Pereira – Meeting a cicloviajero and how to spend a day at the Termales de Santa Rosa

After saying goodbye to Mr. X – who showed me the way to the right exit and where to walk, to a ‘good part’ of town – I was on my own again, direction to my hostel somewhere in a city I barely even heard of. Where I definitely didn’t know what to do or to see. A real adventure I guess.

Since modern times have us all traveling with iPhones and iPads, the adventure was a bit further than expected, and I found my hostel in no time thanks to maps.me – a very handy app, it lets you download maps so you can use it without internet – in a nice quiet part of town. A local barber on the street corner, the typical lot of Spanish ‘new’ colonial type houses with bars in front of windows and doors, a tiny plaza with some trees where the elderly sit and chat the whole day. Nice and quiet and definitely not what I expected from the most populated city in the Eje Cafetero. – not realizing I was at least half an hour walking of the city centre – Well, I was about to find out soon anyway.

CHRISTMAS TREES & CITY LIFE IN PEREIRA

Arriving at my hostel awaited another surprise: the owners had already set up their Christmas tree! Being only the 9th of november and suprisingly hot after spending some time in Bogota, this was just one giant mindfuck. Christmas trees and hot chocolate and cold weather and dark days and tiny little lights and presents are something for the end of december in Europe…definitely not the beginning of november when I’m sweating just thinking about stepping outside. Especially not in a country where you don’t even have pine trees, snowflakes and snowmen, as to be seen on ALL the decoration hanging off almost all the houses in Colombia. – Seriously, I would love to have the opportunity to decorate my house with pineapples and palmtrees for Christmas…but I guess that ruins the atmosphere a lit bit? Baby Jesus with sunglasses and swimshorts on, anyone? – Anyway, I had to chuckle and take a picture while I was being led around the hostel by Julio, the Argentinian volunteer, and where I met the only other person in the hostel at that moment, Ester, from the Netherlands. – Jup, only three different places that I visited in Colombia and I could already speak Dutch in all three of them. I need to work on my Spanish guys, I already speak Dutch! – Apparently I was sharing the only dorm with them and one still unknown ‘ciclo viajero’, a guy traveling by bike. Who was off cycling somewhere at that moment, but left a pile of bags next to both sides of his bed. Hungry as I was, Ester offered to accompany me to the supermarket and even better, make diner for us that evening if I provided the lunch. Well said, well done. And I even bought a bottle of wine, which is ridiculously expensive in the Northern part of South America, but I was in the mood for a drink at the roof terrace, where you had a fantastic view over the mountains and the rest of the city.

I saved the wine for the evening and took off with Ester and Julio, ready to explore this new unknown city a little bit. Pereira doesn’t have as much to offer as colonial Cartagena or famous Medellin, but it definitely is alive. Where other Colombian cities are known for their beauty, colonial heritage, dance – yep, Cali is coming up soon! – or awesomeness, Pereira is mainly made for business. Centre of trade in the Eje Cafetero, the city is booming and filled with restaurants, squares, markets and a lot of shops. Somehow they managed to build a big neo-gothic church to top it up. A long story short, Pereira is buzzing with daily life: people going to work, childeren walking back from a day at school, though guys doing their daily push-ups in the park, sellers yelling loudly on the streets to get rid of all their avocados. While any other city has you frantically looking around to thick everything off your to-visit-list, Pereira is perfect to sit down on a square, relax and watch Colombian life pass by. – Which you can do in basically any other city as well, now that I think about it. – The lack of a main ‘what-to-see-in-Pereira’ list just gives you the time to get a feel of normal Colombian life, which is actually the reason why I travel, to experience life and places in other countries, how average and normal they might seem. – I don’t know how to describe this, but just people watching, visiting a market with unknown fruits or just getting handed over a note in the streets that advertises love potions is just something that gets me excited – Big plus for Pereira is the environment: even in this city without mindblowing highlights, laying in the heart of the Eje Cafetero, it is surrounded by so many beautiful things to see and to do.

MEETING A CICLOVIAJERO

After a couple of hours exploring the city life of Pereira, clouds started to gather above our heads and it became time to hurry ourselves back to the hostel before the big downpoor came. We arrived, just on time before getting soaking wet. But apparently, somebody else arrived as well in our dorm.

Now, this person is the reason why I’m a bit behind with these posts, since I have been doubting a lot about what to write exactly. My blogs about Colombia are a travel journal, where I am as honest as can be while I’m trying to give you an insight on how I see the world, and what you could experience when you plan a trip to Colombia. Of course, you could just read it because it’s amusing. – Or you just want to know everything about my life and you’re secretly stalking me, so this blog really helps you a lot. – Which means that I have to get personal from time to time, hopefully without losing my privacy. Well, you might already guess that this person has been very important during my travels in Colombia – not only during my trip, but also to me, more than I expected or wanted him to be – and in no way can I leave him out of these blogs, since I simply couldn’t write any blog about Colombia any more. I’ll just try to make it not too emotional, alright?

