For several years, Colombia was dominated and ravaged by drug trafficking and militias. In those days, visiting this country was almost madness. I was afraid just thinking about it.
Today, this beautiful country is one of the main tourist destinations in Latin America and its landscapes attract millions of tourists every year.
Colombians are very proud of their country, and rightly so. Of course, we are talking about Latin America, so we must be careful, but we must not forget that thousands of tourists are robbed and assaulted in Europe every year.
As the tourism authorities in Colombia say: the biggest danger will be not wanting to go home!
Here's my itinerary, written in journal form:
Day 1: Quebec-Bogotá (connection in Toronto)
We arrived in Bogotá in the evening. I had the time to buy a card SIM at the airport, to have Internet access during our trip.
In spite of the polemics, we had chosen to use transportation apps in Colombia (Uber, Cabify and DiDi), because taking a taxi is not easy (sometimes even dangerous).
At the airport, we had to move further away, to take our transportation out of sight of the taxi drivers. From the moment you leave the arrival area, you’re constantly being solicited. It’s up to you. If you take a taxi, ask for the taximeter to be used. Also, in Colombia, for security reasons, it is not advisable to hail a taxi on the street. It’s best to call one, through a taxi app or ask the hotel to do so..
Our hotel was the brand-new AC Bogotá Zona Rosa, located in the neighbourhood which bears the same name. It is one of the best addresses in the city, near the shopping centre, bars and restaurants. We told them it was our birthday, but at the reception they just wished us a happy birthday. No upgrades, no candy, no gifts. 🙁
We liked that hotel. The bedroom was spacious, the bathroom was separated from the bedroom by a large sliding door. The shower was made of glass, and it was located between the bed and the vanity. It was separate from everything else. The toiletries, from the Greek brand Korres, are among the best I have ever known.
Day 2: Bogotá
We woke up to a call from the front desk saying that our Colombian friend was waiting for us downstairs.
We went for breakfast in a small local restaurant (which became our official breakfast place in Bogotá) and then we took the SRB Trasmilenium towards La Candelaria, the historical district of Bogotá.
We love trying public transportation in the places we visit.
For those who, like me, love colonial architecture, La Candelaria is a magical place. Even the simplest of houses can be the subject of a magnificent photo.
We admired the huge Plaza Bolivar, the central square of La Candelaria, where we can see:
- the National Capitol;
- the impressive Primada Cathedral;
- the ecclesiastical palace;
- the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé (one of the first schools in the city);
- the town hall (Palazzo Liévano);
- the Palace of Justice (where the famous and tragic hostage-taking by the armed group M-19 took place in 1985).
Then we visited:
- the Botero Museum (the Colombian artist known for his large figures),
- the Casa de Moneda (house of money), and
- the Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo (small square where the history of the city began).
Then we followed an itinerary that I had designed. I’m the planner around here. Everything is in my Excel table: dates, costs, order of places to visit, means of transport, etc.
We spent all day in the old quarter.
We took the opportunity to try a typical dish in a traditional restaurant called La Puerta Falsa, near the Cathedral. It was very good and affordable, although it has become very touristy. Then we tasted Arequipe, the Colombian milk dulce. It was wonderful!
Every break can be an excuse to have a coffee or hot chocolate at a Juan Valdez Café, the Colombian version of Starbucks, which is excellent and we loved it.
Speaking of security, we stumbled upon a police museum. The visit was free and it was very interesting.
At the end of the day, a very heavy rain fell on the city and it took us almost an hour to find transportation back to the hotel. We waited at the Juan Valdez Café. We made an effort.
In order not to search under the rain, we had dinner in a restaurant in a beautiful mall called Andino, located a few steps from the hotel.
Day 3: Bogotá-Villa de Leyva
Early in the morning, we left for the bus terminal, located north of the city. We were going to take the SRB, but in the end we called for a car.
At the terminal, we bought tickets to go to Villa de Leyva, a wonderful colonial village located about 180 km from Bogotá. Since it was a 3-hour trip, we booked a hotel to spend the night (we didn’t do the check-out from the hotel in Bogotá, because we had booked 6 nights, one of which was free). This allowed us to leave with a small backpack.
We visited the Casa Terracota (terracotta house) (a 4 km walk, round trip) and went around the attractions of the village, which is not very big. It was like a nice trip back to the 1500s. The Villa of Leyva is part of the UNESCO heritage.
