Colombia is a huge and diverse country, and you will find so many different sides, styles, tastes and landscapes. So from that point of view, it’s impossible to give an overview in a blog post like this.
It would probably take a whole book to give an overview of the country – and even then we would still be leaving out a huge stack of details.
With that said, there are a few things I found surprising and interesting that might be useful for anyone planning a trip or move to this beautiful part of South America, so that’s what I’m trying to cover in this post. Feel free to add your ideas or ask any questions in the comments section.
The first shock for me was the weather. Colombia’s a tropical country, right? So it’s hot all year round, right? Yes … that’s true … but not in Bogota, the capital city, which is where I first landed. Bogota is cold. All year round.
This was a huge shock to my system, especially since I’d just arrived from Brazil, where I’d spent the previous three months in shorts and sandals. All of a sudden I found myself freezing and having to layer on all the cardigans I had with me. The first thing I did was go out and buy some boots and a new sweater.
Average temperature in the city is around 17 or 18C during the day and can be as low as 4 degrees at night. To me, that’s cold. This is due to the high altitude – Bogota is about 2,600m above sea level, so you’ll also have to get used to breathing thin air.
It also rains a lot – I carry an umbrella around with me most of the time, although you don’t really need to as it’s often more of a drizzle than actual heavy rainfall, and it usually doesn’t last too long, so you can easily just wait under a shelter until it passes.
The second thing that struck me about Bogota was the amount of tall buildings in the city. It really is a sprawling concrete jungle filled with massive highrises, some of the tallest on the continent, and it seems like almost everywhere you look there is a new one going up.
A lot of people over the years have tended to skip Bogota when travelling to Colombia, but it is definitely worth a visit. The city has a number of excellent museums, good restaurants and interesting places to check out on the outskirts, such as Cerro de Monserrate, accessible from the centre, and Zipaquira, a scenic village to the north of the city with an underground cathedral built in a salt mine.
Safety and security is a big concern for many people, based on the reputation Colombia held for many years during the height of the drug trafficking scourge and guerrilla war.
Of course some of these problems do still exist in some parts of the country, but the government has put much effort into curbing crime, combating the drug trade and minimising guerrilla activity.
If the civil war is continuing, it is in remote areas where you are unlikely to be travelling as a tourist. The cities do have some problems with crime, but it is far from the hysteria imagined by many.
Just as you would be advised in New York, London or Paris that certain areas are a bit dangerous and you should avoid going in for no reason, making it obvious that you are a tourist and waving your fancy iPhone around, so should you exercise caution in Colombia. People will be quick to tell you where not to go or where to be careful, and sometimes you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself. Trust
For the most part, you should be safe in areas frequented by tourists and will see a lot of police and soldiers patrolling the streets, which brings me to another thing I’ve had to get used to – seeing lots of guns, big guns, everywhere (on the police and soldiers I mean).
Getting around is easy in Colombia. Within the cities you can use buses or other forms of public transport depending on the city – Medellin has a metro, Cali and Bogota have Bus Rapid Transit systems. Taxis are reasonably priced and of course now there’s also Uber.
People are generally very friendly and helpful, so if you ask someone they will try to help you figure out which bus to get.
There have been some reports of people getting robbed when picking up cabs off the street, so most people will advise you to call a cab instead using an app like Tappsi, Uber or EasyTaxi.
Some restaurants, hotels and stores will also help call a cab for you.
For travelling from one city to another, you can fly or travel by bus. Unless you really love travelling by bus, always check flight prices first because you can often find really good offers, which are sometimes even cheaper or the same price as the bus fare.
Long distance buses are comfortable and you have several options leaving from the bus stations. Always check with someone before leaving for the bus station which terminal you need to go to, because many cities have a few different bus terminals and buses to certain destinations will leave from different stations.
Bus travel is usually long though, as the routes are not always direct and the roads are not always in the best condition. So be careful to give yourself enough time and don’t always trust the arrival time on your ticket.
This post is getting very long, and as it was meant to be a “quick” glance at Colombia, I’ve decided to break it up. Look out for “A quick glance at Colombia – Part 2”, which you can read on travelswiththegypsyqueen.com soon.
Part 2 will include more about food and the Gypsy Queen’s top tips of places to visit.
I’ll also be covering all these topics in more detail in separate blog posts, so look out for those in the near future.
UPDATE: Since writing this post in January 2016, I have to add that the weather in Bogota has changed quite drastically due to the effects of El Nino, and it is now a lot warmer than usual. This may seem great if you were looking for a tropical holiday, but is not so good for the country and has caused a severe drought.