Colombia – Bogota & Salento

Edinburgh

The start of our well-awaited trip was not what we had imagined. After a 5am wake-up to make our flight to Toronto, we should have noticed that things were going a bit too to plan. We got there in plenty of time, sat down to have breakfast and boom, our flight is delayed three hours. Okay fine, not the end of the world because we’ll still make our connection. Then it was delayed four, then five, then eleven hours… and then it was just cancelled. We had spent 14 hours travelling and hadn’t even left Edinburgh airport.

Eventually, Air Canada put us up in an airport hotel called Moxy. We’ve claimed everything back off them and hopefully should get €600 in compensation. That money should at least cover most of the cost of our original flight but doesn’t begin to cover the emotional stress that cancellation caused. At least we got to watch Love Island.

Thankfully our flight the next morning to Bogota actually left on time and although we were 24 hours behind schedule, we finally made it to Colombia.

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Bogota

When we finally landed in Bogota, we were faced with the dilemma most travellers encounter when they first arrive in a new city – the group of haggling taxi men shouting at you. By this point, we were so delirious that when a guy said ‘meter’ we almost jumped for joy. Halfway there and we realized it was definitely a scam, obviously. The meter was rigged and we ended up paying double what we should have (60k COP (~£15) rather than 30k (~7.50)) but honestly by that point, I just didn’t care. We also hadn’t got to grips with the money at all and this resulted in a lot of people shouting ‘rapido rapido’ at as we fumbled with our bumbags like a pair of middle-aged Americans.

Eventually, we arrived at our hostel in the historic part of Bogotá called La Candelaria. We stayed in Algeria’s hostel, it was small but cute, in a great location and the beds were comfy. The staff didn’t speak a word of English but were very welcoming and tried to be as helpful as they could. Luckily my duolingo-broken Spanish understood what he was saying about not going to the south or west of the city and which streets were the safest.

Although tired, our jet lag had us up at 7am the next morning which was great seeming as though we’d already missed a whole day of our trip. We got up and had the free breakfast the hostel provided, it was simple with pastries, fruit and coffee but suited us just fine. We spent the morning wandering around La Candelaria – there are loads of museums e.g. El Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and Museuo Botero (Botero Museum) and restaurants and cafes to explore. As it was 9am on a Sunday when we were there, nothing was open. It was a shame we didn’t get to experience Bogotá properly but what can you do, ‘it is what it is’. We did stop for a coffee at Selina Hostel which looked fab, we didn’t stay there because it’s expensive but if you’re looking for a big international hostel that actually speaks English, this is your best bet.

Around 11am we headed back to the airport to catch a flight to Pereira, this is the closest airport to the coffee region of Salento. This time we got the woman from the hostel to speak to the taxi driver, he didn’t look too happy about it but we did end up paying 30k COP this time. Naturally, our flight was delayed AGAIN but only for an hour. Once we arrived in Periera we had the taxi man issue – a few were asking us for x4 what it should cost to get to the bus station, others were telling us there were no buses left today to Salento and others were trying to charge us £30 (120k COP) to drive us straight there. Luckily this time we actually knew what it should cost and with enough arguing and just saying ‘muy caro’ over and over again we got to the bus station for 15k COP.

Once in the bus station we were pretty aware that it was a Sunday and that it was already 5pm, there genuinely might have been no buses! As we were waiting to buy a ticket, one of the bus drivers just pulled us aside and put us on a bus. He was charging 500 COP more than the ticket desk but with that equating to 25p extra between us we were happy to pay it!

The bus to Salento was comfortable, only an hour and gave great views of the Colombian mountains (it also only cost 8k COP ~ £2 each!).

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Salento

Salento is a really small town up in the Andes, you can walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes. It’s a beautiful town littered with multi-coloured houses, horses and loads of cute shops, restaurants and bars. It was warm during the day and cooler at night – it ended up being one of our favourite places in Colombia. We checked into our hostel (Viajero) and were very pleasantly surprised. This hostel was a bit on a pricey side (and by that, I mean £40/night for a private room) but the room was so nice and big, comfy bed, private bathroom and a balcony overlooking the mountains. The hostel itself included breakfast, had WiFi, washing, a kitchen, hammocks, TVs, computers – basically anything you could need and the staff were lovely and spoke English.

