Colombia &

The Amazon

Colombia Highlights


Expedition: The Great Escape: 2014-15

Adventure Time: 5 1/2 Weeks

From Mexico City we flew to Colombia’s capital – Bogota. I took to certain areas in Colombia more than others. Overall I found Colombia to be the least safe country I'd travelled to, fresh food was hard to come by and the vast majority of the tourists in the north ('Spring Break' party type) regrettably treated the country like a playground. That, paralleled with the poverty and visible crippling effects of drug abuse and disability, was hard to see.

BUT beyond the typical tourist destinations I did find wonder! Villa de Leyva, Salento, Puerto Narino (Amazon), the Tatacoa Desert and San Agustin were some of the most memorable places I'd visited on the entire expedition.

These are my highlights! Hit the links to scroll down to a specific location.

We travelled across most of Colombia by bus, stopping off at the following places:

We then flew to the Amazon and stayed in:

  • Leticia

  • Puerto Narino

On our return from the Amazon we travelled to:


Colombia’s capital, Bogota took a little adjusting to. Homelessness and drug addiction was rife and safety – especially at night, was an issue. 'No segura' the hostel owners would advise when I asked for directions. Always get a taxi if you go out at night, they'd warn. This sounds bizarre but we'd just flown in from Mexico, where believe it or not, you wouldn't really question safety when walking the streets at night, or any time of day for that matter. We did have an incident when we left our hostel on the first night so always be vigilant and follow local advice when getting around.


We stayed in La Candelaria (the old town) and this is where we spent most of our time as it was quite pretty. My favourite thing about Bogota was the art scene. It is phenomenal - up there with the best - London, New York, LA, Paris. I wasn’t expecting it and I’m so glad I stayed a few days to get to know it. A must is the Graffiti Walking Tour (see below).

The main square, Plaza de Bolivar is pretty and there are a couple of decent places to eat out. The city even has its own brewery. There are enough activities you can do that will keep you occupied for 3 days or so.


Places to Stay


Alegrias Hostel - La Candelaria

OK – so here’s the deal with this place (and most accommodation in Colombia): It was a far cry from the pictures on the website and it was in serious need of some maintenance. The people who ran the hostel were very friendly but were utterly disorganised. They did not keep a system of bookings and so I guess over 90% of people who arrived who had a booking would not be on the system. All a bit of a nightmare,  however, after staying in another hostel in the area, Alegria felt the safest and cleanest and the communal area was very cosy – like a home away from home. The beds in the private rooms were terrible but the cosy atmosphere, the kitchen facilities, communal areas and hot shower more than made up for it.

Things to See and Do


Graffiti Walking Tour


This MUST DO tour offers a fantastic insight into how Graffiti in Colombia has evolved into a form of social commentary and cultural expression, so not only do you see some of the best street art in the world, you also learn about the politics and socio-economic history of the country. 


Register online via their website so they know to expect you (you get a little freebie at the end) or you can just turn up.

Read more about the tour and the artists in my blog: World-Class Art in Bogota, Colombia

Museo Botero (Botero museum)


The Botero Museum houses one of Latin America’s most important international art collections. The museum contains 123 works of Fernando Botero and 85 of other artists. Highlights of the permanent collection include works by Georges Braque, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet among many others.

Fernando Botero Angulo (born 1932) is a figurative artist and sculptor from Medellin, Colombia. His signature style, also known as “Boterismo” depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume. Everything is basically fat and chubby!

There’s even a chubby Mona Lisa!

He is considered the most recognised and quoted living artist from Latin America and his art can be found in highly visible places around the world - Park Avenue in New York and the Champs-Élysées in Paris. We loved Botero and unlike in Botero’s home town of Medellin, entrance to the museum is FREE!

Museo Historico Policia


I wish we had done this but we ran out of time. A young kid (18) doing his years service with the police force approached us in the square and told us about the tour. Here’s the Lonely Planet low down:

“This surprisingly worthwhile museum not only gets you inside the lovely HQ (built in 1923) of Bogota’s police force, but gives you a 45 minutes or so of contact time with 18-year-old English speaking local guides who are serving a one-year compulsory service with the police (interesting tales to be heard). The best parts otherwise follow cocaine-kingpin Pablo Escobar’s demise in 1993 – with a model dummy of his bullet-ridden corpse, his Harley Davidson and his personal Bernadelli pocket pistol, otherwise know as his ‘second wife.'”