I got contact with Ale – even though his name is longer and I call him by another nickname, let’s call him Ale – the day before, when I decided where to go, since I didn’t got a clue. As all travelers, I use some apps to help me during my travels and one of them is this app where you swipe left and right and hopefully meet somebody who doesn’t send you a dickpick after two seconds of conversation. This time, I got a nice ‘hola’ and a tiny introduction of a fellow traveler who was looking for some company and who invited me for an ice-cream or a drink. Always in for an adventure – maybe you do remember this post when I decided to go camping to Sweden with this guy I met 15 minutes before – I said ‘yes, I would like to’ and ‘I’m off, do you know a good hostel?’ and that’s how I ended up in this specific hostel in Pereira. Since Ale got the crazy idea to travel by bike from Colombia to Argentina, I didn’t meet him upon arrival in the hostel, but a couple of hours later, after he finished a little bike trip to the Termales de Santa Rosa and after I got back of my discovery tour of Pereira.

The moment we met, was strange. I could call it awkward, but rather a mix of 15% awkwardness because of the situation and 85% of…instant connection? An instant click. A day later he would call it chemistry – ‘chimica‘. The only thing I truely remember is that we started talking and didn’t stop, as if the world stopped spinning around us and we were in a little bubble of our own. Heading off to the roof terrace, where the rain was still gushing down but we were dry and cosy and confident enough to open my bottle of wine. Soundtrack of the evening ‘Chilanga banda’, because somehow when traveling you always start talking about languages and guess where he comes from… – even now, when I hear this song, I’m still on that roof terrace, watching the rain falling down upon the city, enjoying a moment of nice company – Almost forgetting the food, that Ester prepared for us, but I don’t remember any conversation but the one I had with this Mexican guy, who I barely knew and already was intrigued by. Still in our own world, we continued the conversation from the roof terrace to the diner table to my bed, where we were sitting and talking and finishing the wine, not noticing anything going on around us. – at least I didn’t – Needless to say we spent the night together, deciding the next morning that one evening together definitely wasn’t enough and we reserved another hostel for the night, one in the city centre and with a bit more privacy.

LOS TERMALES DE SANTA ROSA DE CABAL

Even though Ale just returned from a bike trip to the Termales – hot springs in english – he didn’t mind visiting again, this time by bus and with a white Belgian girl accompanying him instead. – Jup, very white as you can see on the pictures. And yes, a blow dryer always comes in handy when you have a fringe – Now, I told you Pereira is surrounded by beautiful nature and if you stay in the city, you simply can’t miss a visit to the hot springs, which are easily reached by local transport. I already knew the way to the bus station from the day before, when mr. X showed me how to walk to the hostel and as easy as it is, we immediately found a bus going to Santa Rosa. – As always with the radio station blasting reggaeton. Which I really like, to be honest – Once in Santa Rosa it is a bit of a hassle to find the bus, which is cheaper and goes every two hours, but you can also take one of the collectivo-jeeps that go when they’re full. Opting for the bus – Ale is traveling very low budget -, we walked a couple of blocks before finding the right stop – after asking twenty times and being pointed in twenty different directions -, to mistakenly jump into one of the collectivos instead, thinking it was the bus. Sitting in the back of this jeep/pick-up/no-clue-what-exactly-it-is turned out to be much more rewarding, the views from the back were absolutely stunning.

Hot springs are something you can find all over Colombia – at least the part I visited – but the ones in Santa Rosa are by far my favorite. Not only for the excellent company I had when visiting them – hehehe – , even more because of the beautiful waterfalls on the background. You can spend hours going from one hot bath to another slightly hotter bath and then decide to cool down beneath the freezing water of the ‘cascada‘ thundering on top of your head. Or one of the showers, the choice is upon you. To be honest, visiting hot springs is something I prefer doing when having company and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more than with a travel partner who I could push under water, almost drowning, who got me as a monkey hanging around his body and who ate the potatoes from my soup during lunch. – Yes, I don’t like potatoes. Yes, we started a bit of a habit right there and then – Oh, I shouldn’t forget to mention, someone who supports me when I’m almost sliding down the wet slopes of the hill we are climbing, just because I’m good at almost falling down. I kinda need the support once in a while. After a couple of hours swimming, relaxing and getting to know each other better, we had to get back to Pereira city and switch hostels…

More about the adventures of Ale and me in the NEXT blogpost: Pereira & Cali – How my travel plans changed and I ended up dancing Salsa in Cali with a Mexican.