In the evening, the people of the village and the tourists meet around the Plaza Mayor, the main square, where there are several bars, restaurants, and the Cathedral, of course. Girls, forget about wearing high heels: the pavement can be dangerous. 🙂
Day 4: Villa de Leyva-Bogotá
We said goodbye to Villa de Leyva at the delicious Chocolate Museum, before taking a bus to Bogotá. Our friend sent us a message, to get us to stop near a university, on the road, where he was going to meet us.
We took a small bus (where we were the only tourists), towards the Village of Chía, where the most famous restaurant of Colombia is located: Andrés Carne de Rés.
This place is a mixture of bar, restaurant, museum and disco. It’s hard to explain. You just must go, because it’s impressive.
To get back to the hotel, we used a transportation app.
Day 5: Bogotá-Zipaquirá-Bogotá
The day to visit the famous Salt cathedral of Zipaquirá had arrived. We followed our friend’s instructions to take the SRB to the station where the minibuses for Zipaquirá (or Zipa, as we hear them shouting when we get to the station) leave. Our friend took the same minibus we did, a few miles away.
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is considered the wonder of Colombia. People are very proud of this attraction, which combines a salt mine, an underground cathedral and a museum. It’s quite impressive.The Village of Zipaquira is very nice too. The cathedral is impressive.
We had dinner in a small local restaurant (again, we were the only tourists), before taking a minibus, as we were told by our friend. As there is no such thing as a trip without messing up, we thought we had taken the SRB in the wrong direction, but people on the bus reassured us. They just told us to be careful when disembarking, because at this time of day it could be dangerous.
Despite the fear, we arrived safely. To be honest, we were warned everywhere, but we didn’t see anything dangerous.
Day 6: Bogotá
On that day, we visited the most famous place in the capital: the Cerro Monserrate , an observatory located at 3152 m. Usually there are long queues to buy tickets and to take the cable car or funicular, and that’s why it’s best to get there early. The cable car was closed for construction work, so we took the funicular.
At the top of the hill, we literally walk the Way of the Cross. At each station, there is a beautiful sculpture with the station number and information.
When you get to the top, you can spend hours admiring the view of Bogotá at more than 3,000 m. There is also a church, a small souvenir market and restaurants. We took the opportunity to take a break, eat something and have a coca tea, to avoid having a headache, because of the altitude.
When we got off, instead of taking a transport, we walked downtown, and then walked along 7th avenue (Carrera 7) to the bicentennial park. There’s a lot to see. Again, we have to be careful, because we are downtown.
We had dinner at Andrés DC, a branch at the Zona Rosa de Bogotá of the Andrés Carne de Rés restaurant (de Chía). We loved the experience, although it was very different from the original restaurant.
Day 7: Bogotá-Medellín
We called a car with an app to go to the airport. The girl who was driving asked us to pretend that we knew each other, because the platform was going through times of instability in Colombia and the rides were not quite legal. When we arrived, we hugged and kissed and I asked her to say hi to her father and mother for me. 😀
Our flight with Latam had been cancelled (my mistake, as I didn’t look before leaving) so we spent the morning at the airport, waiting for the next flight in the early afternoon.
Medellín is the richest and most developed city in Colombia. It has developped a lot in the industry and technology fields, and has also become very big on tourism.
There is a controversy, a certain taboo about the city’s past, which was strongly linked to drug trafficking, because of the cartels.
You can even take guided tours, which show tourists the footsteps of Pablo Escobar; This causes a feeling of disgust among most locals, who want to look ahead instead.
We have chosen not to encourage narco-tourism.
As we had a delay with our flight, we decided not to go downtown that day. We went to discover the Poblado district, one of the best in Medellin.
Our hotel was the Four Points by Sheraton Medellin. We got an upgrade to a huge room, as well as breakfasts.
The hotel has aged, but that hasn’t ruined our experience. The swimming pool was nice for a swim at the end of the day. We found it convenient to have direct access to the Oviedo shopping mall from the hotel. That door was open till 10PM every day.
We did a happy hour at the Lleras Park, a square surrounded by bars and restaurants. We had dinner there too. I ordered the typical dish of the region, la Bandeja Paisa, and had difficulty eating it all. It was huge! It looked like there was a little bit of everything in there.
Day 8: Medellín
The long-awaited day to visit the Comuna 13 had arrived. Once one of the most dangerous places in the country, this community has become a busy tourist attraction. As recommended by all travel guides, we had chosen a guided tour with a local, who knows where to take visitors safely.
Nowadays, the district is served by metro, bus, cable car (a cable car system for those living on the mountainside) and escalators.
There’s art everywhere: graffiti, crafts and street dance.
This kind of social tourism is excellent so that we can know and understand other realities and especially to thank more and complain less about life.
After visiting this community, we took a ride on the cable subway, to get the same experience as a resident.
