We know that Colombia is a fantastic place and most people who have visited the country agree. However, changing stereotypes and perceptions takes time and we are also very aware of the negative image that Colombia still has in most people’s minds.
We hope that word of mouth and informative articles like the ones contained in our blog will contribute at least a little to gradually change this negative image or our country.
If you have been following our blog for a while you are surely familiarised with the concept of our monthly interview. The idea is to let people who have actually been to Colombia describe their experience in their own words: The good and the bad; Colombia as seen by a foreigner who experienced it firsthand.
This month our guest interviewees are Meiqiong and Sean, a lovely couple currently based in London.
We would like to wholeheartedly thank Meiqiong and Sean for taking the time to answer our questions and share their views on Colombia with us. If you are considering visiting Colombia, we hope you find their experience interesting and insightful.
Until next time,
the Uncover Colombia team
-Hello, Tell us something about yourselves (Where are you from, who you are and/or what you do?)
Hi, we are Meiqiong and Sean, from China and Ireland. We met and now live in London.
-Why did you decide to visit Colombia?
We are always looking for original adventures away from over developed tourist destinations. Luckily for us, we’d gotten to know a couple of Colombian friends in London. We fell in love with the people, the Latin life style, and the stories they told, so we decided to go and see Colombia for ourselves. Our friends kindly offered to host us in their country while they were back for a long break.
-What sort of things did you like?
We spent 3 weeks in Colombia in September, which proved to be too short, especially as we tried to cover a bit of everything. We knew we’d love the warm-hearted people from our experience with our Colombian friends. What we didn’t expect was the diversity in the country’s landscape, colour, history, and culture. There was one occasion where we drove from Bogota up on the plateau to a villa down on the plains, which was only 40 minutes away by a car. By the time we reached the villa, we’d had to change from winter jackets into shorts and t-shirts.
There are many places in Colombia we are fond of, but the highlights are:
- High altitude capital city Bogota – surrounded by mountains, the city rises and falls along the hills, full of life and buzz. Bogota is an old city rising to the call of the modern world. Like any other fast-developing old city, each district in Bogota offers the visitors different characters and things to see and to do. The city is arranged along a grid system and the streets are numbered accordingly, so it is reasonably easy to find your way around even when you don’t speak Spanish. What we also loved (and were surprised to find out) was that they have car-free roads on Sundays where cyclists and roller-bladers can go freely with their wheels on! Definitely a fantastic idea to encourage people to give up on driving around and a great atmosphere to join in! Oh, for gentlemen’s information, you’ve got to try out a manicure in a Bogota beauty salon! It is apparently popular there for men to have clean and very-shining nails! It is also not uncommon for men to have other beauty treatments! Well, I guess they have found out the fun we girls have been secretively enjoying!
- The classic city of Cartagena. Colonial history has definitely left its marks in Cartagena’s old town. There are grand and classic buildings everywhere. The lovely warm breeze from the ocean brings life into the ancient town. Green trees gently dance away in the cool breeze, projecting interesting light and shadows onto the gorgeous and colourful buildings. Sunset watching at St Maria Bar on the city wall is absolutely the best way to begin a chilled night out. We had amazing seafood at a nice outdoor restaurant next to the sea with live jazz all night through. If you fancy a romantic retreat, there are not that many places that can beat Cartagena!
- Puerto Nariño: a small port town a short trip up the Amazon from Leticia, the mayor created a competition program to incentivise people to maintain their gardens. The result, the town has become the prettiest in Colombia. Little local houses with beautiful front gardens up the side of the hill – every house was a little show itself!
- Paipa – this is definitely off the beaten track. We went there simply because our friends’ friends live there but there is plenty else to recommend it. We all (girls and boys) had a muddy spa! It was basically a muddy pool with hot spring where you jump in and get swollen by the warm mud. It is said the mud is full of minerals which do wonders for your body. Well, good for the body or not, it definitely lift our spirits! We had a good mud fight in the pool! Great fun!
- Vivid colour: Nature or man-made, colour bursts out at you from everywhere. I’m lost for words, so I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took during the trip to speak for me.
-What didn’t you like?
A ‘tribal’ experience during Amazon trip: At one minute you see the village people wearing jeans and modern T-shirts, then next minute you see them dressed up in tribal costume dancing in a hut. We are not convinced this is the best way to show how tribal life used to be.
-What was your favourite experience?
For us, it is about being able to mingle with the locals. This is to see Colombia in its true colours, as an insider rather than a tourist.
- Local shopping at a corner shop in Bogota – the most exotic selection of food and stuff we’ve ever seen!
- Colombian breakfast – Thanks to our friends’ generosity we stayed at their parents’ house, which gave us the best way to experience a local way of living. We loved their breakfast. As a matter of fact, my mouth is watering as soon as I think about it! Fresh fruit and Arepas (Colombian corn pancakes) with honey and hot chocolate! It was not only delicious but also provided great energy for us for the day! We came back to London determined to carry on with that healthy breakfast, but we failed because the fruit from supermarket just didn’t taste the same!
- BBQ-ed pork, empanadas (little pasties) and churos (donut sticks) from street stalls. I have no clue what they did with them, but it was like food from heaven!
- Families and friends of our friends invited us over for numerous BBQ parties. We felt like part of the extended families even though we were only there for such a short period.
- No sign of Starbucks in Colombia! Colombia decided to have its own chain, Juan Valdez, and Colombians are all very proud of this – after all, Starbucks use their coffee beans anyway!
-Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc?
We did find most locals don’t speak much English. In more tourist-friendly cities like Cartagena, we managed to do everything with just a little Spanish. However, we’d struggle in other places, especially those off-track towns and villages. We relied quite heavily on our Colombian friends to get by.
-Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and how does Colombia compare with these countries?
Colombia has a warm-hearted personality and laid-back culture, like many South American countries. However, the real attraction of Colombia for us is the fact that it is less touristy.
-Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?
We’d heard lots of stories about drug and guerrilla problems in Colombia. Through our friends, we knew it had improved but didn’t know to what level. From a tourist point of view, we didn’t know much about the attractions in Colombia except Cartagena, so we didn’t know what to expect before our trip. That was part of the excitement!
-Did this image change after your trip?
We didn’t see/experience any danger at all during our trip. There are tourists from everywhere and everybody seems quite relaxed. Our friends did warn us not to go out late night with lots of personal possessions, and there are areas to avoid, but I guess that would apply to lots of countries. We were told during our trip that the government has confined the guerrilla into isolated areas of the Amazon basin.
-Would you like to come back?
Definitely. We’d allow more time for sure!
-What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?
If you don’t speak the language and don’t have much of time, make sure you consult someone from Colombia who knows what and where to cover. You’ll get much more out of your trip. Also, do spend time with the locals – you really learn what life is all about – live and enjoy the moment!
-Any final thoughts?
– Pack accordingly, ‘cause you can experience very different temperature from place to place.
– You’ll need at least one month to prepare your trip to cover all required medical vaccination, especially if you are planning to go to Amazon area.
- Colombia: The fallacy and The reality (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Why Colombia? (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Uncover Colombia interview: Tom’s experience learning Spanish and touring the country (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)