Colombia 2020

REPUBLIC OF COLOMBIA

PART 1. General Information

PART 2. BLOGS, Pictures & Gallery

PART 3. VIDEOS

PART 1. GENERAL INFORMATION

Capital city: Bogota 

Population: 49 million

Currency: Peso (COP)

Km travelled: TBA

Days in: TBA

Languages: Spanish, plus more than 180 indigenous languages

GENERAL INFORMATION

Colombia is a very diverse country both ethnically and linguistically. It has great cultural heritage influenced by Europeans, Amerindian and immigration from the Middle East. Colombia consisted of armed conflict in the 70’s and 80’s, however since 2005 there has been significant improvement in security, stability, and rule of law. Interesting is that Colombia is the only NATO partner in Latin America.  In February 2008, millions of Colombians demonstrated against FARC and other outlawed groups. This resulted in peace negotiations and a final agreement to end the conflict in 2016. Colombia has a growing economy  with some of the highest growth rates in Latin America. Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include; sugar, coffee, precious stones, vehicles, electronic products, electrical equipment, plastics, machinery, metals and forest products. Tourism is growing rapidly.

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

Colombia is rich in biodiversity, lush highlands and tropical seaside resorts. The energy and liveliness of the Colombian people is unmatched and makes it the land of the rhythm. Colombia has many annual festivals  full of colour, music, food and games. We were lucky enough to witness part of the black and white festival around Pasto and the villages of San Fransico and Sibundoy. People paint their faces black and white during this three-day whirlwind of wild colors, lively musicians, and dynamic dancers. People are showered with foam and talcum powder.

SALENTO & MANZINALES 

Associated with coffee, this is the place to immerse yourself in the coffee culture in haciendas, where they explain the cultivation of this grain emblematic of Colombia. The mountains in the surrounding area is reflected by Manzinales city’s steep streets. The volcano Nevado del Ruiz watches over the city. The city is also close to Los Nevados National Nature Park. Salento is located 24 km northeast of Armenia. Salento and nearby Cocora Valley are among the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia. It gets very busy in weekends and during holidays.

COCORA VALLEY

Just 11km east of Salento is the Cocora Valley, part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. It is the location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm. Be aware it gets very very busy in weekends and during holidays.

COFFEE IN COLOMBIA

Colombian coffee is one of the best in the world. Being home of the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes -which splits into three major branches or cordilleras- explains the variety of the several thermal floors that withholds about 3.3 million hectares, of which 33% are planted with coffee. Since Colombia is a country so close to the equator, there is a high luminosity guaranteed throughout the year. The three Andean ranges that separate the Amazon from the Colombian coasts over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the fact that is the only country in South America that borders both oceans, creates remarkable weather conditions for growing this valuable cherries throughout the year. There are two important varieties of coffee in the world: Robusta and Arabica. The latter, due to its high quality, needs a specific climate set to grow. As a result of the tropical and isothermal Colombian weather (without any real change of seasons), the country produces a balanced Arabica Colombian coffee.

BARICHARA

One of Colombia’s most beautiful and best preserved heritage towns. Andalusian style houses, cobbled streets and colonial era architecture  make this town so special. Not to mention the unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains.

GUATAPE

To get a great view of the town and surrounding area you have to climb La Piedra del Peñón”: It is a 220 meters high rock located two kilometers from town.  (740 steps) Guatape is a picturesque town that has a small square called “Plaza de los Zocalos”. There you will find colorful buildings and one of the best coffees in the region.

MOMPOX                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Mopox with it’s historic center is a World Heritage Site, a stunning Colombian town renowned for its architecture, culture and its great natural surrounding landscape. Mompox is a town frozen in time. It looks pretty much as it used to be during colonial times and for this reason, it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1995.

