COLOMBIA – a complete guide

(Updated January 2020)

Colombia, still suffering from the stigma of being a dangerous place torn between drug barons and guerillas, is actually a beautiful and interesting place – with wonderful, honest people. On just one visit, it became one of my favorite countries on earth.

At the Goldmuseum in Bogota
Treasures at the Gold Museum in Bogotá – by far not Colombia’s only treasure…

I travelled with my adult daughter to a dozen places – mostly by bus, sometimes we flew – and felt perfectly safe.

this way to read the whole story >>>

colombian diary – 9th chapter – back to where we started from; now bye:myself

So now I am bye:myself after all. Yesterday I got back into Bogotá for my flight back home while my travel companion continues her travels to Lima today.

Back to Bogotá. This time staying at a lovely little guest house (the color purple) at the Candelaria district.

Almost every single one of my trips starts and ends at the same city which has an interesting twist – or rather circle – to it. It’s a bit like the book by Alfred Döblin where the story begins at the Alexanderplatz, and at the end of the book after a long winding story, the protagonist finds himself at the very same place; a lot happened, but the place is untouched by the events while his luck changed a lot.

And this is how I feel about the cities where I arrive and eventually leave from. On arrival I’m nervous and insecure, I explore the neighborhoods still a little shaky and dizzy from jetlag. I stick to my map printed from google maps – well, to be honest, this doesn’t change much no matter how long i stay in a place: my sense of orientation is terrible. However, everything is exciting and new and sometimes a bit intimidating.

Then I travel the country, I get to know places and people and their habits and quirks, I become in a way part of their country.
I get back where I started from – wondering that the place is still the same while I grew and changed. I get all sentimental remembering the pale, curious person being taken by surprise by every detail during the first days.

I loved the old town right from the beginning on. But after the graffiti tour we took on our third day, I can appreciate the murales decorating the old houses even more (here by Carlos Trilleras and the enigmatic Juegasiempre on calle 2)

There is always something left on my bucket list, so that’s another good reason to spend a day or two at the starting point: there are some exhibitions to see and some last shopping to do.
I spent the very last morning in Bogotá at the museo de arte moderno (MAMBO) and – believe it or not – got the hair in my neck and around the ears trimmed once again at a peluqueria; this time for 2 $.

“Sombras” by Jim Amaral at the MAMBO

Getting ready.

Now I’m heading back – my hair cut, my heart and soul filled with awe and my bag with dirty laundry.

¡Gracias, Colombia, for having been so good to me!

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colombian diary – 8th chapter – santa marta: a place for margarete

I chose Santa Marta for its proximity to Parque Tayrona and because it’s on the coast and I wanted to spend a couple of days on the beach. The beaches were disappointing – Colombian beaches…we’ll get to that later – but the city itself endeared me.

There are destinations in this world where I immediately think “I have to tell my friend Margarete about this place, she would love it here!” It’s always places I like a lot, too. Places with a good locals-traveller-ratio: Some foreigners so that people don’t stare at you with their mouth open as if the circus got into town. But few enough so that life goes on undisturbed by their presence.

Every morning the coffee lady is pushing her cart along calle 19. In the afternoon her place is taken by the gentleman who sells cheese filled arepas. A very pleasant fast food culture far from chain companies . 

That gives you the chance to blend in as an alien. And when you’re respectful and well-behaved, you might even befriend people, and that’s very enriching. I travel to meet, greet and learn.

As soon as the number of travellers goes too high, you cannot just fit in anymore. You become part of a group that changes things; and mostly not for the better: restaurants and bars switch their menu from local food to this global fusion-vegan-organic stuff, which is certainly healthier than corn bread and pork belly, but offered at quite high prices and for local people hardly affordable. Same with stores that start to sell things foreigners might like at prices they can afford. This is exactly what I saw in Salento: the entire range of services and goods was adapted to tourism. I don’t know where local people do their grocery shopping – probably at Armenia 16 miles away because at the supermarket in Salento were only tourists and the range of merchandise was correspondingly low. While in other places people were super-friendly and curious and greeted us “bienvenidas en Colombia”, in Salento they were completely oblivious and a tad rude. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that and do not blame them at all; it’s just that a place like this – no matter how enchanting – loses part of its charme.