That evening we headed out to the main square for dinner and it was packed! We ate some traditional Colombian food consisting off plantain with meat or fish at a street stall and finished them off with some local beer – we finally felt like we were actually on holiday.

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With the jet lag still prominent, the next morning I was awake at 6am which meant Lewis was awake at 6am. We had the hostel breakfast and then walked to the main square where you can get a Jeep to take you to a number of other towns as well as the coffee farms. Luckily the woman at the ticket office spoke English because we would have been so lost! There are a number of different coffee farms you can go to each with their pros and cons but we decided to go to one called Finca Buenos Aires. We were told to go wait by a jeep and I don’t know if we missed something but the driver didn’t give us much warning before he pulled away which resulted in us having to jump on a moving jeep!

We were on one of the first jeeps (9am) but they run every hour. We didn’t really know what we’d signed up for and when we were dropped off outside what looked like an empty house, we were pretty sceptical! However, once we walked through the gates our lovely tour guide Olga made us feel very welcome. She spoke nearly perfect English and took us through the stages of the coffee farming process. We got to wear the traditional wicker baskets the coffee pickers used to wear, plant newly germinated seeds, pick some cherries off the branches and grind them up. We then got to try the coffee, and me, who only drinks mochas, actually enjoyed the plain filter coffee they made us using their beans. We learnt a lot and the scenery was stunning. Everything they do there is by hand and we even got to meet the owner of the farm who was sat with his wife hand-picking the best beans to be exported – I would thoroughly recommend going to this farm if you’re in Salento, we had a fantastic day.

As we were finishing our tour (it took about an hour and a half) more and more people started arriving and we could see the tour groups getting bigger and bigger. It made us very thankful we were the first to arrive and it meant that we got transport to and from the farm and a private tour for £7 each!

We were back in Salento for lunchtime and headed straight to the bus terminal to book our bus to Medellin. After that tour, we were on a high which was quickly brought back down when we were told all the buses to Medellin tomorrow were fully booked. We went back to the hostel to research some other options – we could get a bus to Pereira or Armenia and hope to get a bus from there (they’re bigger towns with many more daily buses). But as I was on the bus website looking, I noticed it said there were 4 spaces on the 10am bus from Salento. A bit confused, we went to ask the receptionist who called the bus terminal for us, turns our 4 people had just pulled out of that bus and that we needed to run straight down there with our passports to book it! When we got there 15 mins later 2 of those tickets had already gone and we managed to snap up the last 2 – it looked like our luck was changing after all! Moral of the story, book your buses at least 2 days in advance if it’s a long-ish journey.

Once we’d finally sorted all that out we were starving, on recommendation, we went to a small restaurant called ‘Brunch’. They have the most amazing milkshakes and make their own hot sauce which we bought a bottle of – very hot but so good. We stuffed our faces, classic eyes bigger than your belly scenario, and then went and had a nap – the early rises were getting to us.

Even after we woke up we were still so full from lunch! We spent the first part of the evening having a few drinks at the hostel bar and playing cards. We then decided to go to play a traditional Colombian game called Tejo. It’s a bizarre game and 100% a tourist trap but it was only £2 to play as many rounds as you want and the beers were super cheap.

The game is set up like this; you have a slope covered in clay with a ring of metal in the middle. Small packets of gunpowder are placed around the ring and the aim of the game is to throw your rock at the ring and make a packet explode. You get points depending on how close your stone is to the centre of the ring and although we were both terrible at it, Lewis ended up winning in the end.

The next morning I had Lewis up at 6am again! After breakfast, we checked out, got a packed lunch from ‘Brunch’ and jumped on the bus to Medellin. The bus was so nice! The seats were huge and comfy. The trip to Medellin took 6 hours, including a 30 min stop at Pereria. This was probably one of the nicest buses we took during our trip.

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