Got questions about traveling with kids in Colombia? Well, my loco 4-year old and I just took on Colombia… and loved it! Now we’re ready to share some advice and of our experiences with you.
If you’ve read some of my random blogs, you likely know that my lil guy and I travel… kinda a lot. Still, even though we’re pretty experienced, the idea of trekking through Colombia made me nervous (I’m the mom, btw – though I’m sure my lil guy will take over as soon as he learns to spell more than “dog” and other 3-letter words). I was raised in the 80s and 90s, you see, when things were not going well with Colombia. Fortunately, though, for travelers and families around the globe, the political climate and violence has mellowed a lot in the last decade. So much so, that this diverse lil slice of South America is now a great travel destination, even for those traveling with kids in Colombia.
Truth be told, my interest in Colombia has always been stronger than my interest in most of the other South American countries. It’s likely because of these three things:
First, I studied Spanish in Costa Rica in my early 20s and since then, have constantly noticed that Colombians have an amazing accent – so crisp and clean. I envy it and find Colombianos very easy to understand. Because of this, I’ve wanted to study Spanish in Colombia for many years.
Second, my brother was still friends with one of his old coworkers who lives in Bogota. She and her family are really friendly and were excited for us to visit. Bonus: she has a daughter almost my son’s age. Built in playmate, anyone?
And finally, I scored mega-cheap airline tickets into Bogota. Seriously… my son and I flew one-way into Bogota from Phoenix for next to nothing. This is likely because Americans are still afraid to travel there… Or maybe we just got lucky.
So, though there were initially some challenges finding a Spanish teacher in a smaller town (most classes seem to be offered in the big cities), we took off with a plan to be out trekking around for two months planned in Colombia (and maybe some surrounding areas). We started in the Bogota area, then went to Salento, and finally ended up in the Cartagena area.
Don’t Bash Bogota!
Before the trip, I did a lot of internet research on Bogota. Everyone I talked to and almost everything I read… talked horribly about the capital city. I wanted to visit my brother’s old friend but the bad press, combined with the fact that I generally avoid big cities, had me scared off of more than a week in Bogota. That’s too bad. When we got there, we found a pretty nice city that is packed with parks, interesting things to do/see and delicious food. And the people are so friendly! We never found a stranger that didn’t become a friend. We met random people in the grocery stores ended up taking up on weekend excursions, just for the fun of it. This was in addition to the amazing family we were already meeting there.
Sure, there was some traffic but no more than any other big city. Some huge bonuses are that taxis are really inexpensive and the parks are super prevalent. It seemed you could go across the city for only a few US bucks and on every other corner there was a park. This is great when you’re traveling with kids. Rewarding my son for his well-behaved travel patience is easy when there are frequent slides, swings and neighborhood kids. And the dogs! I’ve never seen a city so in love with their dogs. Every park we visited was packed full of pooches that are really well taken care of.
You should note: The San Jeronimo ice cream was soooo good and you must try it when in Bogota. Its the ice cream that is a lil square cup with a handle sticking out – commonly found in ice boxes around the Bogota area. Also, the taxi drivers in Bogota have a card in the car that tells your fare cost. It’s pretty easy to decifer but you should always, always make sure the taxi turns on the meter when you start off. You pay by meter, not by quote when you first get in the cab… unless you are driving to an outside town and want to work a deal.
Our favorite thing to do in Bogota was visit Montserrat. My preschooler loved the cable car and the view from the top was magnificent! Try to wait for a clear day, if possible.
Salento Spanish Lessons
Salento was a bit of a gamble that paid off. It’s a beautiful small town in the coffee plantation lands, about 6-hours outside of Bogota. It’s about 4-hours to Medallin. (Either way, a very quick VivaColombia flight.) We wanted to take Spanish lessons during our time in Colombia but were (mistakenly) wary of spending too much time in Bogota. We love small town life and felt we’d be happier in a farm setting, if possible. Well, after visiting many travel forums and reading dozens of blogs on travel life in Colombia, we finally found a nice Spanish teacher in Salento, Rosana Casas. Rosana runs a really small school for private Spanish lessons in Salento. She and her mother are kind, gracious, and gentle… the exact type of personalities you want around your family! They will teach you one on one Spanish lessons or work with your whole family. If you’d like, you can also add on healthy vegetarian meals for lunch or Tai Chi lessons, if you request them in advance. Rosana was a college professor in Bogota for many years so she teaches with a conversational style. You may want to bring your own Spanish language books for reference.
We actually found a farm hostel to stay at during our two weeks in Salento. It was about 4 kilometers out of town and so relaxing. Horses, goats and cows were all around us (and often in the yard). Just browse AirBnB or Bookings.com for Salento guest stays. They are plentiful and full of character!
You should note: If you decide to stay on a finca (farm) outside of Salento, ask about bus service. Ours ran every 20 min but the bus stop was a 1 km walk away! lol And there may be options for a Spanish teacher to come to your farm. We heard this is possible from other travelers. And there are a lot of vegetarian options on menus in Salento – it’s a nice change from the fried bread and meat you’ll most often be offered. haha
Our favorite thing to do in Salento was ride horses through the Valle de Cocora. It was a beautiful ride but unless you and your children are skilled riders, I absolutely do not recommend you take the horses more than an hour out. Going all the way to the hummingbird sanctuary literally requires your horses to climb slick mountain rock faces.
Colorful Colonial Cartagena
Cartagena is a totally different type of Colombia. The further north you go, the more you lose the crisp, clean Colombian Spanish accent and step into more of a Caribbean lifestyle. This was expected and a lot of fun. My 4-year old loved the music, fruits, ocean, and colors of Cartagena. I loved the history, architecture and people watching (it’s a tourist town). We didn’t love that the internet rarely works and you may have a hard time finding an apartment with hot water (not really needed for day showers since it’s so hot there).
You need to know that the beaches around Cartagena city will not be the crystal blue water and white sands that are often expected in the Caribbean. You will need to drive or take a boat a minimum of 40-minutes to find those beaches. And keep in mind, Cartagena ocean water is calmer in the morning that it will be in the afternoon. That means if you book a boat ride excursion to any of the nearby isles, you’ll be in for a terrifying, bumpy ride on the way back. I’d never put my son in one of those boats without his own personal life jacket, which we bring with us on our trips – just for this reason. We also bring his Ninja Turtle bike helmet – no laughing. He used it on the horses in Salento!!! lol
You should note: From what we heard from other travelers, Cartagena taxi drivers are less honest than in Bogota. As a general rule, it should never cost more than 20 mil COP to get from the airport to the furthest Laguito neighborhood. That’s less than $7 USD and only because they have to pay a premium to leave from the airport. All Cartagena taxis that stay in the city should be much less than that – starting around 6 mil COP.
Our favorite thing in Cartagena was the silly mud volcano – Totumo. My lil guy couldn’t believe it when I ask him if he wanted to take a bath in mud. It was precarious, carrying him down the mud pit, and then back up the ladder to get out, but… it was an experience we’ll never forget!
Not one time during our travels did we feel “at risk”. I had mommy fears about Colombia that were completely unnecessary. In fact, we love Colombia so much, we plan to go back there again in the next few years. And we hope that all of the friends that we met there can come and visit us, too.
Have any questions about traveling with kids in Colombia? After two months there, I have a lot of information saved so just ask questions in the comments below and I’ll respond ASAP!