Guatape – Beautiful Town

Guatape is a small town 2 hours away from Medellin known for its scenery. Most people come to Guatape for The Rock ‘El Peñón de Guatapé’ and Guatape Lake. It is one of the favourite weekend gateways for people of Medellin. Some come over for a day while others spend a night.

When we decided to visit Guatape, we thought we would spend a night. But we fell in love with the town that we decided to stay longer!

Guatape, Colombia

Getting to Guatape

Getting to Guatape is quite easy from Medellin. Buses from No. 13 of the Terminal Transport de Norte leave every half hour for Guatape until 7pm. The cost is 13,000 pesos (USD 4) per person.

If you decide to get to Guatape on Sunday, we suggest you book your tickets in advance, especially for return to Medellin. Those buses usually fill up quickly.

La Piedra

La Piedra is the main tourist attraction in Guatape. It is a mighty rock, 200 metres in height from its base and can be seen from a few kilometres away. There is a G and half U painted on the flatter side of The Rock as Guatape tried to own The Rock but the residents of El Peñol, nearby town, wouldn’t let that happen.

La Piedra, The Rock, Guatape, Colombia

There are around 670 steps til the Top of The Rock. However, there is a viewing platform which stands at 740 steps. The entire climb can be done in 20 minutes if 1) You are physically fit 2) You don’t stop for photograph along the way. We took about 30 mins to get to the viewing area.

La Piedra, The Rock, Guatape, Colombia

The view from the Top of The Rock is just outstanding. There is water and land in all directions. And the hills in the background just add to the beauty. The landscape makes the sight one of the most beautiful in the world.

La Piedra, The Rock, Guatape, Colombia

Following the Colombian tradition, there are beer and snacks stalls and souvenir shop and a restaurant on the Top of The Rock! You can never be thirsty or hungry in this country.

La Piedra, The Rock, Guatape, Colombia

The entry to The Rock is 15,000 pesos (USD 5) per person. The buses from Medellin make a stop at La Piedra, so you could get off the bus and climb The Rock before getting to the town. From the bus stop to the base of The Rock you could either walk (10 mins), take a tuk tuk or a horse ride.

From Guatape to The Rock, there are tuk tuks and the bus heading back to Medellin. Getting to The Rock is pretty easy from the town.

La Piedra, The Rock, Guatape, Colombia


In the 60s, the Colombian Government dammed the river nearby creating a huge man-made reservoir lake. All the towns in the area were demolished and moved higher up on the hills around the lake.

Guatape, Colombia

Along the lake shore one can hear “lancha” (boat) as you walk alongside the beach. Those are the boat owners willing to take you on a ride in the lake for a small cost. We took a shared boat or lancha on the lake with some Canadians and local tourists. We paid around 15,0000 pesos (USD 5) per person. It could have been cheaper with a bigger boat and more people but we got a good deal. We got our life jackets on and got in the boat for an incredible ride.

Guatape, Colombia

First of all, you get splashed by water as soon as the boat pulls out of Guatape and keep getting mildly splashed the rest of the time. You soon forget about that as the water gets deeper and the hills around get higher. The beauty of the area has to be seen to be believed. Behind us, a storm cloud was threatening the wooded mountain making the town and the lake look so different.

Guatape, Colombia

As the boat goes on, the captain stops at different sites. A government hotel, houses of models and football stars and finally in one area the houses of Pablo Escobar, his family and friends. At one time, Escobar had 400 farms on the lake. Now, his old home is burnt down and used for paintball by tourists.

Guatape, Colombia

The final stop before returning is the site of the old El Peñol town which now lies underwater. A big cross on a brick pole marks the site of the church of town. There is a pit stop here for 15 mins to see the museum of the old town and the only house to survive the flooding of the area. The cost of the museum is 1,000 pesos.

Guatape, Colombia

The site of the cross is perhaps the most beautiful on the lake with mountains all around sometimes being seen in the turquoise water. We left as quickly as we had arrived there and headed back for town. On the way, we saw a party boat with music blasting and drinks flowing. For once we were glad we were not on that. The silence around the lake was really peaceful. 15,000 pesos seemed a bargain for taking in some much beauty of the area. A must do in Guatape!

Guatape, Colombia

The Beautiful Town

We arrived in the town without knowing much about it at all. Our host in Taganga, Ingrid, had advised us to stay the night in Guatape. The town itself has only 5,000 people and is surrounded by hills on all sides. The lake shore makes for one of the main streets in town.

Guatape, Colombia

However, we only accidentally discovered the most distinctive qualities of this town. For one, each house in the town had an artwork made of plaster on the concrete wall about 2m high from the ground. In addition, each artwork outside each house was painted with vibrant colours. The artwork is called Zocalo and Guatape is known as the village of Zocalos.

Zocalo Art, Guatape, Colombia

The next quality was even more unbelievable. We discovered the most colorful little plaza (Plaza De Los Zocalos) in the town, dedicated to the zocalos around the town. There were apartments, surrounded by shops and more apartments in this plaza. The unique thing was that each story of apartments had a different color and each step of stair was also colored differently. It looked like a real life doll house.

