Colombia – first impressions

We arrived in Bogotá, Colombia the 12th of August 2015. Now, we have been traveling in South America more than 1 year …

Btina Yago Backpacking Colombia 2015

Check Btina’s Blog -> www.GreenTina.com for more details in German. We never have been learning this much in such a “short” time. It’s amazing. Moving from Paraguay to Bolivia and then to Colombia was great, because diversity is at it’s maximum in Colombia. Currently, we are seeking for a place to reload the batteries a few weeks.

Bogotá and its metropolitan area have a 13 Million population

We stayed for a long week in the capital Bogotá to start. Well prepared and visited some friends in the city. Believe me, Bogotá is cold. Bogotá can be very hot too. And then in the next 30 minutes cold again.

Bogota Colombia Metropolitan

The climate is very challenging there. Never less, we had a great time. The local food is quite tasty. Well we liked it. :-) And the portions are not to small :-) We even managed to visit, the not so far located, region of Guayabal, Cundinamarca. A friend of us, has a ecological farm there and it’s just so different from the capital, even it’s not 2 hours away by car. Lot’s of beautiful Guadua (bamboo) and many fruits. Of course also way to many cows – like almost every where …

Minca Colombia Bamboo

Jungle flower Sierra Nevada Colombia

 

Candelaria district in Bogotá

One of the places we really enjoyed is the, so called, La Candelaria.

Bogota Candelaria Colombia

Which is not just the oldest part of the city but also kind of a evolving, living museum with it’s massive art movement, particularly graffiti, which has become a major, respected medium in the city. We have been discovering beautiful murals and graffiti mostly in La Candelaria district but also in the rest of the metropolitan Bogotá. Oh BTW we visited the world famous Museo del Oro del Banco de la Republica, the Museum Botero and the Casa de la Moneda for free no entry fee at all on a Sunday in Bogotá, Colombia. Wow. And best thing comes here. We where totally allowed to take as many photographs as we liked. This was always a big issue in Switzerland – I have no idea why they have such a paranoia of photography there. We had a fantastic Sunday visiting and exploring those 3 Museum in Bogotá while the rain was washing the roofs of Bogotá.

Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 10

Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 11

Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 2

Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 9
Image: Mural artist creating stunning art work in the Candelaria district of Bogota

 

Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 1  Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 4 Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 5 Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 6 Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 7 Bogota Colombia Art Grafitti 8     Colombia - Bogota - Bario

Santa Marta, Colombian Caribbean Coast

The top north part of Colombia edges with the Caribbean Ocean. It’s a mix of urban cities and jungle (Sierra Nevada). Santa Marta is South America’s oldest surviving city and the second most important colonial city on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast after Cartagena de Indias. The city center of Santa Marta is colonial.

Colombia, Santa Marta

Btina in Santa Marta Colombia Caribbean Colors
Image: Btina with the white Colombian hat wandering trough the colorful Caribbean streets of Santa Marta

We found a good Hostel to stay the first few days called Masaya Hostel.

Colombia, Santa Marta - Colonial Santa Marta, Hostel Masaya

It’s clearly one of the top Hostels of Santa Marta in a well kept Colonial building in the center of the city. They have two small pools. One of them in the first floor and one in the roof top near the bar. The mattress and shower where absolutely great. The breakfast was – like most Hostels in South America so far – something you can get in any Hostel of the world; Two slices white bread with butter and marmalade. Some fruit juice and a little fruit salad with coffee or tea. Not bad but for one of the most diverse countries in the planet why not offer a variation of tropical fruits? This is the real local luxury. We believe.

FRUVE frutas verdura bogota colombia
Image: So called “Fruve” shopping hall with a immense fruit and vegetable diversity in Bogota, Colombia

 

The good thing being in Colombia is, that most of the time the coffee is really good :-)

Sierra Nevada

The mountains near the Caribbean Ocean reach high – the magical Sierra Nevada peak, is more than 5700 meters (18,700 ft) above Sea level. It’s the world’s highest coastal range. Sierra Nevada is a relatively small area, and completely surrounded by lands with elevations below 200 meters. This is why we choose this as first destination after arriving in the Capital – Bogotá. We have been exploring the region even there are not many roads in the Sierra Nevada. Historically speaking, before the tourist era (today) it had the Coca fields and before the Marijuana crops, which invaded most of the Sierra Nevada.

