Greetings reader and welcome to Colombia!… I mean… my blog… well…ok , fine!.. Both technically! You’ll understand what I mean shortly! Today’s entry will be about my 5th and final excursion in South America and I did it in lovely Colombia! Before, we jump in, I’d recommend reading my past 4 entries! I wrote one on Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo, Machu Picchu, the “Regular” side of Rainbow Mountain and most recently, my day trip to Humantay Lake! I visited all of these places in that exact order, so give them a quick read if you’d like to learn more about my travel experiences in Peru!. As always, I’m going to tell the ENTIRE story as I lived it, so grab some popcorn and sit down! This may be a long one! Anyway, without further ado, let’s dive right in!
***You can find what I brought on my South American Day trips below***
I imagine that I should probably explain how and why I ended up in Colombia to begin with since the last entry took place in Peru! My original plan was to visit 4 countries during my time in South America. Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. Those were the 4 countries that I bought travel insurance for. Unfortunately or fortunately, I ended up falling madly in love with Peru, specifically Cuzco and ended up staying there a lot longer than I expected which ate into my budget which ultimately limited where I could go and how much longer I could travel for. Cuzco didn’t feel expensive when I compare the prices to Canadian prices, but let’s just say that having a stronger currency really went to my head and I started spending carelessly which isn’t like me at all. I’ll probably write an entire blog post on my unfortunate experiences with letting money go to my head!
Anyway, back to the reason I was in Colombia! If you spend any time in either Lima or Cuzco, you’ll undoubtably bump into at least one person that has passed through a city called Medellin in Colombia. The first person I encountered was a Swedish guy from Stockholm. We sat together for breakfast in our hostel one morning and talked. I asked him about where he had been in South and Central America and the places that he would recommend. He told me about a few places, but couldn’t stop talking about a city called Medellín. I can’t remember exactly how long he’d originally planned on staying there for, but I’m pretty sure he was supposed to be there for less than a week. I also can’t remember how long he ended up staying in the end, but I’m pretty sure that it was 1-3 months. I apologize for murdering the facts, but I wasn’t expecting to write about this when he and I originally had this conversation.
I’d also met tons of people from Medellín back in Canada, but was never particularly drawn to it and this was the first time that a fellow traveller had told me to check it out.
This became a recurring thing. Everyone that I met kept speaking of this magical place called Medellín and how I HAD to go there. I didn’t understand what was so magic about it, but it had to be good if EVERYONE had good things to say about it, right?
They FINALLY convinced me!
I wanted to go to Colombia anyway, so I decided to book my ticket to Medellín to finally see what everyone was talking about! I ended up booking my ticket and my flight was scheduled to land in Medellín on the night of the 16th of December! I was very excited! A new city AND a new country! I was really looking forward to this!
Cuzco to Lima
The flight had a layover in Lima. The layover was 5 hours and 29 minutes long, so I decided to pop into the city to try seeing some of the friends that I’d previously made at the two hostels that I’d stayed at in the city. The flight touched down and I collected my bag and then hopped into an Uber into the city. I chose Uber pool to save a bit of money. It ended up being an interesting ride that was shared with an Irish guy and an American girl. Both of them had spent time in Buenos Aires and raved about how cool of a city it was. I wanted to go there too, but needed to see Medellín first. Besides, I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself.
The Uber dropped me off first because my stop was closest and I went into the hostel. It had taken a lot longer to get there than I expected because I’d forgotten about Lima’s HORRIBLE traffic. Unfortunately, and to my great dismay, most of the people that I knew were either not working that day or coming a lot later on in the day. The girl working at the front desk was also different. I didn’t recognize her from my previous stay, but she was really friendly just like the other staff there. I hung out there and talked to her for a bit and they were even nice enough to let me leave my bag there at no extra charge. I told them I’d be back soon and was about to leave when the girl at reception asked me what time my flight would be leaving at. I told her the time and her eyes widened in shock. She told me that it would be in my best interests to just take my bag with me while I got food just in case I had to call an Uber from the restaurant because I’d be cutting it really close with all the traffic. She was right, so I did in fact end up bringing my bag with me to get food. I made jokes about how I’d be back if I ended up missing the flight… “Jokes”
I ordered my food to go and called an Uber. The driver was nice enough to let me eat in the car. I was happy to have food, but sad to have not seen more people. Anyway, I really cut it close, but made it to the airport in the end!