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in Pereira, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Pereira – Santa Rosa: one way – 3700 COP / 1,06€ (2 ways of transport: bus – jeep combination)

Bus Santa Rosa – Pereira: one way – 2600 COP / 0,75€ (twice the bus, with a change in Santa Rosa)

Accommodation

1 night in Parceros hostel, Pereira: dorm – 16.000 COP per night / 4,57€ per night (basic accommodation, but comes with a Christmas tree in November!)

Activities

Los Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal: one day entrance to the hot springs – 23.000 COP / 6,57€

Food

Menu del Dia – lunch menu at the Termales, with a drink, soup and main dish – 14.000 COP / 4,00€

My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part II – Coffee tasting and Pereira’s surprise

After two days in Salento – hotspot number one on the backpacking route in the Eje Cafetero – I didn’t even got as far as taken as sip of the black gold that is known as Colombian coffee. Well, I did in my hostel actually, but is that really the same coffee as the super-de-luxe high priced I-don’t-know-how-roasted delicious Colombian coffee they sell in every tent in Europe with a bearded barista behind the bar? I was about to find out.

But first: after the early morning and 5-hour long hike of the day before, I only wanted one thing – TO SLEEP IN. Which I did. Which made me miss the departure of my newly made friends. Which I regretted. Luckily Facebook and WhatsApp are always there to come to the rescue…even though saying virtual goodbyes aren’t as good as the real thing. Not that I had a lot of time to think about goodbyes, since I was promoted to translator between Lili and the two new Dutch guests that arrived only minutes after my sleepy head showed itself in the kitchen. Seated with a cup of coffee, we discussed the usual where-are-you-froms and where-have-you-beens, until we realized that we all had the same plan for the day: visiting a real Colombian finca. Ready for some more coffee.

A little hour walking from the city centre lays Finca Las Acacias, a small family-run coffee farm. The best about Las Acacias is not even the finca itself, but how to get there: a 45-minute walk through the town of Salento and along a muddy road that takes you deep inside of the hills. Every once in a while to be passed by a Willy tuffing slowly to its destination or one of the always present scooters. – Seriously, I’m surprised I’ve never got hit, half Colombia is born on a scooter I think – Only to be surrounded by blanket of green hills changing with every step you take, from grassland to farms to rows and rows of coffee plants. – Which I didn’t know yet where coffee plants, but hey, we travel to learn, don’t we? And maybe sometimes to get a tan on a beach. Wich was a bit difficult in the coffee triangle – After admiring the views and snapping some pictures, we arrived at the finca and were welcomed – of course – with a steaming cup of Colombian coffee. You don’t need an appointment or make a reservation to tour the farm, just show up and wait a while for some other people before you start the tour. Waiting with a cup of coffee and surrounded by magnificent views is not so bad after all. Anyhow, after half an hour 10+ people had showed up and we were more than ready to learn where our daily dose of caffeine comes from. I’ll be honest. I’m not going to explain the whole shebang to you here and now. First of all, it’s much nicer to experience it all than to read about it here. Second, I forgot half of the tour. – The fact I’m writing this blog with a couple of months of delay might be the reason, even though I do have a pretty lively and detailed memories of most of my trip. Only not of the coffee tour, sorry! – What I do remember, is that it’ll be very hard to find the best Colombian coffee in Colombia. Yes, I drank some pretty decent cups, but all the high quality beans are shipped to my own continent – Europe, in case you forgot -, the US and A,… to be roasted according to the tastes of each country. Which makes me a bit sad, to know what’s considered one of the best ‘coffees’ in the world is mostly exported and for other countries to enjoy…

After an hour touring around the finca, getting to know every stage of the coffee plant and two whole cups containing enough caffeine to reach double my daily dose, I headed back to the hostel to get rid of my now muddy walking shoes. – Not so much luck with the rain that morning – To my surprise I wasn’t the only Belgian in the hostel anymore, instead Brecht from Gent – hurray Gent! – and his Colombian girlfriend Danna arrived, with whom I started chatting almost immediately after arriving back to the hostel. Who also invited me to join them on a discovery tour of Salento. And guess what: that day is still known as the day I climbed the Mirador for the third time, luckily each time I need to take less and less “photo-stops” to make it to the top. Still a magnificent view though. At least I deserved a treat, so I didn’t feel too bad going out eating a little bit more fancy than I was used to so far…which was still in a restaurant in a garage after all. Even though the interior was interesting – uhum, garage -, the food was good, the atmosphere and the talks where even better and it was just nice to chat about Gent and the story of Brecht and Danna. – it’s their story to tell, but I have to let them know somehow much I admire them choosing to be together, even though it musn’t always be easy – With full bellies and sleepy heads we headed back to the hostel, where I still had one thing to do before going to bed….pack my backpack again.