Taganga

After our stay in the Masaya Hostel we moved to the fisher village located 25 driving minutes away from the center of Santa Marta called Taganga. It was great to see the sun set of the Caribbean Ocean in Taganga. Many have been there.

Taganga Colombia Sun Set

Many have told us different experiences of visiting Taganga so we had to give it a try our selves, for a few days to. Taganga seems to be a great place if you are into diving or snorkeling – today. We found a great French restaurant called “Pachamama” in the small town too. We decided to stay a a local AirBnB apartment which was a good decision after seeing most of the Hostels being booked full or just not suitable for both of us. Casa Mandala from Paula (originally from Medellin) and Victor (scuba diving teacher from Spain) was a very nice place to stay. They have a small paradise in Taganga. The village is now located in a desert type of micro-climate. Locals have cut all existing trees and there is no water in Taganga. All water is being transported with big trucks from Santa Marta to fill the water tanks of every. The village is overpopulated with tourist which like to consume drugs and it’s not safe to walk in the village during the night. Nothing happened to us but we where tired and went to sleep early most of the time anyway :-)

Caribbean Coast Colombia

Image: Caribbean Coconut Landscape near Buritaca, Tayrona, Santa Marta

 

Buritaca – Rancho Relaxo

After Taganga we headed more north. To a hostel called “Rancho Relaxo” at 5 minutes from the very little coastal village of Buritaca. We had found the place researching for permaculture and eco hostels / projects. They are linked with the Costeño Beach Surf Camp Ecolodge. Well, today many claim to be ecological.

Rancho Relax natural pool Caribbean Colombia

Image: The natural pool (without chemicals) which was a bit at the limit with 35 guests

On the website of Rancho Relaxo they claim that their goal is to be totally self-sufficient by developing permaculture projects designed to support the guests and staff. It sounded very interesting for us. We staying a few days in a private cabana which was not bad at all – with a good mattress and mosquito net, no walls with a big natural roof. The temperature was good no need to turn the fan on during the night.

Rancho Relaxo, Colombia Nightlife

The biggest issue there for us was, that other guest seemed to have endless energy to party all night long until early morning hours with the aid of illegal drugs… So not so “relaxo”. Well it’s kind of sad but some young people have no idea of the issues which drugs have brought to countries like Colombia and think it’s super duper cool to consume drugs. It seems that to many young tourist believe Colombia and other south American countries such as Bolivia, where we witnessed the same issue, are the best places to consume illegal drugs. I’m sure they will change their minds once they spend a few nights in a south American prison … Don’t get my wrong, I know that many people do drugs in Europe and Switzerland or, and, of course the United States as well. But it’s kind of very ignorant to Colombia, to think it’s cool to do drugs here. Many local think oh here comes another one of those Gringos (Every non Colombian is a Gringo) which will party all night and take all the possible drugs. I have been searched by the Police for drugs in Taganga, Colombia and I think it’s good they do something about it. In Bolivia it was similar. Some people go there to do cheap drugs. There are stupid people every where, I guess … well, the night was way to loud at Rancho Relaxo and the last night we spend in the hammock a bit further away and luckily that night, there was no party and we had a great sleep. The price to stay at the Rancho Relaxo Hostel is actually not expensive.

