Before delving too far in to these two experiences, I’ll start with a general note. Around the time we got to Medellin, Nick and I both felt a transformation occur. We had finally hit our stride travel-wise and it felt great! Despite being able to partake in some amazing excursions, visit some unforgettable cities and landscapes, and drink an inordinate amount of cheap beer, the first few weeks of travel were tough! We missed New York and our friends, got irritated with each other all the time for being irritated with each other all the time, and had difficulty recalibrating our daily routines to suit our new lifestyle. Right around the time we got to Medellin, though, something clicked. In reality, nothing magical occurred. We had reached a new level of understanding with regards to what it would take to stop being obnoxious to one another all the time, had learned enough about the way we travel to be more honest and assertive with ourselves and others about what we wanted and needed at any given moment, and had stopped asking ourselves “Why doesn’t Seamless work here?” It’s a good reminder to anyone experiencing a change of any sort at this moment: Give it time. Any major change to a lifestyle is difficult; be kind to yourself and be honest with yourself. The more you practice this, the easier it will be to practice kindness and honesty with those around you.
All right, so Medellin.
We had a hellish time getting to Medellin from Taganga on 4 buses, 1 lost passport, 2 stops at ATMs with only a 50% success rate, and 1 lost wallet. Despite feeling like Ursula from The Little Mermaid when we got there, we fell instantly in love with the city. Let me break it down for you:
1. We found decent Asian Food. For those of you who don’t know us personally, let me paint a picture for you. Nick and I are to Thai food as Rose was to Jack before she let him die an icy death. We are to Indian food as Gwyneth Paltrow is to fair trade gold-flaked Himalayan-farm-raised Duck bacon. We are to scallion pancakes as X-tina is to overdoing it on the riffs when simply staying on key will suffice. Being without it for the last 5 weeks has been……trying. So once we got to our hostel after our journey though Middle Fucking Earth (see above), being told that the closest dinner option was a restaurant called Wok It Out felt like God had finally heard our prayers. I’d give it a New York 3.5 TBH but like an anywhere else Eleventy Billion.
2. Our neighborhood was dope. Most hostels are in El Poblado, a particularly trendy part of the city. The area is teeming with hostels, restaurants, bars, and magical ice-cream stores where you can design your own ice cream bar and wonder how you ever lived without such a unicorn of food. There’s also close access to Medellin’s beautiful public transit system. Not like, “oh you’re New Yorkers so you’re used to subway cars decorated with fresh urine and a 64% chance the train you need isn’t running at all so anything else is bound to be a beautiful public transit system,” like….you’re legit not allowed to eat or drink on this thing so it’s always shiny as fuck and there are few instances of it breaking down. If you go to Medellin, stay here.
3. The nightlife was great! The city’s nightlife is robust and fun. Parque Lleras is the designated “going out area” and it feels safe and lively. If I’m being honest, I miss the feeling of a god dive bar, and the area offers either clubs or places to grab a beer with Top 40 bumping in your ear the whole time, but that’s more of a South America problem than a specifically Medellin problem.
For more on WTD in Medellin, I’ll send you to Goats on the Road, with an extensive breakdown of Botero statues to visit and things to do. Overall, though, get yourself to Medellin. Trust.
From there, we went to Salento, a small town to the South that’s in coffee country. Nick was iffy on it so I threw a passive aggressive tantrum and got my way (highly recommend). In the end, we both walked away feeling like Salento was our fave place in Colombia, meaning I was wright and Nick was wrong end of blog post.
JAYKAY. Here’s why Salento was great and you should throw a tantrum if your partner tells you they’re not going there on your Colombian vacation:
1. Coffee Tours You guys, I am to coffee as (here we go again) Kanye West is to narcissism or Meryl Streep is to Academy Award nominations. My bloodstream is 76.54% coffee at this point. Since Salento is in coffee country, there are several options. Off of a friend’s recommendation we chose The Plantation House, a coffee farm on the edge of town with a hostel attached to it. (Pro tip: Stay at this hostel if you go because you get a 50% discount on the tour). The experience begins with the attendant handing you a pair of muddy farmer boots and a walking stick in anticipation of your 15 minute hike deep into the coffee plantation. I saw this as a necessary safety precaution; Nick saw a costume and an opportunity to perform the role of “Farmer” in the new Broadway smash hit Gays on a Coffee Plantation Tour. Once you arrive at the little coffee hut where the tour takes place, the owner gives you a spiel about coffee that I found interesting (but if I’m being honest this part takes an unnecessary amount of time mostly because he’s much better at growing coffee than he is at brevity). After the talk the group tastes coffee of various harvests and strengths, and then everyone votes on how strong they want their personal fresh brew to be. Once the coffee is freshly roasted, ground, and brewed for the group, the tour is officially over but guests are welcome to wander the plantation, or in our case take several hundred pictures of Nick posing with his costume against a backdrop of coffee plants. Overall, the experience was a Top 5 for me in all of Colombia, and not just because of the best fucking cup of coffee I’ve ever had.
