Luís Simões, travel sketcher around the world
Before Luís and I came, we knew that Colombia is known as an unsafe country to travel to. The narco-trafficking has been the stereotype of Colombia. Yet, we wanted to experience it in the first person, by bicycle. Sounds crazy at the beginning, but the truth is we did it! After 4 months of exploring, we discovered that Colombia is indeed an incredible country to put on any destination bucket list. This is the list of our Best places to visit & sketch in Colombia!
We have to admit that our days in the capital city of Colombia were quite overwhelming. Bogotá has so many things to offer that our first-timer brains couldn’t hold it. It was also the first time we both were traveling together and all excited about the bicycle touring, which didn’t allow us to experience in Bogotá as a whole.
2. Bahia Concha (Tayrona Park)
The ‘WOW‘ effect of Bahia Concha made us feel worth all the effort and pain, with our very first time traveling by bicycle. The bay is surrounded by natural hills and has the Isla de La Aguja in front. We could imagine why there is a myth that this bay used to be a paradise for pirates when they invaded Santa Marta. We could perceive the spirit. The water begins with a translucent crystal color and slowly fades into darker turquoise. It’s superb! If you ever come to Colombia make sure you don’t miss Tayrona Park!!!
Cartagena is one of the beautiful cities we’ve ever been to in this country. It has mixed charms between the colonial buildings as it is one of the oldest cities in Colombia and the modern architecture around the north area, near the Rafael Nunez International Airport. Since Cartagena is known for having a tropical climate with high humidity, we recommend exploring the old town in the morning before the sun gets too high. The old town is truly photogenic and it’s perfect for sketching and walk. It’s easy to get confused with other tourists in town, but search well for the unique places and try to talk with locals more than taking photos, they will love to talk back.
Medellin was surely known as a dangerous city. Even now there are still some places that are better to avoid. However, we felt pretty safe during our stay. We heard that this city is on undergoing big revitalization. As a matter of fact, Medellin has a program of anti-corruption and has very good public transportation such as tram, urban train, cable car, and free bike. Also, it’s well-known as the ‘city of eternal spring’ which obviously makes Medellin a preferable city for many Colombians and gringos! One of the things we did and we loved was the cable car to Arvi Park and then a walk in there.
Besides the famous Piedra del Penol, Guatape has colonial brightly painted buildings with embellishments of local flowers, animals, and symbols of the past. The vibrancy of this town energized me. It’s one of the places that we would like to come back and spend more time to explore and enjoy. Guatape was the perfect day trip from Medellín. We got a mix of everything; nature, architecture, and traditional Colombian food. It was worth a unique visit for sure!
6. Cocora Valley
The attraction here is the environment itself. And of course, the wax palms that can get to 60 meters tall which is the national tree and symbol of Colombia. As it is a cloud forest, it was wet and muddy, with frequent rainfall. For us, The Cocora Valley was merely a breathtaking, stunning, and surreal place.
7. Tatacoa Desert
There are not only coffee fields and dream beaches in Colombia. There are also incredibly fascinating deserts like the Tatacoa desert. This was our first time in such an environment and sleeping in our tent was quite memorable. If you can make it to stay one or two nights in here, bring enough food and lots of water. Search for the artificial pool and go really in the morning when there’s no one around. Avoid the heat hours – 12 pm to 3 pm and be amazed by what the sun does in this area.
Built between 1916 and 1949, this wonderful basilica rises on a narrow cliff, above the canyon of the Guáitara River. This beautiful structure surrounded by a large green forest is both surprising and mystical, and for us was the perfect “stamp” to leave Colombia with a good feeling. This place is quite common for local tourism too.
There were some towns that we didn’t expect that we will like nor unforgettable. Here is a list of the unexpected places we went to and if you were wondering for more local and authentic parts in Colombia. These are great places to get off-the-beaten tracks and absolutely, Best places to visit & sketch in Colombia that many never see, nor imagine exists.
It is impossible not to see the fruit ladies around the downtown streets of Cartagena. When we were there, we met one of those ladies and she told us that she was from a town called San Basilio de Palenque, where the immense slaves from Africa, from the Congo and Angola, were brought by the Spaniards and who entered Colombia through the port of Cartagena, took refuge. In Palenque, they fought for their freedom and independence. And they did it. They remained for history as the first African people to gain their freedom, throughout America. After this conversation, we went to visit Palenque, oh boy, that was a time travel into Africa!
It is called Entrerrios because the town is located between two rivers: the Rio Grande and the Rio Chico. The fact that is a small, clean, and calm town, made us feel comfortable. Plus, we found a small bike shop that had almost everything we need at a good price! Aside from that, it has the Peñón de Entrerríos, a monolith 75 meters high, similar to the famous Rock of Guatapé located in the Antioquia municipality of Guatapé, although smaller.
The area of Silvia is called Colombian Switzerland as it is green, hilly and the air is great. There are people of Guambiano descent who preserve their traditional ways of life around Silvia. Also, they are known for their traditional clothing: blue scarf (worn as a sarong), rectangular ponchos, and black bowler hat for the men; black skirt, solid color top, blue scarf, and dark bowler hat for the women. The Guambiano people are quite endearing. They were modest but friendly. And every Tuesday, there is the indigenous market as a feast for the eyes, although we didn’t have the chance to see it because we were on different days.
Ok, Cali is one of the main cities in Colombia, but for us, it came without a serious plan or wish to visit. Why? We simply don’t like big cities and arriving by bicycle would be a terrible option! So we went by bus for the first time and it was a very good surprise. Cali contains a well-preserved historical center that makes this city walkable to wander around. Not like the weather along the coast, which was always humid and hot, in here it was certainly pleasant. Although there are lots of options to eat in a more “western” style, the city actually offers a ton of local food and culture. We easily spend 3 great days in the city and Luis is not a fan of Salsa, otherwise, we could have to spend a week!
For lake lovers and to have a break from Latino music, Cumbal lagoon is a great spot. As we were going south in Colombia we found this lake, which is also known as Lagoon of the Bolsa and lies on the foothills of Cumbal volcano, 13 km away from Guachucal. We spend a half-day here and locals here can prepare trouts for your lunch.
What do you think about our list of Best places to visit & sketch in Colombia? Have you been here before? Do we miss asome places, maybe? Enlighten us in the comment section!
Colombia was our first experience on our tour in South America. It will always be the first country that we traveled by bicycles and learned Spanish. Colombia it’s a country that has everything and most of all there is a lot of generosity on the people, that we had the luck to crossed their paths. Most of the time, they made our journey richer than we could ever ask. Apart from nice photographs and sketches, we also made a documentary – you can see it on our youtube channel. Sketches of Colombia also available to print and send to you!