LAS LAJAS SANCTUARY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Just East of Ipiales is a basilica church built inside the canyon of the Guaitara River. The current church was built between January 1, 1916, and August 20, 1949, with donations from local churchgoers. It rises 100 metres (330 ft) high from the bottom of the canyon and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 50 metres (160 ft) tall bridge.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUTUMAYO 

This is one of the richest nationwide: it has oil fields and diverse flora and fauna. Around 300.000 people are disconnected from the rest of the country due to roads in poor condition. The trampoline of death, which is located within the mountainous region of Putumayo, connects the towns of Mocoa, which is 600 meters above sea level, with San Francisco at 2,100 meters above sea level, and is the only route that connects the departments of Nariño and Putumayo. The beginning of this route dates from 1909 by the intention of a priest to evangelize that region and the Amazon rainforest. Subsequently, 80 km was continued in the early 1930s by soldiers during the Colombian-Peruvian war. The road has one lane and is one of the most dangerous in Colombia according to others. Because of its geography and the heavy rains that, together, cause landslides, floods, avalanches and chasms up to 500 meters deep that have claimed more than 2,000 lives, between workers, passengers and drivers it makes traveling risky for people and a brake on the economy between the two regions. In 2012, an alternate route was planned that would connect the departments of Nariño and Putumayo, with the purpose of a short and safe route. Today, so far, only 13 km has been build and it looks like the government has given up on the road. However for overlanders, a little scared of doing some of the more dangerous famous roads in the world, this is a great road to drive as it is not as bad as what people make it out to be. But take note: It has in its route areas too narrow in which only one vehicle fits; because it is not paved, it is a true horseshoe route, so when it rains it is almost impassable and it may also be that there are also large landslides of earth and stones. The road is in total about 80 kilometers, your main worry would be some Kamikazi drivers

COLOMBIA AMAZON

Amazonía region in southern Colombia covers nearly 35% of the whole of Colombia. The region is mostly covered by tropical rainforest and jungle, all part of the Massive Amazon Rainforest covering most of Northern South America. Located in the far South East of Colombia is the town of Leticia (only reachable by boat or aeroplane). Until a few years ago this was the stronghold of druglords, but no longer, and it appears to be a safe town again with a large police force. The Amazon never fails to impress with its colours, animals and noises.

SAN AUGUSTIN

The town is known for its pre Colombian archaeological sites and the San Agustin Archaeological Park. This site was declared a Unesco World Heritage site way back in 1995. Be prepared for lots of tourists in weekends and holiday periods.

MEDELLIN

This is second largest city in Colombia with nearly 4 million people. Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, this city offers a great modern transport system and is easy to get around in. During the 19th century, Medellín was a dynamic commercial center, first exporting gold, then producing and exporting coffee. Medellín was once known as the most dangerous city in the world, a result of an urban war set off by the drug cartels at the end of the 1980s. As the home of the Medellin Cartel   funded by Pablo Escobar, the city was a victim of the terror caused by the war between the organization headed by Escobar, and competing organizations such as “El Cartel del Valle”. However, after the death of Escobar, crime rates in the city have decreased dramatically. It has been stated that in the late 70’s and early 80’s, cocaine surpassed coffee as the chief Colombian export. Throughout the rest of the 1990s crime rates remained relatively high, although gradually declining from the worst years. Today Medellin is classified as relative safe for tourists. Medellín is important to the region for its universities, academies, commerce, industry, science, health services, flower-growing and festivals.