Plaza Bolivar

A pretty-ish place to pass through. Head up the streets of La Candelaria behind the square for quaint, albeit expensive cafes and restaurants.


Go to the top of Cerro de Monserrate

Even Bogota has some breath-taking views. Take a cable car to the top of Mount Monserrate (Cerro de Monserrate) and admire the views. Don’t walk up – it can be dangerous.

The Gold Museum – Museo del Oro


We did go and sadly regretted it. It was really boring – even the audio guide didn’t help make it more interesting. A gold plate…some gold jewellery. Other people seemed to enjoy it though. I guess if you like artefacts?


Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Patisserie Francaise a Peche Mignon - CALLE 9 No. 2-18

Great white chocolate cake and slightly pricey wine but hey – a few blocks up from the Botero Museum, is this cute little cafe offering all sorts of pastries and cakes and some main dishes too.


Crepes and Waffles - Ac 13 No 4 55, Bogota


This is a great chain run entirely by single mothers and women in need. Read more about it here.

There are lots of locations, including a few in Bogota. It’s cheap and there is an endless selection of savoury and sweet crepes and waffles to choose from. Really loved it here.


Villa de Leyva

This has to be my favourite town in the whole of Colombia. Sitting pretty 3.5 hours north of Bogota this little colonial village packs a punch – lovely lovely people, great food, stunning scenery, mountain biking, hiking, and a huge square surrounded by little cafes, restaurants and bars.

There are some really impressive sights to be seen around Villa de Leyva – I would stay there for a minimum of 3 days.

Sit in the square and take in the sky. It is incredible!

Places to Stay


There are lots of options in town. We stayed at Hotel El Solar.


El Solar was one of the top rated places to stay on Trip Advisor and just as cheap as local hostels in the area.

The owner, Marta, is just about the loveliest lady you’ll meet in Colombia. You’re greeted with love and affection ‘mi amore! mi amore! We had a good sized private double room and it was cheap, clean, comfortable and the water was hot! The service was great as well – we had to make a series of complicated reservations for the north and needed to use the phone. They just did everything for us – called, spoke to the owners and made the reservations. Great place!


Things to See and Do

Explore the countryside surrounding Villa de Leyva by bike


CICLOTRIP - Carrera 8 # 11-32


Just 3 blocks up from Plaza Mayor is a super friendly artist from Venezuela (Francisco) who runs an eco-friendly mountain bike business – Ciclotrip with his wife Angela. You can rent bikes or Francisco will take you on any number of bespoke cycling trips around the Villa de Leyva countryside. Trips vary from easy – to hard and you can also ask for hiking tours.

There are other tour agencies offering bikes in the area but this guy seriously knows his stuff. Cycling is his passion and he knows the terrain like the back of his hand. If it all gets too much he also has a driver on standby who can come and collect you. He also volunteers with the red cross as part of the mountain rescue team so you know you’re in safe hands! Besides the bikes he’s an excellent guide, pointing out for example the little town nearby where every year the locals stage a crucifixion…with nails! He’ll only stop at the points that really interest you, making the tour entirely bespoke and tailored to your needs/interests.

It was probably one of the BEST outdoors tours I’d done in Colombia!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Dorfkneipe - Plaza Mayor (The main square). Decent selection of beers and a super nice spot to sit and take in the views at sunset.

Santa Lucia Pizzeria Gelateria Cafe - Carrera 10 # 10-27

There’s a whole heap of restaurants and cafes in town – this one stood out for its Gelato – they also do good pizzas and the owner is just lovely.

Panaderia Tropical de la Villa - Calle 10 # 9-16.

Eat breakfast here! This one was recommended by the locals.

It’s ridiculously cheap, fresh and delicious and the service is EXCELLENT! The coffee is also delicious.


San Gil

We travelled north from Villa de Leyva and stopped off at San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia. San Gil is actually quite small as far as towns go and was a little bit over crowded with tourists. We didn’t go out too much in town as I was definitely left with the impression that my presence wasn't really wanted and I'm not surprised. It was all a bit loud and 'Spring Breaky' - a bit taken over.

