Colombia: Where Our Associate Editor Will Return Once His Travels Resume

Ten days of minimal planning, but lots of doing in Colombia.

A man installing a sign above a door in Bogotá, Colombia
Two men take a break in front of cartoon style street art on a wall
La Candelaria is Bogotá’s well–preserved historic old quarter.
Cartagena’s Barrio Getsemani is a quirky neighbourhood outside the walled city.

With our 2020 travel plans temporarily on hold, we find ourselves returning to memories of past adventures, finding joy in journeys that resonated, inspired, elevated – and that taught us something meaningful about ourselves and the wider world we share. In this new series, we revisit our best–ever trips with you, and hope you’ll do the same for us. This week, associate editor Ari Magnusson travels back to Colombia, where he visited in the summer of 2016.

enRoute Tell us why this trip in particular keeps coming back to you now – what made it so memorable?

Ari Magnusson The more time I spend at home now, the more I find myself thinking about the first big trip that my girlfriend and I went on as a couple. We hadn’t been outside Canada in more than a year and we were both getting itchy feet. Each of us dreamt about visiting Colombia long before we met one another. For me, it was the appeal of a country that no longer felt off limits.

May 4, 2020
Flowers and vines decorate a wooden balcony in Cartagena, Colombia
These photogenic balconies can be found on almost every street in Cartagena’s walled city.

ER How much of Colombia did you get to see?

AM We covered a lot of ground in just 10 days – three domestic flights and visits to three cities: Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena. They were so different from one another; it was like three vacations for the price of one! We started in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, which is 2,600 metres above sea level and colder than you’d expect for a city near the equator. It’s becoming a hip city, with street art on every corner, an emerging foodie scene and a revitalized downtown. A couple of days later, we flew to colourful Cartagena. It’s a well–preserved colonial city on the country’s north coast with a distinctly tropical vibe. And then finally, Medellín, which is nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring thanks to its pleasant year–round climate.

A man bikes past a mural on a white brick wall
A gondola ride over the city of Medellín in Colombia
You’ll find street art in almost every corner of Colombia’s capital.
Medellín’s Metrocable system connects to the city’s public transportation network. It has transformed life for residents living in the city’s hillside shanty towns.

ER What was the highlight?

AM What I love about travelling is waking up to the anticipation of immersing myself in a new city – nothing beats the feeling of discovering a place on your own terms, at your own pace. For me the highlight was Cartagena’s Barrio Getsemani. It’s the up–and–coming trendy quarter just outside the walled city. The neighbourhood has a vivacious charm and is ever–so–slightly rough around the edges.

ER How did your days in Colombia unfold?

AM We didn’t have fixed plans, apart from booking a private room in a hostel because we were on a tight budget. It was a great way to meet and make friends with fellow travellers. As the sun went down, I loved strolling through Cartagena’s narrow streets, just people watching and grabbing a bite to eat. I would tend to wander into bars and cafes that were off the tourist trail; I felt like I was living in a movie. We also did a day excursion to bathe in a mud volcano (yep that’s a thing) and another to a beach.

A man pushing a dolly with crates of glass bottles in Bogotá, Colombia
Many of Bogotá’s streets are on the sides of steep hills.
Mountains in the background of a soccer field in Medellín, Colombia
Colombia is a country obsessed with soccer.

ER Would you go back?

AM Actually, I already did – and will again! Two friends got married in Cartagena a couple of years ago and I was lucky enough to be invited to their big day. To my eyes, the city had become more polished and was definitely attracting more visitors. Next time, I’d like to do the Lost City Trek through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. It’s where snow–capped peaks, including Colombia’s highest, brush up with the Caribbean. The four–day hike ends in a remote archaeological site, a bit like Machu Picchu without the hordes of visitors.

People enjoying lunch outdoors on benches in Cartagena, Colombia
A woman pushes a baby stroller past a wall with street art in Bogotá, Colombia
Cartagena is full of verdant plazas where everyday life plays out.
More Colombian street art.

ER What’s your travelling style?

AM Trying to do as much possible while keeping my options open (yes, I know there’s a contradiction there). This could mean walk around a city with my camera rather than checking off a list of sights.

ER Tell us about a souvenir you brought back.

AM My bright multicoloured hammock that I haggled for in a Cartagena market. I’ll often take it to the park or on a camping weekend; it’s a perfect visual reminder of my travels in Colombia.

An aerial view of Medellín, Colombia
Medellín has an extraordinary setting, covering both sides of the Aburrá Valley and its floor.
A man serves fresh lime juice from his street stall in Cartagena, Colombia
This Cartagena limeade vendor served the ultimate thirst quencher.

We’d love to hear about your favourite travel memory. Just send us a photo and 50–100 words about why this trip in particular had such an impact on you – and why you can’t wait to go back.