Traveling in Colombia is immensely popular these days. So popular that the Colombia highlights are not nearly as special as they were a few years ago. Tourism is good for the economy and provides jobs for the population, but tourism also has drawbacks. Especially when there is mass in front of it. For me, traveling means getting to know and understand another country and culture. As a backpacker, I traveled to places not listed as highlights in the Lonely Planet. And avoided the most popular countries, such as Thailand. And I still love to travel off the beaten path. As a traveler, you can never become completely familiar with a country, but you can get far if you take a slightly different approach than usual. Traveling in Colombia is so much fun: it’s a shame to go with the crowd. In this article, I give you 10 tips to get to know Colombia better and in a different way.
6 Tips to really get to know Colombia during your trip
1. Learn (basic) Spanish
In many countries you can get by with a little English. And otherwise, body language also works very well. That’s always the easiest thing, of course: just being able to speak English while traveling. But not in every country is that easily possible. In Colombia, for example.
In the most popular backpacker hostels, they often speak a few words of English, as do people in the popular highlights. More and more educated young people are also speaking a little English, although holding a complete conversation in English is almost never possible. In general, English is spoken poorly or not at all in Colombia.
Do you want to really get to know Colombia? Then speaking a little Spanish is necessary. Colombians are very hospitable and friendly people who love to chat. And as a traveler, it’s also incredibly fun to learn more about the people. To talk to them and hear about how they live.
Also, to communicate normally, pay in the supermarket and at the bus station, at least basic knowledge of the Spanish language is a must. You can also travel through Colombia without Spanish, but that makes the experience a lot less fun. Plus you will have a pretty tough time at times.
2. Get off the beaten path
I am often asked if traveling in Colombia off the beaten path is actually safe. Apparently, there are many travelers who only visit the highlights because it might be unsafe in other places. Not at all necessary: off the beaten path in Colombia is not more unsafe than the highlights. Far from it. After all, where there are more tourists there are often more pickpockets and people know better how to get money out of you.
It is helpful to know, however, that not all areas are safe. Read more about safety in Colombia here.
Traveling off the beaten path in Colombia is not at all difficult and often very easy to combine with the highlights. For example, from Villa de Leyva don’t go straight to Barichara, but make a stop at Lago de Tota. It’s just on the route.
Just like Honda: from there, buses go to destinations all over the country. Or, for example, go paragliding in Sopó instead of in Medellín or San Gil. You can also have a great time for two or three weeks in Cundinamarca, Boyacá and Santander. Almost everyone skips the places outside the highlights, even though it is so beautiful and fun. Check out travel itineraries Colombia off the beaten path here.
3. Stay away from backpacker hostels
If you want to interact with locals and see more than other tourists, don’t go to a typical backpackers party hostel. If you like that, alternate with non-backpacker hostels. For example, check out these 7 most beautiful hotels in Colombia off the beaten path in nature.
The big cities can be quite sociable; there you have less contact with locals and there are often fewer opportunities off the beaten path. Outside the big cities, there are so many beautiful hotels to stay in. Such special fincas and locations. In places you will never forget. Often far away from everything. Sometimes without Internet and sometimes difficult to reach without a car. But in Colombia, there is a solution for everything.
My favorite hotels in Colombia (so far):
- Ecohotel La Cabaña in Salento (read more)
- Jardín Colibrí in Guatavita (read more)
- Casa Agrreste in Sopó
- Hostal Bugambil in Sopó
- Casa Yerbabuena in Toca (read more)
- Hotel Casa Belle Epoque in Honda (read more)
- Antara-Tipi in Guasca
4. Immerse yourself in the country and its sights
Applies, of course, to any country you want to get to know: immerse yourself in its culture, people, customs and sights.
I’m not talking about mapping out the route, but knowing what’s going on in a country and what culture is actually like. Especially in Colombia, good preparation is helpful. Not only because of safety, but also so you know what to bring. For example, Colombia has a rather bizarre climate. It’s helpful to know what to bring to prevent any unpleasant surprises. This way, you can fully enjoy what the country has to offer and you won’t have to go through the mud on your flip-flops or sneakers.
Colombia has an awful lot of attractions such as museums, churches, parks and much more. I often find that travelers have no idea what there is to do where they are. In any case: there is often more to do than meets the eye.
For example Popayán: no idea why many consider that a boring city. There are so many interesting museums and the surroundings are beautiful. I could have stayed there for days more.
Or take Bogotá. There are very few tourists who find this a nice city and advise others to stay there for only 1 or 2 days. If you are only in Colombia for a short time I totally understand, but if you have the time Bogotá is actually a lot of fun to explore. You can easily stay there for a week or even more to explore the city and the surroundings: there is so much to do and see!
Read up and discover Colombia: there is more than meets the eye.
5. Make a little effort to get somewhere
Traveling in Colombia is very easy. You can go anywhere by bus, even to the most remote villages, and the plane also lands in lots of places. But if you go off the beaten path, it can get trickier and it takes more time. Or maybe there are destinations you would like to go to, but you don’t know exactly how. A shame if you just skip it for that reason.
Make a little effort and figure out how to get somewhere. Ask on the street, at the bus station or at your hotel. Or go to one village first and there you’ll figure out how to get to the other village. Ask someone who knows someone who lives there (Colombians know someone everywhere). Or rent a car in Colombia and drive there yourself.
Colombians are very helpful and will always help you. So do you know a place you’d like to visit, but it’s not so easy to get there? Then make it a fun challenge! By the way, if you want to travel relaxed and arrange as little as possible, this may not be for you….
6. Traveling in Colombia: take your time
These days, slow travel is becoming increasingly popular. I too am a big fan of staying longer in one place to get to know it better. Colombia is perfect for slow travel.
You can easily travel in Colombia for a few months anyway, but it makes it even more fun if you actually stay longer in one destination. Why rush to visit Valle de Cocora, Salento and a coffee plantation in just one day, while you could easily stay there for four days to get to know the area.
There are also often interesting museums and natural areas that are less well known. Even if you’re going backpacking, it’s fine to explore the country in a different way.
If you only have three weeks in Colombia, this may not be an option, although you could also choose to explore only two departments and save the rest for another visit. For example, only Eje Cafetero and Cundinamarca. But do you have the time? Then you can stay longer in a destination to get to know it well. You will love it!
Do you also love really getting to know a country? Traveling like a local? Or are you more into fast travel and seeing only the highlights?
Would you like to travel in Colombia off the beaten path but find it exciting or don’t know how? Then you can also ask a local to help you. Via Local Hero Travel you will get in touch with Sjors, who will work with you to put together your trip. Curious? Click here for more information.
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