Carrera 3 by day…

…and by night.

And at this point we’re back in Santa Marta where there is one street, carrera 3, with stylish restaurants and bars designed mainly for tourists and trendy local crowds from the University nearby. Since the rest of the city is pure, standard Colombian, the fancy places on #3 are even enjoyable.

First the healthy part…

….followed by the yummy part of breakfast served at “lulo”.

Since Santa Marta is an average Colombian city, there is also average Colombian poverty which for Europeans is quite shocking. Those who can somehow afford it, try to offer some kind of service instead of begging to make a couple of pesos, or they try to sell more or less desirable goods like really horrible, cheap candy that I bought from a young woman with a little daughter and a baby in tow this morning.
Of course you always pay far more than it’s worth. Notwithstanding the fact that I didn’t have a craving for horrible, cheap candy in the first place.

What’s very moving is how the folks at the end of the food chain look out for each other. Like the slightly less poor water seller that traded her a pack of water for two horrible, cheap candies, so the lady could give her daughter something to drink. This solidarity is touching; and somehow shaming.

No Colombian city would be complete without street art. Here is a painted overview of restaurants, clubs, and bars in the neighborhood. 
The day before the artists completed their work by adding a real net to it. It’s very pleasant to see how respectful and appreciative everybody treats the street art. 

The other evening we witnessed the sweetest gesture ever: There is this kid walking around with a boombox singing mostly “Muerte en Hawaii” by Calle13 and sometimes a song by Arcángel that is a bit lame, but according to his basecap and the writing on the boombox the kid is a huge Arcángel fan, so what the heck.

This kid is some sort of Arcángel himself. 

So the other evening we were having pizza at a nice place on the malecon when the kid showed up with his boombox and a homie in tow. He sang “Muerte en Hawaii”, we were delighted, gave him a far too fat tip  (I don’t feel comfortable tipping and thus encouraging him, anyway. I find he should study and become a doctor instead of rapping at restaurants. Mimi said, in this case I should tip him with an exercise book. Haha, how funny!) By the way, considering his cool, clean clothes and the boombox, I don’t even have the impression that he does his singing because he needs the money to survive. He rather seems to be practicing for his great hip hop career.

So when the Muerte-song was over and the gratuities collected, the kids left, and by incident we left at the same time. They walked in front of us, the beat booming from the box, we followed behind, it was a little like a very, very short love parade.
At the entrance of an abandoned store was a homeless man sitting, cheering at the two rascals. The kids had already passed him by when they said something to each other, seemed to agree on it, and then the future hip hop star went back to the homeless and gave him some of the money he just made. Just like that.
How many kids do you know that would do something like that?
This is Colombia! This is Santa Marta!

After I’ve told you so many good things about Colombia and its people, I finally need to mention the – in my humble opinion – weak spot, which are the beaches. I don’t get how people can praise Colombian beaches. To me, they are the worst. They are messy and dirty. Some of them don’t even have real sand but some dust and dirt on rocky ground.

From a distance Taganga doesn’t look as bad as it actually is. The fumes from the motor boats alone are horrific.

Seriously, Colombia is great, but don’t come here for a beach vacation.
Of course I haven’t been to every single beach here, but those that I’ve seen range from ok (Parque Tayrona, Palomino, and Rodadero) to dreadful. Here is my top 5 of the worst ones, whereby No. 1 takes the cake to be the worst beach I’ve seen in my entire life:

5. Cartagena
4. Santa Marta
3. Playa Grande/Taganga
2. Taganga
1. Playa Blanca/Isla de Barú

But in about 20 minutes by cab or bus you can get from Santa Marta to Rodadero, and the beach there is quite ok and the water is pretty clean.

Pedalling fun in front of Rodadero’s skyline. It’s not projects, it’s hotels and condos. And that’s one of the better beaches. See what I mean?!

We were especially pleased that they have pedal boats and not these ocean killing jet skis; let’s hear it for Rodadero!

