great bars and restaurants). The hotel stay included a complimentary varied breakfast each day, spa access and unlimited free popcorn in the lobby! Our second hotel was Black Premium Hotel which was super nice and worth staying in to treat yourself.
I found the city itself wasn’t the prettiest part of Colombia and is quite cold, as it’s fairly high in altitude and has a mountain overlooking the city so come prepared with extra layers. Also do not underestimate how big Bogotá is! Getting around longer distances is easiest and probably safer with taxis. Uber is available but is not very legal and not always reliable but that’s for you to decide which is best!
City Walking Tour
I’m a big advocate of these as I love learning the history of a new place and how it shaped the present plus tips on the best places to visit, eat and drink are always welcome! Ours was included in the tour price.
It started in Plaza de Bolívar de Bogotá (Bolivar Square) which houses the first cathedral of Bogotá, the capital building (which took 80 years to build) and town hall as well as street vendors and more.
Our tour continued past the male emerald traders who convened on the streets to Parque de los Periodistas (Journalist’s Square). From here you have an incredible view of Monseratte mountain. Also found here is the National tree of Colombia which was used to create palms for Palm Sunday. It is now in a conservation project to protect the trees from diminishing.
From here we went on a street art tour through La Candelaria which ended at Plazoleta Chorro de Quevo, a cute square with some markets and vendors plus free shots being offered!
Cerro de Monserrate
This is the mountain which overlooks the city. It’s over 3000m above sea level so some people may experience some altitude sickness here. If you plan to hike it, you need to be back down before dark so the latest we we’re told we can start hiking up is around 1pm (season dependent no doubt) . We had planned to visit for sunset so took the train up to the top (21 pesos return – same price for the funicular).
The views from here are incredible and truly make you appreciate nature. You can also visit a church up here and wander around the gardens. It gets even colder up there so come extra wrapped up and grab a hot drink from the mini shop at the top.
Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá (Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá)
This is one of the most unique cathedrals that I’ve ever seen on my travels! It was built underground in salt mines, by the miners as a sacred place for them to worship and it is still used for regular Church services today. It has the largest underground cross in the world which is very impressive. You pass through 14 stations of the cross, to the dome and central nave plus other areas of the cathedral. It’s an hour and a half drive from Bogotá so can be booked as a half day tour (the actual cathedral part is self guided).
Food and drink
I’m a big foodie when I travel so thankfully Columbia didn’t disappoint in that department! As expected, there’s plenty of great meat and fish dishes but actually there’s plenty to accommodate veggies and vegans around town. Here’s a round of of some favourite places I ate at in Bogotá:
Capital Cocina y café – a cosy restaurant in La Candelaria area. I recommend having the fish for mains as those who ordered it had the best meals!
Abasto – this was my favourite restaurant in Bogota. Most of us ate the asado de tira which was a delicious steak!
Fulanitos – this was my second fave restaurant in Bogotá. It has incredible rooftop views over the city for those who love a good view! Here is where I tried limonada de coco (coconut lemonade) which is like a virgin pina colada and so delicious. The plantain with guacamole for starters was also amazing.
Andres Carne de Res – a really lively restaurant which becomes a full on party quite early on in the night. Booking in advance is essential! It’s normal for people to be dancing salsa whilst others are still eating but after 11pm it becomes more of a bar atmosphere.
Presea bar – a rooftop bar with a very popular pole in the middle of the dancefloor. Really good playlist and fun vibes.
Colombian coffee is obviously one of the best in the world so you’ll be spoilt for choice here. A Colombian woman I met in Panama City recommended the Juan Valdez cafes as a great starting point to check out coffee so here you go!
A completely different energy compared with Bogotá and I absolutely loved my time here. The old and touristy part is the colonial town and has a large Afro Colombian population who were so welcoming. But also the modern city which resembles the Miami skyline is seen across the wall and the differences were very stark. Interestingly I had watched the Netflix series “Siempre Bruja – Always a witch” which is set in Cartagena and was cool to see the set in real life!
We stayed in Casa Las Indias which was a lovely villa in the centre of the old Colonial town. We were very well looked after and had delicious and varied breakfasts each day which is important!
Here’s a summary of our time in Cartagena :
Boat tour & Rosario Islands – probably the wildest day of our trip. The price was also included in our trip but I know thee are many options around on hiring a boat/booking a similar tour.
We partied on our boat which took us to the island for more partying (with millions of other boats). For lunch, we were served delicious lobster for 60 pesos. Many vendors will come to your boat to take food and drink orders so it’s quite a boujee day out.
This was also the first time that I rode a jet ski! They cost 50 pesos for half a hour (for the jet ski) so going with a partner will reduce the costs.
