Colombia has the global reputation of that asshole in school with anger problems that beat everyone up, got sent to Juvenile Detention (JUVEE,) and now works at McDonald’s flipping burgers for $3/hour. But that reputation is ‘soi 1999.’ Imagine, if that high-school bully came out of the closet, voted for Hillary, and was now a rich, successful businessman that invited everyone on his yahct for the year. That guy would be pretty cool...and that guy is Colombia. But even after three weeks of backpacking around Colombia, some things continued to surprise us...so here are 5 Surprising Facts for First-Time Colombia Vacationers!
1. Colombia is Safe!
We constantly fielded this question from our families, which is fair because Colombia used to the be the most dangerous country in the world in ‘90’s due to the politicization of cocaine production and terrorist groups racing to clutch power. The recent hit Netflix show, Narcos, didn’t help ease these fears as it centers around Pablo Escobar bombing the entire country to sell more cocaine. But rest assured you’ll be perfectly safe (minus some petty stealing) on your first trip to Colombia!
Throughout our trip, we heard at least thirty stories from fellow travelers who had their stuff stolen. In our hostel in Bogota, the first sign we saw was to lock up everything and only bring cash when going out. In Medellin we took an amazing walking tour, and our tour guide referenced why there is so much theft in Colombia. According to her, thieves in Colombia act like your pets do when they see you eating: the ownership of your food is meaningless...they just see that you have something they want and try to get it.
Not to be shady, but we’ve done some research to find if any other travel blogs have had this problem and found most are tight-lipped! They tell you everything that’s ‘soi great’ about Bogota, but don’t touch on what my fellow travelers and I felt: terrified. What’s the T?
Regardless, it’s alway good to review basic safety while traveling abroad. I’ve followed every tip travel bloggers Christy and Scott of Ordinary Traveler outlined in their 10 Travel Safety Tips for First-Time Travelers. Here’s the link!
2. Traditional Colombian Food will Fatten You Up
Experiencing food is the cornerstone of traveling. But that doesn’t mean you don’t judge it. I mean, I’ll eat the crickets in Bangkok but not without thinking ‘Who the f*** looked at a cricket and said ‘Lunch.’ In Bogota, you’ll have plenty of things to do but a food tour needs to be high on your list. On ours, we got to taste popular Colombian food including: Ajiaco Soup, church wafers slathered with arequipe (caramel), empanadas, arepas, and more! But the constant ingredient in all these dishes was cheese. It was in EVERYTHING; even where it shouldn’t be...like in hot chocolate? Tani said it was definitely a weird taste but not unwelcome. But who looked at a piece of cheese and thought ‘I’ll put that in my cup of chocolate.’ A Colombian. That’s who.
3. The Best Colombian Coffee...is in the States?
This really surprised me! I thought Colombian coffee was supposed to be the amazing! Everytime I went to Starbucks, they’d advertise a ‘Colombian blend’ of something and I never cared because I knew it was going to be burnt. But the worst coffee I’ve had was at breakfast in Bogota ( I spit it back in my cup because it tasted like they made the coffee with the ashes of the burnt beans.) Well, we found out that Colombia does produce the best coffee in the world but they export all the good stuff. Last year, Colombia was the #3 producer in the world, and the top producer of the highly desirable Arabica bean which is heralded for its smooth, well-balanced flavor, according to Investopedia.com which apparently helps rich people invest in things…(over here Mr. Goldstone!) Unfortunately, that leaves behind the dregs for local consumption.
But if you’re a coffee fanatic and it’s your first-time visting Colombia, you’re going to pay triple for a good cup of coffee. Hell, you might as well bring a Starbuck’s blend in your carry-on for emergencies. But if it's your first-time, we highly recommend going to Salento, aka: coffee country and taking a coffee tour! We had a great time with Plantation House (which also has a hostel attached to it!) You can visit them here.
4. Colombia is Vegetarian-Friendly!
Before our trip around the world, I was vegan. Loved being one too. But when we decided to take this trip, I knew it was unsustainable. Is there anything people from South America like more than meat? Jesus maybe...but then meat is a pretty close second. So imagine my surprise when we found restaurants advertising veggie burgers, tempeh risotto, and other vegetarian options? And it wasn’t just in the big cities: at a mom-and-pop-shop in Taganga, a friend of ours had an entire meal created from scratch when she said she was vege. I was like, ‘I want a meal from scratch! All I got was a mystery steak with the texture of leather.’ But secret surprise, everything has cheese in it!
5. You Can Use Uber in Colombia...Kind Of.
I’m no fan of Uber...in the states I prefer to use Lyft because I like their politics better. But there ain’t no Lyft in South America...and Uber is on the ropes. Technically, yes. You can use Uber in Colombia...but it’s also technically illegal. Will you be thrown in jail for using Uber in Colombia? No. If you get stopped, they’ll fine the driver. But the drivers will text you some pretty strange instructions when you book a ride (like: meet us three blocks away, don’t look around, and get in the front seat.) Don’t worry, it’s common...they just don’t want to get busted. Just be prepared to sit in the front seat on your phone the whole time. Or if you know Spanish, you can make a new friend! I loved using Uber in Colombia because you agree to the rates up-front and they are usually cheaper than yellow taxis. Plus, yellow taxis gauge you, say they don’t have change, and rarely know where they are going. I love sticking it to them by using Uber that I don’t even care if I get caught.
Bonus: Cocaine is Easier to Get than Tequila
As I mention in the video, it is IMPOSSIBLE to not talk about cocaine in Colombia. Look, I see you Colombia. I see you trying to clean up your act. I see the amazing new development in Medellin, the amazing food, and feel safe walking everywhere. But girl, being sold cocaine on the street 100x a day isn’t normal; it’s annoying af. As a white man, I was targeted constantly by coke salesman who would walk with me down the street offering to sell ‘the best cocaina.’ When I declined, he went away only to replaced by another man with the EXACT SAME PITCH. I mean this is Business 101: differentiate your pitch. Just be prepared, if you’re vacationing for the first-time in Cartagena or Medellin, that you’ll be constantly sold cocaine.
Also, they didn’t care about selling it in front of police officers…because the police still value money over everything. I did hear if you get caught DO NOT OFFER THEM MONEY! They’ll eventually name their price, but doing it before could get you in even more trouble. So just be patient when you’re getting busted for cocaine possession in Colombia and facing a lifetime in prison. Seems reasonable.
Do you have any other things people planning a Colombia vacation for the first time should know? Comment below and keep the tips coming!