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colombian diary – 7th chapter – take me to the river

Slowly we’re approaching the end of our trip. At the beginning you count the past days and you’re happy to still have so much time ahead. And then it’s almost half, exactly half, more than half…and if you are having a really good time, you quit counting and you’re only enjoying knowing neither what day nor which date it is; you’re floating in time.

Way better than ‘wet’n’wild’: Tubing down river Palomino 

And floating is what we did today. Not only in time but on a long and windig river here in Palomino where we arrived this morning.

Palomino is a slightly shabby village between a road and a nice stretch of beach, frequented mainly by the hippieish backpacker crowd. Thus there are many, many hostels – and if this is still too bourgeois for you, you can rent only a hammock for a handful of dollars.

Colombian “Natty Dreadlocks” selling jewelry on the beach. 

You can hear the late Bob Marley at every corner. Rasta culture rules. It’s amazing how the relatively small island of Jamaica enriched hippiebackpackertourism all over the world. Even in Bali and Thailand I saw beach boys imitating the half asleep, “philosophical” (rather confusion than confucius) attitude. Although supposedly Jamaican at heart, their bodies remained Asian and they have straight hair and cannot grow dread locks. So they wear their hair long – problem solved, chick magnet just the same.

So anyway, we didn’t come here to listen to the “rivers of babylon”, we came here to float down river Palomino. Because since yesterday it was drizzling and the sky was covered, we decided to do it right away. Floating two hours in the glistening sun might be hard for us Northerners, anyway.

Everybody in Palomino seems to be in the tubing business, there is a pile of lorry inner tubes in front of basically every house.
For a couple of pesos the owner hands you a tube and hires a young man on a motorbike for you and off you go.
It’s not very handy to carry a huge tube while riding a bike. Therefore they invented the technique of sliding the tube over both riders.

What an air bag!

You get into the river somewhere in the jungle, the bike gets you there approximately half way – more interesting in the rain: a roiling river of mud, deep puddles, slippery rocks. Our protective suits consisted of no hard hats but shorts and a tank top; we were going to get wet after all. I wonder in how far the tube would absorb a fall. Would we just bounce off the rock’n’roll downhill tubed to our driver?
Anyway, faith and the drivers were kind and we arrived safely at the pretty tight jungle trail and were from here on our own.

Marching half an hour on a very narrow, very steep and very slippery mud trail carrying a huge tube in the pouring rain does not sound that great, I guess. But besides the fact that I ruined my flip flops from all the flipping and flopping in the mud, I actually enjoyed the beauty of the sumptuous forest a lot.

First we had to carry the tube all the way up…

…and then all the way down. 

Once at the river shore, you make yourself comfortable in the tube, you wiggle and giggle and shriek – that’s not the official, necessary part of the program, but everybody does – and off you float.

Hang in there! Floating down rio Palomino. 

It’s great fun, but don’t think that you can just hang in there and let the mighty river do all the work! If you do that, you end up against rocks and in the bushes. There were co-tubers floating from bush to bush, but that’s only fun for others, and while the water has a suspicious appearance, at the shores it’s plain disgusting. I know that because I got there twice.
So what you have to do is to observe the course of the river and the rapids and navigate with your arms as quick and frantic as you can.

But there are also long smooth parts where you can relax and appreciate the mighty jungle with its numberless species of majestic trees. You can watch colorful birds sitting on branches above your head, from time to time diving to get something out of the water (so there is something in the water, that’s attractive to birds?!? My butt is hanging in this water…). It’s just so, so beautiful!
If you worry about safety: The danger, that you capsize because your bottom touches ground is in many parts bigger than drowning.
After approximately two hours – depending on your navigation skills – the fun is over and you reach the beach, i. e. a sandbank separating the river from the ocean.

Tubing was wet, the ocean is wild.

Slowly we’re aproaching the end of our trip. And today’s tubing was one of its highlights.

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colombian diary – 6th chapter – parque tayrona

Before I begin to tell you about my amazing day at Parque Tayrona, I must admit that I skipped one stop: After we left the pleasure hell of the beaches of Cartagena, we made it to Santa Marta, a city by the sea. A little colonial, a little touristy  (again: Semana Santa!), a little average, but very unpretentious. Healthy mix of good crowds.

Too bad that scenic outposts always have to be way up high. But we are still smiling. 