Actually, I had been busy with a decision earlier that day, as in: where next? I wanted to head to Medellín north from the Eje Cafetero, but I had the feeling I was rushing too much, even though nothing was keeping me in Salento anymore. I got some great tips from Lili and Brecht & Danna to definitely NOT miss Chocó and the Pacific Coast, which I could easily reach by plane from Medellín. But something was holding me back, I had the feeling I wasn’t finished with the Eje Cafetero yet and wanted one more stop before heading to famous Medellín. One stranger made me decide, and the next morning I headed for the bus station and the city of Pereira.

Now, I love taking the bus in Latin America. It’s just always an adventure, or you’re propped up in a tiny mini-van with 30 people where there’s place for 10, or the speakers are blasting reggaeton while Jesus is watching over you, making sure you don’t get drilled out of your seat on the beat of the music, or you just meet the nicest people chatting away until you reach your stop. Exactly what happened to me that day. – not the Jesus part, that only happened the next day – Generally, when I was travelling in Colombia, I just went to the bus station, bought my ticket and hopped on the next bus already waiting for me at the stop. This time was no different, only that the bus wasn’t there yet and I appeared to be one of the only ‘strangers’ – yep, let’s call me white even though I’m not that fluorescent illuminating white that some other people tend to be – going in that direction. So when I came to sit next to mr. X – I call him mr. X since I never got to know his name, but I flashed him a smile and ask if the seat next to him was taken – I got to know the famous Colombian friendliness. Curious about where I was from, he started asking me a couple of questions which leaded to a deep conversation about both our lives, his work and life in Pereira, the differences between our cultures and ended with him telling me to be careful travelling on my own and showing me the right way to my hostel so I wouldn’t accidently walk into the wrong neighbourhoods. People go out of their way here to help somebody, doesn’t matter if it’s a fellow Colombian or a stranger, without expecting anything in exchange. – most of them are nice, but of course, there’s always exceptions. Just trust your guts and you’ll definitely meet the nicest of people

Hopping off the bus, headed in the right direction straight to the hostel, I had no clue what was waiting for me. Little did I know I would meet somebody in that same hostel that would change my plans, my trip as a whole drastically, without me ever even thinking about it.

More about what happened in Pereira in the NEXT blogpost: Pereira – How to spend a day at the Termales of Santa Rosa.

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Coffee Region, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Salento – Pereira: one way – 7000 COP / 2,0€

Accommodation

3 nights in Casa Lili: dorm – 22.000 COP per night / 6,6€ per night (with the luck of having a private room for 2 nights, while the dorm was full)

Activities

Visit to Finca Las Acacias: one (or if you’re lucky, two!) coffee included – 8000 COP / 2,29€

Food

I don’t really include food here, since it really depends on how you travel, but I will make a monthly roundup where you can see how much I’ve spend with all the homecooked meals, fancy diners or fast papitas-y-nada-mas lunches counted together.

My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part I – Salento and hiking Valle de Cocora

After four mostly rainy and jetlagged days, I decided to leave the capital for what it is and make my way to the very photogenic – at least, according to the tons and tons of pictures I saw on pinterest – coffee region. Salento apparently being AND in the middle of El Eje Cafetero AND startpoint to the magical Valle de Cocora – the Cocora valley, known for its wax palms, growing more than 60 meters tall – AND again, hyper-photogenetic according to all the pictures popping up during my research online, I decided to go for Salento. With the night bus.

Now, I’m a person who can sleep everywhere. I slept several times in the tiny Charleroi Airport in Belgium on the floor. – you know, budget travel and early flights and no late trains – I managed once to fall asleep on a plane before take off, to wake up when its wheels touched ground again in my destination. Usually it takes me five minutes in a bus before my head starts nodding up and down, almost drooling on myself while driving to my next destinations. Not on the bus Bogotá – Armenia. What was supposed to be an 8-hour drive from 10 pm until 6 am the next morning, became a race against the clock and our driver definitely broke the speeding record. While I installed myself with a blanket and the warmest sweater I own – Yes, you better put on a layer or five if you want to spend a night on the bus in Latin America. I learned my lesson the first time I travelled through Central America. Overall temperature outside the bus: 35° C. Inside: -10° C. Be prepared! -, nothing special happened. Until we reached the mountains and the driver decided it was time to show us his Formula-1 skills. Sitting in one of the front seats, I had perfect view on the road. Or at least, a view on the houses and trees buzzing past us, one big blur due to our high speed. The bus started swaying dangerously from left to right when cutting the corners and at one point I guess we went from 100km/hour to a full stop. Did I already say we were in the middle of the mountains, on a well-used road, in the dark?