Plaza De Los Zocalos, Guatape, Colombia

Here is a quick video tour of the Plaza De Los Zocalos.

Most zocalos are different with only a few similar ones around town. Someone may have sheep, horses, boats, scenery and The Rock too. As time progressed, people started putting entire stories in form of zocalos. The largest we saw took up 3 walls.

Zocalo Art, Guatape, Colombia

Moreover, we heard about Ignacio Suarez, the guy who has created and painted 80% of zocalos around the town. He may be called the Godfather of Zocalos. We promised ourselves that we would meet him before we left. As fate would have it, we found him working a corner away from our hostel and we had to say hi. He was a small, round, old and extremely humble. He looked a bit like the stereotypical Chinese Masters with their long mustaches. We communicated to him that we were honored to meet him. What a guy!

Ignacio Suarez, Zocalo Art, Guatape, Colombia

Make sure tou have at least 1.5 hours set aside for walking around the town. There are amazing colours and artwork and each time we walked the same streets, we discovered something new. Additionally, over the weekend the main square gets busy! All the pubs and clubs are open till late at night – the town transforms like Cinderella!

The people & the food

In the two weeks that we stayed in Guatape, the people were extremely nice to us. We met and got to know Camillo, the owner of the hostel, and Carolina, who looked after the hostel. Of course, we got to know Carolina a lot less as she only spoke Spanish, but one afternoon she offered to make pancakes for us!

Pancakes by Carolina, Guatape

Don De Sam, Guatape, ColombiaWhat surprised us the most was meeting Shekhar (Sam) who runs an Indian restaurant in the town. We walked into the restaurant, Don De Sam, not knowing it was an Indian restaurant. Once in, there was hindi music on and the menu sort of confused us a little. Within couple of minutes, Sam walked over and started talking to us in Hindi. We were really shocked and taken aback a bit. It was quite a bit for us to digest! After chatting to him for a while he suggested cooking aloo tikki and chole (fried potato with chickpeas), type of street food, which we hadn’t had in months and in Shruti’s case years. He sat down with us to enjoy the freshly cooked meal and told us his story. He arrived in Guatape for 3 days visit and never left. WOW!

Namaste Cafe, Guatape, ColombiaAnother amazing person we met was Adriana, the one who runs a vegetarian cafe called Namaste. She cooked amazing lunches and we visited her a few times. We initially wanted to volunteer there but she already had all the volunteers she needed. In any case, the lunches at Namaste were incredible with a French, Indian and worldwide influence. The price for a meal is generally 13,000 pesos (USD 4) with a fresh juice which was a bargain!

Namaste Cafe, Guatape, Colombia

In addition, other than an auto driver who took us for a ride (repetitive pattern!), everyone in town was nice and helpful. Despite our limited skills of Spanish, people still conversed with us as if we were locals. A few times we felt we were getting tourist prices but it wasn’t regular at all.

Exploring Around Guatape

We hired a scooter to ride around Guatape from Guatape Motos. James and his volunteers had set up the business a few months ago. Once we reached his shop, he handed us a bike, a map, a mobile phone and generally gave safety instructions. Once that was done, we were on our way to San Rafael.

Scooty Ride, Guatape, Colombia

Despite being a sunny day, we were feeling cold due to the Andean winds in Guatape. However, that changed 10km out of Guatape as we descended towards San Rafael. San Rafael is 1000m below Guatape but the road descends gradually. This was good for our little scooter as it would not have handled hairpin turns.

The scenery is absolutely amazing as one really sees the height of the mountains around Guatape when going down to San Rafael. The mountains around have some amazing peaks and deep valleys. In short, the ride is simply stunning.

Ride to San Rafael from Guatape, Colombia

Our first stop was Bizcocha which is a sleepy riverbank. We looked around for a decent spot to bathe but decided against it mostly due to the direct sun. Apart from the heat, the view is incredible with mountains on all sides, a mountainous river and various small bridges over the river.

Bizcocha, San Rafael, Colombia

Our next stop was La Casuela, a waterfall which could only be accessed by foot as the path leading to it was not paved and the scooter was not fit to be ridden over it. We met 3 other backpackers from USA, Netherlands and Britain while looking for the path to the waterfall. We chatted about their travels as we walked for 30 minutes. That may have been painful but the bath in the waterfall was equally good because of it. We stayed there for an hour before heading back to San Rafael for lunch while our friends went back to Guatape.

La Casuela, San Rafael, Colombia

San Rafael was surprisingly big compared to Guatape. It had a large square, a beautiful church, bridge over the river and again an incredible view of the mountains around it. We tried to find vegetarian food for Shruti with no luck until we saw sign for avena on a bakery. We ordered avena and some fresh cheese bread. The avena was refreshing in the heat while the cheese bread was absolutely delicious. We were still a little hungry so decided to get a pizza.

San Rafael, Colombia

That was an experience again as the pizzeria didn’t have a non-meat pizza available but the lady agreed to make one fresh for us. The fresh dough and fresh cheese with a slight sweetness gave the pizza an incredible taste which we will not forget for a while. We said goodbye to San Rafael and rode back to Guatape. The ride back was interesting as it was entirely uphill. I kept the acceleration high to be able to manage 30-40km per hour speed.