PABLO EMILIO ESCOBAR GAVIRIA                                                                                                                                                                                                                Founder and sole leader of the Medellin Cartel. Dubbed “The King of Cocaine”, Escobar is the wealthiest criminal in history, having amassed an estimated net worth of US$30 billion by the time of his death—equivalent to $59 billion as of 2019. Raised in Medellin Escobar studied briefly at Universidad Autónoma Latino americana of Medellín, but left without graduating; he instead began engaging in criminal activity, selling illegal cigarettes and fake lottery tickets, as well as participating in vehicle theft. In the early 1970s, he began to work for various drug smugglers, kidnapping and holding people for ransom. In 1976, Escobar founded the Medellín Cartel, which distributed powder cocaine, and established the first smuggling routes into the U.S. Escobar’s infiltration into the U.S. created exponential demand for cocaine, and by the 1980s, it was estimated Escobar led monthly shipments of 70 to 80 tons of cocaine into the US from Colombia. As a result, he quickly became one of the richest people in the world. He had to consistently battled rival cartels domestically and abroad, leading to massacres and the murders of police officers, judges, locals, and prominent politicians. Escobar was killed in his hometown by Colombian Police a day after his 44th birthday. Escobar’s legacy remains controversial; while many denounce the heinous nature of his crimes, he was seen as a “Robin Hood like” figure for many in Colombia, as he provided many amenities to the poor. His killing was mourned and his funeral attended by over 25,000 people

TAYRONA NATURAL NATIONAL PARK.

34 km East from Santa Marta lies the Tayrona National Park –Mangrove swamps, corals, algae prairies, thorny scrubland and magical dry, humid, cloud forests and nice beaches.  Most of the park’s indigenous inhabitants are mestizos who live mainly from tourism and fishing.

MAYAPO, (La Guajira)

It takes twenty minutes to reach Mayapo’s stunning shores from Riohacha, capital of the La Guajira department. The Caribbean Sea plays a big role in the lives of the Wayuu people, who live from fishing, tourism and handicrafts, including the famous Wayuu mochila (bag), which is hand woven in a multitude of colors. The beaches are some of the finest in Northern Colombia .

BARU ISLAND

Magical Baru island is just 45 minutes from Cartagena, but it feels like you are in a different world. It has white sands and clear seas.

MUCURA ISLAND

Also known as “Colombia’s gem” in the Caribbean Sea, Múcura Island is located nearly 2 hours into the Caribbean Sea by boat from Cartagena. This island makes up part of the 10 islands of the San Bernardo’s Archipelago, which has been part of the National Natural Park Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo since 1996.

TATACOA DESERT

In central Colombia, surreal landscapes, incredible stargazing, and a sense of isolation is what this zone provides. Tatacoa desert is the best place to experience a true stargazing activity.  La Tatacoa Desert, the second largest dry area in Colombia after the desert of La Guajira, is one of Colombia’s most attractive natural landscapes. It covers an area of 330 km² of gray and ochre soil interrupted by the green of the cactuses.

LOS LLANOS

Los Llanos, located in the Llanos Orientales Region (Eastern Plains) is home to thousands of cowboys –in Spanish “llaneros”- hard working people who have lived by traditional ways for hundreds of years. This culture has produced some really wonderful and unique music and folklore dances. The traditional music is the Joropo which is played with traditional guitar, maracas and harp. This Region is considered an important ecosystem with two marked seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Its climate is intertropical savannah, hot, except in the high plains with milder climate.

PALOMINO  

a small beach town on the country’s northern Caribbean coast, is a popular destination, 2 hours north of Santa Martha It is also a gateway to explore more of Colombia’s La Guajira Peninsula.

CLIMATE

Because of the country’s close proximity to the Equator, its climate is generally tropical. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. The only genuinely variable climatic element is the amount of Rain and Altitude. The climate of the Amazon region, the northern Pacific coast, and the central Magdalena valley is marked by an annual rainfall of more than 2,500 mm and annual average temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius.

BOGOTA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Average temp:  10 degrees at night to 20 degrees during the day                                                                                                                   Average Rainfall: All year round. April, May and the Month of Oct are the wettest

MEDELLIN                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Average temp: 12 degrees at night to 23 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                      Average Rainfall:

LETICIA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Average temp:   22 degrees at night to 32 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                    Average Rainfall: 230mm per month

CARTAGENA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Average temp: 22 degrees at night to 32 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                      Average Rainfall: May to Nov between 80 and 120mm per month, Oct is wettest month with 200mm. Dry Dec to April.