The availability to take part in sports was everywhere. We arranged white water rafting and paragliding via our hostel. Amazing experiences!

Places to Stay


Sams VIP Hostel

Probably the most popular hostel for gringos in the whole of Colombia. There’s nothing particularly VIP about it though – there was no hot water when we were there and staff were disorganised.


It is a big hostel though and the communal areas are spread out. Besides the insects crawling around the sink, work surfaces and cupboards, the kitchen facilities were also pretty good. You could book everything, including onward bus tickets with them. Shop around for prices first if you’re on a budget. Bus tickets worked out cheaper through them, although – going back to the point of disorganised staff, when we arrived at the bus station at 6.00 am there was no record of our booking and they had to call the hostel to re-confirm, who said they didn't know anything about it... but luckily there were 2 seats left on the bus.


Things to See and Do

Paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon (Only $170,000 COP – about £40  for 40 minutes).


The company I recommend are called Parapente Chicamocha.

You can take a camera up with you as long as it’s secured to you. You can also rent a selfie stick with camera attached for about 30,000 COP and take the memory card with you after you’ve finished. They also take pictures of you before you set off which you can download later from their Facebook page.

White Water Rafting - this was a lot of fun! 

Other activities we didn’t do that were also available:


  • Hydrospeed or Riverboarding 

  • Rappelling or Abseiling in Juan Curi Waterfalls (you can go there independently by bus for a small hike and swim).

  • Caving

  • Bungee Jumping

Juan Curi Waterfalls & Barichara


A day trip to the nearby 180m waterfalls of Juan Curi, 20 km from San Gil on the road to Charalá is a must, as is a swim in the pool at the bottom. Buses leave San Gil frequently and take 40 minutes. (You do get charged about 5,000 entrance fee).


Take a bus to the local town of Barichara (40 minutes journey every 30 minutes until 6.30pm) and admire its sweeping views over orange terrain and lush green landscape, set against bright blue skies! There's not much to do in town, other than wander but there’s a trek you can do from it - the 2 hour walk to Guane, and all the scenery pictured below is set behind the church at the top of the hill by the plaza where the bus drops you off.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry


We mostly went to the supermarket and cooked at our hostel. Sam’s Pub (under the same ownership of Sam’s VIP hostel) is meant to serve delicious steak but whenever the staff at the hostel told us it was open it was closed. We just gave up in the end. The burgers at Gringo Mike’s were pretty tasty and there’s a pizzeria opposite that’s supposed to be good.



We took a 13 hour bus from San Gil up to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast where we stayed for just one night (Santa Marta is full of traffic and resorts – not your typical Caribbean dream). We then took a local bus to the small beach town of Palomino, just under 2 hours drive (70km) away. We stayed in Palomino for 5 nights.

Palomino is very beautiful but the sea is not so swimmable because of a strong undercurrent. The food and drink at beach-side restaurants and bars was on the expensive side and overall, I’ve been to much nicer beaches in my time so was a little underwhelmed but it was a great place to kick back – a much better option than Santa Marta.

Getting Around

Once the bus arrives in the town you can take a mototaxi for about COP 5,000  down the path towards the beach where all hostels are located, or just walk. The path leading down to the beach takes 15-20 minutes to walk. Just ask for the way to La Playa.

Places to Stay

We stayed in a great place called Palomino Breeze located on the end of the main path a few minutes walk from the beach. Owner, Juan is very friendly and organised everything for us – Mototaxis, a tubing excursion, and he gave us information on how to get to Tayrona Park. Unlike other hostel owners in the area Juan organised our tubing with a local guy in town. We were charged 20,000 COP with a guide. People in the Finca hostel located on the beach were charged 70,000 COP.

Avoid staying at the popular Dreamer Hostel and Tiki Hut. They charge shockingly over the norm. The private double room I booked at Palomino Breeze (poolside), cost the same as a dorm bed at both of these hostels.


I heard one guy was looking for a place to pitch a tent and The Dreamer said that he could sleep on the sofa in the bar for 30,000 COP (about £10). Considering in most places you are charged 10,000 COP to sling a hammock and you have your own locker, are you kidding me! 


All hostels are located on the path connecting the town to the beach. Most of them will have great views of the mountains of Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.