Scooty ride to San Rafael from Guatape, Colombia

We still made it back to Guatape by 5:30 for a quick trip to La Piedra, The Rock, for some photos. A quick fuel stop later we returned the bike to James without any damage. Being a nice guy, he handed us a cold beer. Can a day get any better?

Guatape, Colombia

Tip: Guatape motos is on the main street of Guatape. The scooter cost was 110,000pesos($40USD) for 2 people from 9am-6pm.


We had wanted to stay longer than a few days in Guatape. However, that would not be possible without volunteering and saving on accommodation and food. We asked Camillo at Rock a Town hostel if he knew any volunteering opportunities around town. As it turned out, he was looking for volunteers himself. In the 2 weeks there, we had lots of chats with Camillo about Colombia, Ecobar and his history, Guatape, his time in Melbourne, his Indian friends there and of course, Indian food which he loves.

Rock a Town Hostel, Guatape, Colombia

Our daily jobs included helping with changing beds, cleaning but mostly looking after the hostel from 6-10pm. It wasn’t a lot of work but we got to understand how tough running a hostel can be. In addition, since we were mostly just “hanging around” the hostel, we were able to chat with a lot of travelers about their travels. Many people were on short-term travels and were in town for a day while others were there long-term spending their time reading and chilling in a hammock.

Rock a Town Hostel, Guatape, Colombia

Moreover, though long-term travel sounds cool and relaxing, most of the time it is a lot of planning and running from on place to another. Volunteering at the hostel gave us a bit of chill for a while which we were grateful for. We ran through scenarios of further travel and life after travel. In short, it was a lot of fun, a little bit of work, hanging out with a great guy and memories of a life time. Thanks Camillo!

Things to do in Medellin

Here’s a little secret: We nearly skipped Medellin! We are glad we listened to all the locals and travelers we met along the way because we would have missed the best city in Colombia.

Things to do in Medellin

We have already posted about our great experience in Slums of Medellin. This post focuses on other things to do in Medellin. But first, getting to Medellin.

Getting To Medellin

As we were in Mompox, the best way to get to Medellin was through a direct bus that took almost 15-16 hours. Copetran is the only bus company that operates the direct Mompox-Medellin route. We bought our tickets for 120,000 pesos ($40 USD) and geared up for a long bus ride. Fortunately, the ride was comfortable. The bus had wifi, toilet and amazing seats with foot rests. The only issue was the aircon at night – the driver really turns it on high! If you are taking a long route overnight bus in South America, do not forget a nice jacket or blanket. You will need it!

Copetran , Colombia

Medellin is generally well connected with rest of Colombia. There are two bus terminals within the city so the buses from all around drive to one of the terminals. Additionally, you could also fly in. The airport is about 45 mins away from the city.

The Metro System

Medellin’s metro system started in the mid 90s and has grown since. At initial glance, it looks like a small network with only two lines but add in the metro cable cars and it is a bigger network spread across the vast areas up to the mountains.

The metro is generally not too crowded (except peak hours) and is a good experience. Most of the popular sites in the city can be seen from the metro system, all you need to do is ride from one end of the city to another. In the previous post, we wrote about how to ride the cable cars, so don’t forget to read that while planning your day.

Metro in Medellin

Another great thing about the metro is that the ticket is flat fee, 2150 pesos (less than $1 USD). So travel to the next station or spend an entire day using the metro system. It really depends on you!

El Centro

The Centre of Medellin is similar to the Centre of Bogota. It’s old, it’s crowded and it had a reputation for crime. Although many historic buildings in the city were destroyed during Escobar era, Medellin council and people are working hard to transform its reputation and infrastructure.

The first place to visit in Medellin Centro is the Plaza De Botero and the Museo De Antioquia. Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, is from Medellin and has donated vast amount of artwork, paintings and sculptures, to the city.

Plaza De Botero, MedellinPlaza De Botero, Medellin

His art is different from any other artist to say the least and a large part of Museo De Antioquia is his artwork. Moreover, since it is unique, the museum provides excellent explanations for his art and why its important. Plaza De Botero is free while the museum entry is 10,000 pesos (USD 3.5) per person.

Museo de Antioquia, MedellinAnother interesting aspect of the museum are the interactive rooms. We have been to plenty of museums by now and nowhere did we see an opportunity for visitors to interact with the art. There are sketches, board paints and even a web camera section where you can take your photos and email it to yourself! It was really fun playing around in these rooms.

Museo de Antioquia, MedellinPlaza De Bolivar, Medellin

Plaza De Bolivar is another nice place in Medellin Centro. Old people read their newspapers, coffee sellers sell their coffee and families visit the cathedral nearby. It is a great place to just watch life go by. We sat here for a while and realised that the city provides free Internet in plazas!

Plaza De Bolivar, Medellin

There are plenty of Cathedrals around the Medellin Centro. While walking around the area, we came around three churches. The architecture is really pretty and historic.