Nevertheless, I reached my destination in one piece, two hours earlier than expected. Of course, the local buses to Salento only started their services at 5 am. Somehow the hour passed quicker than expected and once on the road, I didn’t even want to close my eyes anymore. The sun started to show itself, throwing a golden-pink glow over the green hills rolled out in front of us. Driving an hour past the most beautiful green landscapes made me think that crazy bus driver did a good job after all, bringing me early enough to enjoy the rising of the sun over the Eje Cafetero.

View of Salento - stairs to the Mirador

SALENTO

At 6 am, I still had the whole day in front of me, aching to wander through the colorful streets of Salento. While making the climb up to my hostel, I could already admire a part of the city and from what I saw, I knew it was a good idea to leave Bogotá: I felt much more at ease and full of energy to visit my surroundings. But first, getting rid of my big backpack at the hostel.

Hostal Casa de Lili was definitely one of the best choices I could’ve made, being welcomed by Lili herself, straight out of bed, who offered me a cup of coffee and a chat in the kitchen. – Something she did with everybody that decides to stay in the hostel, being curious about what brings them to Colombia and helping out wherever she can. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll learn it fast with Lili. – Being very very early, she urged me to visit the Mirador now, before all the Colombians on a holiday would climb out of bed and go en masse to the viewpoint. And my bed/room wasn’t ready yet anyway. After another cup of coffee I took off to climb the steps at the end of the street, all the way up to the Mirador. My body clearly wasn’t ready for that. After little to no sleep, only 5 days in the country and still not yet adapted to the heights, climbing the stairs like a mountain goat was a big no-no. Luckily, I’m good at stopping somewhere to take pictures of random flowers, while I’m actually faking a photo-opportunity in order to catch my breath again. Or just to pretend I’m not stopping THAT much only because I can’t breathe. Actually, it was not that bad. Just a little reminder I’m not as good with heights as I thought I was. The view was amazing though, the mountains stretch all the way to the Valle de Cocora and if you’ve got good eyesight – ugh, clearly not me – you can see the first wax palms in the distance.

Sweaty and a tiny little bit tired after a night-bus-without-sleep and my early exercise, I decided to go for breakfast and take a shower, just to freshen up before I would continue my sightseeing. It was there, at the hostel, that I would meet Julieta – bonding over the wifi-password – and after saying our nice-to-meet-you’s, we went each our separate ways, just to bump into each other again a mere 20 minutes later on the street. So she did what any other backpacker-who-already-made-friends would do – or at least, I hope they would do –: she invited this solo-traveler to have a cup of coffee with her and her friends, which was the beginning of a long day sightseeing in Salento. Starting with another climb to the Mirador – sigh, this time luckily in good company – to take pictures and going down to a part of the village I hadn’t seen yet. Besides the fact that it’s the main gateway to the Valle de Cocora, Salento is known for its colorful colonial houses and artisan shops. Picture perfect streets, with a big town square or Plaza in the middle acting as the number one meeting point and views upon lush green hills, the heart of the Colombian coffee region. Since it was a Saturday and a holiday, the streets and shops were alive with people, eating, drinking, dancing, music in the background. So I found out the best way to discover – as it always is – is just to go and see, go wherever your feet take you and be curious. Get lost. Take pictures. Watch people.

VALLE DE COCORA

Number one reason why most people go to Salento in the first place – no, not for the many beautifully colored houses, the many restaurants and bars or the nice Mirador – is because it’s the gateway to Valle de Cocora. A green blanket of sloping hills, dotted with the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm, growing up to 60m high. Background for some pretty spectacular pictures – as seen on the internet before I left – I definitely wanted to see this mysterious Valley. More, I read about a hike, taking about 5 to 6 hours to complete, crossing rivers and watching colibris until you’ve reached the heart of the Valle de Cocora and find yourself surrounded by the tallest palms in the whole wide world. Sounds pretty good, no?