Finca Escondida

If you’re desperate for beach-side living, then Finca Escondida would be my first option or there are one or two more places next door and a little further down the beach to the right. In these places you can pitch tents and sling hammocks for a fraction of the price at The Dreamer. They also have cabanas. I didn’t check the cost though and I wasn’t altogether fussed. Nothing beat my pad with pool and mountain views.

Finca also has a great bar and restaurant, although the food is quite expensive. Mains average 20,000 COP and the portion sizes are average.

Things to See and Do

Aside from beach time here are the main activities not to be missed:

Tubing the Palomino River


An AMAZING ‘Avatar’ like experience. The setting is beautiful – stunning!

Oh – we saw one small Caiman as we were approaching the bridge towards the end. Watch your bums!

I booked through my hostel, Palomino Breeze. The owner called some guys in town who run a tubing business to take us. At the time it cost about 20,000 COP. They took us on the motorbike as far as we could go and we hiked for about 20 minutes up the steep hill, carrying the tube with us.


Tips: Bear in mind that everything will get wet when you go tubing but you will need fairly decent shoes to climb the hill. I had sandals and Seamus had some heavy duty flip flops. We had a waterproof bag with us that we put things in. I just wore my t-shirt (with bikini underneath) and put my shorts in the bag.

You’ll be carrying your large heavy tube yourself all the way up the hill – be prepared for that and take some beers!

Visit Tayrona Park

Tayrona was a lot less wild than I thought, in that it was very accessible and easily paved. The beaches were beautiful but it was hard to find a spot away from the crowds (even though we were there on a weekday and out of season). It made for a nice day trip though.

How to get there and things to know:

  • From Palomino it’s about an hour by bus to the park entrance ‘El Zaino.’ Leave at 7.00 am.

  • The park opens at 8.00 am. A park ranger shows you a video and then you buy tickets. It takes a while to buy tickets so my tip is to buy them while everyone is watching the video.

  • Tickets cost about 38,000 COP

  • No one searched my bag at this entrance – I could easily have taken in a few beers. However, there are restaurants in the park that are quite affordable.

Things to take:

  • Ticket buyers need to take some form of ID: passport or driver's license.

  • Food and water. All available inside the park but it’s cheaper if you take your own.

  • Take a little cooler bag if you’re taking or buying food/drink.

We went as far as Playa La Piscina (2-3 hours walking).

Venture off the beaten track a little and go in search of the elusive Titi Monkeys – that’s right – Titi Monkeys!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Finca Escondida – located on the beach

Happy hour everyday – 2 for 1 on different drinks. One day it could be Gin and Tonic, another day Cuba Libre.
Don’t leave without having tried the Pina Coladas. They’re legendary.

Steven Cafe

Ask around for directions. There are no named roads. I know he is based somewhere just off the path which connects the beach to the main road and he’s well known in the area so it shouldn’t be too much trouble finding him.

We didn’t go as we didn’t have time but some other people we met said it was brilliant – not so much for the food – which was very good – but the show. Chef, Steven is Italian and apparently goes wild in the kitchen. An experience not to be missed!


Steven also offers camping, lockers and cheap rooms. 

Update: it seems he has either relocated or closed down. Worth asking around town



If you have the money to stay within the 'Old City' walls then you will probably have a very nice time. Anywhere else and my recommendation is to move on. Avoid the street ‘Media Luna'. People only stay there if they’re out to 'rave' and get completely drunk. People were vomiting and urinating in the street morning, noon and night. Totally grim – every day. 

The old town is lovely for a couple of days to wander through and very pretty but budget travellers beware, it’s the most expensive city in Colombia. You’ll also notice that nothing in shops is priced and owners make up prices as they go. In the hotel/hostel we stayed at they charged everyone different prices.



We took the night bus to the city of Medellin, the second largest and most modern city in Colombia. It is located in the Aburra Valley, a central region of the Andes Mountains in South America. Because of its proximity to the equator, its temperature is constant year round, so it’s like Spring every day, hence its name “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera” or “City of the Eternal Spring.”

There’s definitely something a lot more fuzzy and springlike about this city in comparison to other cities in Colombia but having been to cities in Mexico and even Cuba, I think it still has some catching up to do. As we were on such a tight schedule we had only one day in which to see everything. We managed it and didn’t feel like we needed longer – however, if you want to base yourself in a city for any length of time in Colombia – Medellin, by far, is your best bet.

