Colombia: A Travel Guide to Maximize your Next Visit

Colombia! Such an underrated country filled with countless opportunities. I had the pleasure of traveling there with my boyfriend in December. The entire experience was incredibly enriching, and I put together this guide of tips and recommendations for your potential upcoming trip!

When to Travel to Colombia

Colombia experiences the best weather from December to March, as it is the least likely to rain during this period. It is recommended to spend at least 3-4 days in each city you are intending to visit to truly get a good understanding of the area. We spent four days in Cartagena and three days in Medellin.

What to Consider when Buying your Flight

For U.S travelers, it is recommended to buy an international trip at least 3-4 months in advance to secure the best deals. Booking too close to your intended departure date will most likely result in flight prices that are excessive. For us, we made a promise to each other a year prior that we would take this trip. We ended up booking the flights 8 months ahead of our trip and got a good deal! I paid $350 for a roundtrip flight from SFO. Flights to Colombia are typically around $500-600 so I was pleased with the discount. We purchased through Copa Airlines, but we recommend seeking alternative options such as United Airlines and JetBlue. I say this because those are larger, more established airlines with reliable customer service. Since Colombia is such a large country, we decided to focus on the two cities we have heard positive reviews about: Cartagena and Medellin. Since we were planning on city-hopping, we booked inter-country flights which ended up being $180 total per person for the 3 flights, paid luggage included. For the inter-country flights, we went with the following airlines: Viva Air, Avianca, and LATAM Airlines. I highly recommend utilizing Skyscanner and Google Flights to monitor flight price fluctuations!

Where to Stay in Colombia

Cartagena

We decided to rent an Airbnb located in the historic center of the city. The airbnb is not a regular one. What sets it apart is that it has a hotel-feel, with a check-in desk, customer service, and a community rooftop with a waiting pool. Our space was a loft that was the perfect size for two people. It also had a small balcony terrace. We were a short walking distance from restaurants, street vendors, bars, and convenience stores. To book this airbnb, here is the link.

Medellin

We went with a hotel for the second half of the trip. We stayed at Hotel Estelar Milla De Oro, and it was a top-notch experience! The space itself is absolutely stunning, the rooms were large, the staff was incredibly attentive and helpful, and the amenities were superb! There was a gym, a Jacuzzi, and free breakfast, to name a few! The hotel is located roughly a 10 minute walk from El Poblado city center, and we found it convenient to walk to our destinations. To book a stay here, click this link.

Where to Eat & Drink in Colombia

Colombian cuisine is absolutely delightful and definitely outstanding! There are many neighborhoods we ate in Cartagena (Centro, San Diego, and Getsemani) and in Medellin (El Poblado). Here is a list of the tried and the highly recommended spots!

Breakfast Spots

  • Se Volvio Prispri Coffee Shop [Centro]: We stopped here for breakfast a few times and enjoyed their pastries!
  • Epoca [Centro]: This place had an amazing avocado toast and mimosa deal!
  • Crepes & Waffles [Centro]: This is a chain in the area, as we also saw it in Medellin. We did not try it but it had good reviews and beautiful outdoor aesthetic to take pictures.
  • Al Alma Cafe [El Poblado]: We grabbed coffee here and it was very good!
  • Pergamino [El Poblado]: We were not able to try this place but it was highly recommended!

Lunch Spots

  • La Cevicheria [San Diego]: We had to visit the restaurant Anthony Bourdain raved about! It did not disappoint! I was in awe with the flavor of the food. The shrimp ceviche and the Tropical Garden sandwich are so delicious!
  • El Boliche Cebicheria [San Diego]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended! It was compared to La Cevicheria!
  • Maria Bonita [Getsemani]: A perfect place for lunch! The homemade sangria and tacos are the best!
  • Restaurant Celele [Getsemani]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Olivia [Getsemani]: Delicious food and a beautiful ambiance! The service was amazing here too!
  • Cocorollo [El Poblado]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Restaurant Malevo [El Poblado]: An upscale restaurant with great deals on the menu. The steak was delicious and we got a bottle of wine!
  • La Bronca [El Poblado]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!