2. The famous Peanut Butter Brownie Milkshake Y’all, this deserves its own blog post. I’m so for real right now. I’ll keep it quick so I can get to the good stuff: American X-pat moves down to Salento, American X-pat gets mad that peanut butter isn’t more common in South America, said X-pat opens up dope as fuck restaurant with all the American comfort food you could want (gringo burritos, burgers, sandwiches, etc., etc.) INCLUDING a peanut butter brownie. HE THEN DECIDES TO ALLOW YOU TO CONSUME THE BROWNIE INSIDE OF A MILKSHAKE IF THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. Ok now I’m back. This brownie. We had it. It went inside of our mouths and then straight up to brownie heaven where it will be forever memorialized. RIP mon petite chérie. One day we’ll be reunited.
3. Hiking the Cocora Valley. Probably one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. The Cocora Valley outside Salento is home to the world’s tallest palm trees and some of the most lusciously green views I’ve witnessed. To get there from the town, you have to linger around in the main plaza getting increasingly angry until one of the local Jeep drivers decides taking you to the hike works for their schedule at that exact moment and tells you to hop in, otherwise if you miss it you’ll repeat this process all over again until you’re bald. Then, after 15 minutes of surviving a rocky Jeep ride that may or may not prove fatal at points, you’re let off at the base of the valley and your jaw drops. The hike itself comes with quite a few options: it’s essentially all a loop, but you can choose to do the 5-6 hour loop or the 1.5 hour loop. Within each of those options, you can choose to go counter-clockwise (which is what we did; it’s more rigorous and you come out to the palm tree forest at the very end), or go clockwise (which is slightly less rigorous and in which you start with the palm trees). One thing we loved about this hike was the wide variety of scenery you find within just a few hours. In this case, we started with green pastures full of wild animals (one of us wanted to go “pet the cows,” the other offered stern warnings and scoldings and explanations of why this was probably a bad idea), then happened upon some pretty intense forestry, which turned into some incredibly steep mountainous terrain, which then turned into more fields but this time fields ON a mountain overlooking the entire valley, which then ended in a truly remarkable view of the palm valley. I did get a pretty gnarly gash in my hand from a barbed wire fence that didn’t cooperate, but it was chill because this Israeli family saved my life. If you do this hike, and I highly recommend it, just know the following:
· It gets pretty muddy during rainy season. The hike is still totally doable but just be prepared for that.
· It is generally unadvisable to grab on to a barbed-wire fence when you’re slipping on the mud.
· Push yourself to go counter-clockwise and do the full loop if you can. Yes, it’s a tough hike, but trust me – it was one of the most rewarding activities we did and when you see the palm valley at the end it feels like such an earned reward for pushing yourself. Don’t waste that incredible view by going through that part first!
· When you receive info about the hike, you’ll be told about a nature refuge with a restaurant that’s at almost exactly the halfway point. To get in to the preserve and the restaurant you pay $4 which includes a free hot beverage. We’d say skip it. The drink isn’t that great, and neither are the views the from the refuge. The landscape you see there is no different than what you’re seeing already on the hike, and we got pretty lost by going up there. It took us about an hour to find our way back. Overall, we weren’t that mad about it because it was an extra hour of hiking through gorgeous forest but I still would say it’s not worth the $4. Buy yourself a beer as a post-hike treat instead.
All right, folks, that’s pretty much it. This was a long one because, as you can see, both places discussed are MUSTS in Colombia. Medellín is by far the best of the metro areas we saw in Colombia, and we both actually said Salento was our favorite place in the whole country. Let us know if you need more specific recs!