Then we took the surface subway to go visit the centercity and resume the route I had planned.
We managed to make up for the delay caused by the previous day’s flight and thus to see the sculptures of Botero, in the place that bears his name.
In San Antonio Square, we saw the birds (a sculpture in the shape of a bird had been the target of a terrorist attack in 1995, killing 28 people and injuring more than 200). 5 years later, Botero made a second bird and offered it to the city, to rest next to the damaged bird. San Antonio square was not touristy, but became so afterwards.
After our visit downtown, we visited the administrative area of Medellín and of the region of Antioquia.
Day 9: Medellín-Guatapé
That day, we went to the station, to take a bus to Guatapé. We disembarked on the road, before the village, to visit the attraction of the area: la Piedra del Peñol, a monolith of 220 m. To get to the top of the “sugar loaf”, you have to climb 705 steps. There’s no elevator, cable car or space shuttle. It had to be the stairs…
When we got to the top, two rewards awaited us: the beautiful view of the Lake El Peñol and a good michelada (or a beer or juice, if you prefer). It is a huge dam lake, the result of the floods that occurred at the time, which caused the entire Village of El Peñol and several rural properties to be moved.
After getting off, we took a tuk-tuk to take us to the Village of Guatapé, where we had booked a small hotel in the main square.
This little village is very charming. All the houses are full of colours and are decorated with zocalos (the lower parts of the houses, with elements of the local culture, in relief).
Our suitcases stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Medellin, where we did the check-out. On the way back to Medellín, we slept one last night there.
Day 10: Guatapé-Medellín
On our return to Medellín, we visited the botanical garden and then the Pueblito Paisa which is located on top of a hill, from where we enjoyed the view of the city.
For our last dinner, we chose the Andrés Carne restaurant branch in Res. We still preferred the original, in the Village of Chia.
Day 11: Medellín-Cali
We took a flight with Avianca, the main Colombian airline, to Cali, the capital of salsa… it’s unfortunately also known because of a cartel which was named after it.
We chose the Four Points by Sheraton Cali hotel, where we had free breakfasts and also an upgrade to a large Suite, with two bathrooms, balcony and dining room. Like in Medellin, this hotel was a bit old, but it takes something very serious to ruin our trip.
The swimming pool was small but pleasant, located on a terrace on the top floor. There was also a spa and a gym, but they were downstairs, I think on the third floor. Not very practical, if we want to go from the pool to the spa.
We didn’t try the hotel restaurant for dinner in Bogota and Medellin, but in Cali we went twice and it was excellent.
We went to a salsa club in the early evening, but as usual in Latin America, the evening doesn’t start until 11pm – midnight. We were tired from the trip, so when we left, people were starting to arrive (I’m not 20 years old anymore, I can’t party until sunrise :D).
Day 12: Cali
On that day, we visited downtown and the the lively district of San Antonio. Unfortunately it was a Sunday and the town looked dead (or maybe still asleep, because of the salsa clubs…).
We didn’t visit the main attractions of the city :the Cerro de las Cruces (a mountain with 3 crosses at the top) and the Christ Roy (also at the top of a mountain). Everybody advised us not to go and some application drivers even refused the ride.
We finished the visit in a shopping center (an activity I usually hate, but we had already been around the garden), to end the day at the pool.
I must tell you that visiting a city like Cali on Sunday was not the most interesting activity of the trip. The feeling of insecurity was constant here. I don’t recommend this town.
Cali has a very small historical center, but if I had to cut or change a town on my route, I would know what to do.
Day 13: Cali-Cartagena
And now the long-awaited flight to Cartagena had arrived. We flew with Latam.
In Cartagena (Cartagena de Indias), there is no transportation app, so we had to take a taxi. As the airport is not far from the historical center, it did not cost much.
There are 3 main areas to stay:
- the historical center (that’s where everything happens in Cartagena),
- the modern district of Boca Grande (for chain hotels, but we didn’t go there), and
- the Getsemani district (former poor district, now trendy, but affordable. It is reachable on foot, from the historical center).
We didn’t like where we stayed. Despite the good location, it was a mix of youth hostel and affordable hotel. They canceled our private room, to do some work on it. So they gave us a private “family” room.
It was a hostel room, just for us, with three bunk beds, concrete. The sheets and pillows were super thin (lucky it’s super hot in this town). The bathroom was huge, but without comfort.
Good thing we always bring our toiletry kit. Breakfast looked like a joke, but hey… we kept our good mood. The pool was super small, but essential in a city where it’s super hot.