Dinner Spots

  • Alma [Centro]: This restaurant was spectacular! It is located in the famous Casa San Augustin, known for its one-of-a-kind courtyard aesthetics. I had their house burger and was very pleased! Make a reservation in advance!
  • Bohemia [Centro]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Maria [Centro]: If you love bright interiors, unique cocktails, and a plethora of seafood dishes, you will absolutely love this place!
  • Don Juan [Centro]: Known for their unique spin on seafood dishes. Anything you order off the menu you will enjoy! Make a reservation in advance!
  • Cafe Del Mar [Centro]: We got a few to-go snacks after we watched the sunset!
  • Restaurante 1621 [Centro]: The ambiance of this place is very notable! The steak is the most popular item on the menu!
  • Harry’s [Centro]: It boasts a glorious courtyard, upscale food and drinks and luxurious ambiance!
  • Carmen [San Diego]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Criminal Taqueria [El Poblado]: They had a funky and edgy take on street food, which was new and different in a good way!
  • Moshi [El Poblado]: This is a swanky restaurant that we had a few appetizers at, and they offered great service as well!
  • OCI Medellin [El Poblado]: This was our last meal of the trip and it exceeded our expectations! I had the short ribs and kept on raving about them well after the trip concluded! Their drinks are also fantastic! Make a reservation in advance!

Bars to Grab a Drink

  • Movich Hotel Rooftop [Centro]: If you are wondering what the best view in all of Cartagena is, then look no further! From the rooftop, you can take in expansive views of the colonial architecture, the ocean, and the skyscrapers. I recommend visiting during the daytime to enjoy the pool while it’s warm outside! The cocktails here are amazing, too!
  • El Baron [Centro]: This was a surprising favorite, as we decided to come here very last-minute. We sat in the outdoor courtyard with a stunning view of the Catholic Church, Parroquia San Pedro Claver. The drinks alone are worth the visit, but I also want to give a much-deserved shoutout to the food as it was by far one of the best meals I had on the trip! Drinks to order: El Alacran and Rosarito. Food to order: Pollo Roti Clasico.
  • Alquimico [Centro]: This one is a must-see as it is on the list of the world’s 50 best bars! I did not know that prior to entering, but thought that was such a cool story! I recommend trying the following drinks: Uturuncu and 1200.
  • El Coro Lounge [Centro]: The cocktails are very good, and the service was impeccable! they also feature salsa dancing on the weekends!
  • Boundless Mezcal [Centro]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Daisy The Rooftop [Centro]: People venture here only for the ambiance, not the drinks!
  • Envy, in the Charlee Hotel [El Poblado]: This is hands down one of the coolest bars I have ever been to! It is an expansive rooftop with multiple levels, a swimming pool, charming lighting, eye-catching decor, and comfy lounge chairs dispersed throughout. The drinks were large, strong, and tasty!
  • Alambique [El Poblado]: Another rooftop bar with a more intimate setting!
  • Woka Lounge [El Poblado]: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Vaggart, in Art Hotel Boutique [El Poblado]: Known for its decor and ambiance! They have a wide range of items on their menu!

Sights to See in Colombia

  • Old Town Cartagena: We spent most of our time in Old Town! The streets are lined with stunning murals, churches, landmarks, and plants! There are also many horses galavanting through, which was a whimsical touch!
  • Las Bovedas Market: This is a bustling market in Cartagena offering fresh and tasty produce and meals!
  • Pablo Escobar Mansion: This place got its notoriety from the infamous TV series ‘Narcos’. It is about 3 hours away from Medellin, and costs $50 for a 4 hour tour of the complex. We did not partake out of respect of the locals, however, it is open for anyone who would like to attend.
  • Parque Poblado at night: In Medellin, there is a large park in the middle of El Poblado neighborhood that houses multiple street vendors, musicians, bright lights, and a few activities!
  • Comuna 13 Street Art: We were able to access this through our metro line cable ride! There is a string of beautiful artwork created by local artists.
  • Casa Kolacho Graffiti House: Once we completed our cable ride, we were a short walk away from this house. It is famous for the exterior artwork painted on the building.

Excursions to Try in Colombia

Beaches

  • Playa Blanca: We were told this beach was beautiful, but gets heavily trafficked during peak times, so we did not go here and opted for more secluded settings.
  • Blue Apple Beach Club: This was one of the highlights of the trip! We booked the day of, and the price included transportation via boat about 45 minutes away from Cartagena city center. It is located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, and it a stunning private beach club. It was so peaceful; we were the only ones there for most of the day! Drinks were great and the paella we had for lunch was amazing!
  • Bomba Beach Club: We heard this was another great option for a beach club, so we are saving this for next time we travel here!
  • Rosario Islands: We planned to take a day trip to these islands, as we heard they are some of the most beautiful in the world! With more time, we would have loved to see these!

