Discovering a rebirth of people, plazas, and playas in what used to be known as one of South America’s most dangerous countries.
By Megan Harvey
Our taxi drove for an hour through the night towards what most Americans know as the most dangerous city in the world. Down, down, down through the dark, we wound our way to the bottom of the Aburrá Valley through the struggling outskirts of the city Pablo Escobar’s drug empire called home.
But one step into El Poblado’s main plaza and we knew Medellín’s dark days were gone. The square was alive with Christmas lights, music and people. During our stay, we discovered that not only has the “City of Eternal Spring” been reborn, but the entire country of Colombia. Watching the locals enjoy their cities and parks was inspirational.
We had wanted to spend the entire two weeks of our kids’ Christmas holiday break traveling – not just in a different place but really feeling like we were on a long adventure like when we took a break from work and school to travel around the world two years ago. We wanted a place that could incorporate city, culture, local buses, hostels, villas, hiking, beach time, action and nightlife.
It was a tall order but we got it all in Colombia – from coffee picking and fishing in the Andes to wandering 500-year-old colonial streets to trekking through rainforest to tropical isles with fifty-shades-of-blue water.
One day, after inner-tubing down a river we found ourselves at a massive beach party in the jungle. It was then that we remembered it was New Year’s Eve and we realized we had succeeded in really traveling: Colombia was so engaging that we had lost all sense of date and time.
The ROAM Report – Colombia
- Travelers: The Harvey Family – Megan, Tom and two kids aged 9 and 13
- Date: December 2017 & February 2018
- Itinerary: Two weeks for Medellin, El Jardin, Santa Marta, Tayrona and Cartagena, plus however many days you can spend on Providencia
- Cost: Approximately $200 per day and night for all expenses (except flights)
The Good Stuff
- Bike Tour We celebrated Christmas Day riding with Medellín Bike Tours. Our guide, Dan, had arranged for a smaller bike for our son. He showed us the entire city, which was, luckily, empty of traffic given the holiday. We later explored a huge holiday lights display at a large park with a little lake. The locals were understanding considering we were in bike clothes and they were decked out in nice outfits and fancy shoes.
- Metro Ride The Metro system in Medellin has received global acclaim for connecting all classes of the citizens of Medellin. We rode the Line K, a cable car that connects the once hard-to-reach steep and poor hillside neighborhoods of the main city, to the picturesque Parque Arvi, an oasis of nature on the edge of the city.
- Coffee Region We decamped for the colonial pueblo of El Jardín to explore the coffee region and epic vistas of the Andes. We stayed at a little hostel right off the main square. At this point, we really felt like we were traveling: We didn’t hear a word of English and most of the other tourists were Colombians.
- Jeep Time We explored the countryside in a Willys jeep and visiting a finca with our guide, Wilson. My son loved our next move: a tuk-tuk ride to La Trucheria. He caught trout and the restaurant cleaned and cooked it for us.
- Jungle Hike After checking into our bungalow at the jungle-y Villa Maria, we hiked into the national Parque Tayrona. Visitors have to hike or ride on a horse. The crowds are large and the Caribbean currents are too strong for swimming but the walk is amazing. Take a picnic lunch and skip the packed restaurant.
- Tubing Tour Isn’t it funny that so many tours aim for a waterfall? Well, these falls didn’t disappoint. We carried inner-tubes with us up the hill and tubed down to the riverside beach where we started. While we were gone, the quiet beach had transformed into a roaring New Year’s Eve party! The Colombians know how to do it right.
- Neighborhood Stay Moving to the 500-year-old north coast port of Cartagena, our base was the up-and-coming neighborhood of Gestsemaní, outside the city walls. We absolutely loved it and our hotel too, Casa Lola. The narrow little streets were lined with cool shops, restaurants and hotels. The walls were covered in graffiti art. The vibe was vibrant with crowds of people gathering outside of the local church to play fútbol during the day and dance and celebrate at night. We explored the walled city at sunset and enjoyed the views.
- Boat Trip We chartered a speed boat through Cartegena Connections for a day exploring the islands off the coast. At the Rosario Islands, we snorkeled, checked out a sunken airplane, and saw the ruins of a former mansion that many claim belonged to a former associate of Pablo Escobar. Later, we got some beach time on the tiny coves around Isla Barú and on a quick visit to Colombia’s always-spring-break party scene of Cholón.
- R&R Island Whatever your route, consider ending your time in Colombia on the paradise of Providencia, a small island off the coast of Nicaragua. The culture is a mix of creole and Colombian. There are no touts on the beach and only a few cars. The island had a solid late lunch scene – don’t miss Roland’s famous restaurant and reggae bar – but limited dinner options.
- Land Exploring You can circumnavigate Providencia in about 20 minutes but the isle’s land packs a lot to see on top. We hiked to the tallest point one day, counting more than 500 lizards on our way up. We rented a 4×4 another day, and drove around the island on our own.
- Snorkel Trip For three of our days on the island, we hired a private boat for $165. Our guide, the fabulous Fabio took us around the island to a variety of snorkeling spots. The water was fifty shades of blue. Amazing!
- Sunset Views Most accommodations on the island are simple posadas – in fact, there is only one high-end hotel to be found. Sirius, our no-frills hotel on South Bay, had a spot-on view of the sunset and a beautiful beach at our doorstep. Providencia is one of those places you can’t wait to get back to and hope it never changes.
Maryann Jones Thompson – March 2019
© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved
Images and stories to celebrate the best of travel's worst year
Doin' the local thing and keepin' it "weird"
It's not just for billionaires anymore.
The French dad behind stunning photos & videos
There's still time to book a much-needed break
Saddle up for a trail ride near San Francisco
Images from a gray and gloriously simple getaway
A winter extravaganza starring millions of geese, cranes and more!
Getaway to a vintage California beach village in "Far West" Marin
10 days of action, with grizzlies, ATVs, salmon, and whales
From N’Orleans to Memphis and from Atlanta to Birmingham, a must-do journey
Overdue for a Napa or Sonoma escape?
Crane’s Beach House is the perfect antidote the winter blahs
Reminders of why we explore—and what that means for future travel
Climb up, stroll down or just enjoy the views
Developing next-generation leaders through study of African heritage
Ski, board, or just play in the powder? We've got your mountain.
All the masterpieces, views and deliciousness - none of the crowds
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Grab your sweetheart for a getaway - or plan one!