Cartagena is one of those very touristy cities where we are treated like dollar signs. They become our friends, call us on the street, sometimes pull us by the arm, put their hands on our shoulders, offer us products and services that are not very Catholic… All you have to do is say no to the offers, and everything is fine. When people ask me from which country I come from (all the time), I always say the name of a poor country. When we say Canada, USA, or a European country, we see the dollar sign in their eyes… 😀
In spite of this, there is no need to be afraid. This can happen in any city in the world. Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia, Latin America, perhaps the world! We spent the day walking in the historical center, always following my (nearly military) route.
We had dinner at a very small local restaurant. There were just four or five tables. I can’t name the attractions to see in the historical center, as there are many.
We asked the hotel to find us a taxi to drive us, wait for us and take us back to town. It cost us a bit, but to go to the Convento de la Popa (on top of a mountain), then to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and finally back downtown, it was worth it. You simply must visit these places.
The convent is at the top of a hill, and the view is beautiful from the top. The castle is a huge fortress. We spent about 2-3 hours to visit.
Don’t forget to bring water, a hat or a cap. If you don’t have one, the salespeople will remind you.
We went to see the sunset at the Café del Mar, a very busy place, located on the ramparts of the old town.
We spent the evening with our new Brazilian friends, who we met in a Brazilian group on Facebook, and then on WhatsApp.
Kind of like in the milesopedia Facebook group , but without the reward points part, just travel information exchange.
Day 14: Cartagena
We went early in the morning to the Marina, to take the boat that took us to spend the day at the Beach Club Bora Bora. There were several people from our WhatsApp group. I felt like I was in Brazil. 🙂
It is not an essential activity, especially if you go to San Andrés afterwards. Cartagena’s beaches are not beautiful and beach clubs are expensive. So, about the beaches… visit them in San Andrés.
Day 15: Cartagena
We visited the Getsemani district and La Serrezuela, a mall that operates in an old bullfighting arena. We also went to see the statue of the Catalina Indian, which is a monument that could have been placed in a more interesting place.
Day 16: Cartagena
We had a sunset reservation at Café del Mar, but the pandemic was starting to show its face. The café was closed, but we still enjoyed the most famous sunset in town.
Like the Juan Valdez Café, the Crepes & Waffles creperie can be found all over Colombia. These are two places I loved. They are good, fast and affordable.
We walked on the ramparts, revisited our favourite places and then the Inquisition Museum, which shows a little bit of the horror of this dark period of history.
It was also the last day for shopping, before leaving for San Andrés.
Day 17: Cartagena-San Andrés
On that day, we took a flight with the country’s main low-cost airline: Viva Air (formerly Viva Colombia). We bought all the extras and it was still affordable.
In San Andrés there is no transport app either. We took a taxi and it didn’t cost much. Depending on the address of the hotel, some people go on foot. The airport is really not far.
Hotels on the island are expensive and of low quality. We chose a small hotel, without luxury, but affordable and well located. We could walk to the main beach and to downtown safely, and that’s what we did on this first day.
Most hotels, bars and restaurants are nearby.
The ghost of the COVID-19 pandemic continued to haunt us and from the very first night we began to worry about returning to Canada.
Day 18: San Andrés
On that day, we were supposed to do a long-awaited activity, which we had to cancel: the parasail. In fact, we’ve cancelled all our activities in San Andres. 🙁
We spent a good part of the day at the hotel, looking for return flights. Finally we bought a one-way ticket, which went through Panama and the United States, with Copa and United.
In order not to lose the whole day, we went to the main beach in the afternoon. We had dinner at an excellent Peruvian restaurant.
Day 19 - 21: San Andrés
Since we had managed to get a new return ticket, we decided to rebook that day’s event.
We went on a boat ride with part of the WhatsApp gang. We went to the small islands called El Acuario, Haynes Cay, Johnny Cay, at the floating bar Ibiza, in a swamp and in a place where the sea is shallower, to see the rays and starfish. Unfortunately there are locals who capture the animals, so that the tourists can take pictures with them… 🙁
In the evening, we went out for dinner at the restaurant La Regatta, the most famous on the island. Everything was excellent. Usually you have to book several days in advance, but we managed to go once with and once without a reservation.
On the day of our return flight (the one we had bought, in order to get home quickly), we did the check-out, taking care to advise the person in charge that there was a chance we would come back. She agreed, and we negotiated a one-night stay, out of the two that were left.
At the airport, it was chaos. A very small airport, full of tourists of all nationalities, who were trying to change their flights or have another flight, because of a cancellation by the airline.
