Don’t get me wrong, besides the bad there was a lot of good during my Colombia travels; these were the most glaring negatives and frankly, most surprising. Preparation is best when venturing into new territory and I wasn’t, but hopefully you will be after reading.
You will be stared at — relentlessly
Whether you’re an attractive traveler, a person of color in cities with a majority white population, a suspected rich foreigner or just a foreigner, be prepared to be a specimen. As one Bogotaon said, Colombians are obsessed with foreigners, whether that’s a good or bad thing, they will stare at you until you figure it out.
You will be harassed within an inch of insanity
If you are suspected of being the aforementioned, along with staring comes the harassment. Forget it if you are heard speaking English, the rich foreigner is immediately ascribed to you and anyone selling something will never stop. Particularly in Cartagena. We tried many methods to decline, politely declining, ignoring, firm refusal, acting deranged and not one was to any avail. Our refusals were met with 5- to 10-minute pitch lines, curse-outs and stalking.
Hustle is not even the word
From toothbrushes, to massages, to dancing toys, you will never not be at the end of a sales pitch. A repeated one. No amount of no’s could possibly deter your determined salesperson as you sit there trying to figure out how they even got their hands on a Thighmaster in 2011. Everyone will try to game you, play you, hustle you to get more money or just any money. This is nothing new for travelers but good grief, this was the only country where the hustlers would make me think twice about returning.
The capital is not the way to go
Sorry, Bogota. Maybe it was the cold, the altitude that prevented me from breathing normally, the homeless woman that assaulted me, or the bad food, Bogota just left a very bad taste in my mouth. Literally.
Looking for great cuisine? Look elsewhere
I believe throughout my whole 2 weeks in Colombia I had three decent, hot, meals. I emphasize hot because most were room tempature or cold with no seasoning or spice. The last meal left me with a stomach virus, so, never mind.
It is very hot some places and very cold other places, at the same time
From sweating through my clothes in Cartagena on Monday to wearing boots, a jacket and scarf in Bogota on Tuesday, do not assume South American country = hot. Simply not true. I had summer fun, bathing suit attire in my suitcase; below I had sweaters and a rainjacket for Bogota and in my backpack galoshes for Quibdo. Everyone on my flight from Cartagena to Bogota had their winter jackets in arm as they boarded. Check the weather for each locale before setting foot on a plane.
Some places are very friendly, others are not
The locals in San Basilio de Palenqu, Cali and Quibdo would take the clothes off their back for you; other locals from other cities, not so much.
Taxi drivers = Gilligan’s sense of navigation with a hustler’s spirit
Most of the travelers I came across were taken for a ride when it came to paying for their haphazardly navigated one in Colombia. If you need a ride every cab driver is willing to take you, even if he doesn’t know where it is. He’ll ask others on the way, consequently doubling a 4,000 peso trip. Don’t play the fool, pay exactly what the going rate is, not the fare your unfortunate driver created. I had no problems negotiating and nipping inflated prices in the bud because I spoke Spanish and already know cab drivers across the world are known for upping prices on tourists. However, others were not so fortunate. It’s best to negotiate the price before you get in the car or do as I do, give them what the price is, even if they are charging you triple. A simple accusation of ‘ladron’ (thief) usually works.
Fast food is expensive
In my last ditch attempt to get some decent food, I turned to a fast food joint, which is absolutely deplorable and I repented, but I was hurting for some flavorful hot food and had nowhere else to turn. I soon found out why the massive fast food restaurant was pretty empty. The $9 burger and fries tab would have easily driven me away anywhere in the world.
The airport struggle is a special kind of hell
Speaking specifically of Bogota, leave for your flight about 15 hours early because traffic is horrible. This is coming from a New Yorker and also a fellow traveler who was from L.A. I missed my flight back home because I was sitting in standstill traffic for 1.5 hours on a trip that takes 20-30 minutes. Another woman had been in traffic 2 hours and also missed her flight. Then it’s the S-L-O-W check-in process, the epic lines, the opening your carry-on luggage to be searched before you get on the flight, my contact solution being thrown away (yeah, yeah, I know, #firstworldproblems) but I was allowed my contact solution in the very country that had the liquid bomber so what gives, Colombia? All in all, allot lots of time to be stressed and ready to cry.
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