Uncover Colombia interview: Tom’s experience learning Spanish and touring the country

Is Colombia a good place to learn Spanish?

In many circles it is said that the Spanish spoken in Bogota is among the best in the Spanish speaking world. The Bogotan accent is considered soft and easier to understand than in most other places in Spain and Latin-America.

Each year, more people chose Colombia for their sabbatical and spend time in Bogota learning Spanish while travelling around the country. We caught up with a former Spanish student from the UK and ask him to share his experience with our readers.

This is the second of a series of interviews with travellers from diverse backgrounds that have actually been to Colombia. We hope you enjoy it (you can read the first interview in our previous post here).

We would like to wholeheartedly thank Tom for taking the time to answer our questions and share his views on Colombia with us. If you are considering visiting Colombia, we hope you find Tom’s story interesting and insightful.

The Uncover Colombia Team

—-

-Hello, Tell us something about yourself (Where are you from, who you are and/or what you do?)

I have lived in London for 10 years.  For the first five years I worked for a travel agency focussing on independent travel for young people.  For the last five years I have worked at an accounting firm as an auditor.

-Why did you decide to visit Colombia?

After I left university in 2000 I spend 6 months travelling in South America.  I never made it to Colombia, but I met so many people who said it was the best country they had visited on their Latin American travels.  So, a few years later I decided to visit for a short 2 week holiday.  I had a fantastic time and from this point onwards I started to make a few Colombian friends – both in Colombia and ex-pats studying or working in London.  So, when I decided to take a 6 month sabbatical from work in 2010 to improve my Spanish, Colombia seemed like the obvious choice.

-What sort of things did you like?

Colombian people are generally very fun-loving, relaxed and friendly – it is easy to meet people.  Because of this, it was a great place to learn Spanish.

Accordion Festival in Chinu. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Accordion Festival in Chinu. Copyright Uncover Colombia

It’s also a big country with a massive choice of things to do.  It has both Caribbean and Pacific coast line, Andean mountains, Amazonian rainforest and loads of cultural activities too.  I was there for half a year and only saw a tiny percentage of what there is to do there.

-What didn’t you like?
Nothing really. I liked all of it!  If I had to pick something it would be that sex and drug tourism does exist in Colombia.  You can avoid it and the people it attracts quite easily.  Maybe you won’t even be aware it exists at all.  But nonetheless it is not nice that it even exists.

-What was your favourite experience?
I loved living in Bogota for 3 1/2 months studying Spanish.  I was really surprised by how much there was going on in the city.  The Spanish school was great and I met lots of interesting people there. I stayed with a family in the Chapinero Alto area of the city, which was ideally situated between the historic centre to the south (where my language school was located) and the restaurants, nightlife and shopping areas to the North.

La Candelaria - Bogota, Colombia

La Candelaria – Bogota, Colombia

My recommendations in Bogota?  The Sunday market at Usaquen. Walking round La Candelaria on a sunny day, including visiting the Donacion Botero. Taking a bike tour of the city during the Sunday Ciclovia.  The Bogota Beer Company.  The day trip to visit the Salt Catherdral at Zipaquira. And if you like shopping and eating, visiting Minimal in Chapinero Alto.

Botero's Collection Museum - La Candelaria, Bogota. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Botero’s Collection Museum – La Candelaria, Bogota. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Outside of the capital, my favourite experience was going to a 3-day accordion music festival in Chinu (a small town near the Caribbean coast).  OK – it may not sound that attractive!  But even if you think a whole festival is too much, a night out at a ‘parranda vallenata’ is a proper Colombian experience not to be missed.

Accordion festival at Chinu - Colombia. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Accordion festival in Chinu – Colombia. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Chinu - Colombia. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Chinu – Colombia. Copyright Uncover Colombia

-Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc?
The only time I had difficulties was booking hotels in Cartagena over the Christmas and New Year period.  It’s a great time to visit the coast, but the city’s accommodation was packed and I needed to book months in advance.  Even so, I actually ended up having to stay in a honeymoon suite with one of my best mates over the new year!  Enough to say that it was the first time I have stayed in a honeymoon suite and it wasn’t the romantic experience that I hoped it would be!

That being said I was located in Bogota for a long time and had friends to help me out – so I had much more time and help that most visitors to Colombia to scope out good places to stay and eat.

-Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and How does Colombia compare with these countries?
During my sabbatical I also spent one month travelling in Venezuela, which I think makes an interesting comparison with Colombia.  In terms of natural beauty and variety of tourist attractions it rivals Colombia.  But the most notable contrast was how much harder, even dangerous, it was to travel around the country.  The country just did not feel that welcoming to tourists.  I heard of, and even experienced at first hand, the kind of stories that 10 or 15 years ago you used to hear from travellers in Colombia all the time. Nowadays, it seems like the two countries have switched roles and while I had no problems at all in my time in Colombia, Venezuela was a different story…

-Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?
Because I had visited the country before and have a number of Colombian friends, I had quite an accurate image of Colombia before I arrived at the start of my sabbatical.  I knew that its dangerous reputation was based more on how things were 20 years ago than how they are now.

-Did this image change after your trip?
I was genuinely surprised by how much the country had developed in 6 years since my first 2 week holiday there.  Bogota is a busy modern city with as much going on culturally as a big European city.

-Would you like to come back?
Definitely. In fact, I am planning to go back this autumn to trek to La Cuidad Perdida in Parque Tayrona.  I would also love to visit the Pacific coast if I have time.

-What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?
Go now!  Sooner rather than later, Colombia is going to shake off its reputation that is more based on the 80’s than modern times and when it does tourism is going to take off.  Better to go now and enjoy the country before the crowds arrive.

-Any final thoughts?
Nothing else.

Accordion Player. Copyright Uncover Colombia

Accordion Player. Copyright Uncover Colombia

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