Local tips for visiting Colombia: a hitchhiker´s guide to the tropics

I have lived abroad for many years, and now returned home to enjoy friends and family. Since Colombia is experiencing a boom of tourism, I find myself writing recommendations for friends of friends who are visiting. I am always happy to meet people and show them around, I think this is the biggest perk of Colombia, how people are open and friendly to visitors. When I was in India, I visited a friend´s family, and his dad took vacations to show me around. He said "visitors are gifts from the gods", which is, in my opinion, pure awesomeness, and an example I try to follow. 

I have put together a set of suggestions for visitors of Colombia. They are not intended to replace your Lonely Planet, but rather as an off-the-beaten-path guide to Colombia. Some places I recommend are run by friends, as a disclaimer, but they are awesome people trying to connect with local communities. Some of this suggestions are NOT for everybody, though. If you are a little princess who refuses to eat fresh fish in an isolated island in the Caribbean, I suggest you go to a chain hotel, pollute our country and give your money away to multinational corporations. If you like backpacking, connecting with people, and having a good time, then you are our kind. This is not to say that you will be uncomfortable, I have been to many of the locations I suggest with my grandmother (who has had several heart attacks and cancer) and she enjoys them.

Finally, my uttermost recommendation for Colombia is for you to have an open mind, and a flexible schedule. Colombians, if you know any, aren´t noted for punctuality or planning skills. We are spontaneous. If a person invites you for lunch or to a summer house, they will mean it with their hearts, but they will also likely flake out. But if you meet a friend of a friend, and you have a flexible mind, you might end up in a family reunion with karaoke and a transgender stand-up comedy show (happened to me last Saturday), in an awesome house outside of one city, or awesome adventures. Do be careful, because as fun and loving Colombians are, we also have the most heartless bastards that will try to take advantage of foreigners. Trust your heart!

Enjoy, provide feedback, and tell my friends to buy me a beer when you see them!

My recommendations for places to visit in Colombia:

My two favorite places in the universe: 

Rosario Islands, near Cartagena, Isla Tijereto This is where I always celebrate New Year's Eve. A friend owns the house, and I want to go and live there some day. She rents it on Airbnb. 

Sanguare is a little ecohotel in a private reserve, one of the last places where you can see Dry Tropical Forest, a type of ecosystem that is practically extinct. It's a little pricy, but they pamper you like royalty, good healthy food, and an awesome place to see the ocean. I would like to spend my honeymoon here, I´m only missing a bride. An awesome place for scuba divers too.

A close friend has a hostel in Guatavita called La Juanita, with tons of projects involving sustainability and work with the local community.  The lake is also the location where a good amount of the collection of the Gold Museum comes from. His name is Felipe Spath, He offers both internships and paid stay at his farm. He is also involved in organizing TEDx talks in rural parts of Colombia, and in a project that aims to bring movies to remote locations with no cinemas. 

Santa Marta: Casa Níspero, a restored colonial house where you can rent rooms and feel cozy and at home, much better than a hotel.

Amazon; always worth getting to see it with your own eyes. I have a friend there who has a hostel and organizes tours. She will be able to arrange good trips into interesting places over there. Her info:lajangadaleticia@gmail.com, +573123616506 or +573114985447.

Community oriented tourism: Mambe Travel is an NGO working towards sustainable tourism engaging local communities, at diverse and spectacular locations in Colombia. 

Other places you might want to consider visiting:
-Parque Tayrona> beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, very touristy but worth visiting.
-Barichara> colonial town
-Villa de Leyva> colonial town, closer to Bogota.
-Caño Cristales> a creek with algae of many colors, running over stone. Try visiting during rainy season, since the creek is very shallow and dries up during dry season, having less algae.
-whale watching in the Pacific>  Isla Gorgona is a fantastic place, but Nuki is also worth checking out.
-Carnivals> Colombia is a place of carnivals, it's fun like no other to visit a town during festivals.


Suggestions for Bogota:

Minimal: Colombian nouvelle cuisine, very cool! be sure to try most appetizers. 
Bandido: one of the coolest and hippest restaurants in Bogota right now.
El Patio: one of the most traditional restaurants in Bogota, although it is french cuisine, it is very cozy. perfect for a romantic dinner!
Donostia: vasque cuisine, with a touch of Colombia.
Emilia Romana
La Despensa de Rafael
Nueve: a hidden spot, it is even hard to find because it is inside a boutique that seems closed once you arrive, slow food, also good for a romantic date!  
Naturalmente: my favorite vegan/vegetarian restaurant in Bogotá, one of the oldest in Colombia. Good food, decent price. Not a fancy place, US$5 lunches.


El Ciervo y el Oso: THey have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options
Andres Carne de Res or Andres DC: There you should order the arepa de Choclo and chicharron (I do not remember if you are vegetarian or not)
La Madre: It is a perfect place to have lunch while at la candelaria


There´s a vegetarian restaurant called Amaranto that I recommend, good price and healthy food.


Curiously, I think that Colombia is a place to try good burgers, with fresh ground beef, hand cut potatoes, and home-made ketchup. My favorite are La Xarcuteria, Burguer Market (currently filed for bankrupcy, don´t expect good service, but the food is still premium quality), which has different locations.


Also check out Creppe and Waffles, a chain restaurant with healthy-ish food, that I think conveys a little of our idiosyncrasy, and Wok, which has some amazing sustainable practices and serves fresh, never frozen fish.

Going out:


My favorite place is Latino Power:
If you can go to Andres Carne de Res in Chia it is not my kind of party but it is really special and you should do it at least once
Armando Records: There are cool concerts all the time
Quiebra Canto: It is mostly Latino music... Really fun

Other places:
Salome Pagano, El Bembé, La bodeguita del centro, Son Salome, Quiebracanto (there's two, but go to the one downtown).

Some of the coolest bars of the moment are:

La Tora, Le Coq, Baum. But house parties are the best in Colombia!


Art:

If you like art you should go to el Museo del Banco de la republica. Located besides the museo Botero but it has a good representation of the Colombian art.
Museo Nacional: It used to be Bogota's jail and now it is converted to a Museum. Really beautiful!


When walking around Candelaria, next to the Colonial theater (Colon) there's a hotel that has a restaurant at the top. The food is pricy, but definitely climb to the top and check it out, it has a good view and it is a colonial building, go for a juice!

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