Reporting to you live from Cali, Colombia. I’m so happy to be blogging about my travel adventures once more, and I can’t wait for you to read all about them.
I’ve been waiting to travel to Colombia for 22 years. My dad and his family are from Colombia. Having lived in Cali, Palmira, and Barranquilla, he later left his country to pursue a different life and has returned only a couple of times. I’d been begging to go for so long as I wanted to learn more about my Colombian roots. Finally, my aunt planned the trip to celebrate my graduation, and what a gift it has been!
The voyage started in Cartagena, which is on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I felt at home right away. The city reminded me so much of Old San Juan with its tropical weather, sandy beaches, and Spanish architecture. During the night, we embarked on a Chiva, which is a bus with a handful of musicians playing typical folk songs as the bus took us along the city. In short, it was a party on wheels. The bus made stops along the walled city where we enjoyed a presentation of Cumbia music and dances. We danced the night away til our feet hurt!
The next day, we woke up really early to make our way to Barranquilla and Santa Marta. In Barranquilla, we passed along the new and old parts of the city, and we even stopped to take a quick look at Shakira’s home.
We then headed to Santa Marta and visited La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the ranch where Simón Bolívar passed away. Though Venezuelan by blood, Simón Bolívar fought for the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Perú, Panamá, and Ecuador, which is why he was titled Libertador.
We proceeded to tour around the city before heading to the beach. I must say, I thought there would be no place hotter than Puerto Rico, but boy did I find it!!! Santa Marta was SO HOT. I’m sure I burned more calories just sitting there in the sun than I have working out at the gym. Regardless, it’s such a candid city, and the beaches were spectacular!
On our way back, we strolled through Barranquilla once more before making our way to Cartagena. Upon our arrival, we freshened up and went to the walled part of the city to explore the nightlife, and to our luck, it greeted us festively. Colombians love Salsa, but above all, they love to dance. If and when you come to visit, make sure your dancing skills are on point, cause these people don’t fool around when it comes to dancing (thankfully, neither do I).
The following day, we visited the Totumó Volcano where we bathed in mud! This was so much fun. You can’t really swim because it’s so thick, so you have to keep trying to find your balance as you float. After 40 minutes, you’re skin is left feeling softer than a baby’s bottom. And no, taking all the mud off wasn’t a hassle!
We cleaned up quickly in order to tour around Cartagena for the rest of the day and night. It’s such a stunning city. I found myself thinking I was in Puerto Rico so many times. Of course, both countries were conquered by Spain and like Puerto Rico, Cartagena is in the Caribbean coast. It makes sense that there would be so many similarities. I guess that’s the beauty of history, culture, and architecture intertwined.
With sadness in our hearts, we said goodbye to Cartagena and continued our voyage to Cali. I was welcomed with hypnotic views of mountains and a new smell of fresh air. We took the night off to rest, and the next day, we did horseback riding along some of the forests and rivers of Cali.
Our adventure the following day brought us to Quindío-Panaca, which is about 4 hours from Cali. This area is more towards the country side, specifically in one of the areas where the DELICIOUS Colombian coffee is made. When we got to the hotel we had previously booked, we were told that there were no more standard rooms left, so we were bumped up to a private villa with a private pool all to ourselves. And I thought the trip couldn’t get any better! We spent the day cooling off in the pool and then spent the night listening to live Colombian folk music.
We woke up early the next day and went to the Parque de Panaca where we were able to do a little hike and see all sorts of animals. I thought I had seen all of Colombia’s mesmerizing scenery, but I was wrong. There are so many magnificent views in Colombia. I mean, they look surreal- as if God himself woke up before the crack of dawn and drew the landscape Himself. I really can’t put into words how fascinating these views are, so I’ll let the pictures do a little bit more of the talking.
The night time was extremely fun! We found out the day before that there was going to be a karaoke contest the next day, and if you know me, you know that I was THERE. Long story short, I won first place along with some prizes… not a big deal though, it really wasn’t a fair competition 😉
We enjoyed our final day in Panaca in the Parque del Café. This park has a little bit of everything: Colombian culture, coffee, and attraction rides. They also did a show based on traditional Colombian folk dances and music. It was amazing to witness the audience and performer’s pride towards their country. There’s really nothing more delightful than to see people being unified through the love for their motherland. I was also extremely happy to have enjoyed the day with two of my Colombian friends who were kind enough to meet me at the park and show me around. Perks of having friends from all over the globe!
We headed to Cali straight from the park, and I’ve spent the last few days relaxing ever since. I’ve also been able to visit my grandma after not seeing her for over 10 years. Unfortunately, she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Despite not remembering anyone anymore, I was so happy to see that she preserves her essence and the same sweet smile I remembered her for. We’ve been to some really good restaurants as well; yesterdays included a Salsa show!
Which brings us to today…I’m now (almost) all packed and will be leaving in a couple of hours. But before I wrap up, I want to add possibly the most important part of this whole post. See, I really wanted to write about this journey in Spanish, but instead, I decided to do it in English so that it could reach more people. I want EVERYONE who has the opportunity of reading this does so, because what I’m about to say is of extreme significance.
Because I had never visited Colombia in the past, I didn’t really know what it was like other than from current news, economic reports, and mouth-to -mouth (dis)information. I kept hearing people bad-mouth Colombia saying it was filled with drugs, gangs, violence, safety issues, and poverty. I want to make it clear that this has not only come from peers, but also from professors and professionals- people that are supposed to be educated. Not to mention that the U.S media has also had their fair share of promoting this practice as well.
Let’s begin with the fact that the Colombia that existed 50 years ago is a COMPLETELY different one than today’s. The drug war is pretty seamless, at least from a citizen’s point of view according to my family members who actually do live here. Also, I FELT SAFER HERE THAN I HAVE IN NEW YORK CITY! There is so much vigilance and safe modes of transportation that I NEVER felt unsafe or scared like I have in other places.
As for “poverty”, I was so surprised at how much economic development and foreign investment Colombia has, especially in Cartagena and Barranquilla where there is a lot of commercial and residential construction. There are also many domestic investments in the country’s areas of interest such as tourism and coffee. Moreover, the middle class is abundant, and the upper class is substantial. Of course, there is going to be some poverty, but it’s not nearly close to the one people made me think I was going to see. Mind all of you, I went to FIVE very different cities and did a lot of rode traveling, which expanded how much more I was able to see from the country.
Colombia is MUUUUUCH MORE advanced and developed than most people give it credit for, and for decades, it has been given a FALSE bad light (I’m looking at you U.S.A)! Read me carefully: Colombia is a country beautiful beyond words. You will be welcomed with the utmost affection by the most heart-warming people you will ever meet. You will never get tired of the captivating scenery or the country’s charm. Colombians are VERY hard workers, and best of all, they have a strong identity of who they are as a nation and LOVE their country above anything else!
So to any of you still talking sh*t about Colombia: PLEASE, come here and see for yourself- I DARE YOU! Colombia, like every country in the world, may not be perfect… but OH MY GOD, it sure is INCREDIBLY MAGICAL!