My newly made friends and I decided that the day after our little trip in Salento City would be perfect to discover the Cocora Valley. We jumped out of bed and ran to the main square to catch a Willy to the valle. Well, not necessarily ‘jump’ and ‘run’, rather drag ourselves out our very comfy beds – King size, booked a dorm and got a private room upgrade for the same price. Happy Anke – at the unholy hour of 5.30 in the morning to frantically look for a breakfast before catching the Willy to the valley. I scored an almost black banana and a very crumbled cupcake, which I lost somewhere in my backpack earlier. For your information, Willy is not a guy, it’s a jeep from the WWII era, sold by the American army. When the locals saw you could drive up and down a flight of stairs, they were sold and those Willy’s as well. Now the ideal vehicle to ride on unpaved roads, preferably with whole swimming pools of mud, in the mountains. And to the Valle de Cocora, of course. In the Willy – I really like to use that word – we met with Annaëlle, a French girl obviously also going to conquer that Cocora hike. Before we knew it, we were dropped off at the entrance and ready to start the day, upcoming sun already illuminating the mountains surrounding us. While Julieta & co preferred to visit the Valle de Cocora first, we split up in two groups: Annaëlle and me doing the long hike, the rest doing the shorter version. Basically, go to the left at the blue gate for the short one and to the right for the longer hike. Apparently we didn’t need to pay for the entrance to the National park, since it was not yet 7 o’clock – we left Salento at 6.15 – and nobody was sitting at the entrance. Lucky us.

First part of the hike slowly leads you to higher grounds, walking besides grasslands dotted with cows waking up from their sleep. Sun starting to shine, illuminating the valley in front of us. Clouds and mist surrounding the Valle de Cocora on the mountaintop. The further we walked, the more we were surrounded by forest, crossing bridges and going higher and higher up. Well….do you remember Bogotá and me having a cold? The Mirador and my not so coincidental photo stops? If I thought I was prepared for this hike, I was mistaken big time. Annaëlle was very fit, already having travelled for a while – probably not living off of potato chips and having a sedentary lifestyle like me when not on the road – and I was catching my breath after every steep climb. Somehow, I managed to wrestle myself to the colibri reserve AND to enjoy the sights along the way. Colibri reserve meant a place to rest and have a hot drink before heading for the hardest part of the hike: the Mirador at a height of 2860m above sea level. Sigh. After stopping every two steep curves, I told Annaëlle to leave me behind and wait at the top. Struggling with legs that wouldn’t walk more than 50m at the time – a result of less oxygen in the air I guess – I still managed to reach the top, maybe half an hour later than my hiking partner. Sweaty, red and still breathing for air, I felt king of the world. The view was simply stunning.

What followed was walking down into the Valle de Cocora, by far the easiest part of the day: from one moment into the other being surrounded by the tallest palms in the world is an incredible feeling. I’ll just let the picture speak for themselves this time.

HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Coffee Region, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Nightbus Bogotá – Armenia: 8 hours normal / 6 hours with a speedy driver – 53.000 COP / 15,04€

Bus Armenia – Salento: 40 minutes – 4200 COP / 1,2€

Willy to Valle de Cocora: one way – 3800 COP / 1,08€

Accommodation

3 nights in Casa Lili: dorm – 22.000 COP per night / 6,6€ per night (with the luck of having a private room for 2 nights, while the dorm was full)

Activities

Entrance colibri reserve: one hot drink included – 5000 COP / 1,43€

NEXT: My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part II – Coffee tasting and Pereira’s surprise

How I spent 4 days in Bogotá

After a couple of months – caugh* caugh* almost a full year – without writing more than a single blogpost, the voice in the back of my head started speaking up louder and louder every day, until it was screaming ‘WHEN WILL YOU FINALLY WRITE AGAIN’. Well, I guess now is the time. Not that I didn’t have anything to write about, like six months working in the more than popular Split area, Croatia, and a three-month backpacking trip to Colombia & Ecuador. I might even have some interesting things to write about Panamà and Serbia, which I visited in winter 2016. Oops.

Even if I have some catching up to do on former trips, what I want to talk about now is Colombia. A country that stood firmly as the number one on my to-visit-list, ever since I traveled from México to Panamà and met too many people describing Colombia as their absolute favorite country in Latin America. After some research – as in: reading every single guide book and blogpost about Colombia, spending hours and hours scrolling through pinterest in search of more and more and more blogposts – I decided: Colombia would be my next big destination. Just a couple of months later, you could find me on a flight to South America.

Bogotá. Capital of Colombia, aproximately 8 million inhabitants, located somewhere high up in the mountains at an altitude of 2640m and about as rainy as Belgium. At least, the 4 full days I spend in Bogotá it didn’t seem to stop raining, which didn’t improve my not-so-sure-if-I-like-this-city mood during my stay in the capital. I confess: I still don’t know wether to like Bogotá or not. Sure, I visited some nice museums and the Graffiti walking tour is one of the best free tours I ever took, but… I still have this gnawing feeling inside that makes it impossible to pronounce the words ‘I like Bogotá a lot’. At least for now.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT MY TIME IN BOGOTA

The weather. Yes, I know, as a Belgian, I shouldn’t complain about weather in other countries, especially not since 99.9% of the times it’s better than in my homecountry anyway. Well, I tell you: it sucked. Maybe it doesn’t suck all the time, but I had my fare share of tropical showers and early spring temperatures during my short stay in the capital. Even though I read up a lot about the city in advance, I definitely underestimated the low temperatures and amount of rain that met me there. If you would travel to Bogotá, be prepared: just in case, take an umbrella / good rainjacket – even though I think I would prefer both, since a rainjacket alone might not be enough…don’t worry, if you’re ever stuck in the portal of a church or around the Plaza Bolivar, it takes about 6 seconds before you are surrounded by streetvendors trying to get rid of their umbrellas – and a warm sweater. You’ll thank me for that later.

