Paisas often ask me if I have been to places in Colombia outside Medellín and my answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
I tell them their country is so beautiful, I want to get to know all of it. I took a big step toward doing that last year, when I visited 20 places outside the welcoming valley that cradles the Medellín metropolitan area.
There were beaches and mountains, carnavals and festivals, cities and pueblos, and I enjoyed aspects of each trip. Most of them earned at least a mention on this blog, and if they didn’t they will someday.
Like the “Best of Medellín” series we started last year, making a decision here was difficult. But after being asked countless times about the places I know, and which ones I like the best, I decided to take some time to think about it.
Three months is enough time.
I’ve included a couple of places I saw just after the New Year, because they were part of my final vacation of 2012, which started on Dec. 10. Here are a couple of places that just missed the Top 5, my honorable mentions for 2012:
If you love salsa, you’ll love Cali. I went to the Feria de Cali and I saw salsa my brain cannot compute.
I also met some great people, five of them Italians staying at The Green House hostel where I stayed, and the others Caleños who work there. I didn’t see everything I wanted to see in the area, so I’ll go back someday.
This was the I’m-going-ok-I’m-not-going-no-wait-I’m-going part of my December trip. The buses were full and I was forced to stay the night on my way back to Medellín, but I’m happy I did.
Hostel Trail was such a nice place, the employees so friendly and helpful, and I loved the colonial architecture of the town. I want to get to know that place better.
Now on to the Top 5, starting with No. 5, to remain chronological after beginning with the honorable mentions…
It was Carnaval de Negros y Blancos, a blur of colors and spray foam, but it was the finale of my last 2012 vacation (even though it was already 2013) so I made sure I took some time to soak in the culture and the scenery too.
I ate guinea pig, made friends with some of the locals, went to a beautiful lake. It was a good five days there and if it weren’t so far from Medellín, I’d go back soon.
At least I know that two of my new friends, Andres and Nelly, who I met after staying at the hotel they manage, Hotel Venecia Confort, are coming to Medellín soon.
4. San Agustín
Those stone sculptures in Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín are really are amazing.
The visit had added significance, though, because I was with good friends who had just gotten married in nearby Pitalito. Oh, and it was New Years Eve when we arrived.
We enjoyed a mix of partying and sightseeing that I will always remember.
3. Playa Almejal
The black sand beach of Playa Almejal made me think of home, Hilo, Hawaii, where there are a fair share of them, because of the volcano.
It was great relaxing at The Humpback Turtle, the hostel where I stayed, because it is literally on the beach.
I got so comfortable at the Turtle, I left only twice: once to go into town to eat and see some nightlife, the other to go to Parque Nacional Natural Utría. Otherwise, staying by the beach was all I needed.
Guatapé is one of Antioquia’s most beautiful pueblos, I finally went last August, after living in Medellín for almost a year.
I liked it so much I’ve been back twice.
A lot of that can be attributed to Hostel El Encuentro, where I ate well, enjoyed excursions and soaked up the lakefront scenery.
1. Punta Gallinas
It’s not easy to arrive at Punta Gallinas, South America’s northern-most point, and it can be even tougher to get back, a good reason to hire a guide, even for seasoned travelers.
But once you get there, you know you’ve made it to someplace special. You’re in the middle of the desert with beaches nearby and you’ve just learned that fresh lobster is on the menu for a fraction of the price you’d pay in most places.
It gets even better when you actually trek the Sahara-like dunes and find an amazing beach on the other side. I didn’t want to leave.
Outside of Medellin, what’s your favorite place in Colombia?