LLANOS

Average temp:  22 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                      Average Rainfall: Sept and Oct wettest around 140mm per month. rest of the year below 70mm

SALENTO   

Average temp: 18 degrees at night and 32 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                    Average Rainfall: around 100mm per month

PART 2, BLOGS, PICTURES & GALLERY

COLOMBIA BORDER to DESIERTO de la TATACOA

After a great Christmas and New Year at Finca Sommerwind it was time to leave Ecuador. Hans mate, your reputation as one of the best overlander Christmas venues in South America stayed intact.

Many thanks to you and your staff. New years eve was no different and the view from the hill watching the fireworks was superb.

It was time to say goodbye to Ecuador and time to say, “Hello Colombia”. It is 45 years ago I went to Colombia as a young Marine based in the Caribbean, in those days pretty much lawless and wild west. 20 years ago, we visited Cartagena as part of a cruise holiday, but just for one day hence it did not leave much of an impression.

Instead of following the Pan Americana North we decided to go off the beaten track, first stop Ipiales, cheap shopping, sim card and organizing insurance. Next the church in Las Lajas, a great building lit up at night and good spot to stay overnight to visit the church again the following morning. This beautiful basilica church built in the early 1900s is in the Guaitara river canyon and is one of Colombia’s National Monuments. Pasto north of Ipiales is known for its annual Black and White festival and we were just in time. Locals paint their faces black one day and white the next. These are the two principal days of the Blacks and Whites Carnival, (Carnival de Negros y Blanco’s) which since 2009 is part of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage.

We also visited the very touristy El Puerto (give it a miss in the weekends) located at a volcanic crater lake La Cocha Lagoon.

This is the second largest inland body of water in Colombia. Lake Tota is the largest. From here we ventured further East to Sibundoy and San Francisco, great places to visit if you like and appreciate indigenous cultures and last towns before the Trampolín de la Muerte (Death’s trampoline).

According to some (and the national geographic program the world most dangerous roads) this is the fourth most dangerous road in the world! Well not in our opinion. It has very narrow stretches in which only a vehicle can travel, it has falls of more than 300 meters, landslides occur on a regular basis. Traffic accidents are a regular event, but this is many times due to driver stupidity. There have been many fatalities from cars and busses falling off the road every year. Different sources record more than 500 people dead in 2011 and in 1989 about 300 people died in a terrible collapse. So, with all this, the springboard of death is not something to be taken lightly. However, I have seen much worse in India-Pakistan and even in Peru and Bolivia. The road was built in 1930 and zigzags the Andean mountain range. We travelled West to East passing the small towns of Sibundoy and San Francisco. From San Francisco the 68 km of narrow unpaved road starts and it looks sometimes that no-one did any work on it since it was built in the 1930’s to transport soldiers during the war between Colombia and Peru, and so far has been directly responsible for ending hundreds of lives.. It reaches 2300 meters at its highest point and drops down to 600 meters when you arrive in Mocoa. See video famous video clip of the road.  https://youtu.be/X2Of5iGhDE4 I have the utmost respect for those who have done this on motorbike or bicycle.

Mocoa the capital of the department of Putumayo is a great overnight stop and to have a cold beer after a long days driving. From Mocoa plenty of opportunities to visit the start of the jungle and indigenous people. Back on the bitumen we followed the rotten road north to Pitalito and San Augustin. San Augustin is best known for its Archaeological Park and the surrounding areas with many statues.

The Archaeological Park contains the largest collection of religious monuments in Latin America and is considered the world’s largest necropolis. The dates of the statues are uncertain, but they are believed to have been carved between 5–400 AD. The origin of the carvers remains a mystery, as the site is largely unexcavated. Having travelled many deserts over the years we have to admit that the Dieserto de la Tatacoa was a disappointment. the Tatacoa Desert is not really a proper desert.