We came by bus. Special tourist bus, door to door service. Do these drivers drive smoother than others? ¡Hell no!

I got my drivers licence at the age of 25, practiced the art of driving for two years, never felt very comfortable. Then I gave away my car, went to Jamaica for a couple of months, and never sat behind a wheel again. So I’m certainly no driving expert. But I know for sure: what these people are doing, is not right!

There is for instance the overtaking at blind curves – way up high on serpentines.
We have the overtaking at spots marked with two continuous lines  (not there to give the road a fancy touch or make it look slim).
Overtaking on the right side of the car  (just to be clear: in Colombia you are driving on the right side; or at least you’re supposed to).
Another charm is simultanious overtaking by two cars – so if you’re lucky, there are four cars side by side – the two cars overtaking the third one and another one in the opposite direction; in a spot with a continuous line (advanced course: at blind curves; way up high on serpentines).
And if you are in a rush (Colombians are in a rush as soon as they sit in a car), you go straight; on a very curved road. Also known as cutting a curve.
And since the trips are long, drivers get bored just driving so they talk on the phone or even type WhatsApp-messages.
Yesterday the cab driver wrote down my phone number with a pen on paper while driving  (no, we won’t go on a date, he’ll take me to the airport on my last day).
On our way from Salento to Medellín over the Andes we had to sit next to the bus driver because Mimi tends to get travel-sick. Well, although the road was very windy and quite bumpy, she did not get sick. She was far too scared.
Never will I sit next to the driver again and see – I think ‘witness’ might be the better word – what he’s doing. I let him – and Him (remember: Semana Santa) – do his job without watching.

Parque de los novios at Santa Marta. But at the many bars people other than novios are allowed to hang out, too.

Anyway, back to why I’m skipping Santa Marta for now: We’ll be back for a couple of days after our weekend excursion.

Taking only a small backpack with us, we spent the Easter weekend further East (no pun intended) beginning at Parque Tayrona, a national park that stretches more than 20 miles along the Northern caribbean coast and attracts nature lovers not only because of its impressive flora and fauna but also by reason of many secluded, unspoiled beaches.

Getting sneak peeks at the cool, blue ocean is very encouraging. Like the carrot dangling in front of a mule.  

Secluded means – once again – hiking. It starts harmless on straight wooden walkways, but this bliss doesn’t last.

This is how they suck you in: The first part is an even wooden walkway.

Soon you have to climb up and down quite steep stairs and dirt trails and it’s really hot and humid. At the same time the jungle is magnificent and you get to see majestic birds, exoticly glittering lizzards, huge butterflies in bright colors and even monkeys.

I can see ¡the beach!

Yes, it’s a great place, but when we finally reached the beach after only  90 minutes, I was much more exhausted than after our five hours hike in the mountains of Valle Cocora. ‘Mountains’ is key here: There it was relatively cool, here it’s a frigging hothouse! So once we got to the first of many beautiful beaches, I took a dip in the cristal clear ocean and simply crashed in the shade of one of the lush trees. Until it was time to make it back.

Like an enchanted forest: Not every creature makes itself visible. We also heard something gallop in the underwood – no clue what it was.

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colombian diary – 5th chapter – catharsis after cartagena

If you are into very, very crowded beaches in front of very, very high hotel buildings, pushy beach sellers, oceans covered with clouds of gasoline from all sorts of boat motors, if you don’t mind getting your head shaved off by jet skis while trying to swim in large crowds, then I’ve found the perfect place for you: Cartagena.

Where is Martin Parr when you need him?

Yes, there are the fortresses and the walled old town, Unesco World Heritage blablabla, and yes, it is pretty, but I don’t get the hang of places polished for visitors and the Unesco that look nothing like the rest of the town, where you find posh, overpriced “specialty” shops hardly any local can afford. I didn’t fancy Trinidad in Cuba, I don’t fancy the walled part of Cartagena.


…and pretty by night. 

I’m not sure if I made myself clear: I don’t like it here.

We’re leaving tomorrow.

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colombian diary – 4th chapter – mixed weather and mixed feelings in medellin

Arriving at the outskirts of Medellin, we heard a deafening thunder followed by a bright lightning – something had exploded. Welcome to Medellín.