Lima to Medellín
This is where the story gets interesting and don’t worry, I promise that this is all connected and important to the story!
I went to the airline’s desk to check my bag in. I hadn’t been able to book through the airlines actual website for some strange reason, so I had to book through a third party website instead. That would’ve been fine and dandy, but there was no option to pay the reduced price for a checked bag on the third party’s website. I ended up having to pay over 80 dollars to check my bag in at the airline’s desk. The sting didn’t hit me until I did the conversion later on because the gentleman gave me the price in Soles.
I ate a bit more food, went through security and waited to board the plane…
The plane began boarding and I noticed that some people were getting sent to a different line once they’d reached the front of the regular line. I didn’t understand what was going on until I got to the front… and yes, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m an idiot for what happened next…
“Do you have proof of onward travel?” Asked the man who was scanning boarding passes. “No” I responded. “Alright, please line up over there” He said. I finally understood what was going on, but still didn’t think much of it. I got into one of the two other lines that had now formed and waited my turn. I was soon second in line, but there was a Bosnian couple in front of me that seemed to be having a lot of issues. It took a verrrry long time for them to resolve whatever was going on.
My turn came. I got to the desk and was once again asked if I had proof of onward travel. I said no, but that I could book another plane ticket if they wanted. I hopped on google flights and found a flight from Quito, Ecuador to Toronto. My original plan was to fly to Colombia, spend a couple days and then bus down to Ecuador, explore a bit and then fly back to Canada. I showed the worker the flight details before I booked it just to be safe. She said it was ok, but that I only had one minute left to book it. My adrenaline started pumping as I scrambled to book the ticket fast enough.
I was getting close! I was at the payment screen. I was about to pay, but… but… but…It couldn’t be!… TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION?!!! “Damnit” I thought to myself! (It was actually a different, more colourful word, but kids may read this, so I need to keep it PG)
I tried to deal with this as fast as possible and the worker kept asking me how it was coming along. I explained what was happening and she picked up the phone and began talking to someone about my luggage. I knew that was a bad sign. There was another man nearby who was literally yelling at one of the male workers because he apparently also didn’t have proof of onward travel and wanted to buy it in Bogotá. I saw him start crying and walk away in defeat. The man who was originally talking to him walked over to me and said “Señor, el vuelo esta perdido” which translates word for word to “The flight is lost”. It cut a lot more in Spanish than “You missed your flight” in English would have. I explained that I’d only need a few more seconds to deal with my credit card and then I’d be good. He said it was too late. The lady on the phone was desperately scrambling to make sure that my bags didn’t get sent to Medellín.
I asked if there were any other flights and if they could explain what had just happened. He told me that I needed proof of onward travel. I showed him the ticket that I was about to book because I’d now have to try and book another flight to Medellín for later on that same day. He told me that the flight out of Ecuador wouldn’t count and that it would have to be either a flight, boat or bus out of COLOMBIA ITSELF. I was SHOOK because I had almost booked a 500 dollar ticket back to Canada from Ecuador because the other WORKER told me that it was ok. I was also confused because I’d entered Peru without proof of onward travel. The lady at immigration just asked me what I wanted to do and how long I wanted to stay. I answered all of her questions honestly and then she simply stamped my passport and that was it.
In the end, it was honestly a miracle that the two factor authentication screen popped up or I would’ve been down 500 dollars for no reason.
What a Mess!
There was nothing I could do and the workers had told me two different things, so I decided to just head back into Lima to plan my next move.
Everyone I asked seemed to tell me conflicting stories about what was going on and how to get my bags back. Going back through customs and actually getting my bags back ended up taking almost two hours. There was another lady with me who was in the same predicament only she’d shown up too late and missed the flight for that reason.
Once again, I want to admit that I know that I’m an idiot for not doing more research about immigration and everything before hand, but the whole situation was still very shitty and I was down 300 dollars for the price to check my bag in and the cost of the ticket itself.