And some say it is semi-desert and others say it’s a semi-arid dry tropical forest. Parts of the area is heavily eroded and has dry canyons that develop transiently but it does get you some amazing pictures. This desert area is filled with rocky canyons that form dry labyrinths in red and grey colours that are interrupted by occasional green bushes and lots of Cacti up to 5 or 6 meters high.

The Tatacoa Desert is the second largest desert area in Colombia after the Guajira Peninsula. The Tatacoa Desert has two distinctive colours: ochre (natural reddish clay) and grey moon-like terrain in the Los Hoyas area. Some of the local wildlife includes scorpions, snakes, spiders. Bush camping is great located in the middle of nowhere. it’s quiet, enjoy the amazing views and the stars. But after a day of 42 degrees we looked for a pool to cool off.

TATACOA DESERT to MEDELLIN

&

COLOMBIA’S MOST KNOWN CRIMINAL PABLO ESCOBAR

After leaving the Tatacoa desert we crossed the Central Andes via Ibague to Armenia. This road is currently under construction…  This construction was supposed to be finalized in 2016 (started in Dec 2008) In 2016 it was delayed to 2018 and as of Jan 2019 it is delayed till December 2020. We stopped at the highest point (3300meters) to enjoy the views. The road is slow and full of trucks, 25km uphill and 25 km downhill. Trucks have great difficulty negotiating the sharp corners, hence locals have started a little business waving flags for down coming trucks to warn them of upcoming trucks., Truck drivers in turn toss some coins out of the windows.

We bypassed Armenia aiming for some R&R in Salento, just a few km north of Armenia, the centre of the Colombian coffee growing industry. Colombia is the second largest producer of coffee in the world. Salento being right in the middle of the Coffee triangle made us put up camp for a few days in Salento.  Salento is a colourful and real pretty town located above very green valleys. We were lucky as it was party time in Salento and live music and processions every day. The whole region is dotted with small pueblos where life has stood still over the last 100 years. Colombia’s coffee growing area covers quite a few country provinces and in total we are told nearly 400000 hectares is coffee growing farms.

Exploring the small narrow country roads by scooter rewarded us with picturesque landscapes, and meeting locals. This beautiful scenery, mountains and the many coffee plantations were what we have been reading about. Last but not the least the beautiful terracotta-roofed coffee farmhouses.

From Salento we also visited the Cocora Valley. It is known for the prevalence of wax palms, the national tree, which can grow up to 70 meters in height. The triangle Manzinales, Pereira and Armenia are also called the Eje Cafetero. The famous advertising icon Juan Valdez accompanied by a Paisa farmer wearing a carriel, poncho and with a mule, has become an advertising success promoting coffee worldwide. 

After an amazing drive using the backroads (I admit it we got lost) we arrived in the second biggest city in Colombia, Medellin. Medellin is known as the City of the Eternal Spring with an average of about 15°C at night to the low 30s during the day. Bordered on all sides by the green peaks of the Andes, Colombia’s second largest city (over 4 million inhabitants) offers visitors spectacular views across the Aburra Valley in every direction.

Must see in Medellin is Plaza Botero a large square named after Fernando Botero, a renowned local painter and sculptor. More than 20 of his sculptures are on display.

Another must see is a game of Tejo (after soccer Colombia’s national sport). Like many favourite backyard or bar games around the world, Tejo is a team sport that involves launching projectiles to hit a target. The first explosion is bound to make you duck for cover, expecting to see someone hurt, but instead see people cheering wildly, looking proudly at the flaming cardboard triangle their team just struck from across the room. The good players will hit their marks but those drunk after drinking many beers are not so accurate, so you must be careful. The rules of the game are simple: You throw a metal disk around 18 meters to a clay cancha with a ring in the middle; when you hit one of the targets explosives go off with a big bang. Another great day trip from Medellin is to Guatape and the La Piedra del Penon the 220-meter-high rock which you can climb if you wish. (740 steps, pffff) The town is scenic with colourful buildings and great coffee.

