Colombia Backpacking Guide

A man sits on a ledge of a heavily graffitied wall in Bogotá  

Updated July 16th, 2018.

“Colombia is changing… Forget violence, instead expect to find people overflowing with generosity, a deep sense of pride, and a palpable passion for life.”

Backpacking Colombia is top of the list for many when planning a trip to South America, and for good reason! Before we delve into the details, let’s start with the basics!

EAT! Arepas, a flat corn cake. This staple is best when dressed up with cheese, avocado, and eggs.

DRINK! Chocolate con queso (Hot chocolate and cheese), to enjoy place the salty cheese in the thick chocolate syrup, drink up once the cheese is completely melted. Or for something a little less tame try Aguardiente, the local liquorice infused liquor.

READ! 100 Years of Solitude. This classic by Gabriel Garcia Marquez beautifully expresses the unexplainable magic of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

BEWARE! Of your own stereotypes. Colombia is a country that has had its share of time in the spotlight. When travelling, make sure that your preconceived notions are not clouding your experience.

LISTEN! To cumbia. Colombia’s own music genre originated on the Caribbean coast, and its combination of African and Spanish beats is sure to get your hips moving.

Check out our Travel Guides to Backpacking in Colombia…

Backpacking Colombia – Welcome to Tierra Rico (Rich Land!)

Colombian’s are quick to commend you on your choice to travel in their country, and it’s easy to see why. The colossal cities of Bogota, Medellin, and Cali are ready to overwhelm you with grand museums, intoxicating nightlife, and sumptuous local flavors.

Tiny Andean villages dot the countryside providing the opportunity to go trekking, swim beneath waterfalls, or sip cafe con leche in the plaza central.

National parks abound from coast to coast, in Salento wander through the tallest wax palm trees in the world, in Taganga spend the night cuddled up in a hammock for the night in the coastal jungle.

The sultry Caribbean coast tantalizes with splendid beaches, UNESCO world heritage cities, and enough local energy to make sleep a mere option.

A backpacker leans against a wax palm tree in Salento
Salento’s wax palm trees- can you spot the backpacker?

Talent to discover:

It used to be that if Colombia was in the news it was fair to guess that cocaine would be the main topic of discussion. Unfortunate. Colombia’s dynamic and rich history has been largely ignored, meaning that many backpackers will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of world recognized talent that awaits them.

In Bogota why not visit the museum dedicated to Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Or while in Medellin explore the sculpture park and works of Fernando Botero, a man who called fat beautiful.

Plus there is always the possibility that the mobile museum dedicated to Colombian superstar Shakira may cross your route.

A Fernando Botero statue of a man on a horse in Medellin
A chubby creation of Fernando Botero, outside Medellin’s famous museum.

All in a day:

Morning: Hop on a bus from your hostel in Cartagena to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, Colombia’s very own mud volcano, that you can swim in. Actually, you don’t swim per say, more so lose all sense of gravity as you bob in the viscous goop.

Be prepared to look like the tin man, giggle incessantly, and create a whole slew of new friends.

Girls in a mud volcano in Colombia
Colombia’s mud volcano- the closest you will get to feeling like you’re on the moon.

Afternoon: After a ridiculously long shower, grab an Aguila (the local brew), and head out to play a little tejo. The idea is easy, throw a rock towards a distant target made of mud, aiming for the centre of the board where a small bundle of gunpowder lies.

If coordination is your strong suit prepare for instant fame, as the rock and gunpowder connect a loud noise will fill the bar notifying everyone of your success.

The author plays Tejo
Will it connect? Getting wild playing a little Tejo!

Night time:  You’re in Colombia so as soon as nighttime hits its time to dance. Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, Paseo, Vallenato. Pick your rhythm, a venue, (options range from joining the dance circles on the street to shaking it at a swanky nightclub) and get ready to get down.

5 Random Facts About Colombia:

1. In 2005 30,000 people travelled to Colombia for the sole purpose of getting plastic surgery.

2. Colombia’s capital city (Bogota) has a lower murder rate than the USA’s capital city (Washington D.C).

3. Per square meter, Colombia is the most biodiverse country on the planet.

4. Colombia is home to the biggest theatre festival, biggest salsa festival, biggest flower parade, biggest outdoor horse parade and second biggest carnival in the world.

5. Colombia is the worlds third largest manufacturer of women’s lingerie.

A view across Bogotá, seen from Monserrate
The sprawling metropolis of Bogota, seen atop Monserrate- accessible via cable cars!

Written by: Tyler Protano-Goodwin

Photography by: Sorcha Noreen

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