Colombia has been one of the most pleasant surprises of our travels so far; we hadn’t originally planned to visit, but were told such good things about it by travellers we met that we decided to set some time aside for it, and I’m really glad we did. I absolutely LOVED spending time in Colombia; the one and only thing I’m a bit miffed about is that we couldn’t spare more than three weeks, so I feel like we only managed to scrape the surface of this friendly and beautiful country. I’ve already planned to come back to explore it more extensively, but here are my favourite memories from our short time in Colombia.
You can read all about our Colombia adventures here.
- The Carnaval de Blancos y Negros
The Carnaval was an event that we randomly stumbled across online when researching what to do in the south-west of Colombia near the Colombia/Ecuador border. We couldn’t find out much about it except that it was a fun sort of street party, so we decided to give it a go and headed to Pasto not knowing what to expect. What we found was a festival full of colour, laughter, music, dancing, and locals and tourists alike revelling in the joy of street foam fights. The spirit of joy and celebration is evident in all aspects of the carnival, from the parades, to the concerts, to the high spirits of all the people who spill out from their homes and hotels to participate in the festival. It was an amazing experience; one that I would happily repeat in the future.
- Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary
Pretty much every account I read about crossing from Ecuador to Colombia by foot or vice-versa mentioned taking the time to visit Las Lajas Sanctuary, as did every account of what could be seen in Pasto. We didn’t have time to visit it the day we crossed the border, so we took a break from the carnival one day to head out to the church. Las Lajas is an absolutely enormous church that stretches up 100m from the bottom of a canyon, and is connected to the other side of the canyon by a 50m bridge. It is a gorgeous piece of gothic architecture and a beautiful sight to behold both inside and outside. While there you can visit the inside of the church, put a prayer candle in the special building opposite it, collect holy water (or just splash yourself with it like some of the locals!), walk along the river at the bottom of the canyon, and visit the museum below the church. I would highly recommend walking along the bottom of the canyon; it allows you a view of the entire church, and you get some brilliant photo opportunities. The museum costs 3,000COL to enter, and is a mixture of historical religious items and pottery and artefacts from ancient civilisations that lived in the surrounding areas.
To get to Las Lajas from Pasto, you need to take a bus from Pasto to Ipiales, which costs 9,000COL and take two hours. From Ipiales bus station take a collective (white taxis just outside the station, you can’t miss them) to Las Lajas for 2,200COL; the collective will drop you off at the start of the pedestrian street to Las Lajas, it’s only a 5-minute walk to the sanctuary.
Las Lajas is definitely my favourite church I’ve been to so far; it is an absolutely stunning feat of architecture, and a really beautiful building.
- Parque de los Gatos and Other Cat Statues in Cali
I love anything that’s a little bit weird and/or quirky, so Parque de los Gatos was an absolute gem waiting to be discovered in Cali. Going there, I knew there was a large statue of a cat – El Gato Del Rio – but I was not prepared for an entire park full of cat statues, each one painted and decorated by a different artist based on a different theme. It turns the park into a delightful little escape from the city, and a place to explore a world of cute quirky cats from all walks of life – and it doesn’t end there! Across from the park on the other side of the river there are more of these statues, each of them as beautiful and bizarre as those in the park. There’s also a random snoozing kitty above a doorway in the San Antonio region – see if you can find it!
- Plaza Botero and Museo de Antioquia in Medellin
Like Parque de los Gatos in Cali, Plaza Botero is a cute, quirky space within the heart of Medellin – it’s sort of surreal to walk through the madness, noise, and grime of the streets around it and then emerge into a sort of wonderland of chunky, odd statues, from soldiers to headless bodies to sleeping women, to cats and dogs. It’s an absolutely delightful place to wander around, or just sit and relax in; I loved spending time there.
The Museo de Antioquia is located on the Plaza Botero and is a must for art lovers; it has a wide variety of exhibitions as well as a large collection of Fernando Botero paintings and sculptures. There’s lots to see and some fun “play rooms,” with miniature replicas of some of Botero’s artwork that you can pose and play with. It’s definitely worth a visit while staying in Medellin.
- Climbing La Piedra and Exploring Guatape
La Piedra is impressive purely because of what it is; not a mountain or a mound of earth but simply a GIANT ROCK in the middle of a lake. It sort of boggles the mind to see it looming over you as you walk towards it and know that it was produced by a volcanic eruption however many millions of years ago, and you can now climb it via a set of stairs built into the side of it. The view from the top is definitely worth the climb up the 740 steps; you can see the lake and many islands stretching out in all directions, the water is a beautiful blue, the trees and plants a vivid green, and the town of Guatape a colourful splash in the distance.
Guatape itself is a delightful little town, and is easily the cutest town I’ve been to so far during my travels. Every building is beautifully painted with bright colours and murals, the streets are winding and quaint, and there’s a relaxed, almost bohemian atmosphere to be found as you wander through the colourful streets – my favourite area was the umbrella covered street leading to an outdoor amphitheatre-type space, each row of seats painted a different colour.
- The view of Medellin from the cable car
Being Colombia’s second largest city, it’s obvious that Medellin is huge. However, there’s a difference between knowing how big it is, and seeing just how enormous it is from above. Taking a trip up the mountain-side on the cable car gives you a chance to get an eagle-eye view of the city; as you rise up the city stretches out and out, further and further, it’s length never seeming to end. Being in a valley, the city is narrow but very long – so long that even at the top of the cable car I wasn’t able to see the ends of the length of the town. It’s amazing to look out over the vast expanse of the city from above, and being able to see down into the favelas is an experience in itself. It’s definitely worth taking a trip up the cable car, especially as you can get on to it from the metro at no extra cost; it’s like a free extra trip thrown in to your travels.
- Mud bath in Volcan Totumo
The second I heard of a mud bath in a volcano just outside of Cartagena, I knew that I needed to see what it was like for myself. It was everything and nothing like I’d expected, from how cute and dinky the volcano itself looked, to the utter strangeness of feeling like I was in suspended animation while in the mud itself, to becoming quite ah…intimately acquainted with the washing ladies afterwards. Don’t think of it as a spa or a relaxing treatment or anything like that; think of it as a weird, wacky, but ultimately fun and unforgettable experience!
- Dancing in Café Havana
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Well when in Cartagena staying near Café Havana, do as the locals do and go for a spin on the dance floor while live salsa music spurs you on, and everyone around you twirls and shimmies to the beat. The music is fast-paced and energetic, the atmosphere is lively and the patrons are throwing themselves around the dance floor like there’s no tomorrow; all in all, it makes for a pretty unforgettable night.