During my time as a young Marine I visited Medellin and in those days in 1976, it was a very wild and dangerous town, hence the main reason for our visit to Medellin was to see what happened to this city and to do the Pablo Escobar Tour.

PABLO EMILIO ESCOBAR GAVIRIA ESCOBAR                                                                                            

Raised in Medellin Escobar studied briefly at Universidad Autónoma Latino Americana of Medellín but left without graduating; He instead became Colombia’s most known criminal Pablo Escobar, the son of a farmer and a schoolteacher, began his life of crime while still a teenager. he began engaging in criminal activity, selling illegal cigarettes fake lottery tickets and selling fake diplomas. He then branched out into falsifying report cards before smuggling stereo equipment and stealing tombstones in order to resell them. Escobar also stole cars, and it was this offense that resulted in his first arrest, in 1974. As well as participating in vehicle theft, he began to work for various drug smugglers, kidnapping and holding people for ransom.                                                                                         

Shortly thereafter, he became an established drug smuggler, and by the mid-1970s he had helped found the crime organization that evolved into the Medellín cartel. Between the 70’s and the 90’s the city had major drug related violence. Medellín was once known as the most dangerous city in the world, a result of an urban war set off by the drug cartels in the 70’s and 80’s. In those days Medellin was the home of the Medellin Cartel funded by Pablo Escobar, the city was a victim of the terror caused by the war between the organization headed by Escobar and competing organizations such as “El Cartel del Valle”. It has been stated that in the late 70’s and early 80’s, cocaine surpassed coffee as the chief Colombian export. David the owner of Al Bosque campsite showed us all the Escobar sites, included the Jail he built himself just south of Medellin. Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria founder and sole leader of the Medellin Cartel was dubbed “The King of Cocaine”, Escobar is the wealthiest criminal in history, having amassed an estimated net worth of US$30 billion by the time of his death—equivalent to $59 billion as of 2019. While Escobar’s income and wealth are hard to measure, it’s believed he was raking in 420 million a week by the mid 80’s ($22 billion a year) supplying 80% of the world’s cocaine, smuggling 15000KG of cocaine to the USA every day. He had to consistently battled rival cartels domestically and abroad, leading to massacres and the murders of police officers, judges, locals, and prominent politicians. In the late 1980s he reportedly offered to pay off his country’s debt of $10 billion if he would be exempt from any extradition treaty. In addition, while his family was on the run in 1992–93, Escobar reportedly burned $2 million in order to keep his daughter warm. Despite his best efforts, however, even Escobar couldn’t spend all that money, and much of it was stored in warehouses and fields. According to his brother, about 10%, or $2.1 billion, was written off annually eaten by rats or destroyed by the elements. In some cases, it was simply lost. The Colombian government struggled to prosecute Escobar’s Medellin cartel  Medellin cartel because Pablo Escobar himself was so popular amongst the poor. Perhaps hoping to win the support of everyday Colombians, Escobar became known for his philanthropic efforts, which led to the nickname “Robin Hood.” He built hospitals, stadiums, and housing for the poor. He even sponsored local soccer teams. His popularity with many Colombians was demonstrated when he was elected to an alternate seat in the country’s Congress in 1982. Alas, two years later he was forced to resign after a campaign to expose his criminal activities. The justice minister who led the efforts was assassinated. Things eventually came to something of a deadlock with both sides refusing to give up any ground until a new policy was tentatively agreed upon: negotiated surrender. The terms of surrender stipulated that Escobar and his cronies would cease their domestic terrorism and give themselves up to the authorities with a promise that they would not be extradited to the United States. In 1991 Escobar offered to turn himself in to authorities—if he could build his own prison. Surprisingly—or perhaps not—Colombian officials agreed. During negotiations, Escobar also added in conditions that reduced his jail time to five years and that would ensure he served his sentence in a prison of his own construction, surrounded by hand-picked guards as well as protected from his enemies by Colombian soldiers. He constructed a jail so lavish it was referred to as “Hotel Escobar” or “Club Medellin,” but the enduring name has been La Catedral, “The Cathedral,” and with good reason. Not only did the facility include a nightclub, a sauna, Jacuzzi, swimming pool with waterfall, and a soccer field; it also had telephones, computers, and fax machines. La Catedral was more a fortress than prison, as Escobar effectively kept his enemies out rather than lock himself in and continued to conduct his grisly business. However, after Escobar tortured and killed two cartel members at La Catedral, officials decided to move him to a less-accommodating prison. Before he could be transferred, however, Escobar escaped, in July 1992. https://allthatsinteresting.com/la-catedral   After his escape, the Colombian government—reportedly aided by U.S. officials and rival drug traffickers—launched a massive manhunt. On December 2, 1993, Escobar celebrated his 44th birthday, allegedly enjoying cake, wine, and marijuana. The next day, his hideout in Medellín was discovered. While Colombian forces stormed the building, Escobar and a bodyguard managed to get to the roof. A chase and gunfight ensued, and Escobar was fatally shot. Escobar’s legacy remains controversial; while many denounce the heinous nature of his crimes, he was seen as “a Robin Hood like” figure for many in Colombia, as he provided many amenities to the poor and his killing was mourned and his funeral attended by over 25,000 people. After the death of Escobar, crime rates in the city have decreased dramatically. And even today not all trouble has been eliminated and lots of poverty still creates a lot of violence. Illegal housing and semi illegal housing dominate parts of the city, particularly those reaching up the sides of the surrounding mountains, and some continue to suffer gang violence.

