Uncover Colombia Interview: Em and Chris’ experience in Colombia

This week we bring you another edition of our monthly interview. This time we talked to Em and Chris, who visited Colombia during their trip to South America. They didn’t have Colombia in their initial plan but they changed their mind when they met other travellers and heard stories about their experiences in Colombia.

We would like to thank Em and Chris for taking the time to answer our questions and share their photos of Colombia with us and our readers. If you want to read more about Em and Chris travel adventures you can visit their blog: http://chemadventures.wordpress.com/

Happy travels!

The Uncover Colombia team

1. Tell us something about yourself (Where are you from? who you are and/or what you do?)

Em is a lawyer from South Africa who loves sunshine and the outdoors. Chris is a physicist from London who specialises in locating, tasting and reviewing any different food a country has to offer. We got married in April 2012 and immediately started dreaming about a long honeymoon so, at the start of 2013, we quit our jobs and headed to South America. We are currently in Southern Africa and plan to move onto Asia in the next few months.

Us walking in the Valle de Cocora

Us walking in the Valle de Cocora

2. Why did you decide to visit Colombia?

When we planned our trip to South America we booked a flight into Buenos Aires and out of Bogotá. At the time, we weren’t sure exactly where our travels would take us and knew that there was a possibility we might simply fly into Colombia to catch our outbound flight. This idea didn’t last long. As we travelled through South America we met so people travelling in the opposite direction who were literally glowing with enthusiasm for Colombia. So, we cancelled our plans for Ecuador and northern Peru and dedicated 4 weeks of our trip just to Colombia.

3. What sort of things did you like?

The scenery in Colombia – to put it simply – overwhelmed us. Our trip started in Salento (in the coffee region) where we couldn’t seem to keep our eyes off the changing landscape passing by our bus window. In particular, the walk through the Valle de Cocora was exceptional. We loved seeing all the hummingbirds and those strikingly tall wax palm trees.

Wax Palm Trees

Wax Palm Trees

Another thing we loved was the variety of fresh fruit available throughout Colombia. We tried as many as new varieties as we could and quickly developed a list of fruit that we needed to export back to London.

Fruits

Fruits

4. What didn’t you like?

Our biggest disappointment was that we couldn’t see everything in 4 weeks. We had to make some big decisions about what to see and what to leave for another trip. We are huge salsa fans and I think our hardest decision was to miss out Cali – Colombia’s home of salsa.

5. What was your favourite experience?

Our favourite experiences are the ones that happen when we least expect them. When we were planning our tour of the Caribbean coast, we considered leaving out Tayrona National Park. We had heard rumours that the park fees were high, there was no budget-friendly accommodation except hammocks and camping and that getting there involved a 2 hour hike with all your luggage and supplies. Thankfully, we put our reservations to one side and decided to go for it. We left our luggage at a hostel and jumped on a local bus to the park entrance. The walk from there was beautiful and 2 hours was simply not enough to enjoy the forest that stretches down onto the beach. When we arrived at the beach I think we finally understood what the word ‘paradise’ means. We couldn’t get enough of the warm clear blue sea and the empty beaches just waiting for us. Sleeping in a hammock in the open was absolute bliss and the only regret we had was that we did not set aside more time to stay.

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

Another favourite (there are two of us so we think we are allowed two) was spending days in Cartagena’s old walled city. The beautiful quaint streets are full of quirky buildings and some of the best street food we tasted on our trip. Our particular favourites were the fresh fruit sellers, sweet sellers and the very welcome tinto (strong shots of sweet coffee) sellers.

The streets of Cartagena

The streets of Cartagena

Tinto

Tinto

6. Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc

The only place we had some difficulty was on the Caribbean coast. We had heard about lovely beaches but we had a budget but there was very little information online about booking cheaper accommodation or getting public transport to the more remote beaches. There were several occasions when we had to just set off and hope for the best. Happily, everything worked out perfectly (local advice was priceless!) and we made sure we recorded as much as possible to share on our own blog with future travellers in the same position.

The view from our beachside cabana on Playa Blanca

The view from our beachside cabana on Playa Blanca

7. Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and how does Colombia compare with these countries?

Before reaching Colombia we visited Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. We loved every country we visited but we both agree that Colombia tops the list. It is a country of incredible diversity and truly offers something for everyone. Chris was taken in by the friendly people and the food – especially the fresh fish on the coast. Em couldn’t get enough of the beautiful landscapes and quaint little towns. She also seemed to develop an addiction to cocadas (traditional Colombian sweets).

Cocadas

Cocadas

8. Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?

We were nervous about forming any set image of Colombia since neither of us had ever been there and we didn’t actually know anyone who had. However, almost automatically, we developed a weariness around safety which we did not know whether to take seriously or not. The overwhelming response we had from other travellers in South America was that it was an incredible country full of friendly people and some of the most amazing places we could hope to see.

9. Did this image change after your trip?

Every positive thing we had heard en route to Colombia was confirmed from the first day we arrived. We had 4 incredible weeks filled with diverse experiences from sleeping in a hut on an isolated beach to lounging in a mud volcano. The people in Colombia were so friendly and welcoming – we even had a wonderful family in Villa de Leyva offer us a room in their house when the hostel we had hoped to stay in was full!

10. Would you like to come back?

Definitely! We found out very quickly that 4 weeks was only going to give us a taste for what Colombia had to offer. There are many things that we couldn’t do because we ran out of time and we have a feeling that Colombia might be one of those countries that we keep going back to.

11. What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?

The distances in Colombia are vast and the buses are among the more expensive in South America but don’t be put off as you can get very reasonably priced flights. Spend as long as you can exploring the beaches on the Caribbean coast and don’t forget that there are plenty of idyllic locations outside the main cities – try Villa de Leyva, only 4 hours by bus from Bogota.

The impressive plaza major in Villa de Leyva

The impressive plaza major in Villa de Leyva

12. Any final thoughts?

If you’ve always wanted to own a hammock, Colombia is the place for you. We came away with 4!

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