This week we bring you another edition of our travellers interview. This time we talked to Simon, who visited Colombia during his trip to South America.
We would like to thank Simon for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing his photos of Colombia with us and our readers.
The Uncover Colombia team
– Tell us something about yourself (Where are you from? who you are and/or what you do?)
I am from a small city called Preston, which is about 35 miles North West of Manchester, in the UK. I am a bit of a digital marketing geek. I’ve worked in Search and Social Media since 2004, and up to 2012 I was taking over 100 flights a year to different locations around the world. Eventually I decided I wanted to travel on my own time, and explore different countries I had never visited before. My trip took me around South America, Australia, New Zealand and China. I now work for a digital agency I co-founded (8MS.com), and spend my personal time penning travel stories on my blog – http://simonsjamjar.blogspot.co.uk.
– Why did you decide to visit Colombia?
South America was the first continent I chose when I was planning my flight route. After speaking to friends who had previously visited Colombia, they told me it was somewhere I had to visit. The way they described the Caribbean Coast, the cerviche, the freshness of the fruit, the friendliness of the people, the salsa…it sounded like a place I had to visit.
– What sort of things did you like?
Colombia was the first country I landed into from Europe. Culture shock set in immediately, but once I got a map from the hostel and wandered around, I realised it was a very friendly place. I love everyone’s passion for salsa, and how – even if you’re a beginner like me – they want you to enjoy the dancing and music as much as them. I also love the fact it blew away any preconceptions I had about the country. In many cities the people are poor, with barely a penny to their name, but they have a big smile on their face most of time. I also love the coffee. I walked through a garden in Medellin and grabbed a cafe tinto (black coffee) from a street vendor. It was the freshest, naturally sweet, most delicious coffee I’ve ever tasted.
I was also a big fan of the beaches at Playa Blanca, and the lifestyle and climate in Cartagena. I still have Cartagena listed as one of the cities in my iPhone weather app. It always brings a smile to my face when it is raining outside in the UK.
– What didn’t you like?
The ridiculously heavy rain in the Tayrona National Park! When it rains there, it really rains. Even though I took ‘waterproofs’, everything got soaked. I was wading through puddles that were up to my knees, it took forever for my clothes to dry and it broke my camera (ok, I secretly enjoyed the experience). That same night I slept in a hammock, which was a great experience, but the mosquitos found me particularly tasty – I got bitten on my eyelid and woke up in the morning looking like I’d done four rounds with Floyd Mayweather.
– What was your favourite experience?
I had many great experiences in Colombia. Perhaps my favourite story was at Volcan de Lodo El Totumo – a small, volcanic mound where you bathe in volcanic mud. After climbing down the steps, the first task is to get the mud off your body. The group I was and myself were told to follow two old Colombian women down a muddy path to a river. One of the friendly but stern women told me to sit down in the river and began washing the volcanic mud off me. It reminded me of getting a bath as a child! The rest of the group arrived, and we were all sat in the river together. We were all laughing, and then suddenly the washer women made us all take our shorts and bikinis off, as they needed washing too. It was quite the bonding experience!
– Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc?
I booked my first few nights in a hostel in Bogota (Masaya hostel), and then continued my hostel / hotel trend across the country. These were easy to find, using a combination of Hostelworld and Tripadvisor. Transport was never a problem, as both buses (some with WiFi) between cities, and planes were easy to book, and usually punctual.
– Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and how does Colombia compare with these countries?
I visited Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil in South America. Each country is very different, and has different cultures, food, and ways of life. In Peru, more people spoke English, and there is a real surge in Peruvian cuisine. They also love there surfing! Bolivia was a much poorer country, but with some amazing scenery and landscapes, such as the Salar de Uyuni. Argentina is all about the wine, steak and tango, and they are more football crazy than the English. Brazil is a lot like Colombia in my opinion. Quite laid back, love to party and dance, and have both big cities are nice beaches.
– Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?
Before I spoke to my friends, I had the stereotypical vision of drugs, cartels, crime and danger, because of the horror stories that you hear, and what the media portrays. The truth is some cities did have crime and a big police presence, and you do sense things happening near you….but that is exactly the same as Buenos Aires, New York, London and nearly every other city I’ve visited. Most cities around the world have crime and dangerous areas, you just have to streetwise about where you go, and who you go with.
– Did this image change after your trip?
Completely. I couldn’t have fonder memories of my time in Colombia. Even in Medellin, one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the 90’s, I felt comfortable walking around the main city bars and areas with others, even at night. The people are friendly, in the North, the climate is fantastic and I think Colombia is a very friendly, safe place, and has obviously changed dramatically – for the better – over the last 15 years.
– Would you like to come back?
Absolutely. I explored many areas, but there were also many places I didn’t get to visit, such as Cali and Barranquilla. I’d also like to spend more time in Bogota, as well as the South West corner of Colombia. I’d love to explore the Amazon region too. I have friends in Quito, so next time I visit, I will go and say hello. I don’t think you can truly say you’ve explored a country until you’ve visited as many places as possible.
– What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?
My first piece of advice would be to make sure Colombia is one of the first countries on your list if you’re planning on travelling around South America. It has an amazing history, incredibly friendly people, and some amazing sights. If it is on your list, spend more time there than you have planned for. There is so much to see and discover, in so many towns. Every place you go, get a map, ask for recommendations on locals bars and restaurants, and submerge yourself in the culture. Oh, and learning a little Spanish and salsa dancing will go a long way!
– Any final thoughts?
Open your eyes and ears, and soak everything in. Try and learn Spanish, dance salsa with a Colombian girl, and meet as many locals as you can. If you’re in Medellin, take the cable car up to the Santa Domingo favela. It is an incredible experience, and one that will make you question what really makes you happy. The food up at some of the street stores up there was some of the best I tasted in Colombia. I’ll be back one day 🙂
- A Holiday in Colombia February 2014 (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Uncover Colombia Interview: A 180 degree change in perception (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Uncover Colombia Interview: Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl of the Trans-Americas Journey (www.uncovercolombia.com)