Or Querido Diario shall I say ha ha. How in the world did I end up in Colombia? I mean this place is known to have a bad reputation to Americans & they are on the USA travel advisory list for goodness sake. Nonetheless I am so glad I went. I actually had no idea who the other people were that went on this trip, I saw someone post in a travel group chat “like this status if you are interested in joining me to Colombia” – I liked it, not thinking much about it. A week later I woke up to a whole new groupme with new faces and everyone posting about what they wanted to do while we were there. It all happened so quickly & I was just going with the flow. Eventually we mapped out a rough itinerary and being that we were all from different states, we finally met up at our Airbnb.
We spent a couple days in Cartagena, which is the city that has the highest traffic for tourist and expats. And the last day we took a quick flight to Bogota.
Getting around: Cartagena is a walking city. Most places are easily accessible by walking, but taxis and Uber drivers were always available for a low price. When we weren’t with our tour guide, we used Uber to get around and spent about $30 the entire trip.
Food: The Airbnb host provided breakfast (desayuno) every morning and I looked for street food to eat throughout the day. It was easy to grab empanadas or a steak/chicken kabob as we were walking around town. As you’re walking around, there are many places where you can get a full Colombian meal for less than $5 USD.
One of the evenings you are there, you have to grab some drinks and dinner at Café Del Mar during the sunset hour (around 5:45pm). This is an outdoor restaurant that is located along the walls of the city. Here, you can find tourist enjoying the views and locals providing entertainment everywhere.
Money: The US dollar is strong compared to the Colombian peso (COP). Right now, 1 US dollar is equivalent to 2898.45 pesos. For some reason, the COP was so much harder for me to grasp than the Mexican peso. All of the money is by the thousands and the way I calculated everything was one dollar was double the pesos + one thousand; so $1 USD= 2,000 pesos. Sounds confusing, I know! I just held the money out like a 5 year old trying to buy candy at the grocery store “here’s my money take what you need” lol
Language: Most Colombians don’t speak as much English as most places you’ve probably visited. I would highly learn the basic Spanish terms needed to get by (restrooms-bano, cuanto cuesta-how much) etc. You can download the google translate app to help you communicate better.
My volcano experience: ‘Volcan Tutumo’
We paid Alex, our tour guide $30 USD or 30,000 pesos
Everything about the mud bath was amazing. As soon as you step into the mud you feel zero gravity. If you can’t swim there is no worries because you automatically float. It was difficult to even “stand”. You literally just relax. During the experience, there are several men that offer massages. It felt more like they were just rubbing the mud all over you without any pressure, but for one dollar (1000 pesos) who cares. It’s the experience that matters. We found a Band-Aid in the mud, which was pretty disgusting; I can only imagine what else was in there! They give you ample time to enjoy the experience and if you want a ton of pictures like me, you have to bribe the photographer with more money. That’s when he starts getting angles!!!
Once you get out the mud, you walk down steep stairs into the river. I thought I was in a “Jesus walks” movie and I was going to get baptized. The ladies will grab your hand and publicly bath you in ways you’ve never been bathed before. Actually at one point I thought I was having flashbacks of my childhood. Just imagine the moms who have to wash those babies all over Facebook that’s covered in poop. I mean these ladies were splashing water all in my face! I was questioning myself on how I paid someone to basically drown me. Then they started tugging on my swimsuit while wiping down areas where the sun don’t shine. No shame in their game! I looked over and one of my friends literally had to squat in the water because the woman took her whole swimsuit bottom off. Either way, somebody has to get that mud off so might was well pay a buck for the professionals to do it.
Our tour guide told us it was mandatory to tip 1000 (equivalent to 1 dollar) for each activity we encountered during the volcano trip. One for the men giving a massage, one for the photographer and one for the ladies to rinse you off. So $3 USD or 3000 pesos total.
Our tour to Palenque: Palenque “walled city” is a town with only 4,000 people and the entire population is black. This is considered the first free town in the Americas and they speak their own language that not even Spanish speakers understand. During this tour, we had the opportunity to learn about their culture, dances and music. We met artist @afro_neto (the creator of ‘I love being black’) and his band that performed for us and showed us the Palenque club. Lunch is included with this tour, as well as several stops to different wall murals-the most popular being Las Tres Guerraras. If you want a true cultural experience, I highly recommend this tour for only $60.
Playa Blanca: Cartagena’s water is not the cleanest water to swim in due to the close distance to the wall and buildings, so for $50 USD we took a ride to Playa Blanca. This is the most popular beach area for tourist….so hint: it’s best to not focus on your hotel being near a beach because you won’t be going there. We had a delicious lunch here and there are opportunities for jet skis and banana boat rides. I love to jet ski in areas with no limits, you were able to ride as far along the beach as you like.
We took a quick flight to Bogota, Colombia for only $44 using Viva Colombia airlines.
Bogota was often described as “the panish version of Washington DC streets”. I didn’t feel like a tourist at all. People were everywhere, walking in a hurry, on the phones, gone! Basically times square on a smaller scale. We did however take late night trip on the cable car to the mountain of Monserrate. It is a sightseer’s visual dream. The view was beyond remarkable (and the temperature was freezing). We went to visit one of Bogota’s most historical churches Monserrate Peak that stands at the top of the mountain, but it was closed by the time we arrived. Nonetheless, the view was insane and had the temperature not been 30 degrees lower than Cartagena I would’ve spent more time appreciating the view.
*Important: if you are traveling to Colombia, almost all places ask that you do not place toilet tissue (or wipes) in the toilet. Their systems are not capable of draining tissue and it may back up. Wastebaskets are always provided nearby. I would also suggest packing wipes for your restroom visits. Some public places (like the beach) expect you to pay for toilet tissue.
If you plan to visit Cartagena, I recommend you using Alex Rocha as your tour guide. You can reach him via www.experiencerealcartagena.com and he is highly favored on trip advisor.