Rancho Relax Kitchen Colombia

Breakfast is included in the price which is good. Only the portions are small. Two pancakes and half a Banana is a start in the breakfast but nothing like a breakfast. Same thing here again. Almost no local tropical fruits available at the Hostel. What a pity. We went to one of the neighboring villages (5 min. by Mototaxi) to get some very tasty tropical fruits. Here again the kitchen was mainly US style in the few days we spend there Pankaces and Sandwiches. Once I asked for Arepas and the next morning we had some fine tasting “Arepas de mais” for breakfast which was indeed cool. On the website they claim “We also accomodate vegetarians and lactose-gluten free travellers.” Well in real life the chief master cook was not very amused when we asked for Btina gluten-free food. Claiming he has a lot of people and etc … it’s always good to see theory and real world. Most of the staff of the Rancho Relaxo Hostel was actually very friendly and nice to us. The location is pretty practical and we went to Palomino on a day trip and also to the Ecological Farm, not so far away of the Rancho Relaxo.

Rancho Relaxo, Colombia Kitchen

Rancho Relaxo, Colombia - Bar

La Ciudad Perdida

One of the many highlights of the Sierra Nevada region is the “La Ciudad Perdida” (The Lost City) which actually was never lost. The local Indians had done a great job, not-telling the Spanish Conquistador-es that there was a city up in the mountain… Déjà vu in Peru Machu Picchu. They always knew. The “Ciudad Perdida” was built over 1000 years ago. To get there you have to hike several days up deep into the Sierra Nevada. We actually hiking the old “Lost City” trek just a few days ago and it was beautiful but quite hot and tiring.

Santuario y Finca Ecológica Quebrada del Plátano treck

Old lost city treck Sierra Nevada Colombia

We only needed to hike about 4.5 km following the river of Buritaca into the mountain to visit a Ecological Farm – Santuario y Finca Ecológica Quebrada del Plátano. Mono (Belgian) and Monica (Colombian) where great host and we had fabulous typical Colombian meals without gluten – for Btina.

Santuario y Finca Ecológica Quebrada del Plátano 1 Colombia

Sierra Nevada Compost Toilett

Cacao tree in Sierra Nevada Colombia

Sierra Nevada Pineapple tropical fruit

Santuario y Finca Ecológica Quebrada del Plátano - Cacao Santuario y Finca Ecológica Quebrada del Plátano - 0 Santuario y Finca Ecológica Quebrada del Plátano - Noni

Paso del Mango

Regarding the lost city. We randomly found the little sister of “the lost city” in the much less visited mountain region called Paso del Mango near Santa Marta. We stayed a few days in the hills which have still jungle, farms, and many spectacular smaller and bigger waterfall mountain streams. From Bonda with the Mototaxi it took us about 25 minutes to get there.

Paso del Mango Colombia River

Mango in Paso del Mango Colombia

Paso del Mango Colombia

In Paso del Mango we found a Hostel with good satellite Internet connection – otherwise no mobile antennas in that region. We stayed a few days at the Finca Carpe Diem, a Belgian-owned Hostel with a pool fueled by the river water and some natural river jacuzzi. In walking distance is the Reserva Biologica Caoba. Which have been reforesting their natural reserve for more than 10 years. It’s another magical place to visit. The 10,000 pesos per person entry fee is well invested here. They have a beautiful river access with the crystalline clear water.  “El pozo del Indio” where you can find original Tayrona petroglyph showing the good of all goods – Sintana – according to the Kogui indians. There is even a real Kogui bridge which was built by 10 Koguis using traditional materials and ancient methods.

Kogui bridge in the Sierra Nevada, Colombia

Another neighbor there is a Cacao Farm. Which grows and sells cacao and chocolate. We had to test the chocolate and it passed the swiss test :-)

Wandering in the hills of Paso del Mango we discovered a family of wild monkeys hanging in the top branches of some very tall Guadua bamboo.

Another highlight we have not been able to visit this time but a few year ago back in 1997 was the now world famous “Parque Tayrona” (UNESCO site). One of the most beautiful places on the planet. There is a long stretch of Caribbean coastline where the beaches are largely untouched and jaw dropping.

That’s it so far with Colombia. More to follow in future.

Stay tuned.

 

Ya Go

Founder PermaTree.org, Photography, Permaculture, Off-grid, DIY, Healthy lifestyle.