 

MEDELLIN to CARTAGENA,

Via the Caribbean Coast

It was time to leave Medellin and head north towards the Caribbean Coast. Our shipping agent Ana Rodriguez advised us of the date of departure hence our relaxed travel plan is now becoming something what needs a little more planning. Despite too many forums and blogs making you feel Colombia is unsafe it is not, and nowadays it is a safe country to explore. It has the Caribbean coast, absorbed African culture and rain-forest, the Pacific coast, intact indigenous peoples with their traditions, the Andes in three mountain chains, the coffee zone, active and sleeping volcanoes, high mountains with glaciers, paramo’s, flat lands with cowboys, cattle and abundant wildlife as in the Brazilian Pantanal, the huge vastness of the Amazon rain-forest, abundant bird life, colonial history & villages. And good roads. Not to forget the Colombian reggaeton at the Caribbean.

Our first stop is Barichara, one of the country’s most beautiful and best-preserved heritage towns. After the hustle and bustle of Medellin, we loved our 4 days in Barichara, enjoying unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains, Andalusian style houses, cobbled streets and colonial era architecture.

It stands out for its white colonial houses, its church, cobbled streets and without any lamp post that gets in the way of a good picture. Must see are the Cathedral de la Inmaculada Conception, the viewpoints around the church in the upper part of the town, the main square and simply walking its cobbled streets enjoying the great atmosphere of this village.

Just out of town is a perfect overlander campsite with great views and even better hosts who understand and like overlanders. (ex overlanders themselves) Joep and Julie operate the Guaimaro Campsite.

Via Dan Gil we started to travel North towards the coast via Bucaramanga, the city’s many parks has given it the name of City of parks. This is the capital of the department of Santander. Driving north of Bucaramanga we saw crops of tobacco, cacao and pineapple. Also, it is a great town to stock up on supplies.

Enroute to the coast another interesting city is Valledupar. We drove through its streets shaded by mango trees and the promenade along the shore of the Guatapurí River. From here it is onto the coast and the town of Riohacha, located alongside a desert and at the gateway to the Caribbean Sea and entry to La Guajira peninsula, the northernmost department of Colombia.