Fernando Botero “La Muerte de Pablo Escobar”

We understood that we didn’t experience a violent attack in the former murder capital, but that there was a thunderstorm coming down on Colombia’s “city of spring”. What gave us a hint? For instance the torrential rain that washed us towards our hotel. Oh man, I don’t wanna get stuck at my – however very nice and comfortable – hotel room! Since a couple of years ago during hurrican Mitch I had to spend scary days in a hotel room in Tegucigalpa while outside people lost all their belongings including their lives, extreme weather conditions make me extremely nervous.

These paintings at the organic shop and restaurant “Salud Pan” not only cheered us up, but also gave us faith (that brighter days would come).

Since due to the unpredictable weather it was difficult to plan a day out, I thought a touristy group trip would be the best option. And it actually was. Being the only Europeans on a busload of mostly Latinos, we visited El Templo Roca where the whole town got ready for palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday at El Nuevo Peñol. 

We took a boat ride on Lago Guatapé where a lovely Colombian family shared a laugh and their aguardiente from a tetra pak with us while we were manoeuvring around the remains of Pablo Escobar ‘s former mansion.

Gringas – always a welcomed fairground attraction. 

The main reason for doing this tour was the view from La Piedra. After climbing 750 steps, you have a great view of the picturesque composition of numberless islands. I’m sorry, guys, I took my pictures when there were darkgrey clouds and shitty light so they look nothing like the ones I saw on the internet. Please be so kind to google them from others if you want pretty; or look at mine if you go for a rather melancholic version.

Lunch with a view – and with lovely Indian people from Chicago that we befriended during the trip. 

Islands in the liquid sun.
Last stop Guatapé, the charming little town where every house shows stucco according to the owner’s trade. 

The next day it cleared up a bit, and we visited the center of Medellín.

Medellín is the way I was afraid Bogotá would be – dirty, aggressive, lost, many  poor, homeless people, groups of pathetic prostitutes lingering around churches. Godforsaken places – called ‘Parques’, definitely not being parks – full of sketchy people.

Going hooking between the statues at Parque Botero between the Museo de Antioquia and the Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe seems to be nothing like “Irma la douce”.

Enjoying a well deserved ice cream while serving and protecting.

Everybody knows Medellín’s rough, violent past. Many of these lost souls had to flee from their little piece of land on the country side, threaten, scared or chased away by one of the fighting forces, either the paramilitary right, the left wing guerilla or a drug cartel. Eventually they got stranded in the city. Like the lady that has been pushing all her belongings in a shopping cart across Plaza San Antonio for decades. She has lost her husband and kids by one of these groups and is now saving every peso she can afford, so one day she’ll be able to return to the place she fled from. How I know this? Juan told me. Who Juan is? The guide at Real Walking Tour Medellín who guides groups through downtown, pointing out special places and narrating the country’s, the city’s, and the people’s (hi-)stories; and it’s only thanks to his energetic and entertaining attitude that after following him and his anecdotes for almost four hours, you’re not too depressed. Because when you get to the root of it, all of them are more or less atrocious and depressing. Like the one of the two Botero birds on Plaza San Antonio (one of Medellín’s most dismal places): During a rock concert in 1995 someone placed a backpack with a bomb in Botero’s bird statue, and it killed 25 people including a pregnant woman and a 7 years old girl. Until this day nobody knows officially which group is responsable for this barbaric act. It was the very Fernando Botero who forbit the mayor of Medellin to clean the ruins of his work. Now there is a plaque with the victims’ names, and Botero donated a second bird that symbolizes peace and hope for the new Medellín.

Fernando Botero “El Pajaro” and “El Pajaro de la Paz”

As a reference to the sufference of her people, Colombian photographer Erika Diettes created at the Museo de Antioquia her “Relicarios”. From 2011 to 2015, the artist visited families all over Colombia who are mourning their disappeared loved ones, listened to their stories and got a ‘relict’ that once belonged to the victims. Some relatives even travelled from secluded places just to hand Diettes the treasured objects. Sealing these ‘tokens’ individually in cubes of rubber tripolymer, Erika Diettes arranged these ‘gravestones’ into a graveyard of rememberence.
For me this year’s most impressive exhibit so far.