Cathedral, Medellin

If you’re into street shopping, El Hueco and Junnin Street are not to be missed. These are near the San Antonio station. There are shops and hawkers selling practically everything on the streets. If you’re looking for a bargain, you may find it in this area.

Street Shopping, Medellin

Tip: The Centro of Medellin empties out at night as workers and vendors leave. It is suggested not to hang around late at night.

El Poblado

El Poblado was once a far away village of Medellin. Now it is only 4 metro stations away from the Centre. The rich of Medellin moved into Poblado and it is now a rich and safe part of town. Perhaps due to this reputation, the backpackers started moving into Poblado many years ago and changed the night life of the area.

Poblado has businesses and residential areas but as a tourist, most of your interaction is with the streets in and around Parque Ileras. This is the party central of Poblado and on a Friday and Saturday night it resembles Kings Cross (Sydney, Australia) minus the fighting.

Parque Ileras during the week, MedellinPS: this picture of Parque Ileras was taken on Tuesday, during the week.

As we were living in the area, we visited a few clubs and found the Latin style of partying to be very different to others. There is a lot of sensual dancing and alcohol but in general there is no violence and macho culture that exists in Australia. The music and the energy is immaculate!

Parque Arvi

Medellin has a huge National Park within the city borders somewhat like Cape Town on top of the mountain. The cable car from Santo Domingo can get you there in 20 minutes, read all about the cable car ride in the previous post. There are guided walks, camping and picnic points in the park so you could either spend few hours, an entire day or few days in the park. Suit yourself.

Parque Arvi, Medellin

In addition, there are small vendors selling food, wine and jewelry. The park has little restaurants selling food, tea and other eatables. Going to a national park in Colombia is always fun if not for the nature then at least for the food and drinks.

Parque Arvi, MedellinWe spent sometime in one of the stalls that was selling Coca products. We tried out some coca leaves and had coca tea. A good way to unwind after a long day.

Parque Arvi, Medellin

Watching Soccer

While we were in Medellin, the local team, Independiente Medellin, had a home game so we decided to go attend. We asked our hostel to arrange for the tickets. It was the second game of the season so there was a lot of excitement!

Soccer Game, Medellin

When the guy arrived with the tickets, I was wearing a green tshirt. He looked at me and said, “Nooo! Change tshirt. Fight”. I quickly understood that green colour belongs to the opposition team, Juniors, and I went to change to a red tshirt, colour of the local team. He also suggested wearing comfortable shoes because if a goal was scored, the entire crowd would run down. We were a little confused but we decided to follow his advice anyway.

Soccer Game, Medellin

We got to the stadium just at kick off time. And oh my, the queue to enter was long. After waiting around for 20 minutes, we were finally inside. We got ourselves a good spot and joined the crowd.

Soccer Game, Medellin

The fans in our stand were the hardcore followers. Throughout the game there was chanting to the band’s rhythm. Almost everyone there was enjoying some drinks or smoking some joints. We were actually surprised how they got it through the security!

Soccer Game, Medellin

Overall, it was a great experience. Although no goal was scored this game, we felt like we were attending a party. Here is a complication of the game and crowd highlights.

The Positive Feels

Everyone we met in Colombia before getting to Medellin, local and traveler, told us that we have to go to Medellin. They couldn’t point to a single reason and we were a bit confused. However, we only realised what they meant after getting here.

While Medellin went through a terrible time during the Escobar era, the city is really turning it around. Added to its geographical beauty, the fact that the government is really working hard to put the pride back in Medellin. The metro, the cleaning up of the slums, the roads, high-rise buildings, the nightlife, its brand as the Silicon Valley of Latin America and almost no visible crime make Medellin a great place to be in.

There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and small pubs around the area which gives a feel of a western city. There are plenty of expats in this part of Colombia and we can see why! We recommend spending some time in Medellin, whether it is for a holiday, short-time stay or a few years. There are quite a few things to do in Medellin.

Cafes in Medellin

Slums of Medellin

Leaving Mompox, Medellin was our next big stop. As you know by now, we have absolutely falling in love with Colombia and having heard so much about Medellin from locals and tourists along the way, we knew we were in for a delight.


Medellin is Colombia’s second biggest city, but before we get into all things city (next post), we want to focus on a different side – The Slums of Medellin. Most of the slums in Medellin are on the hills around the city and no city we know of has done so much for the slums as this country. The slums of Medellin have the best views in the city and are the most extremely dangerous places to be. The council has done so much, and still doing, to clean them up is beyond believable.

Slums of Medellin

The Backstory

Medellin was once famous for drugs and the drug lord, Pablo Escobar. It had a reputation for murder and bombings until the city started a cleanup drive in the 1990s. The city has since transformed itself and one can see its positive effects in the slums as well as the rest of the city.

Escalators & Comuna 13

Shruti heard about this slum through a walking tour of graffiti in the area. We looked up tour options and they were either booked out or not available on days we were free. After doing some more research, we found experiences of some people who had been there themselves and blogged about it. This meant we didn’t have to miss out and spend money doing the tour. We could have first hand experience seeing the then dangerous slum.