Activities

  • Salsa Dancing at Cafe Havana: We heard this is an epic experience, and unfortunately it was closed when we visited. This place is an iconic spot for salsa dancing, and it’s definitely on my list!
  • Sunset Walk in the Walled City: The touristy parts of Cartagena are located within the Walled City, so we decided to walk the cobblestone paths to watch the sunset and it was beautiful!
  • Walking through Bocagrande/Manga Neighborhoods: These are recommended only if you have ample time. I definitely suggest maximizing your time in the above noted neighborhoods as they have more to offer and are more unique!
  • Sunset Catamaran Cruise with Bona Vida: Bona Vida has a great deal for a sunset cruise! There were multiple time slots and the option to include drinks and a meal!
  • Parasailing: We did not get to try, but it was highly recommended!
  • Snorkeling: We were told this activity is best done in the Rosario Islands! We plan on doing this during our next trip!
  • Metro cable line J, aerial city view: This was one of the highlights of my time in Medellin! We bought a metro pass that took us up into the high hills of the city, revealing a magnificent 360 degree view!

Day Trip to Guatape

Guatape was a worthwhile excursion on the trip! It is about 2 hours away from Medellin and we decided to go at the very end of the trip. We woke up at 7am to catch the bus at the Terminal De Norte. The roundtrip cost of the bus per person was 19,000 COP ($5.30). We got to La Peidra at 10am. La Piedra, the “Rock of Guatape”, or El Peñol, is a landmark natural structure also known as The Stone of El Peñol, in Colombia. It is located in the town and municipality of Guatapé, Antioquia. The attraction of the rock is that it takes 650 stair steps uphill to reach the top, and the view is one-of-a kind. We were up for the challenge! The price to make the trip was 12,500 COP ($3.50) per person. It took us 35 minutes to get from the bottom to the top of the rock. The view was truly breathtaking! There were street vendors at the top selling souvenirs, and there were also refreshing mango micheladas for sale!

After spending a little over an hour at the Rock, we took a Tuk Tuk ride 15 minutes away to the town of Guatape. This town is known for being incredibly vibrant and colorful. We spent 2 hours here before venturing back to Medellin. This excursion is very doable as a day-trip, and can be completed in less than 8 hours.

Tips to ensure the BEST trip

  • Protect your skin: Colombia during their hot weather months is VERY hot. I was sweating up a storm! As we also know, heat rays have lasting negative effects on skin. Protect skin with ample sunscreen and re-apply often! Target has perfect travel size containers, and I recommend bringing 2-3 bottles for your trip. Along with sunscreen, bring bug spray! I have bad luck with bugs and every country I visit there is a bug that is out to get me. I now know that it is a MUST to bring a few bottles of bug spray to avoid huge welts.
  • Get all your shots! No, not the ones you drink. When traveling to a foreign country, there is always a risk of contracting disease. Yes, that sounds dramatic, but the safer you are the better! I recommend booking a doctor’s appointment one month before the trip to get 1. a regular check up and 2. ask the doctor if any shots are needed that you don’t already have, and mention where you are traveling.
  • Pre-order currency: I recommend ordering currency 3-4 weeks before your trip. I ran into a situation where I thought I could order Colombian pesos (COP) a week prior to the trip, but unfortunately they did not have enough on-hand to process the transaction in time before my departure. I had to wait until I was in Colombia, which worked out because we spent 20 extra minutes in the airport to pull out our money safely and securely. I would say make pulling out currency at the airport a last resort, and opt for finding a local currency exchange in your area.
  • Budget ahead of the trip: I suggest setting aside money each month leading up to your departure. It helps you feel more secure and allows you to enjoy your experience that much more because the money is already put aside for this purpose. We started putting $100 aside each for 5 months, so we had $1,000 total for spending money for the trip which was more than enough, and allowed us to really treat ourselves!
  • Download the translation app: This app will help greatly if you are not a fluent or even conversational Spanish speaker. My boyfriend did most of the talking, but when I needed to explain things for myself, I turned to the app which bridged the gap where needed. In the newest Iphone update, there is a “Translate” app built-in! If you do not have an Iphone, there are many free apps you can utilize, such as Duolingo. The most important thing is to know the very basic words, and use the app for everything else.
  • Practice physical safety: a few recommendations I have for maintaining safety during your trip are:
    • Do not have your phone in hand for a long period of time while walking
    • Have pockets that zip
    • Wear cross body bags and/or fanny packs that are secured at the front of your person
    • Ask locals about the areas of a city to avoid
    • Download Uber for pick ups instead of a taxi
    • Bring all medicines
    • Have hand sanitizer and/or cleaning wipes at all times
  • Listen to the (friendly) locals! there will be people heckling you to buy their products or invite you to their restaurants, and for those people it is completely ok to decline their offers. However, for the friendly and welcoming people who are native to the area, listen to their recommendations! They know the area better than any short-term visitor ever will, and they will have a lot of wisdom to impart!

Overall, I had an amazing time in Colombia, and will definitely be back for another visit! To see my Colombia experiences come to life, watch my latest YouTube video below!

I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful for your upcoming trip! Please comment any thoughts and questions below, and share with your friends and family! For more content related to travel, check out my recent blog posts below: 

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