1. The olden days are gone
Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room now. Colombia is often associated with savage drug lords and terrible violence due to the notorious cartels of the ’80s and ’90s. Narcos, a recent, popular Netflix show, has only further surfaced a past that Colombians would rather forget.
From our perspective, those days in Colombia seem to be long-gone — or, at least, Colombians have done a remarkable job at persevering and trying to move on. Colombia has some of the happiest and nicest people in the world, and the streets could not have been more vibrant.
After spending three weeks in Colombia, we didn’t run into any safety issues whatsoever. What we found, instead, was a beautiful country with amazing people and a breathtaking natural scenery.
However, we must stress to be respectful if you bring up Pablo Escobar’s name. Especially in Medellin. Colombia’s He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is an extremely sore subject that still personally affects many people in the country. A naive tourist talking about Pablo Escobar will certainly generate looks of disdain and contempt. Also, it’s just pretty damn rude and obnoxious.
Although you will definitely see tours operating under his name and souvenirs glorifying his reign, it’s best to be respectful to the locals, and tread carefully when mentioning his name.
2. Be prepared to eat a lot of delicious fried food
Whether it’s fried empanadas from a street food vendor or fried fish from the caribbean, Colombians love their food fried. Fortunately for our hearts, fried food isn’t the only delicious food in Colombia. Here are some of the best dishes that we ate:
- Grilled arepas from a street vendor. An iconic Colombian food made of ground corn maize and filled with cheese, eggs, or meat.
- Fish and shellfish ceviche in Cartagena and Santa Marta.
- Fresh seafood on the beaches around Cartagena and by Rosario Island. Lobster, octopus, and fish just taste better on a beach.
- Bandeja Paisa aka “heart attack plate” in Medellin. Literally, a gigantic plate of beans, rice, fried pork belly, pork skin (chicharrones), fried empanadas, and plantains.
- Empanadas from any street vendor — they are all over!
3. Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet
Is there anything more embarrassing than clogging a stranger’s toilet? Like many other South American countries, you should not flush toilet paper down the toilet. Those aging pipes are not designed to handle your waste, no matter how soft it may be. Do not be that person.
Instead, there are usually trash cans next to a toilet to throw your toilet paper away. If there aren’t, then I dunno what to tell ya…
4. The landscape is remarkably diverse
One morning, we woke up in a remote beach side bungalow, proceeded to trek up mountainous terrain and down through lush jungle vegetation. By dinner time, we were eating barbeque and preparing to go clubbing in one of Colombia’s largest cities, Santa Marta.
The diversity of the landscapes in this large country is remarkable and makes for one gorgeous country. People traveling with others need not worry as there’s something for everyone in Colombia. You can be relaxing on a gorgeous private beach in the Rosario Islands one day, on an adventure in the jungles to the Lost City the next, and salsa dancing in the incredibly modern city of Medellin shortly after.
5. The weather is unpredictable
Colombia has a very diverse climate.
The coastal areas, which include Cartageña and Santa Marta, are very hot and humid. Expect to sweat through your clothes and rely heavily on your Handiesto wipe your brow and keep you dry. However, even on the hottest days, it can easily rain. Usually, it’s just a little bit here and there, but heavy rain can certainly hit at any moment. Make sure to bring a light rain jacket, poncho, or umbrella wherever you go.
The mountainous areas (e.g. Bogota or Medellin) are relatively cooler, but you should still expect very unpredictable weather, including multiple flash rain storms a day.
Colombia is a gorgeous country that should be on any traveler’s list of places to visit. Whether it’s beaches, mountains, food, or culture that you are seeking, Colombia has it all. The cheap beers and friendly locals are a huge plus as well. Keep exploring!