Comuna 13, Slums of Medellin

We took the metro from Poblado, where we lived, to San Antonio so we could change to the Orange line and finally get to San Javier. San Javier is the closest metro station to Comuna 13. The next step involved me asking various people how to get to ‘electricas’ (Spanish for escalators). A very nice gentleman waved down the bus for us and I was able to tell the bus driver to drop us at the escalators.

At this stage, Shruti had done most of the research while I had no idea where we were going except that we were going to a slum. To say that I was scared, would be an understatement. Shruti assured me that the government had taken care of the bad elements but I wasn’t so sure. Anyway, the bus driver dropped us at a corner and told us to walk uphill to the escalators. By this time, we were right in the middle of the slums with the only thing above and below us were more slums.

Comuna 13, Slums of Medellin

After a bit of walking and asking another local about the escalators, we could finally see it! It is hard to grasp the amazement one feels seeing the escalators going up and down in the middle of slums. The sight is a juxtaposition with development side by side squalor. Due to no straight roads, the escalators don’t run straight up. One stretch goes up north but the next stretch above it faces east and the one above faces west.

Escalators, Comuna 13, Slums of Medellin

Medellin has really tried to change the slums. We felt it after climbing the escalators and reached a community centre and brand new roads built by the council. The houses in Comuna 13 have also been concreted with no more plastic roofs.

Comuna 13, Slums of MedellinComuna 13, Slums of MedellinAs part of the clean up drive paint was handed out free to the residents. People took this opportunity to color their houses in bright colors making it a beautiful site. Additionally, a lot of artists pitched in and there is plenty of graffiti artwork around.

Comuna 13, Slums of Medellin

We met a local elderly lady who told us the story of the slum and it’s redevelopment. Eventually tears started rolling down her cheeks. “It was the hand of God that fixed it”, said the old lady and who are we to disagree with her.

Comuna 13, Slums of Medellin

As we left, we saw small children carrying toys that were given to them by the city council. The city is putting toys in their hands to avoid them from being distracted to other activities. What more can a city do to change its image!

Comuna 13, Slums of Medellin

Having said all the above, we were told that the area wasn’t safe for tourists or outsiders at night. So there is still some activities happening but if we managed to walk around alone during the day, it sure does say something.

Cable Cars Over Slums

As mentioned earlier, slums are settled on the hills around the city and commuting up and down is a real pain. So to help out the major population of the city, the city council has installed cable cars on the hills. Apart from being a transportation mode for many locals, it is the cheapest and beautiful way of seeing the city!

Cable Car, Slums of Medellin

We took the bus back from Comuna 13 and bought tickets from San Javier station for Pablado. As long as you have a metro ticket, you can take a ride on the cable car. It is free! Before heading back towards the city centre, we decided to ride the cable car that went right over the slums to La Aurora. We got off the car at couple of stations to take some more photos and hopped right back on the next car. We could see right into people houses and admire the tiny lanes with graffiti.

Cable Car, Slums of Medellin

The amazing thing about this cable car was that just over the hill from slums was a beautiful valley and middle class high rises. It would have to be one of the most beautiful commutes to work. On the way back, we talked to an old lady in the cable car who told us how the 10 minute cable car journey took 1 hour on the bus.

Cable Car, Slums of MedellinCable Car, Slums of Medellin

After completing the round trip, we jumped on the metro towards Acevedo for another cable car ride. This time we were heading to the other side of Medellin, towards a higher mountain. We jumped on to the Santo Domingo cable car and enjoyed the ride up. The incline was a lot higher here! Upon reaching the final stop, Santo Domingo, we headed towards the Parque Arvi cable car, the National Park within Medellin.

Cable Car, Slums of Medellin

Parque Arvi

The Parque Arvi cable car required another ticket. It costs 9,700 pesos (About USD 3), per person one way. Two people are not allowed on the cable car alone, it must be at least 3 or more. So we waited around for someone else to come by and finally we were on our way to Parque Arvi.

Parque Arvi, Cable Car, MedellinThe ride to Parque Arvi was never ending! We passed slums that were setup higher on the mountain, then some small farms and finally we were crossing a forest. There were just high trees everywhere and the variety of flora. The ride was approx. 20 mins long and we finally got Parque Arvi.

Parque Arvi, Cable Car, MedellinParque Arvi, Medellin

We had been around all day so once we reached the park at about 3pm, we were in no mood for hikes. We did some shopping, walked around for an hour, enjoyed coca tea and ate some coca leaves too. After resting on the grass for a while, we decided to head back.

Parque Arvi, Medellin

Journey back

Upon reaching Santo Domingo, we couldn’t just head back to the cable car. We had to exit the train station and re-enter again. So, we decided to have a couple of drinks in Santo Domingo, people watch while sitting outside the bar and wait for sun to set so we could enjoy the lights on our way down.

Cable Car, Slums of MedellinJuggler

There was a higher proportion of teenage mothers, drug affected people and rough looking young boys but the cable car system had also brought in tourists willing to see the place. It wasn’t the safest but we were a few metres away from the cable car station and the police station. A juggler came by, juggled and we gave him some money while a young man walked past with a knife clearly in his waist. A place of contrasts!

