Central Colombia: Bogotá, Medellín, Villa de Lleyva and Ráquira

After covering the general information about tourism in Colombia and some locations in southern Colombia, here’s the second part of the 3-4 weeks “beaten path” itinerary, suitable mainly for the first timers in Colombia.

Bogotá, Distrito Capital

This huge city of 8 million is, with its 2640m altitude, the third-highest capital in the world (after Quito and La Paz). It makes Bogotá‘s weather rather fresh but otherwise it is a massive, vibrant city, offering everything such a massive metropolis offer anywhere else in the world. IMHO, Bogotá is very underrated destination for tourists and it deserves better.

Bogotá‘s Candelaria

Whether you take strolls in historical La Candelaria and head to Monserrate to get the view of the city or visit some of the numerous museums, like Gold Museum or Museo Botero, there are plenty activities one can enjoy in the capital. In the evening, I’d go to one of the trendy bars in Chapinero or in Zona Rosa.

The numerous walking tours offered in pretty much all hostels can give you better picture of what this city has to offer. FYI, Wikivoyage has quite an informative text about the city here, in case you wanted to read some more about Bogotá.

Bogotá DC

Move around. I’ve found the public transport in the city rather complicated for an outsider but due to the grid system made of calles and carreras it’s doable. Taxis are however as cheap as chips so I didn’t bother much with those long city buses.

Candelaria, Bogotá

Medellín

Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia, infamous for its drug-trade history and certain figures representing it. At 1495 metres above the sea level, Medellín is more than a kilometre lower than Bogotá, which gives the city an advantage of more pleasant climate as well as different hemoglobin levels as opposed to country’s capital. Surrounded my beautiful Andes, the city appears in rather stunning fashion upon entering the valley of Aburrá.

The main tourist strip is El Poblado, a Gringo Central area filled with overpriced bars, prostitutes and drug dealers. As a solo male traveller, I’ve been often confronted with this element of life in multiple locations around Latin Americas as well as in South East Asia. I have always wondered about how many men actually go for the sex tourism. I have always hoped that the bad reputation is bigger than the real stats.

Brutal but honest Medellín

Well, El Poblado is one of those areas I haven’t researched enough before arriving here and those stats proved to be staggering in this area. The amount of American men in their 40s who came here to take cocaine and sleep with the prostitutes was immense. Actually, there were s many that it hasn’t left much space for anything else to take place in the Upper Poblado. The whole area lives off that industry and it’s pretty much unavoidable.

I don’t want to enter a moral discussion on this subject because it wouldn’t change anything. I don’t want to sound judgmental – it’s just not my cup of tea – that’s all I’ll say on this matter within the concept of this article. My problem was that I kept being mistaken for being one of them so I stayed away from the area to avoid the whole thing. In case you wanted to have a different experience, head to Lower Poblado, that is somewhat spared of the “oldest job” industry.

Look who I’ve met in Medellín (:0 So it wasn’t a conspiracy theory (:0

As for the non-sex tourist backpackers, the trend appeared to be staying in the hostel bars and getting completely wasted, enjoying the all sort of stuff delivery services the city offers. I didn’t enjoy neither of the alternatives, or I am just too old to practice the latter one continuously, so I’ve left Medellín quite fast.

Move around. The metro in Medellín is easy to use. You need to purchase a ticket at the station, obtain a local Oyster card and check in/check out. When you use up the credit, the card will stay in the machine.

Perspectives

This is not another location in Colombia. It’s just little thought to catch a break from this long guidey text. The claustrophobic feeling that the city centre hit me with, in combination with my ongoing travel burn-out didn’t exactly make me to search for other options much so I have decided to escape the city asap. I’m aware that I didn’t give Medellín a chance it most probably deserves to be given because of circumstances that made me bursting for a peace and quiet which I couldn’t find there at the time.

Later I thought about it, feeling a bit guilty about the whole thing and I came out with an interesting thought of the endless variety of perspectives. Perspectives are a funny thing. Except from the chronological circumstances when a place doesn’t fit your mood just because where you’ve been before, it’s also how you look, who you’re with or how old you are.

The same places could basically come across in numerous different ways, depending on your gender, age, energy levels and preferences. I’m certain that if I were there with my girlfriend or if didn’t look like a 40+ years old gringo, I’d have a different feeling about Medellín. I’ll get to the subject of perspectives in another piece for sure, but now let’s just get back on track with the guidey text about Colombia 😉

Other destinations in central Colombia

In case you were heading further north, you can try having a go at finding the famous El Dorado, a legend has it that it’s somewhere between Bogotá and my next destination: Villa de Lleyva 😉

Villa de Lleyva

Villa de Lleyva and Ráquira

About 5 hour drive north from the capital, there’s another popular destination for tourists: Villa de Lleyva. It’s a pretty colonial town with great cafés and pretty cobbled stone streets. There are various hiking options available in the area that are apparently well worth exploring. It’s a pretty place for a weekend break. Maybe it’s just my opinion but I found Villa de Lleyva incredibly posh.

A short drive away from Villa de Lleyva, there’s a small colourful town of Ráquira, a place that I found rather more authentic if compared to its famous neighbour. The whole town however appears a bit nuts about its pottery tradition.

On your way to Ráquira, I’d also recommend to stop at Santa Ecce Homo an old Dominican convent. Except for its purpose and historical significance in the region, it’s one of those small peaceful places that are just perfect if you can use a break from driving. And it comes with a interesting representation of the second female character from the oldest book*

One of Ráquira‘s cafés.

How to get there

  • Bogotá to Tatacoa: 6hrs bus ride from Bogotá‘s Bus Terminal @ 35000,-COP (€9,90) to Aipe. Walk through the village and entertain the local kids with a presence of a gringo 🙂 Walk further down into the meadows and take a boat across the river Magdalena to the village of Villavieja for 3000,-COP (€0.85). From Villavieja take a rip off tuk tuk to the dessert @ 20000,-COP (€5.70)
  • Tatacoa to Bogotá: 1hr bus/van drive to the city of Neiva @ 15000,-COP (€4.26). Then 7hrs bus to get to Bogotá @ 30000,-COP (€8.40)
  • Bogotá to Villa de Lleyva: We were driving. A bus from Bogotá apparently takes around 4-5hrs
  • Bogotá to Medellín: I took a 60 minute / €54 flight. The bus ride would take 10-15hrs
  • Medellín to Santa Marta: I took a 70minute / €34 flight. Bus journey is estimated to be 16+ hrs. Taxi from the airport to the city cost me 30000,-COP (€8.40)

Stay

  • Bogotá: I’ve personally stayed at my mate’s place so I ain’t got no recommendations. The areas to stay are listed here by Xixerone
  • Villa de Lleyva: As in Bogotá, I’ve stayed with my mates but there appeared to be a huge choice of hotels, B&Bs and other types of accommodation
  • Medellín: I’ve stayed in Panela Medellín Hostal in Lower Poblado. It was just OK. Not bad but also not the best place ever. Nice bar though.
*Both female characters from the oldest book as seen by the local artist at Dominican convent Santa Ecce Homo. Both characters are called Maria but…

Heading further north?

If you are heading to the Caribbean click here please.

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