(Disclaimer: this post was written 6 months ago, on flights between Colombia and the US. When I came home from exchange, I forgot I hadn’t posted any of these yet.)
(Disclaimer 2: due to an incident unrelated to the fractured foot, I lost my phone whilst in Santiago. As a result, I have minimal and somewhat low quality photos of my travels in Colombia. Just imagine everything a little more colourful, and a little less pixelated.)
I did not plan on beginning my two months of post-exchange travel with a fractured foot. That was definitely not the plan. But two days before my flight out of Santiago, I slipped on the stairs after a despedida (goodbye party) and fractured my foot. And so, I began my travels with the added challenge of a heavy boot and intermittent pain.
On the upside, it gives my blog post a specific perspective. How to Travel Colombia Alone, as a Blonde Woman with a Fractured Foot.
The first thing I discovered is that everyone is incredibly nice about it. Travelling Latin America while blonde results in a lot of street harassment, catcalling, whistling, and my darker haired friends have been worried about me alone in Colombia. But the calling out on the street in Colombia has been more of a “ah pobrecita, ¿qué pasó?” (You poor thing, what happened?) rather than anything sexual or objectifying. Its sweet! I’m enjoying the shift in vibe.
I originally booked my tickets for a 5 day stop over in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, on my way to the US. However, after 5 minutes of research I discovered that Bogotá is definitely not the best that Colombia has to offer. Its not the prettiest, safest, or sunniest – all things that are important to me. So I added budget domestic flights to Cartagena for three days, and limited my time in Bogotá to two half-days at the beginning and end.
I arrived in Bogotá on a Saturday afternoon, and found the entire city cloaked in rain and fog. From what I had read, this wasn’t surprising, as Bogotá hovers at 20 degrees with rain year-round. However, the fog made it harder to see any of the city and the rain (along with cute cobbled streets and lots of hills) made it a challenge to walk around at all with the boot.
However, I still managed to explore a bit of the city. I stayed in La Candelaria, the historic centre of the city. It has cobbled streets, colourful houses, and historic buildings. I just walked around a bit to get my bearings and see the area, and I found beautiful churches, a plaza swarmed with pigeons, and a little shop selling homemade pastries. The man who worked there was lovely, and let me try a Colombian drink called ….. something he definitely told me and I cannot remember (oops) and a chocolate pastry while his little cat watched on.
The next day I hopped on an early morning domestic flight to Cartagena. And damn, that city is hot. But not hot in a Dubai way, more so in a Bali way – tropical and humid and sticky. I love summer and heat, so I just immediately accepted that my hair was going to be frizzy and my face make-up free, and enjoyed it. But if you don’t enjoy the heat, Cartagena in the summer wouldn’t be enjoyable.
Also, the boot made it worse. It almost reaches my knee, and wraps my leg up tight, so it really conserves heat. I didn’t stop sweating the whole time I was there. It was pretty gross.
Cartagena is a port city on the Caribbean coast, but the main drawer is the historic walled city. I stayed in a hostel just outside the wall, in the Getsemani neighbourhood. Apparently Getsemani used to be a dangerous (and somewhat brothel-filled) neighbourhood, but now its full of bars, cafes, and street art.
On safety in Colombia, I didn’t feel unsafe at any point in Cartagena. Obviously, I was careful; I didn’t walk around by myself at night, I didn’t carry my passport or credit card with me, I didn’t flash valuable items on the street. But even so, the historic area is just a chilled out touristy town. I heard of rougher areas out by the metropolitan area, but the historic town seemed low-key and everyone I met was lovely.
When I was researching what to see and do in Cartagena, I was frustrated to see it repeatedly described as the “ultimate walking city”. And to be fair, it definitely is. The historic centre is mostly closed to cars, so all there is to do is wander around the streets, find the brightly coloured houses, and the balconies covered in flowers, and cute shops, and churches and historical monuments. Normally, that would be my dream holiday. Under these circumstances, slightly less ideal.
But I persevered. After over-exerting myself on the first day, I managed to learn my limits. I would explore for about an hour, and then find a cafe or somewhere to sit and refuel. Particular shout out to Ceiba Juice Bar in Getsemani, for providing good coffee and a cute window with a breeze to spend afternoons reading and chilling out.
I visited the Church of San Pedro Claver, an 18th century priest who is known for his work with slaves and human rights. Historically Cartagena served as a a slave port, and Pedro Claver was a monk in the 17th century who dedicated his life to carrying for the slaves who passed through the city. The convent has been converted into a museum, not only exploring the history of San Pedro but also modern human rights struggles.
I also visited el Palacio de la Inquisición, which also serves as the National History Museum in Cartagena. This is the building where the trials of the Inquisition took place, and none of the accused were found innocent. Aside from its historical importance, the building is also beautiful and is considered one of the best examples of Colombia’s colonial architecture. The museum isn’t free, but I had the same surname as one of the girls at the desk, and after chatting about the weirdness of the coincidence, they never took my money. I did however pay for an audio guide, which was very cool and interactive and taught me lots of cool stuff. However, the museum has so much information on the signs in each room that it probably wasn’t worth the money. (Note: most of the information is in Spanish, whereas the guide can be bought in English).
In Cartagena, the sun sets early but the nights stay warm, so people take to the streets in the evenings. The fractured foot meant that partying wasn’t going to happen, but I spent a lovely chilled out evening with people from the hostel just sitting in the plazas drinking cheap beer and chatting to other people hanging out.
After three days in Cartagena, I flew back to Bogota. I had one (blissfully rain-free) morning to see the essentials, so I woke up early and walked around everything I could manage. I went to the Botero Museum; I don’t really understand art, and yet I continue to go to art museums, usually when they’re free and somewhat quirky, which this was. I spent the rest of the day on a self-conducted walking tour of the city, passing through the Plaza de Bolivar and checking out the Cathedral, Congress, and anything else that caught my eye along the way.
I really enjoyed Colombia. I mostly booked my flights because I kept being told not to go, because it was too dangerous or god knows what. But its 2016 and Colombia has come a long way. It’s incredibly beautiful, the people are lovely, and it has so much fascinating history. I only saw two cities but I have heard great things about everywhere else, and I would love to come back and see the country in more depth.
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