Today I am pleased to feature a post by the expert travel blogger, David Lee. David is an authority on many travel subjects, but his move to Columbia added this South American country to his repertoire. This is a beautiful post about little known spots in Colombia.
The big city nightlife of Bogota, Medellin and Cali often figure prominently into traveler itineraries, however it’s in the small pueblos that Colombian culture is best experienced. If your time in the country is short, make an effort to visit at least one of the three prettiest pueblos in Colombia.
Located a short two and a half hour bus ride east of Medellin, Guatape is situated on the shores of a large, man-made lake. Guatape is known for its colorfully painted wall reliefs that line the houses and shops throughout the pueblo. The reliefs differ in subject, however they all share the common theme of depicting local Antioquian culture. If the weather is clear, boat rides are available in two forms. First, you can take a double-decker party boat out on the water to enjoy a few shots of Aguardiente with the locals. Or second, you can hire a small speed boat to take you on a tour of the lake, the focus of which is the former vacation homes of Pablo Escobar and family. Escobar’s home, and that of his bodyguards, is just a concrete frame, however many of the homes bought for his family members are still standing. From the lake, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see El Penol, the region’s 200-meter high monolith. The views atop El Penol of the surrounding countryside, spotted with lakes and rolling green hills, is worth the 600-stair climb it takes to get up it. And it’s just a 15-minute moto-rickshaw ride from Guatape’s main plaza.
Nestled in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region, Eje Cafetero, Salento is one of the best preserved pueblos in Colombia, and a popular staging point for exploring the surrounding countryside. As with all pueblos, life revolves around the main plaza, which is lined with hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, and a large church. On the weekends, local vendors set up their stalls to sell everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables to greasy Colombian classics like arepas con queso and chunchurria (intestines). Salento’s proximity to the Valle de Cocora national park makes it the ideal location from which to go for a hike. Home to the world’s tallest palm tree, the wax palm, as well as a wide array of wildlife from hummingbirds to small bears, the Valle de Cocora deserves a whole day to fully enjoy. Muddy conditions, and frequent rains ensure you’ll get dirty, however you can rent a horse to take you part of the way.
Three to four hours southwest of Medellin by road, Jardin is out of the way compared to the preceding pueblos, and therefore receives fewer foreign tourists. If you make the effort to visit, get ready to enjoy one of the liveliest pueblos in Colombia. Jardin’s main plaza is filled with colorfully-painted tables and chairs, which match the colors of the cafe or disocteca to which they belong. All day and night, locals can be seen sipping coffee and catching up on the latest gossip. At thirty cents a cup, the price ensures everyone in town can enjoy the experience. On Saturday nights, the ranchera and vallenato music from the bars is turned especially high, and the plaza swells with what feels like the entire pueblo’s population. Babies in strollers, teenagers hanging out, young couples, and older folk alike are all out to enjoy the atmosphere. When visiting Jardin, take the time to rent some horses and go for a ride up into the mountains surrounding the pueblo. There are several local tour guides to choose from, and all will take you to Cueva de Esplendor, a unique cave with a hole in the roof, through which a powerful waterfall runs. Colombia offers visitors the best of both worlds, the action and excitement of big cities, and the traditional rural culture of its pueblos. Be sure to enjoy them both for a balanced view of life in Colombia.