Erika Diettes “Relicarios”

Erika Diettes’ work is one of the current exhibitions at the museum. Their permanent collection consists of many huge, fantastic Boteros and paintings and sculptures he donated from his private collection including Wilfredo Lam, Frank Stella, Alex Katz and many more.
There is also a room for the children and the childish who can put on a uniform and incarnate Botero’s painting “Pedrito” that shows the artists son who tragically passed away at the age of four; why does everything have to have a depressing twist to it in this city?!

Thank you, Fernando, for letting me have the honor to be “Pedrito” for a couple of minutes. 

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colombian diary – 3rd chapter – salento: fifty shades of green

With this title I’m only trying to lure you into reading this chapter. In reality there are millions shades of green here in Salento. Before creating this place, God must have had a good night sleep and in the morning his favourite breakfast. And then he tossed countless trees and bushes and flowers on majestic mountains and created a paradise outside of paradise.

Sunrise over Quindio.
(Caspar David Friedrich was a wimp.)

After finishing his work, God felt a bit tired, therefore he quickly invented coffee plants of the highest quality and added them to this region that we call Quindio. It is Colombia’s smallest departamento and its coffee region.

The other man’s mountains are definitely greener. 

Coffee cherries 

Then good people came and constructed a chess board of cute little houses, and since they were in such a good mood being in this rich and lush environment and animated by their third cup of coffee, they painted them in bright colors. And they gave the place the Italian name Salento, because Italian is world’s most beautiful language, and this place deserves only the most beautiful.

Salento’s busy high street carrera 3

Salento by night

In Salento, food is synonymous to trout. At every restaurant you can order about five types of preparation; there are even trout burgers.
This one here is “trucha dorada” with “patacon gigante”, a giant chip made of green plantain. 

As things go, pretty attracts tourists, consequently there are packs of backpackers occupying the small place, and many shops and restaurants jumped on this global fusion-vegan-yoga-bandwagon. As a side effect, local people are much less friendly than in other places. Because, have I told you that Colombians are the most polite and friendliest people ever? Because they are. They are warm and welcoming and sweet.
Another very traveller friendly custom is that they don’t cheat, take advantage, try to sell you everything or talk you into something. Having been to quite many other places where people are also very friendly so they screw you over with a smile, I really love Colombian vendors, cab drivers, bus conductors, receptionists – basically everybody I had to deal with by now.

Valle de Cocora
(It looks so mushy ’cause it’s way up in the clouds)

For obvious reason, activities around Salento are all about nature: hiking, horse back riding, more hiking, swimming at a waterfall, hiking uphill, hiking downhill, and when you’re tired, there’s still hitch hiking.

The most unique and superb part is the Valle de Cocora located about 7.5 miles from Salento. Once you get there, there are several trails through the jungle that are not designed for couch potatoes. Because they are not designed at all. You have to climb over rocks and roots, wade through mud and horse dropping (because couch potatoes can do most part of the track riding), cross improvised bridges and climb pretty steep parts.

Creek Crossing 

Almost halfway up you can make a rest at an enchanting hummingbird reserve containing different species of hummingbirds as well as other birds and wildlife. That sounds cozy but the detour up to the reserve was for me the hardest part. Finally reaching there I was soaked in sweat and freezing in my sopping wet shirt once I cooled down a bit. Nevertheless the short break is refreshing before the last bit of mountaineering.

Going downhill you are rewarded for all the hardship by fantastic views of the Valley: On a bright green velvet grass carpet stand hundreds of wax palms that grow to a height of 150 to 200 ft. And since they grow only in the Andes of Colombia (and a small part of Peru), they are named after the region Quindio “Ceroxylon Quindiuense”. A majestic name for a majestic tree.

Green on Green 

On the serpentines around Salento Willy-Jeeps are the most common, comfortable and fun way to get around – and to school.

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colombian diary – 2nd chapter – getting high in cali

Being my next stop after Bogotá, it was hard for Cali to score. Especially since the city isn’t that charming no matter what was your previous destination.