The altitude. Since Belgium – and especially Flanders, the region I’m from – formed once a part of the Low Countries or Low Lands, now called ‘The Netherlands’, you might already guess it…I’m not used to high altitudes at all. Arriving in Bogotá asked an adaptation of my lungs to thinner air, which wasn’t made easier by the cold I caught a couple of days before. Add having a late night drinking red wine – the 5+ amount of bottles that my 4 hostel-compagnons and I drank in Madrid might not have been the best idea, especially not when you’re taking an intercontinental flight the next morning – and you might find yourself a bit sick and exhausted the first days in the capital. The high altitude really needs some days to adapt to, only just take a bit more care of yourself than I did before arriving. I’m pretty sure that without having a cold, I wouldn’t have felt that miserable the first couple of days, when breathing was a little bit difficult and my body exhausted after a day of sightseeing with a jetlag. Take your time to adapt.

The feeling of insecurity. Hold on. Stop right there. First, I want to make it clear that Colombia is a magnificent country where it’s perfectly fine to travel alone, as a couple, in a group or with your family. I traveled both alone and with a partner in Colombia, with no big problems whatsoever. However, it’s good to take a couple of precautions when traveling, which are linked to the good old ‘common sense’ everybody should have: don’t walk alone on the streets late at night, especially not in dodgy areas; don’t show off your precious Iphones/giant cameras/the golden earrings you got from your grandmother for your 18th birthday/all your money; preferably spread your money over different places and don’t take everything with you all at once;… Pretty basic stuff. Now, Bogotá. During my 3 months in Colombia and Ecuador, this was the only city where I always had this indescribable feeling of insecurity in the back of my head, while walking on the streets. Candelaria, the historic district and one of the oldest parts of the capital, is one of the most popular areas to stay in, with a lot of hotels, hostels and restaurants. When I arrived in my hostel – yep, in Candelaria, sometimes I am a big tourist -, they showed me the areas on the map where I definitely SHOULD NOT go and I got the advice not to take my phone or bank cards with me when I wanted to leave the hostel after dark. – Dark being in this part of the world around 6 pm – Hmm. Robberies were quite common and continuous warnings by both the hostel owner and fellow backpackers didn’t make me feel more at ease. But maybe too many warnings is what’s causing the insecurity in the first place… Although a small incident with a drunk homeless guy waving around a broken bottle because somebody didn’t give him a cigarette, didn’t help either…

Next time I’m in Bogotá, I think I’ll do my best to couchsurf more and meet more locals, who can show me another side of the capital, one I might not have seen yet. – I should better say ‘definitely haven’t seen’, since I’ve only given the city 4 days to appeal to me, before moving over to Salento. Sorry Bogotá, but I’ll give you another chance, I promise! –

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT BOGOTA

Sundays. In Belgium, Sundays are always a tiny little bit boring where I live. Not a big city, so no museums or theaters or cinemas to visit and shops in general are closed. While in Bogotá most of the shops are also closed on Sundays, the city is still buzzing with life: families go outside to take a picknick in one of the numerous parks – not only in the capital, saw this as well in Medellín and other Colombian cities – andthe main streets are packed with people, artists and streetvendors trying to sell everything from empanadas to umbrellas. – you know, sudden rainshowers and all that – Traffic is blocked off in a lot of streets, so people can walk, skate and cycle all over the city without risking their lives. – it has a name, Ciclovía, every Sunday and on holidays from 7 am until 2 pm – It’s a nice way to discover some other parts of the capital and ideal for one of my all time favorite activities: people watching. I love to walk around in a city or sit on a square and watch people doing their daily thing, admire their different clothing styles or just the way they walk and be happy that the world can be such an interesting and diverse place. Yup, happiness can be quite simple sometimes. Another big plus about Sundays: a lot of museums are free!

