Taking a three-hour minibus out of Medellin, we were heading to one of the busiest tourist attractions of our trip, Guatapé – and you may never have even heard of it. Guatapé is a classic Colombian town, with colourful colonial-style buildings set among cobbled streets. The main draw here, however, is an enormous rock which overlooks the surrounding green hills and lake.
We were excited to visit Medellin, as we heard it had the best social scene and nightlife in the whole of South America. Everyone we had met had raved about this place – and it’s not hard to see why. Checking into YOLO hostel – a new place with bargain beds at around £6 each – we met up with the Irish girls and Kim from earlier in our travels. We had also taken the plane with Caro and Annemiek from Holland who we had met back in Santa Marta.
A return trip to Cartagena on our way to Medellin? No hardship there. We booked five more nights in Cartagena, but on the other side of the city, staying at Be Lounge Hostel. Be Lounge had no pool this time, but recently renovated and with a great open courtyard, it was like a boutique hotel and a comfortable place to stay.
A daytrip within easy reach of Santa Marta, Minca is around 45 minutes away by minivan and set within the luscious green Colombian hills. Billed as a hiking destination and all-round retreat, many opt to stay here a few days, but such was our attachment to our wonderful hostel in El Rodadero we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.
We stayed in Santa Marta for two weeks. With consistently high temperatures, blue skies, and a cheap hostel, it was a great place to relax after a few weeks of travel.
Travellers we have met along the way have raved about Colombia, but they have never been able to pinpoint a stand-out place. So apart from Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin, we were at a bit of a loss when it came to planning the long six weeks we’d allocated to the land of milk and honey!!
“It’s ludicrous this place exists and everyone doesn’t want to live here” exclaimed Anthony Bourdain when visiting Cartagena.
We were instantly overwhelmed at the beautiful perfection of this walled city, bursting with charm, colour, and a rich Caribbean culture. Forget the Machu Picchus, the waterfalls, and the Patagonian lake district: if there’s one place in South America that I’m recommending for your travel bucket list, it’s Cartagena. We absolutely loved this place.
‘So where has been your favourite country?’ is one of the first questions trotted out when meeting other backpackers in South America for the first time. ‘Colombia, definitely’ – the same answer over and over again. Why? Nobody could ever seem to put their finger on it, but it pretty much ranked at number one with everyone we met. Flying in through a violent night time thunderstorm, we were about to put Colombia to the test as we landed in Bogota with expectations high.
Now on our third visit to Lima, after returning on the eight-hour bus from Huaraz, there was one last thing on our to-do list: the laser light show. Pariwana Hostel in central Lima was again our choice for its location and nightlife, and from there we caught a taxi north to Parque de la Reserva for the 7pm start time. Arriving to see huge crowds of Peruvians and barely a tourist in sight, we wondered if we would even make it inside. Luckily, we had arrived early for once and paid the staggeringly cheap £1 entrance fee to The Magic Water Tour.
It was a relief to finally make it back to Lima after 36 hours of travel, which included a long and hot border crossing which we did by taxi, sharing with a young family that we met in line. It also included the most terrifying Chilean bus journey through vast sandstone mountains, where roads had literally been carved into the cliff faces. Numerous collapsed sections and endless roadside graves left little to the imagination.