When we returned down the mountain to Acevedo, there was a massive queue of people waiting to take the cable car up to the slums. This was the evening peak time and these were probably the city’s workers.

Cable Car, Slums of Medellin

We had an an amazing day just experiencing the real Medellin. While we were in the slums we saw dumpster trucks picking up garbage and a very effective transportation mode that had some of the best views in the world – that’s when we understood why Medellin is special. How many cities outside of western countries do this for their poor people?

Cable Car, Slums of Medellin

Visiting Mompox

While in Bogota, our tour guide, Daniel, recommended Santa Cruz de Mompox as a town to visit for its buildings and history. We decided to visit and got more than we bargained for in this town forgotten by time.

Mompox, Colombia

Getting to Mompox

Mompox is in Bolivar province but is generally considered part of the Carribean region of Colombia. Getting here from Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta is quite easy as well as well as the nearby Andean cities like Bucaramanga.

It cost us 56,000 pesos (~ USD 17) per head to get there on a direct bus from Cartagena. The bus ride took 7 hours, was overall uneventful except the driver eating every time we stopped at a bus station. Big guy!

The History

Mompox was founded by Spanish and thrived as a town due to its location on the Magdalena River. It had churches, businesses and lots of people coming in and going out from this town for that time. Simon Bolivar visited many times in this city and even recruited for his army here.

Mompox, Colombia

Mompox was equivalent to Cartagena in terms of the buzz, development and trade back in the day. Unfortunately, the river which was its connection to the rest of Colombia silted up making it harder for ships to get here. The town’s glory gradually declined as Magangue took its place as a port and people forgot about Mompox.

Magdalena River, Mompox

However, this forgetting actually proved to be a positive for its buildings. The locals restored the ancient architecture as not much development was happening here. In fact, UNESCO Heritage listed Mompox the historic centre in 1995.

Mompox, Colombia

The Churches

We walked around all the streets of this tiny town and saw a church on every second street.

Our hostel was right behind the Church of Santa Barbara. The building itself was beautiful but what’s more interesting is that till today the Church rings the bells each quarter hour to indicate time. Something clearly from the past!

Church of Santa Babara, Mompox, ColombiaChurch, Mompox, ColombiaThere was also San Augustin, San Fransisco and Santo Domingo churches. The biggest of them all was Church of the Immaculate Conception, though every church is beautiful in their distinct ways and all were open on different days and at different times.

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Mompox, Colombia

The Buildings

The historic centre runs along the river. All houses as well as businesses were whitewashed with tiled roofs, ironwork on the doors and the windows. Each house usually had an iron cross on it or a cross in the masonry.

Mompox, Colombia

There were boutique hotels, small restaurants selling local cuisine and lots of street vendors selling anything from food to jewelry. Outside many buildings, there are plaques (parks) dedicated to a famous person such as Bolivar or a famous family that lived there.

Plaza de Bolivar, Mompox, Colombia

The Village Life

Mompox is tiny. Period. Though it has a population of 30,000, most of the people are spread out and the historic centre can be walked in an hour. There are tuktuks and moto-tuktuks taking people around the town. Everybody knows everybody. People love their drink and their music.

Mompox, Colombia

One of the people we spoke to (in our broken Spanish) said, “Momposinos son muy tranquilo” which means, people of Mompox are quite tranquil. People were happy to talk to us about whatever we wanted. They even complimented me on my bad Spanish.

The tranquility came along with the weather. Mompox was extremely hot after mid day and virtually everything shut down from 1pm onwards and opened again at 5pm. The only thing to do was stay in the shade and drink a fresh juice next to the river or siesta. It was so bad that we never really saw the historic museum opened. That could be due to the fact that we were there on a weekend and everyone was drinking and dancing. Says something about Momposinos!

Mompox, Colombia

A sad but unique experience was visiting the town cemetery. Again the former greatness of the town showed itself as some major politicians and other famous people were buried there.

Town Cemetery, Mompox, Colombia

However, a different sight for us were the vertical graves. Sometimes entire families were buried one on top of another. Together at last or hating each other even in death depending on how you like your relos!

Town Cemetery, Mompox, Colombia

The Town Fiesta

While we were walking along the river on the first evening there, and I must say we had seen most of the town in that 1.5 hour walk, we came across an area that was being decorated. We asked a lady selling drinks what was happening and she replied in her accented Spanish. I could gather something about a queen and how we should return at 7pm to see it all. That got us really excited!

Town Fiesta, Mompox, Colombia

Unfortunately, we assumed things would start late but they were right on time at 7pm. By the time we arrived around 8:30pm, the show was in full swing and the entire town was already there. That made it hard for Shruti and I to see much and we had to settle for a foothold on some stairs.

Town Fiesta, Mompox, Colombia

The affair was essentially a beauty pageant combined with dancing with the stars as the potential Kings and Queens were to dance and be judged. From our limited view, the dances were elegant and the king was meant to be rejected by his queen and try repeatedly. Finally, she let down her guard and they danced together happily ever after. So Bollywood!