Museums. Which brings me to my number two of things I liked about Bogotá: the museums. Of course, I didn’t have the time to visit aaaaaall the museums, but I picked – like every rightful tourist would do – the two most popular ones to start with: the Museo de Oro and the Museo Botero. The first free on Sundays, the second free every single day. – yeeeey – The Museo de Oro or the Gold museum is a highlight on many people’s Bogotá -trip and known to hold the biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold in South America. Since I love history and some bling bling, I couldn’t miss a visit to this museum. Only a short walk from the Candelaria district – in about 10/15 minutes you’re in the city center and at the museum – and an entrance fee of 4000 COP – about 1,2€ – before you can drool above showcases filled with golden artifacts. From teeny tiny frogs to a ceremonial Muisca offer boat, the museum takes you back to times long before the Spanish arrived on the continent and the different indigenous tribes still crafted their beautifully detailled works of art. – I spent about 3 hours in the building. I guess it’s quite clear I liked it, no? – Museum N°2, the Botero museum, is dedicated to Colombia’s most famous painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero. Before visiting Colombia and during my ‘I-need-to-read-everything-I-can-about-Colombia’ frenzy, his name came up a couple of times and I got a bit curious. After visiting his museum – hey, it’s free, so why not? – I can call myself a fan. I loved his characters who are always out of proportion – Or you can call them a bit chubby – and the sense of humour that seeps into his paintings. A lot of works are donated by the artist himself and even more, you can see works of big masters known all over the world: Chagall, Picasso, Dalí and the Belgian Paul Delvaux. Did I already mention it is free?

Bogota Graffiti Tour. One of the things I like to do when I visit a big city, is check if they have a free walking tour. Not only are those tours tip-based, which means the guides generally do their very best to show their city to you, but to me it’s the ideal way to get a general feel of a city and what (not) to visit during the rest of your stay. The Bogotá Graffiti Tour however doesn’t show you the highlights, but gets you to know all the hotspots for some serious graffiti-watching. During the tour we visited both the Downtown and Candelaria district, with in Downtown the more politically tinted murals and in Candelaria a bigger focus on art about the indigenous population. I particularly loved this tour because they really talk in depth about the murals: who made it, what does it mean and why did they paint it. Furthermore, the guide isn’t scared to talk about difficult political topics and you get to know what Justin Bieber has to do with the current graffiti policy in Bogotà. If you love street art, history and want to get to know the city in a slightly different way, than this graffiti tour might be a good idea.

WHAT I JUST DIDN’T DO

While you can read what I’ve been up to in the parts above, there’s still a lot of city that I didn’t cover. When I wasn’t busy visiting one of the museums, strolling around the Candelaria district or franatically taking pictures of some gorgeous murals, I was probably lying in bed with a headache, trying to blow every single blob of snot out of my nose. Or hiding under the drainage pipes of one of the Candelaria houses / playing card games in the hostel while waiting for another sudden downpour to stop. Four days in Bogotá clearly isn’t enough to visit everything there is to see – duh, you always need a lifetime in a city for that, and even then it won’t be enough – but there are a couple of things I would’ve liked to do while there:

Climb Monserrate mountain. I love myself some nice views, especially if you have to do an effort before you can take that perfect selfie with ama-zing background. – not that I’m a selfie girl, I tend to have this horrible double chin in every selfie I take and I prefer to avoid that – Monserratte is one of the most popular places in Bogotá to gain that ama-zing background and you can reach the top both on foot as with a cable car – or bicycle for the crazy ones among us – but sadly, I didn’t reach the top. I didn’t even do the effort to try and visit, since a view is non-existent when rainclouds dot the sky at every single moment of the day. Next time.

Mercado de las Pulgas de Usaquén. Or any other market, actually. Nothing better than walk in between rows and rows of fresh produce, discover different smells and colors and simply be overwhelmed by the surrounding chaos. I absolutely love this. How you can be anonymous in a big crowd, taste new fruits and listen to the yelling of vendors trying to sell their goods to you. Just walk and look and smell and be there, without necessarily buying anything. This particular market also is known for its arts&crafts and its indigenous products, but I missed out on it. – sad emoticon – Another reason to give Bogotá another chance.

Visit/sleep in another district. Yes, visiting La Candelaria isn’t really seeing the whole capital. Exploring other areas as Zona Rosa, Chapinero and fashionable Usaquén – you know, from the market I also didn’t visit – is still on my to-do-list in Bogotá.

As I’ve already written, four days isn’t nearly enough to say you know the capital of Colombia. – or any capital whatsoever – All the nice activities I did, the Graffiti tour, discovering La Candelaria and roaming around Downtown on a Sunday, where overshadowed by the continuous rain, my cold – hurray for snotty noses and jetlags – and my struggle to adapt to the altitude. After four days I decided to give it a break and head to a greener and – hopefully – sunnier destination: Salento & the coffee region.

More about Salento and how I survived a busride from hell in the next post!