Places to Stay

Stay in the North or South, central Medellin is a little run down and again, poverty and drug addiction is sadly rife. Unfortunately, not a safe place to walk around after dusk. 


Lovely area with cafes, bars, restaurants and the lovely hostel – The Black Sheep.


The Black Sheep Hostel​


We arrived on a Sunday and signed up for a BBQ that evening. Holy God, it was the best food I’d had in ages! Tons of fresh salad, potato salad with mayonnaise, chicken, steak, sausages. YUM! Showers were hot, rooms very spacious and reasonably priced, decent wifi, lockers. Everything you need really. Not the most atmospheric hostel I’ve stayed in – lacked the cosiness factor, but it ticked boxes everywhere else.

Things to See and Do


A ride in the cable cars over the city is obligatory, followed by a trip to the Botero Plaza.

  • Buy metro tickets and take a train to Acevedo.

  • Change here for the cable car.

  • To go right to the top you will need to pay extra and change again at Santa Domingo.

  • Lovely views and the cable car takes you over the national park but my big tip is to just stay on and let it take you back.

  • That way you don’t have to pay the return fare, which is expensive. If you want to go for a walk through the park, think again – only guided tours available at certain times and they last 3 hours. I just didn’t think it was worth it and it was a bit of a let down not to be able to walk around alone, even for a stroll. We just gave up and got back in the cable car, wishing we’d stayed on.

Don’t forget to visit the Botero Plaza and admire the chubby sculptures!


There’s also the Botero museum but you have to pay to go in. The square is great but the area surrounding is run-down and there’s nothing much worth hanging around for. The museum cafe overlooking the square was nice for beers and food.



From Medellin we travelled further south to the city of Manizales. We stopped here to break up the journey to Salento. The city itself is a bit rough and there’s not much to do but the countryside surrounding it is super impressive! It’s also a good place from which to explore Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados.

Places to Stay


Hostal Kaleidoscopio

Guaranteed best place to stay in town. Huge central homely communal area with enormous skylight, hot showers and a kitchen. Rooms were large, spacious and clean and beds very comfortable. Breakfast was also included and was basic but very nice. The owner, Martha, is an absolute treasure and her dog, Gizmo, is very entertaining.

Martha will organise your excursions for you. She’s so lovely she makes the place feel like home instantly.


Things to See and Do

The natural thermal pools of Termales Tierra Viva were very nice to relax in during a weekday. Get there for sunset. The pools are very small but it’s worth it, just to give those muscles a good soak. According to the locals these are the best pools in the area. Get a hot dog while you’re there. They’re delicious!


To get there take the Enea-Gallinazo bound bus (1500 COP) from town. When you get on the bus say that you want to go to the Thermales Tierra Viva.

Visit Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco


A Spectacled bear called Chucho lives in the Reserva. Chucho’s kind is sadly endangered, so he’s in an enclosure but he is well cared for by the park rangers and has a massive, wild space to wander around. Lots of birds, butterflies and a nice hike. You need to book a guide one day in advance. Hostel owners should be able to do this on your behalf.

Had we stayed for longer and had more money we may have gone to Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados – lots of hiking and snow-covered volcanic peaks.



Beautiful and stunning – coffee farms and spectacular scenery make Salento a Colombia must!

Places to Stay


El Zorzal if you want it chilled, with peace and great scenery or Hostal Tralala if you want it sociable and busy.

We wanted a bit of peace. Zorzal was perfect and the breakfast was lovely, overlooking the hills and bird garden! 


The owner also welcomes you with a free cocktail. Good start! There are lots of decently priced places to eat and drink in town and lots of vegetarian and even vegan options too.


Things to See and Do

Finca Don Elios – small coffee farm

The walk from town to the coffee farm was beautiful. Ask at your hostel for directions although it’s a fairly straightforward walk – approx. 1 hour.

Climb to the Mirador

From the end of Calle Real in town the path leads up to Alto e la Cruz, El Mirador, the viewpoint of Salento.

You have to climb the 200 stairs to the big cross at the top of the hill. Great sunsets.

Valle de Cocora

A highlight of our stay in Salento was visiting the nearby Valle de Cocora with its Wax Palm reserve.