Leaving town to go North you will meet the indigenous Wayúu people, evident in their colourful blankets and knapsacks, among other handcrafted items. Due to the strong winds (hot) we decided to travel towards Cartagena, stopping just before Palomino to chill out on some amazing beaches and visiting Los Flamencos Natural reserve.

We spent too much time on the beach, hence Santa Marta was a quick visit. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona was closed upon our arrival (Seems to always close for the month of February). In a way lucky for us as the cost of visiting the park is ridiculous. But it supposed to have nice beaches and rainforest. We are told over 30000 indigenous people from the KOGI, ARHUACO, KANKUAMO, and WIWA ethnic group live in Santa Marta. Only nice beach in Santa Marta we found was El Rodadero.

Barranquilla, also known as la Arenosa” (the Sandy) and “Curramba la Bella”, for us it was our plan to spend Carnival here but due to the earlier departure of our ship we missed the Carnival by 2 days.

This city is home to a many great musicians, (Shakira is one of them) writers, and painters. It is also the stage of one of the country’s most important celebrations: the Carnival of Barranquilla. But even during our visit the joy, music, and tradition are so much a part of this Colombian city, down to each of its squares and streets, that every day feels like a real carnival.

Our last stop was the city of Cartagena known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias. During the colonial era it was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for the import of enslaved Africans. Nearly 1 million Colombians call Cartagena home (this are the official figures, but it could be much higher).

In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My first visit to Cartagena was in 1975, lots has since changed. Today the town is full of US and European cruise ship tourists spending money in big amounts driving prices up to levels the locals can not afford. Beer is easy double the price of everywhere else in Colombia. There are thousands of street hawkers trying to sell you anything from sunglasses, medicines, souvenirs and even bottles of water and beer for double the price.

If possible, try to visit when no cruise ships are in town. (in our case in 13 days just once) It does have a nice historical centre but nothing like the real Colombian towns like Barichara. For us the town was a must as from here we ship to Mexico. (Vera Cruz). We had plenty of time to wander the fascinating narrow streets with wooden balconies and hanging plants. Other interesting sites to see are Castillo San Felipe and the fortress on San Lazaro hill. Beneath this fortress is a maze of tunnels and there are still cannons in place along the battlements. We purchased a 2 day hop on hop off bus ticket visiting other parts of the city including The Boca Grande area of Cartagena and it is full of shops, nightclubs and bars. Near Cartagena is the Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, a mud volcano where you can relax and wallow in the mud, which is believed to be a good treatment for the skin. Not to be missed is a night in the Havanna club, (opens at 9PM but really does not kick off till 11 or midnight).

The main economic activities in Cartagena are industry, tourism, and commerce. The port of Cartagena is one of the largest of South America. Thanks to our friends we found an amazing shipping agent (Ana Rodriguez) who organized all paperwork for us. The last days we spend in our motorhome just south of the harbour near Playa Blanca.

A great little campsite with swimming pool. It beats street camping in town or paying $ 40 for carpark camping.

Unfortunately, the place we did not visit was Mompox a Unesco world heritage site around 5 hours south of Cartagena. This town has a very historical centre. 

 

3 years traveling South America has come to an end. Last Saturday we delivered our Motorhome at the wharf in Cartagena for a check by Aduane (never turned up), however our great shipping agent worked hard and Aduane excepted all paperwork with vehicle unseen. Sunday morning 9AM Narcotics check (they turned up at 12PM Pfffff).

Anyway, all was done in 30 minutes, security stickers on the truck and we said our good bye’s to the motorhome, hoping to find it in the same conditions in around 7 days’ time. We fly to Mexico City first for a 4-day visit before flying to Veracruz to meet up with our agent and to get the motorhome and scooter cleared for our next adventure: Central America.

We like to thank all those who gave us advise and details (the details are so much more important than the advice). I will not list all of you here as many are not on Facebook. Till next month from Central America.