Why we loved Colombia + the best things to do
So, what's your favourite place in Colombia?
We get asked this question by everyone we speak to about Colombia. Hands down, Salento is our favourite place to visit. Next time we visit, it's going to be the number 1 destination on our list and here's a few unique things which made us fall in love with Salento:-
- riding a horse up mountains, through streams, up to waterfalls and down some of the craziest mountain passages. As completely novice horse-riders, this was scary as hell but the horses were incredible and took on the mountain without a care in the world;
- hiking the Valle de Cocora which reminded us of Jurassic Park. The giant palm trees resembled Brachiosaurus (OK maybe just in my - Mike here - wild imagination);
- a freaking cowboy saloon with real, salt of the earth, scary-as-F Colombian cowboys. We just grabbed a beer and tried to check out the place without making eye contact or starting a fight. Also, the open-air urinals in the middle of the saloon were a unique sight
Obviously Colombia is famous for coffee and Salento is a great place to visit coffee plantations too, but these activities are the ones we'd do next time we visit.
Where to stay? Well, it depends on whether we're travelling with family, friends or by ourselves as a couple, but we picked out a few incredible places to stay in Salento including eco-resorts in the Valley de Cocora, lodges perfect for a big family and some really good budget options too.
What Should I Wear in Colombia?
If you want to dress like a local, wear regular jeans (suitable on every occasion except the most formal) and a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt.
Dresses for women are OK - you won't need to cover up like in the Middle East or places in Asia.
If you're planning a trip to Colombia, don't miss these items you might not necessarily think about:-
- this special washing soap so you can hand wash because most hotels don't have washing machines like you have in America;
- A big hat is a must pack as most of the country is hot year round;
- places in South America border Brazil and you'll come into contact with lots of travellers who've visited Zika virus infected areas. Special mosquito bracelets are a great idea.
For more tips, check out our South America packing check list.
Safety: is it as dangerous as Narcos?
No, thankfully, and locals are at pains to get rid of that reputation and be over-the-top welcoming to tourists.
We discuss staying safe in Colombia in our Medellin guide.
What's the best way to commute?
Colombia is one of the few places in South America where you can find cheap flights.
That said, some places you'll want to visit - like Salento - can't be reached by direct flights.
Fortunately, Colombia has an advanced bus system with much higher quality buses than you'll find in North America.
Overnight buses are common and are made do-able because the buses feature "cama" seats. Cama meaning "bed".
Think of these type of seats like premium economy - business class on airlines.
If you prefer not to plan your travel long in advance, or put it another way - if you're last-minute planners like us - then travelling by bus is a great option.
Colombia Travel Statistics
I don't know about you but I always feel more comfortable about opinions when they're backed up with solid data.
So even though we can tell you first hand that we met with locals who were incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic to embrace tourists - there's a few statistics about Colombia tourism which will explain why.
- Colombia welcomed 6.8 million foreign tourists in 2018, up over 10% from 6.1 million foreign visitors in 2017 (MinCIT, 2019)
- The travel / tourism industry generated $5.8 billion for Colombia in 2018 (Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT), 2019)
- Colombia's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT) has lofty goals of generating $40 billion in tourism revenues by 2022 (MinCIT, 2019)
- There are over 200 direct flights from the US to Colombia every week, which equates to over 16.7 million seats per annum (16.7 million seats (Export.gov, 2017)
So what do these statistics show us? Colombia is open and ready for tourists, which supports our personal experience of this fascinating destination.