We both grew up in the most beautiful city of Austria, Salzburg. It’s a small but cultural and historical city surrounded by the amazing Alps, countless waterfalls, lakes and everything which keeps the heart of an adventurer alive. Most of the people know Salzburg because of Mozart and The Sound of Music, but that’s just a small part of our amazing hometown.
Our relationship started 8 years ago when we both discovered our passion for travelling on a holiday to Greece. After relaxing on the beach for a few days, we decided to rent a car and discover the island of Rhodes. We explored unknown beaches, walked through caves, made our way through a butterfly forest, visited local villages and met amazing people.
From this, our first small adventure, we encouraged ourselves to follow bigger dreams: we wanted to go Down Under! In 2012, we spent 2 months in Australia, lived in a campervan and drove along the east coast. From Darwin, we drove through the red centre all the way south to the Great Ocean Road and finished our trip in Melbourne.
After this amazing journey, we returned home to Austria back into our 9-5 jobs. But with increasing work commitments, we only had the opportunity to travel for 3 weeks of the year which was nowhere near enough time to explore a new country, its people and their culture. So, it was time to set a new goal!
We decided to go on a trip around the world for 1 year – enough time to explore some of our dream destinations. Since then, we have saved a lot of money from working two jobs at the same time. In the end, we sold nearly everything we had, quit our jobs and gave up our apartment. We just wanted to be free from everything, ready to travel for as long as we want (or as long as the money lasts).
Our motto became “dare to dream”. This slogan was for all the doubts we had along the way up until we booked our first one-way ticket. Before we started this adventure, many people doubted our decision – even though they shouldn’t have really cared about it. Unfortunately, this is a typical Austrian thing. Our goal was to inspire all those people who dream of a trip around the world but have doubts about the implementation.
Feeling the Rhythm of Colombia on a 1-Month Journey
What really inspired us to visit Colombia was some of the negative press which was spread by certain media in Europe. We had no idea how many times we heard in the news that Colombia was one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Some of our friends already travelled there and told us amazing stories about this country, so we didn’t believe all the news.
We also met other travellers on the road who recommended traveling to Colombia – so we just did it, like always! And one of our favourite travel quotes became reality: “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” In general, we try to travel without any expectations. In our opinion, it is the best mindset because you can only be pleasantly surprised and there will never be a big disappointment.
Coming all the way from Peru by bus and boat, we started our incredible Colombia journey in Leticia and set off for over 1 month of travel. From Leticia, we travelled deeper into the Amazon jungle where we stayed in a village called Puerto Nariño. After a few amazing days in the jungle, we flew to the capital Bogota and took a bus to Salento where we visited the coffee plantations and the picturesque Valle de Cocora.
Next stop was a small village located between mountains and jungle: Jardin. There we spent our days exploring the main square and cute streets. For Christmas Eve, we stayed in a nice hotel in Medellin and then visited the beautiful city Guatapé and climbed up “Piedra del Penol”. We then took a journey to the small beaches of Sapzurro for New Year’s Eve and crossed the border into Panama to discover “La Miel” beach.
Cartagena was the next destination on our itinerary. We enjoyed some great days here hanging out in cool bars and restaurants and discovering the beautiful old town that sends you back in time to the age of pirates. From Santa Marta, the local bus took us to Minca where we hiked up to “Casa Elemento” and nearly got lost between their big jungle hammocks.
Further along the coast we spent some days relaxing on the beach in Palomino. For a day trip, we hiked through the amazing Tayrona National Park and found the most beautiful beaches. Last but not least, we stayed in Dibulla which is not a touristic place but worth visiting if you are looking for a quiet oasis. We stayed at “Mangal Hostel” where we relaxed in hammocks and had fabulous family meals with the hostel owners.
Recommendations for First-Time Visitors
If we had to recommend three must-do experiences in Colombia they would be Valle de Cocora, Cartagena and the Amazon. Salento is a must-see for its coffee farms and amazing Valle de Cocora, Cartagena with its stunning old architecture and friendly people is a fantastic city to visit, and the Amazon with its wildlife and lush jungle is just incredible.
In fact, we fell in love with the Amazon as soon as we arrived. It’s a funny story actually. We chose to travel there by bus and boat from Peru which took us almost 2 weeks. In this time, we visited many non-touristy places and encountered people who tried to scam us in outrageous ways. It was disappointing that at the end of a brilliant trip to Peru we were scammed as we crossed the border into Colombia.
By the time we arrived in Leticia our mood was terrible. But then we were greeted so warmly by the people of Leticia who were playing music and had such positive vibes that our moods instantly lifted. It was a special moment as it taught us not to keep our heads down when we encounter difficult times. To meet a community who lived in the Amazon and experience their warmth was one of the highlights of our trip.
Another destination we would recommend is the small little city of Jardin which has a special place in our hearts. Even the journey to get there was an adventure and we had no idea what to expect from it. We arrived with the bus late at night and immediately were surprised by the positive vibe of the people. Even though it’s a small city, there are nice restaurants with local and international cuisine, bars, shops and a ton of beautiful houses.
The houses that we saw were all decorated with Christmas lights as we arrived the day before Holy Eve. It was such a special moment for us to spend December 23rd on the main square of the town. Sitting there drinking delicious Colombian coffee and observing all the locals coming home meeting their friends and family, drinking together and just celebrating life. It still gives us goose bumps because we were a part of it!
The Amazing People, Culture & Cuisine of Colombia
Colombia surprised us with its constantly changing landscapes. You have the biggest river on earth in the south plus the stunning Amazon jungle. There are big metropoles like Bogota and Medellin and just outside of those cities you find green hills, lakes and the Andes. In the north, you have the Sierra Nevada with Inca ruins, the Caribbean Sea with its white-sand beaches and an amazing variety of wildlife throughout the country.
But what really touched us were the Colombians themselves. How they deal with their dark past and try to be positive and friendly on a daily basis is something other countries can look up to. Colombia has so much to offer and definitely should not be confined to a Netflix series, because it shows the past and not the present.
Those who want to convince themselves should visit the Comuna 13 in Medellin and take a free walking tour there (only with a local guide). For us this was one of the most amazing moments of our trip. It showed us how the once most dangerous district of the world slowly becomes a vibrant and peaceful place everyone should visit.
Everywhere we went we found the people of Colombia to be amazing! They are helpful and open to tourists even if you are not good at speaking Spanish (which is not common in South America). Music plays a leading role in their daily lives and is visible in festivals and carnivals, but also in their everyday routine – music is everywhere in Colombia!
Another colourful part of Colombian culture is the cuisine. Each region has its own characteristic dishes – so it never gets boring and you can try a lot of new dishes. As one of us is vegetarian, it’s always difficult to find the right spots where they serve local dishes without meat. Along the coast the “pescado frito” (fried fish) and “trucha” and also a lot of arepas and empanadas made it very easy for us to get our bellies filled!
We also really liked the grilled platanos, the patacones and the Yuca. A lot of dishes with “tomate y aguacate” were our favourites. For the first time we tried coconut rice and we are still trying to figure out how to make it at home because it was so delicious! Fresh fruit juices are an everyday favourite as well as the hot chocolate served with cheese.
In Colombia we found exactly what we were hoping for in a South American country: traditions, amazing food, super friendly people and colourful cultural heritage.