The moment we realized countries were opening back up to tourists we quickly started to decide on where we wanted to explore next. Should we have a romantic European summer or head back down to South America? While not every country was entirely open to travelers, luckily, many places we had always wanted to explore were available for tourists.
This included Colombia - a country we’d only heard great things about. This was especially true when we were down in Peru and every other traveler was asking if we had been to Colombia or were heading there next. When we told them we weren't, all of them tried to change our minds with words like beautiful, magical, adventurous. In the end, we stuck with our itinerary of Peru and Ecuador - but never lost the desire to head even more north in South America.
So fast forward to 2021 and after many years of talking about it, we finally decided to check the country out for ourselves. So we bought two one-way tickets, packed up all of our stuff and got on a plane headed for Cartagena.
So Why Colombia?
Besides the obvious - it is beautiful and full of life - Colombia checked off a lot of necessary boxes for us, including the ability to learn another language and the overall accessibility of amazing adventures.
Below are the six reasons we chose to slow travel in Colombia - and why you should too!
\\ Learn Spanish
This one was a big one for us both, for it had always been a dream of ours to become (semi) bilingual in Spanish. While we each had taken Spanish in high school, and had at least some basic knowledge of the language, we also both knew that to get practically fluent (or as close to as possible) we needed to immerse ourselves in it fully.
Hence why we decided to slow travel around Colombia where we knew we would have plenty of opportunities to speak the language with the locals and plenty of time to work on it overall (the plan was to spend around 3 months in Colombia).
\\ Natural Features & Adventure
If you are looking for a country with a lot of beautiful, unique landscapes then Colombia should be high on your list. Tropical beaches, vibrant red deserts, lush rainforests and high snow-capped mountains, you can find all of that and more within the confines of the South American country.
And all of those natural features translate to some truly amazing outdoor adventures, including snorkeling, trekking, mountain biking and canyoneering (and much more). When we were looking at places to explore in the country we knew we wanted a mix of landscapes - hence why we first landed in Cartagena, located on the Caribbean Sea and home to some great beaches and tropical scenery, and then planned to head further inland to the more mountainous, rainforest-y region (more importantly: the coffee growing region).
When you give yourself a couple of months in Colombia it becomes much easier to explore the various natural features in a slower, more in-depth way - including even living in various landscapes (like the coast or the jungle). Plus, when you have weeks instead of days, you can spend the time finding the right adventure for you.
\\ Cultural Immersion
What really sold us on Colombia was the combination of the gorgeous natural landscapes and the rich culture. For us, when planning a trip somewhere we want to learn as much as possible about the local cultures and how the locals live their day-to-day lives. Luckily, it is easy to do that when you are spending weeks in one place instead of always moving around.
Plus, the culture in Colombia is incredibly diverse. For example, along the coast - especially in the Cartagena area - you have a strong African and Caribbean influence (the city was a major port for enslaved Africans under Spanish rule). Whereas in the interior of the country there are stronger influences from various indigenous groups, as well as from European immigrants that arrived after WWII, especially in areas such as the capital of Bogota, the large metropolis of Medellin and the coffee growing regions like Santander. No matter what area you explore in Colombia you will more than likely find very warm, welcoming and friendly individuals.
In the same vein as Colombia’s strong culture is the country’s interesting and long history. For us, we believe traveling is the best way to expand your horizons and keep learning. So heading off to a place with a fascinating history is always exciting (though I guess you could say every country has a fascinating history…).
Colombia has some of the oldest settlements in the Americas (the first European settlement was in 1525 along the coast, while the city of Cartagena was established only a couple of years later in 1533). This long, intricate - oftentimes rough - history is definitely worth exploring and getting caught up in.
And some of the best ways to do that is to go out and experience it through museums, archeological sites and by spending a good amount of time exploring various historic cities - like Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque/Palenke, the first free African town in the Americas, and the capital city of Bogota.
\\ Lower Cost of Living
When planning to travel to a spot long-term (like you do when slow traveling) it is important to know what the average cost of living is. Luckily, overall, Colombia is pretty cheap.
For example, we found an apartment in Cartagena right next to the beach and within a five minute walk from the Old Town for roughly $600 a month. The apartment came with a balcony, a working kitchen and strong Wifi (more on that in a bit), plus the hosts were very helpful and responsive.
As for food, you can find nice supermarkets with almost any food you could want (besides vegan cheese) at pretty good prices. And restaurants are also pretty affordable - most large meals cost around $4-5. Note: there are definitely some higher-end restaurants that are similar in prices to American spots.
Overall, things in Colombia, from what we can gather so far, are cheaper than in the USA and Western Europe. Which was honestly a big draw for us since we knew our money would go farther and allow us to enjoy the country even more. If you are considering slow traveling in Colombia, definitely know that you can get away with a smaller monthly budget than you can in places like the USA, the UK and Australia.
The final reason we chose Colombia, and this was a big one, was the overall strength of the internet. Yes, you read that right. When looking for a country to live in long term, and especially when you are planning to be working while living and traveling in said country, having good internet and access to strong WIFI is really, really important.
Both of us need good internet to get work done, so finding an apartment that had strong WIFI was non-negotiable. Luckily, at least in Cartagena, that wasn’t an issue. Plus we quickly found that many restaurants also have WIFI available - which is great when you are traveling and your phone only works when you are connected to WIFI (like Madalyne’s does).
Overall, we have been so happy with our decision to travel to Colombia and experience it for the next couple of months. We are so excited to dive deeper into this beautiful country and learn more about its culture and history, as well as really work on our Spanish language skills overall.
If you are looking for a great country to spend a couple of months exploring and adventuring in, we highly, highly recommend heading down to Colombia. Because in the end, the backpackers we met were right, this place really is magical.