I just got back from a week in Colombia. I’m happy — stuffed with Arepas, a little sunburnt, and full of a very different picture of Colombia than before.
I wanted to jot down some notes from daily life in another country while they’re still fresh. I’m not sure if this will be immediately interesting to anyone, but at least I’lll have something to point to when others ask about the trip.
Here’s a recap:
- Traffic in Colombia is terrible. There’s no way to overstate how bad it is. I had heard this warning, but I was still shocked to see it in person. In fact, I’d say traffic was the only significant complaint about my experience in all of Colombia. The number of cars in Bogota has doubled in the past 10 years, and the average person spends 70+ minutes daily on their commute.
- Bikes are somewhat common, but motorcycles are the true 2 wheel way to get around. This is because motorcycles aren’t under the same day-use restrictions that cars are, and daredevil types can typically move through traffic faster on a motorcycle by weaving through stopped lines of cars. As a result, motorcycles have grown 20x in the last 10 years. Yes, 20x.
- Bogota’s bright spot for transportation is their network of Rapid Bus Lanes. It’s the world largest, and fastest, Rapid Bus system. Nearly 2 million passengers use it daily, and it improved travel times in many corridors by 30% and decreased deaths by 80%+. Still, even the famed system is showing cracks — overcrowding is common, leading many to call for a Subway, a 60+ year conversation.
- Uber is readily available, and rides across town end up being just a few US dollars. Half the drivers I spoke with had strong English skills, and all asked, with a mix of terror and amusement, how Donald Trump was running for President of the United States.
- Safety is a top reason why many dismiss the idea of visiting Colombia. In recent years, however, incredible strides have been made which should allay most fears.
- I easily saw 300–400 distinct officers in the course of a week, a staggering amount. In public squares, managing traffic, and with bomb sniffing dogs throughout crowded malls, police were everywhere. Though many locals commented that the police don’t actually do much, the sight alone was reassuring.
- Colombia is not a country particularly known for their cuisine. But, after a week eating amazing, diverse food at an incredibly affordable rate, I don’t know why this is the case.
- Arepas are the star of the show in Colombia. Take the ubiquity of pizza, burgers, and sandwiches in the United States and combine them — then you might come close to the how widespread the arepa is in Colombia. Stuffed with queso, arepas can be found on nearly every corner and even by bike grill:
- Other than arepas, expect to see lots of Fish, plantains, rice, empanadas, and fruit.
- Rum and tequila based drinks are most prevalent. Every single order is made with fresh ingredients — just squeezed lime or delicately muddled mint — making the cocktails superb.
- If you think the juice craze that is sweeping the US is overblown, you won’t believe Colombia. Juice carts are on every corner, offering freshly squeezed pineapple, coconut, mango, papaya, and more.
- Coffee is harder to find than it should be given that Colombia is the world’s 3rd largest producer. But, where you can find it, it’s very good and very fresh. Cafes like Amor Perfecto and San Alberto represent the craft well. Even the local equivalent of Starbucks, Juan Valdez, can brew a respectable cup.
- If you like cheese, head to Colombia. Besides getting your fill in arepas, you’ll find the agua panela con queso drink. This curious invention manages to make it respectable to drink your cheese now, too.
Besides the standard sights and monuments of each city, some recommendations:
- Andres D.C. — A must. Part steakhouse, part dance club, all entertainment.
- Arepas Salome — Arepas grilled on a bike. Need I say more?
- Mini Mal — Inventive, modern food that manages to honor its roots
- Abasto — Gorgeous setting for breakfast
- Club Colombia — A breathtakingly beautiful building, and drinks to match
- El Baron — Classic cocktails in an authentic, warm atmosphere
- Abaco — Bookstore, cafe, and bar in one. Everything, in other words.
- La Movida — The perfect spot to sit under the stars and enjoy a few Ron Zacapas.
I’ll sum up Colombia with a recent tourism tagline that fits so well:
“Colombia: The only risk is that you’ll want to stay.”