Town Fiesta, Mompox, ColombiaThis was all new to us and we loved it. We grabbed a couple of beers and just took it all in. Cumbia music has a catchy but repetitive beat and all the dancers waltzed on the same song. The problem was that we couldn’t understand the commentating because it was fast so we decided to go and drink on some rocking chairs.

When we returned, the pageant was done and lots of people, mostly young boys and girls, were dancing. At first, we were shy but then decided to copy their moves. Latin men and women can move and move fast. We ended up staying for half an hour and had great fun. At last, we enjoyed a Latin cultural event in Mompox.

Town Fiesta, Mompox, Colombia

Party with the locals

Our last night in Mompox was a Saturday night and we were craving a party. We walked around town but could not find any big party. People have drinks and extremely loud music at home so we were sure we wouldn’t be allowed in. Therefore, we decided to settle down close to home and have a few beers. That was an experience in itself as two rival shacks along the river were competing for customers and playing all types of Latin music extremely loud.

While there, I had an interesting experience asking for the bathroom:
Mani: ¿Señor, dónde está el baño?
Bar owner: Para las damas, Hay el baño allí pero para los hombres hay el lado del rio.
Mani: ¡Que!

Mani: Sir, where is the bathroom?
Bar owner: For the ladies, there is one there but for the gents, we have the river bank.
Mani: What!

While on our second round, a big Latin family turned up along with their kids and bought some beers for all the adults. A little while later they bought a tetrapack, from which they were drinking and then eventually started dancing. Shruti wanted to know what was in the tetrapack so I introduced myself to one of the guys (Eminso), told him we were tourists and asked him the name for the drink. It was Aguardiente which is a Colombian favourite. The guy then turned around and asked if we wanted to try and we did! It was like a better version of Sambucca.

As the night went on, Eminso offered us more drinks which we mostly refused so as not to finish the stock of the entire family. At around 12 they all started to leave and spoke to us again. That led to a 3-way multilingual conversation.

Eminso: Vamos a la casa. Compraremos más aguardiente y cervezas y bailar por la noche. Venga con nosotros.
Mani to Shruti: They are inviting us to their house to dance.
Shruti to Mani: Where is their house? Is it far?
Mani a Eminso: Estamos en casa del viajero. Dónde está su casa?
Eminso: Está acerca de viajero.
Mani to Shruti: It’s close to the house.
Shruti: Ok lets go!
Mani a Eminso: Vamos!

The rest of our night involved being guests at a real Mompox house with real Momposinos, mixing beer & aguardiente and dancing to all types of latin music popular on the coast and interior. At around 1:30am, we decided it was best for us to leave if we were to make the 1pm Medellin bus the next day and said our goodbyes.

Partying with locals, Mompox, Colombia

The mums loved us and wanted our whatsapp numbers while the young guys readied their bikes to drop us home. They rode ok in a drunk state and we made it home alive and unable to believe the events. We were glad to leave Mompox on a high note!

Food & Drinks

We thought Shruti’s options would be limited considering she is a vegetarian and we were in a small town in interior. But actually all restaurants, except bbq ones, had great vegetarian dishes. The sandwiches for her were huge and tasty.

I tried a few different types of meat namely grilled and skewered. Both were beautifully done and the portions were huge.

In terms of drinks, we tried some more amazing juices in Mompox to escape the heat as well as two new milk based home made drinks. Chichas, same name as the alcoholic drink we loved in Bogota, is a drink made from milk and grinded rice and sugar. It was sweet, cool and acted like a radiator coolant on a hot Mompox day. Similarly, Avena is made from milk, sugar and oatmeal. It is also cooling but also very filling and people have it as a post-drinks food.

Home made Avena, Mompox, Colombia

We tried a new beer in Mompox, the costeñita. It was smooth and we totally loved it.

Should You Visit?

We recommend visiting Mompox if you have plenty of time on hand and don’t mind experiencing a sleepy town. Once there, you could stay for 2 days or 1 week. It all depends on what kind of a traveler you are. If you decide to skip it, you wouldn’t be missing much.

2 days in Cartagena

After spending a week in Taganga, we did a whirlwind tour of Cartagena. It is one of the biggest tourist cities in Colombia and we got to know what makes Cartagena so popular. Here is how we spent 2 days in Cartagena.

Cartagena, Colombia

Getting to Cartagena

Cartagena has international flights from many places in the US. As we were in Taganga, we took a bus from Santa Marta which costed us 56,000 pesos (under USD 20) per head.

Old City

Cartagena was one of the first Spanish cities in Colombia. It was setup as a port connecting Europe to South America in the middle ages. The Spanish constructed a wall around the city as a defense from any naval or pirates attack. Through Cartagena Spanish managed to conquer and control Colombia. The most interesting thing though is that the walled city built mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries still stands firm in the current times.

Walled City, Cartagena, Colombia

Every building within the city appears as they would have atleast two centuries ago. The city is listed in UNESCO Heritage as locals continue to live within the walls and lots of hotels and restaurants offer the Spanish experience to travelers.

