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Traveling in Colombia: Our Rambles

Colombia is a breathtaking country, with dramatic mountainous landscapes, colorful coastal towns, and savory food.  It encompasses a variety of ecosystems, cultural regions, and regional flavor.  While Colombia carries a bad reputation due to governmental instability and drug trade, it is a perfectly safe country to ramble if you stay aware of your surroundings and secure your belongings (as in any country!). Highway 25, the Pan-american route that stretches from the northern coast to Impiales, is well maintained and offers stunning views.

CARTAGENA
Cartagena, Colombia’s fifth largest city, should not be missed in your ramblings throughout Colombia.  It displays it’s history with old colonial buildings, has a variety of neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants to explore, and the people are generally approachable and friendly.  If you have ample time, give yourself at least a week to familiarize yourself with the city.  Nick and I had such a great time that week stayed for five weeks!

A few personal recommendations for your stay in Cartagena
The majority of our time was spent in Getsemani, a barrio within walking distance to the old city.  Getsemani is lined with old colonial houses and apartments filled with families, and neighbors gather to mingle and eat street food at Plaza de la Trinidad, which contains a bright yellow church, Iglesia Trinidad.  If you choose to stay in Getsemani, make sure to buy juices from Nira, who owns a juice stand in the plaza that is open from 2:00 pm until late in the evening.  Thanks to Nick and our friends Greg and Lee, Nira now sells her fruit drinks with liquor.  To read more about Nira, click HERE and HERE.

The best arepas in town, in my opinion (one’s preferences in arepas is always based on personal taste), is the arepa stand located in the left corner of the plaza.  If you enter the plaza from Calle Guerrero, the stand is located to your left.  Why are these arepas better than the countless arepas throughout town?  They are grilled, not fried, with salty shredded meat and cheese.

We rented a room for a month in Casa Valda, located on Calle Guerrero.  Casa Valda offers air-conditioned and non-AC rooms, a communal kitchen, free wi-fi, a laundry machine, and private bathrooms.  While I enjoyed our stay at Casa Valda, I recommend that you ensure the price of your stay before anything else.  We had trouble with the staff concerning the price of our room and extending our stay.  Media Luna, the street that runs perpendicular to Calle Guerrero, has numerous hostels as well.

The majority of our drinking took place in Plaza de la Trinidad, where you can buy beers in the nearby tiendas and nosh on the street food sold in the plaza.  This is a great place to meet other travelers, since many of them congregate here.  We also enjoyed Donde Fidel’s, located in the old city, which offers affordable beers (2,500 pesos – about $1.25 USD each), a large outdoor seating area, and salsa dancing.

Over the bridge from Getsemani is barrio Manga, a neighborhood that is a bit more modern and upscale.  Here you will find various restaurants, Carulla, a large grocery store, and two marinas, Club Nautico and Club de Pesca.  Club de Pesca is a private marina, but if you are interested in checking out the boats at Club Nautico, you can stop by at the bar and hang out.  Club Nautico was under renovation during our stay in Cartagena, but it should be complete at the end of 2009.

To read more about Cartagena through Ramble Writer, click HERE.

MEDELLIN
Famous as the once-home of Pablo Escobar and it’s Francisco Botero exhibit, Medellin is, well, a big city.  While El Poblado, a upscale neighborhood known for it’s bars, restaurants, and discos, can be fun, Medellin came as a bit of a disappointment.  Traffic is horrendous during rush hour, and the city itself lacks the beauty described in guidebooks.

We did however, pirate camp in Medellin for two nights to explore the city.  If you would like to camp in a quiet residential area, drive up Calle 10 into Zona Rosa (the main restaurant district in El Poblado) to the top of the hill.  Once you begin to leave the main restaurant and shopping area, turn to the right (you will see a cinema to your left).  This will lead you to a neighborhood with apartments and free parking.

PEREIRA
Pereira was only a stop to sleep.  We slept in the parking lot of a gas station in the city.

CALI
Our friends, Christina and Devin, who shared a shipping container with us, worked at Pelican Larry’s, a hostel in Cali, while the engine of their Volkswagen van was being fixed.  For a discounted rate ($5 USD per person), we were able to park in their driveway, and use the hostel’s facilities (showers, kitchen, living area, and internet).  We slept in the truck, but had the benefit of sleeping in a quiet and safe residential neighborhood.

Pelican Larry’s
Calle 23N 8N-12
In the residential area of the Santa Monica district
www.pelicanlarrycali.com/inicio.html

PASTO
Pasto is a town nestled in the mountains with great weather, a thriving university, and peaceful natural surroundings.  Near the university, you’ll see college students amble up the neighborhood streets, and, if you look up, you can see Galeras, the volcano located south of the city.  In addition, La Cocha lake, located about 20 km from Pasto, is recommended by locals as a beautiful site to see.

Pasto is famous for it’s Carnival de Negros y Blancos (Black and White’s Carnival), an annual event that takes place from the 2nd to the 6th of January.  Many people paint their faces black or white (in addition to smearing others’ faces with black or white paint), while elaborate floats parade through the city.

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