When I first started planning our trip to Colombia, I would tell people about it and the reaction was generally the same from everyone - a look of confusion followed by, “Colombia, really?”. The responses I received even made me question this trip and whether or not it was a good idea. It can be challenging for travelers to think outside of the box and even begin to contemplate visiting a developing country like Colombia. Even though my husband and I had already traveled to other countries this would be the first international trip with the kids and I was starting to think I was in over my head.
In all honesty, the only reason I chose Colombia was an inexpensive flight that prompted the idea of taking our kids on a new adventure outside of their comfort zones. There was no turning back, as I would not only lose money on the flights, but also my pride, being that I am a travel writer and this is what I am supposed to be doing. So I closed my eyes, took a leap, and the results were fantastic!
Let me first give you a little background on Colombia since most only associate one word with this beautiful country: DRUGS. Colombia, at the northern tip of South America, is a country of lush rainforest, towering mountains and coffee plantations. In the high-altitude capital, Bogotá, the Zona Rosa district is known for its restaurants, bars and shopping. Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, features a walled colonial Old Town, a 16th-century castle and popular beaches. Nearby, culture-rich Barranquilla hosts a massive yearly Carnival.
This is a country of beauty! So much beauty that it can be overwhelming. It also hasn't been turned into a tourism hub and it has maintained it's roots. This makes it a goldmine to visit. We spent our time in the amazing city of Cartagena.
When it comes to it's reputation, it's a very obvious fact that bad things can happen anywhere. That doesn’t mean you purposely put yourself in harm’s way, but it’s a plain fact that nowhere is 100% safe. When telling people about my trip to Colombia, their rebuttal often involved horror stories from Mexico. I had to laugh at this because Mexico isn’t Colombia. That’s like telling travelers not to visit the US because you know someone that had a bad experience in Canada.
Moral of the story, bad stuff happens everywhere. Let’s put all the "what ifs" on the backburner and address the wonderful things that can happen in Colombia instead.
I think the first thing that hits you when first arriving in a new place is the people; unless you're in Cartagena - there it’s definitely the humidity. Lol My first experience with Colombian people wasn’t actually in the country; it was on the airplane from Florida to Cartagena. I looked around and everyone had an excitement about them, a cheerfulness. A woman that sat next to my sister-in-law was softly singing a happy song; it was different than any other flight I had ever been on.
As we got off the plane and went down the stairs to the tarmac, I started to remark about how hot it was and a woman with a very sweet face smiled back at me and said, “Sé que es caliente,” (at least I think that’s what she said) waving her hand toward her face. After disembarking we went to pick up a rental car with Budget Rentals, but unfortunately they wanted a $400 deposit, which we felt was too steep. We knew we would just have to get a taxi instead. As we left the rental office, the gentleman who was trying to get us our rental helped us out the door with our luggage and started to help us not only get a safe taxi, but also negotiate a good rate to get us to our apartment. This was something he didn’t have to do and I was very impressed.
Every taxi driver we had in Cartagena was super friendly (definitely not a given with taxi drivers, as I’ve had some pretty rude ones in NYC). Even though we didn’t speak a word of Spanish they tried to guide us in any way they could. Be aware that in any developing nation, the driving can be a little crazy. I wouldn’t recommend driving yourself in Cartagena and I definitely feared for my safety several times when driving with the local taxi drivers. However, they understand the flow of traffic a lot better than you will.
The locals at the shops were very friendly and accommodating. We would visit shops near us, shops that only Colombians visited (no US tourists at all) and when they gave us the total of our order they would use calculators to show us how much we owed. It was fantastic because we were clueless about any numbers past “diez,” and in my case, "nueve" because I always forget how to say “10. Lol
Beyond the wonderful people, you see a beautiful backdrop of a country not frequented enough. Don’t get me wrong, I love little gems that don’t turn into tourists traps, but some places don’t get the credit they so desperately deserve. They are neglected by those searching for a fantastic place to visit. Cartagena has so much beauty to offer travelers and it would be a shame to pass it by. From the pristine beaches of La Boquilla to the enchanting walled city of Cartagena, there is so much to see in just a 15 minute driving radius.
We decided to stay outside of the hustle and bustle of the city in an Airbnb apartment in La Boquilla. It was only a short drive to get into the city and explore but gave us a quiet environment where we could relax. Unlike my Paris experience, I didn’t get scammed and I didn’t run into a single tourist trap. Vendors were selling items up and down the beach, but they were all legit and actually quite cheap. The food, while not as diverse as in the US, was incredibly affordable compared to US standards. We spent around $100 for five of us over an eight day period, and that was buying a lot of unnecessary junk food as well. I can easily see one person being able to stick to $15 a week.
I am incredibly happy that I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a chance on this amazing trip to Cartagena. It was a trip that our whole family will always remember and we will definitely head back in the near future. Some of the best places to see and experience are those we don’t hear much about. They can hold new and incredible experiences that help us learn, grow, and be immersed in a beautiful place!