Cali prides itself to be the Salsa capital of the world (Their words – sorry, Cuba).
Where others need an entire troop of musicians, this gentleman rocks the street all bye:himself.

One of the best things I did in Cali was…staying in my hotel room. We are booked into a huge room on the 19th floor at the Torre de Cali Plaza Hotel overlooking the whole city.

Room with a view by day…

Especially at night it seems that you are flying over the illuminated place.

…and by night.

Being a traveller, you are expected to leave your room from time to time, so we walked the city which didn’t struck me as particularly striking. There is the Plaza de Cayzedo, but otherwise the center consists mainly of plain finance and business buildings overshadowing a teeny tiny colonial area.

One of Cali’s main attractions is the Parque de los gatos where the visitor is greeted by Hernando Tejada’s “gato del rio”, and local and foreign artists painted about 15 cats to their liking. It’s pretty, but there are the BuddyBears in Berlin designed in the same fashion, there is the worldwide cow parade, lions in Munich and Hamburg’s symbolic “Hummel” – all painted by artists…to cut a long story short: The idea is far from being new and original.

Hernando Tejada: “El gato del rio”…

…and the rest of the catty gang. 

In cities it’s always all about views, and Cali is quite mountainous. The problem with mountains is you have to climb them. And – after four days freezing in Bogotá, I say this joyfully – in Cali it’s hot. Climbing in the noonish heat is sweat breaking. Hence it’s disappointing when you reach the top and the city still doesn’t look any prettier.

This is Sebastián de Belalcázar, one of the pleasant guys who conquered South America.

After climbing uphill and downhill a couple of times, we’ve had it and decided to pay Cristo Rey a visit. This Christ is overlooking Cali and prides himself being only 12 meters shorter than the one in Rio. Hm, I personally find 12 meters a lot. Anyway, we got on one of these busses I always thought existed only in clay and miniature size. But no, they are real, and passangers and goods are actually stacked according to the clay miniature models.

The bus ride is a truly Colombian experience and great fun, but it doesn’t bring you all the way up to Christ. The last 1.5 miles you’re on your own hiking uphill – in our case at 1 p.m. sweating and swearing. No wonder the construction worker at the site we passed presumed we were German. I hardly see any other nation walking uphill in the blistering sun around noon in South America.

Close to Thee. In cooperation with the sun, I even made Cristo Rey a halo.

Hacienda El Paraíso and Hacienda Piedechinche

To reach two ancient Haciendas from Cali is easy. It’s easy and it’s cheap, but it’s neither very comfortable nor fast since you take one of these public busses where the driver stops abruptly as soon as he spots a human being of any kind so that the conductor can scream and shout and advertise the final destination. Then the new passanger is squeezed into the bus, and off we go – till the driver breaks again because of a potential passanger who often isn’t one.
After about an hour you reach a ‘cruze’ at the town of Amaime where cabs are waiting to drive guests through a tree lined avenue along sugar cane and lush pastures. In front of the backdrop of the picturesque mountains tropical birds are overflying the sumptuous landscape – no wonder the first Hacienda’s name is “El Paraíso”. But the locals call it also “Hacienda María”, and María is the main reason people are visiting this place. The owner’s son Jorge Isaacs wrote the semi-biographic, hyper-romantic novel “María” in 1867 and since then every Colombian student had to cry over María’s death at the tender age of 18 from a broken heart. So every detail of the former Hacienda and all explanations during the tour are wrapped around sappy María.
Nevertheless, the Hacienda is worth the visit because the 200 years old building is beautiful, and the views are breathtaking.

View from Hacienda El Paraíso.

Patio of Hacienda El Paraíso – including María’s Roses. 

More complete is the visit to Hacienda Piedechinche, about five miles from El Paraíso. The building is older and it has no romantic story to it. Just a couple that had 16 kids who were mainly raised in boarding schools in the city (boys) and in cloisters (girls). These good people, too, made their fortune from sugar cane and abusing slaves; during neither tour was this fun fact emphasized, though.

What makes Piedechinche more special to me is the magnificent garden with numberless flowers and trees. It’s like being Gulliver in the land of giants – overtowered by humongous cactusses, farns, fan tree palms…you name it.