Bazurto Market Tour – a truly heart-warming morning spent exploring this local market. We ended up dancing in the middle of the meat market with some of the Colombian aunties and uncles which was amazing!
We also met local artist Runner who designs all the rave posters in the area. He’s moved on from his previous life and is now an inspiration to the kids in his area. He also spray paints clothing and any other merchandise you desire for a reasonable price.
Salsa class @ Crazy Salsa – where we learnt salsa, bachata and champeta. Salsa is obviously from Cuba and Bachata is a dance originally from the Dominican Republic involving 3 steps plus a hip and tap motion on the 4th beat. Champeta is a Colombian dance with black influences from those who lived in Cartagena and Palenque. This class is a great way to learn a few basic steps to impress the locals with!
Cartagena walking tour – a nice way to get to know the old city and learn about Cartagena’s history, a lot of which involves the slave trade and how this influenced the local population. It took us beyond the wall to Getsemani – the cool, artsy neighbourhood in Cartagena which is worth a visit just to walk around and take it in all if nothing else! Its streets are filled with beautiful art, the square is where everyone hangs out (and you can get killer 10 pesos rum and mixers!) and there’s plenty to eat and drink around.
3. San Basilio de Palenque
This town has significant history as the first free town for African slaves in the Americas. A man called Benkos Biohó, who was a Prince in his home country of Guinea-Bissau, was captured as a slave and brought to Colombia. He escaped with other slaves and founded this town.
Palenqueros today still try to appreciate their African roots and the town looks familiar to those in the Motherland. It’s so heartwarming to have the locals come up to you and chat and enquire about where you’re from as a fellow black person. In Cartagena, the black women dressed in colourful dresses with fruit bowls on their head are from Palenque. However I would highly recommend actually coming out here to get an authentic experience.
The best way to learn the history and see the main points of interests of Palenque is to have a guided tour. We booked in Cartagena and had a local called Victor who took us round. Another good guide is via Alex Rocha and the Experience Real Cartagena tours.
Food and drink
A lot of seafood was eaten in Cartagena! If you like seafood then it’s the best thing to have as it’s very fresh. Otherwise there are other authentic restaurants (plus well known chains) to satisfy everyone. Here’s a few of my faves:
Espiritu Santo – this is THE place for authentic and very cheap Colombian food. My whole meal and drink cost £17.5 pesos!! And it was the best meal I had here…thank you to the local man who recommended it!
La Casa de Socorro – in the Getsemani area. A very delicious restaurant- the seafood spaghetti was tasty!
Babar club where we had one of the best nights out in Colombia! The DJ in the outside dance floor put afrobeats on for us and we became insta famous that night!
Townhouse rooftop is amazing for sunset drinks!
Alquimico Bar (The Alchemist) is nice and not to be missed! The drinks here are a bit pricier than other places but worth it for the atmosphere.
El mirador de la boquila– the beachside restaurant owned by one of the tour guides from our market tour. Our lunch was included and his hospitality was A1!
*Wind Collective specials*
As well as all the culture and fun as I’ve described above, their trips have an extra flair in a couple of ways.
Firstly with a creative phoot shoot which is fun for us and enjoyable for the locals. We dressed up in double denim and ended up dancing with a few Palenqeuras and doing a routine from our dance class on the streets which went down well!
And secondly with their “Giveback sessions” which focuses on identifying people who are doing good in their community in a number of ways, meeting them to learn more and then shedding light on this so that others can support them.
In Cartagena we met Alex Rocha and his family in the local community centre in San Francisco, who provide some academic lessons and life lessons to the local kids who would otherwise not receive a good education. It was amazing to meet the kids and heare about their future aspirations (shout out to all the girls who said they want to be doctors!). We also brought supplies such as stationary which they appreciated. You can find out more and how to help on http://experiencerealcartagena.com .
It’s useful to travel with a mixture of card and cash as some places still won’t take card. Colombian pesos have a big denomination so exclusively taking cash will be a lot! Also, people leave off the thousands when they talk about money..so 10,000 pesos will be 10 pesos. So don’t get confused about that as I did in the first few days!
Be prepared for the potential different climates if visiting more than one part of the country. It’s also important to suss out the different areas and be streetwise as although the country has changed significantly over the past 20 years, not everywhere is completely problem free.
Try and check out Medellin if you can. We didn’t go there on the tour but guys had been prior to Bogotá and loved it!
Spanish is easy to learn a few basic phrases which will make your travels a little easier! It makes meeting and connecting with locals more fun too which I highly recommend doing as they were so friendly and welcoming and I’m still in touch with them months later!
I hope this blog has inspired you to check out this amazing South American country! Comment below if it has or if you have any experiences from Colombia to share 😊