We have spent about 3 weeks in Colombia and wanted to share our impression of the 10 places that really blew us away as we drove for 1,600 miles from Cartagena to the Ecuador border.
1. Cartagena –
We flew to Cartagena and had about a week there while we waited for our car to arrive via sea from Panama. We spent the time exploring the walled city, catching gorgeous sunsets over the water, and enjoying street food and coffee.
2. Mompox –
Once we – and our new friends – got all of our vehicles back, we said our goodbyes and headed towards a sleepy town on the Magdalena river called Mompox. To get there, we drove a few hours Southeast of Cartagena until we’ve gotten to the river where once a day an old barge would come to life and take dozens of trucks and an occasional overlander on a 1-hour trip across.
3. La Playa de Belen –
We’ve heard about a unique but tiny national park called Los Estoraques which had a somewhat other-worldly landscape shaped by large brownstone pedestals and columns formed by thousands of years of erosion. It bordered a small 2-street town with whitewashed buildings and coordinated exteriors that we loved from the moment we entered it. We spent a couple of nights there, just walking around the streets, hanging out at the small park in the center, and even getting a much-needed haircut and a shave.
4. Chicamocha Canyon –
On our way to Medellin, we got caught in the evening in the Chicamocha Canyon where we found a wild camp with some awesome views.
5. Quebrada Las Gachas –
Las Gachas is a stretch of a shallow river that often appears red due to the rocks it runs over. It is full of deep round holes or ‘jacuzzis’ for swimming – of different sized and depth. It is easily one of the most surreal off-the-beaten-track natural wonders we’ve seen in Colombia.
6. Medellin –
Medellin, with its cable-car system transporting residents all over the city, street art dominating neighborhoods all over, and Botero voluminous sculptures sprinkled all over, kept us busy for a number of days. We wrote a more comprehensive post about its history and present here – How One Of The Most Violent Cities in the World Changed Its Fortune.
7. Salento –
A small town in the middle of the coffee-growing region, we came to Salento with few expectations. However, its lively atmosphere with street music and phenomenal coffee, ended up being well worth a visit.
8. Tatacoa Desert –
In the Tatacoa desert, there was a small observatory that we’ve heard about. We stopped by while there in the evening to catch a lecture given by an enthusiastic astronomer/lawyer/former air force pilot who cross-trained with the U.S. airforce in Houston, after which we set up our camp and woke up to this view.
9. Trampoline de la Muerte –
The road towards the Colombia-Ecuador border is dubbed Trampoline de la Muerte (kind of the lesser known Colombian version of the infamous Peru Death Road). Originally built to transport Colombian soldiers to the border, it is still used by truckers and locals to cross the mountain range in spite of the poor condition and hair-raising drop offs. Almost perpetually shrouded in mist and light rain, with over 100 hairpin turns, and narrow passageways that force you to stop and very carefully goes around the incoming traffic, it takes solid nerves and good brakes.
10. Sanitario Las Lajas –
Lots of cities have a pretty church or a religious building as one of the highlights, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything as bad-ass as this. Las Lajas is a beautiful, active cathedral set at the top of and crossing a canyon, with a river flowing underneath. It’s impossible not to be impressed by it.