Hacienda Piedechinche 

I must say I liked both places a lot, and if someone insists on giving me a Hacienda for a weekend home, I will gracefully accept the favor.

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colombian diary – 1st chapter – hip’n’artsy bogotá

¡Hola desde Bogotà, mis amigos! So here we are, happy and safe in Colombia’s capital. We? Well, I really, really appreciate it that you spare time to read my sense and nonsense instead of watching cat videos online – or even leave home for a walk. Therefore I will not lie to you – so yes, this time I’m not bye:myself but in company of Mimi who happens to be my daughter. And being my daughter, she’s just another free spirit, which means although we are travelling together it’s like two people travelling individually; so I’m not really cheating.

Bogotá – what can I say!? I’m still overwhelmed by its charme, by the beauty of many neighborhoods, by the environmental awareness, by the countless delightful little shops and vegetarian and vegan snack bars; and by the arts, the eclectic, outstanding, creative art that can be found everywhere.

A short break at “Nativo Arte Natural” sampling their organic juices. 

We did the standard touristy things, too. We went to the Museo del Banco de Bogotá where not only a vast number of Fernando  Botero’s work is on display, but also an excellent choice of international artists and colonial as well as contemporary Colombian art.

Three ladies by national art icon Fernando Botero.

Salvador Dalí: “The basket of bread”

Beatrice González: “Decoración de interiores”

We strolled around the colonial government district, looked in every church and had traditional lunch.

…and numberless school kids strolled, too. This group crossed our way on Plaza Bolívar.

Colombia’s national dish: “Bandeja Paisa” – consisting mainly of meat with meat, completed with saussage.

At the Gold Museum we enjoyed the special exhibition on the Kuna Indios’ typical craft – the elaborated molas.  The amount and variety of the museum’s treasures inspired our souvenir shopping of gold plated replicas.

Pre colombian treasures at the Museo del Oro.

Till this day do the Kuna indios living in Panama at the border to Colombia handcraft their detailed and refined “Molas”.

But what really impressed me the most was the people’s creativity, the love for designing and decorating using all sort of usual and unusual material, very often recycled in a highly ingenious and innovative way.

Entrance to the Callejon del Embudo grants access to an alley of beauty and awe. 

Bogotá has a very active street art scene of many tremendously talented artists. To get a good insight in the history, development, philosophy, and political background, the free graffity tour is highly recommendable (it’s free but of course based on tips). “J”, born in Colombia, raised in New York City and Miami, now back to his roots (good for him!), guides tourist groups through the “barrio” and points out every detail in a very knowledgable and passionate way.

Carlos Trilleras: “Aka Wayu”

A more recent mural by Carlos Trilleras.
Mimi with Carlos Trilleras in a shirt made by Carlos Trilleras at Carlos Trilleras’ stand #302 at Mercado de Pulgas San Alejos. 

One evening my friend Carolina, a Colombian journalist whom I met during my Italian studies in Milan last year, took us to the very trendy and posh El Salto del Angel restaurant. Besides yummy lulada cocktails and delicious cevice, the most exciting part seemed to be the presence of Carles Puyol. I hope you know who that is, because I didn’t (now I’ve learned that he’s a retired soccer player). Retired or not – people paid actually 20,000 pesos (the equivalent of approximately 7$) to get in and get their picture taken with him; and we’re talking ’bout grown ups here…
Isn’t it cool, when you are genuinely cool instead of playing cool?! Let me
tell you, not having a clue who the ‘celebrity’ is they are making this
fuss about, helps a lot!

A large glass of “Lulada”, whose name derives from the local Andes fruit lulo, and a wide range of further drink options. 

Talking ’bout cool: I didn’t expect Bogotá to be so cool – and I didn’t expect Bogotá to be so cold, either. Since I packed for hot South American weather, I had to spend four days now in the same worn and torn pair of jeans and a faded (once dark) blue Old Navy hoodie. Next to all this beautiful, hip youngsters this made me feel like a poor peasant coming to town.

Next time, Bogotá, I promise to dress up for you; you definitely deserve it.

Did I inspire you? Planning on going to Colombia?
Get detailed information on the most interesting destinations that I’ve travelled bye:myself.