The girls at the Copa Airlines counter took our passports and made several return trips and calls. Finally, they advised us not to take the flight, because Panama had just closed its borders and they were not able to check in our suitcases for Quebec City. We would have to look for a United Airlines employee in Panama to see where the bags were being returned and then check them in.
As Panama had closed its borders, we could not get out of the airport. Our correspondence was at 10 PM and I had booked a hotel and a visit to the Panama Canal. It all seemed too complicated, so we went back to the hotel and gave the money for the night to the lady.
We therefore decided to take (a risk) our return flights with Air Canada, as planned.
In order not to lose the whole day, in the afternoon we went to the Aqua Beach Club, where I took the opportunity to swim to Rocky Cay, a small island, from where we could see a stranded ship.
We spent the day at the main beach. We stayed quiet all day before we found out that Air Canada had cancelled the return flight from Bogotá to Toronto, which made the evening stressful.
Our mistake: We stayed 3 hours online, on Skype, with a horrible internet connection, trying to talk with someone from Air Canada, only to be told that they couldn’t do anything to find us another flight, since our tickets had been booked by Air Canada Vacations (ACV). Even if it was an emergency. We had to wait until the next day, because ACV does not operate 24 hours a day.
*We were “forced” to buy tickets with ACV because we had credit and we had to use it. An experience never to be repeated… Too complicated.
Day 22: San Andrés-Bogotá-Miami
We got up early, trying to get the first line available at ACV. It was not as long as with Air Canada.
The person on the phone offered us 2 choices: Cartagena-Toronto-Quebec City (Air Canada) or Bogota-Miami-Montreal (Avianca-Air Canada).
The person had our phone number, which “saved our lives”, because at one point the line got cut. It took 40 minutes to get to talk to someone… and it was the same person. In the meantime she had issued new tickets and sent them to us by e-mail.
As we already had a flight from San Andrés to Bogota, we chose the flight that departed from Bogota. For the flight from Cartagena, we would have had to buy a ticket from San Andrés to Cartagena.
So we had a flight from Bogota to Miami at 8:00 PM, and our flight from San Andres to Bogota was at 12AM. We crossed our fingers that this flight would go smoothly. This was our second flight with Viva Air and everything went very well.
When we got to Bogota, the tension eased a bit and we were more relaxed after all this adventure.
Day 23: Miami-Montreal-Quebec City
I’ve never seen an airport so quiet, so empty. Didn’t look like it was in Miami. We waited for the time of check-in, sitting on the floor. Everything was closed and there were no places to sit.
The flight from Miami to Montreal was even quieter. This time several passengers took a whole row to lie down. The connection in Montreal was also quiet. We finally arrived home, ready to live the first quarantine of our lives.
- Quebec-Toronto (Air Canada)
- Toronto-Bogotá (Air Canada Rouge)
- Bogotá-Medellín (Latam – Avios points)
- Medellín-Cali (Avianca)
- Cali-Cartagena (Latam)
- Cartagena-San Andrés (Viva Air – low cost Colombian)
- San Andrés-Bogotá (Viva Air)
- Bogotá-Miami (Avianca)
- Miami-Montreal (Air Canada)
- Montreal-Quebec City (Air Canada)
Bogotá: Hotel AC Bogota Zona Rosa, recently opened.
Villa de Leyva: stay in a simple and affordable hotel, booked on hotels.com.
Medellín: Four Points hotel
Guatapé, stay in a simple and affordable hotel, booked on hotels.com.
Cali: Four Points Hotel
Cartagena, stay in a simple and affordable hotel, booked on hotels.com.
San Andrés, stay in a simple and affordable hotel, booked on hotels.com.
Bogotá, to end the trip in style, we had a booking at the JW Marriott Bogotá, but because of the pandemic, we had to leave the country earlier than planned.
Costs (for 1 person)
Flights: $772 (1 ticket paid with points + 1 credit we had)
Luggage fees: $0 (included)
Accommodations: $798 (3 hotels paid with points)
Restaurants: approximately $700
Attractions: approximately $225
Transportation: approximately $260
Credit cards used
(My Uber account, by a simple oversight, was linked to Desjardins Elegance Visa Card).
milesopedia recommends the Ulysses Travel Guide: Fabuleuse Colombie.
The Ulysse guide Fabuleuse Colombie invites you on a visual odyssey through the various regions of this fascinating country. This full-colour guide with its beautiful photos highlights the best that Colombia has to offer visitors. All its main attractions are presented and revealed by splendid photographs in a very careful layout.
We loved Colombia! I strongly recommend this trip!
The landscapes are beautiful, the people are adorable, and on top of that, it’s a very affordable country, just the way we like it!