At the very top of South America, Colombia is the only country in South America surrounded by both the Caribbean Sea (to the North) and the South Pacific Ocean (to the West). Colombia has often been seen as a 'dangerous' country, with parents often being worried when their younger loved ones tell them they will be heading there on there travels. But, as with everything in life, don't make judgements until you have been to that place yourself. In Colombia, long gone are the days of Pablo Escobar and the craziness that he brought to the country.
1. THE PEOPLE
Of all the countries we travelled through in South America, I have to say the Colombian people were the most hospitable and friendly. In fact, they are probably some of the happiest and friendliest people I have come across in all my life. I believe this is partly as a result of overcoming the difficult times of Pablo Escobar and the distraught that this brought to the lives of the people in the country. As cycle tourists we saw the true Colombia, not just the tourist spots. Travelling through the country by bicycle we were able to experience the kind heartedness of the Colombian people. It started just after crossing the border into the country from Ecuador, with a local and his family inviting us to stay at his place only 10 minutes after calling him in response to some bike tourists passing us in the opposite direction. Upon arriving at his house (which was also the local petrol station) we were invited inside, where we met his family and a number of other travellers he happened to be hosting! Whilst this was Colombia and therefore the shower was cold and the space to sleep for the night was a dilapidated garage, the kindness of this man to welcome us in without knowing us at such short notice was something special, and a sign of something to continue on our way North.
On another instance we were invited back to a keen cyclists farmhouse after meeting him getting repairs done in the bike shop. We had a dogged day riding in the heat and our bikes were worse for wear. With nowhere to sleep that night we quickly accepted his offer to follow him back through the beaten track to his second home. Not only did his family cook us dinner that evening, but they also left us with the place to ourselves and breakfast for the morning, being a London boy this would be unheard of back home. I also spent a whole week living with a family in Bogota at the end of my time in Colombia. The love the Colombian people have for their country is a beautiful thing to see. Not only did I feel welcomed in by this family but Jorge Cruz the son (similar age to myself) took me around the whole of Bogota on his bike. His desire to learn about other peoples cultures and languages as well as travel and explore the world was inspiring.
But it wasn't just the kindness and openness that made me fond of the Colombian people, it was also there:
PASSION - The Colombians don't do things half hearted, they are fiery characters just like most of the other South American countries. The Colombians will stand up and be heard.
CALM - Unlike the Brits, the Colombians live a much more laid back way of life, whilst this isnt always great when somethings needs getting done, I do feel that life should be lived a little more this way, not stressing about the smaller things in life. Being grateful for the simplistic things like food, family and friends.
2. THE PLACES
The diversity of landscape in Colombia was quite special, and what made it possible one of my favourite countries in South America. There are few countries in the world that offer Caribbean coastlines, deep jungle, national parks, colonial cities, fresh green countryside and UNESCO World Heritage sites. After only a day of cycling in Colombia we were left jaw-struck by the magnificent rolling green hills, and whilst they may have left our legs a little worse for wear, our eyes were definitely appreciative. Whether you are travelling through the country by foot, bike, car or bus don't fall asleep, keep those eyes wide open because the scenery is spectacular. Some of my favourite spots included:
1. Caribbean Coastline
2. Guatape - Visit the famous Guatape Rock and overlook the amazing surroundings
3. Medellin - The city of Eternal sunshine, this place always has something going on and plenty to do
4. Coffee Farm Region - In the centre of Colombia (Manizales, Pereira, Armenia)
3. THE PARTIES
In Colombia one thing is for certain, the people like to party! But there parties don't necessarily mean getting absolutely wasted and causing fights or acting like idiots like in the UK. The Colombian people love to dance (salsa, bachata....) I loved the party culture here, lots of music and dancing, family and friends. Whilst there was always plenty of beer being drunk, at no point did people feel they had to be intoxicated to dance or have a good time. Unfortunately we didnt spend time in Cali, but this is the home of Sala, and I'm sure would have been home to many fun salsa clubs. We did however get to experience the 'fiesta' in Medellin and it was a night to remember. There is definitely no shortage of places to go out, with Paqrue Lleras providing a hotspot for both locals and tourists to have a casual drink outdoors before heading to a bar or club.
Barranquilla is home of the famous Carnival, second biggest in South America after Brazil. During the carnival, Barranquilla's normal activities are paralysed because the city gets busy with street dances, musical and masquerade parades. Barranquilla's Carnival includes dances such as the Spanish paloteo, African congo, and indigenous mico y micas. Many styles of Colombian music are also performed, most prominently cumbia, and instruments include drums and wind ensembles. The Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed a Cultural Masterpiece of the Nation by Colombia's National Congress in 2002.
But what probably appealed to me the most was the open and relaxed casual party atmosphere on a Sunday, where families and friends would hit the bars and streets to dance and share food and drink. The local old boys would buy beers to share and sit in their open off licenses sharing stories, and playing cards or chess.
Despite the hardships this country has suffered it is a place of happiness and passion, love and beauty.
This country definitely has it all! If you are ever thinking about travelling to Latina America make sure this one is on your list!