Cartagena Buildings, ColombiaThe houses are colorful and well maintained. The walls, doors, balconies and the windows are remarkable. The colours shining under the tropical sun were absolutely mesmerizing. On the first day, we ended up walking through most of the old city just photographing the houses.

Cartagena Houses, ColombiaCartagena, ColombiaHowever, the beauty wasn’t limited to the houses. There are plenty of old buildings and churches around that enhance the beauty of this city. Cathedral of Cartagena in particular is quite high and painted with vibrant colours. Shruti was able to click it from various different parts of the city and each time its beauty was unlike the previous one.

Cathredal, Cartagena, Colombia

Cathredral, Cartagena, ColombiaPlaza Bolivar, Cartagena, ColombiaNot to forget, Cartagena has many squares around the old city which were all beautiful in their own way. However, The square of the Clock Tower, Plaza de la Reloj, was incredible as it had a monument, city walls, lots of people and traditional looking bars around. At night, one of the bars played Salsa music which just made the atmosphere better.

Cartagena, ColombiaAfter spending just a day in Cartagena, we had walked almost every corner of the walled city and seen all the popular buildings. The only way we can explain this beautiful city – Cartagena is a small European town stuck in the heart of Colombia.

Clock Tower, Cartagena, Colombia

Walk on Walls

The wall around the city, which is more than 500 years old, is accessible to public. Everyone, locals and tourists, enjoy a nice long walk on it.

Walled City, Cartagena, ColombiaWe kept aside an evening just for this activity. We walked all around the city taking in the traffic, the sea, the horse rides and people going by. The wall enhances the beauty of the city as well as serves as a spot for people to enjoy the sunset and cool off in the evening.

Walled City, Cartagena, ColombiaWe had a drink at one of the sunset points along with hordes of tourists but it wasn’t meant to be. There was no visible sunset that day as there were clouds on the horizon.

Walled City, Cartagena, ColombiaGetsmani

Getsmani is the old forgotten part of the old city which the backpackers and budget travelers have taken over. We only realised how well kept the houses were in the old city when we saw the houses in Getsmani. Though still beautiful, they were a little rough around the edges and needed maintenance.

Getsmani, Cartagena, ColombiaGetsmani, Cartagena, ColombiaIn any case, we were able to photograph some buildings while eating and drinking in the Church Square. The Church Square was a meeting point where locals and tourists came together to eat street food and enjoy non-alcoholic drinks in public. This was probably the only square where alcohol wasn’t allowed and we think it was because od the presence of an active Church.

Getsmani, Cartagena, Colombia

Beautiful Evenings

Cartagena has two seasons: hot & humid and rainy. For most of the year, its sunny and sticky. While this makes the buildings look amazing, it means that it is very hard to do anything between 1-4 while outdoors. Tourists stick to beaches, musuems or bars during this time.

Cartagena, ColombiaCartagena, ColombiaMost of Cartagena’s activities happen mostly in the evenings. We saw a beautiful music and dance show of Afro-Colombians in the evening at Bolivar Square. The dancers in their unique dresses put on a energetic and sensual show and demonstrated 3 different types of traditional dances.

As the sun goes down, all the restuarants and bars start to setup their outdoor seats. The musicians and performers come around showing off their talent and entertaining the people around. It truly has a very different vibe to anywhere else we have been till now.

Cartagena, Colombia

Castillo de San Phillipe Barajas

We visited this unique Castle while in Cartagena. If I had to describe it, the castle looked like a combination of squares and triangles with a flat top. The castle was quite high which provided some great shots of the old city and river.

Castillo de San Phillipe Barajas, Cartagena, ColombiaCastillo de San Phillipe Barajas, Cartagena, ColombiaMoreover, The castle had a lots of tunnels to go from one part to another which made it one of the coolest castle we had seen so far. At the top was a huge Colombian flag flowing in the wind. It really is a beautiful sight seeing the old city in the backdrop of the flying Colombian flag.

Castillo de San Phillipe Barajas, Cartagena, Colombia


Cartagena is the biggest tourist site in Colombia. Period. It is the starting point of many journeys across Colombia. While this keeps the city beautiful, it also brings in tourist traps.

First of all, the hotel prices in and near the old city are comparable to mid-range western cities. While this may not be expensive for some, it is unaffordable for budget travelers and most Colombians. We lived a 20 minute bus ride from the centre and still paid 150,000 pesos (USD 50) for 3 nights. This will never happen in any other Colombian city.

Second, due to the western tourism, the food and museum prices are also double to anywhere else in Colombia. We saw American tourists paying USD 20 at the San Phillipe Barajas which was double the rate in Colombian Pesos. We paid 17,000 pesos (USD 5.50) per head, which was easily double the general Colombian rate.

Finally, in the evening lots of chariots come around ready to take people on a ride around the city. The romantic horse buggy ride through the old city could take up to 15 minutes or 30 minutes for 40,000 pesos or 60,000 pesos respectively.

Buggy Ride, Cartagena, Colombia

The point is simply that Cartagena is beautiful but expensive. So make sure you come with your pockets full and enjoy this city!