My decision to come to Colombia can be best described as out-of-the-blue and last minute. Having started my trip in Peru, and my original plan to visit Bolivia and Argentina no longer being appealing, I decided to make the trip north and travel to Colombia. I am now only two weeks into my Colombia adventure, and I might never ever leave it.
Having barely done any research and gone with word of mouth advice from fellow travellers, I stepped into Colombia both excited and with some trepidation. I had no plans in terms of which cities to see, which sights there were, or even where to start my journey…but isn’t that what a life of travel is about? The unknown sure made it feel adventurous and exciting!
So how is Colombia?
Well, it’s beautiful, it’s cities are safe, its food is delicious, its people are welcoming, and the views are amazing…and I still have to visit the north of the country.
First Impressions Are Everything
I came into Colombia by land, and it welcomed me with one of its nicest sights! THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CHURCH IN THE WORLD!!! The Santuario de las Lajas.
This beautiful sanctuary sits on a bridge on top of a river surrounded by green mountains and waterfalls. The sounds of nature only add to its beauty. The simple view of it is astonishing and left me in complete awe.
Even though there was nothing else (really, nothing else) to do or see in Ipiales, this beautiful church is worth the 15 minute taxi ride from the bus terminal. I had a full hour and a half between the time I arrived and the time my next bus left, which was more than enough to get to the church and back, and spend a good amount of time admiring the sight.
Southern Colombia’s Endless Hiking Opportunities
Much like the rest of South America, the south of Colombia is surrounded by what seems an endless array of mountains and cloud forests. And you know, where there are mountains, there are many opportunities for a hike!
Pasto and the Azufral Volcano – Laguna Verde
My first destination once I crossed the border was the small city of Pasto. It was meant to be a one night short stay….I stayed for 3 nights. And it is not that there is that much to do in the city; actually, there is nothing to do. But it was a new friend’s experience hiking the Azufral volcano all the way to Laguna Verde, a green lake sitting on top of the volcano at 4000 meters above sea level (m.a.s.) which got me to extend my stay.
Getting to the lake requires a 5 kilometer walk, going from 3200 m.a.s. to 4000 m.a.s. The hike towards the lake is not hard, although the trail goes up it is not a steep walk. Towards the end it requires going down 400 meters through what I refer to as a small cliff to get to the lake. This one is not hard, until I had to leave the lake and come up the same way, always causing me to literally spit my lungs out.
But was it ever worth it! The lake was of the greenest color I could have ever imagined! The views both from the top and near the water were mesmerizing, and even though the whole lake smelled like rotten egg (volcano sulfur mixed with the water), the experience was quite out of this world. And the best of it all??? We had the place for ourselves :).
I dipped my feet into the lake, the cold freezing water quickly became boiling hot, so much I had to jump off to a new freezing spot. Oh volcanoes…
Tierradentro National Archeological Park – Underground Tombs
Word of mouth led me to this somewhat off-the-beaten-path site for one of the most amazing treks I’ve had to do on my own, and some underground tombs.
Hiking for 2 hours on a very steep mountain and going from 1600 m.a.s. to 2100 m.a.s. while fighting the rain and cloud forests covering my way, the sense of accomplishment when I saw the first tombs was quite indescribable. It would take me another 4 to complete the hike and get back to town while seeing some of the other tombs and statues on the way. On the way there were countless breathtaking views from above, I passed through many cliffs and clouds, as well as small houses of people living nearby. Cows, horses, and more.
Best of all, this is one hike anyone can do on their own, even though the rough terrain and lack of clear markers make the trail a bit treacherous.
The Cocora Valley
OK…this one is more towards the center than the south…but still worth a mention. I went to the Cocora Valley for a relatively “short” 5-hour hike, which took me to see a variety of hummingbirds and giant palm trees.
I had never felt so insignificant in my life until I stood besides one of these! I honestly thought dinosaurs would appear and roam around this place.
Whether it’s colonial Popayán or colorful Salento, Colombia’s cities burst with live and beauty.
Popayán is slow paced and, although small, is worth a visit for a couple of days not only for its colonial buildings, but also for its surroundings.
Salento feels like the city that time left behind. Authentic, colorful, laidback, this is the city that made me overstay my welcome 🙂 I just keep stretching my stay here.
Having been to most countries in South America, I can say that Colombians are among the most welcoming welcoming and kind people in the continent. Everywhere I go people are warm and willing to help, whether it is with directions, recommendations on where to go and what to see. It is not uncommon for locals to strike a conversation on any subject.
Colombians are proud people, they’re proud of their paisa heritage and their land. One of the things I love about Colombians is that whenever I say “gracias”, they always respond to “a la orden” (at your service).
As I write this I am only closing my 2nd week of being in Colombia, and I have literally fallen head over heels for this country. I have yet to visit any of the big cities like Medellin or Bogotá. If they are any similar to Pasto, Popayán, or Salento…I might never go back to Canada.
Have you been to Colombia? What are your highlights of this country? And your favorite city?