Could this all probably have been avoided with a bit more research? Yes!
Lima… Round 2!
I was now stuck in Lima and needed to figure out what to do next. I ended up going to the first hostel that I’d ever stayed at in Peru because it was closer to the airport than the one that I had visited earlier. I was originally going to try and book a flight that I found that would be departing at 2:30 AM the following day, but decided to just spend the night there after all. It was cool to see the friends I made there, but it was bittersweet.
I slept the stress and anger off and then attacked the situation with a clear mind the following morning. I was determined to go to Medellín now. I stupidly let my ego get the better of me, so I began aggressively searching for flights to get there. Part of me was also considering just giving up and going back to Canada directly from Lima as a defeated man, but the direct flights had gotten very expensive and I wasn’t trying to spend 1200+ dollars on a flight when I’d spent under 600 to fly into the country originally. I spent hours trying to find a cheaper way. I made sure to leave private browsing on so that they wouldn’t raise the prices on me.
*** Searching for flights with private browsing on is apparently a good way to prevent search engines from showing you higher prices as you search***
At this point, my friends and family had begun telling me that maybe I wasn’t meant to go to Medellín and maybe all of this had happened for a reason. I don’t really believe that missing that flight had any deeper meaning, so I kept looking. I let my stubbornness get the best of me.
After hours of searching I was able to piece together an Itinerary. I’d fly from Lima to Medellín on the 19th of December. I’d then spend up until Christmas morning there before flying to Panama FROM COLOMBIA to avoid issues and then I’d just fly back to Canada from Panama. The whole trip would cost me 965$ CAD in Air fare instead of 1200$+. I booked the flights and would finally be going to Medellín!.. I hoped…
Walk of shame
I decided to make the most of my time in Lima, so I checked out of my hostel the following afternoon and went back to the other one. They were happy to see me and I got to see some of the friends that I’d previously made, again, but I felt so much shame as I walked back in and put my bags in the dorm. I guess missing the flight wasn’t a joke after all.
My flight was conveniently scheduled for 7:34 PM the following day. This was perfect because it was currently Wednesday which meant two things; Bizarro and Blabla land. Blabla land is a language exchange that takes place every Wednesday at a bar called Molly’s in Miraflores. I had been twice before and found that it was a great way to meet people(including locals) and to practice languages. You get a name tag upon arrival that also gets you into Bizarro for free afterwards if you go with the organizer of Blabla Land. It also included a free drink the two times that I went! I don’t know how much entry normally is, but a few locals told me that it was definitely on the expensive side. Bizarro always seemed to be the hottest night club amongst foreigners and locals in that part of town, so I was very happy to be able to spend my last night there.
The language exchange ended up being fun and the last night at Bizarro was also quite fun. I got back to the hostel extremely late and was greeted by the same receptionist that I’d talked to before I missed my flight. She looked shocked to see me. I was honestly shocked to still see myself there…
Second time is the charm!
Yes, I know that the third time is normally the charm, but thank goodness that it was the second time in my case! I relaxed at the hostel for most of the day and then made my way to the airport. Gotta love late flights, right?
I was now armed with an hour of Colombian immigration research and plenty of proof of onward travel.
I made it to the airport and was about to check in. There was a lady that was checking people’s tickets to make sure they were in the right line. I realized that she was one of the ladies working when I was denied entry onto the plane. The two of us had never spoken, but we had both seen each other.
I gave her my ticket and she checked it, looked up and was about to say “Have a safe trip, sir” When she remembered me from a couple days ago. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. It was honestly like she felt the shock that I felt when I realized that I wasn’t getting my 300$ back. “Oh my God… it’s you!” She said before getting up and walking me into the priority-check in line. That was honestly very nice of her, I must say!
I was READY when I walked up the the desk this time. I was not playing any games! “Proof of onward tra….” The gentleman tried to ask, but I was quick and already had my phone on the desk displaying my ticket to Panama. He checked my bag in and I was good to go. I didn’t have to pay 80+ dollars this time because the airline’s website had actually worked this time.
I was still extremely nervous because I still felt like something stupid would go wrong and that I’d get denied entry a second time for something strange and unforeseen. I sat in the waiting area and waited for the boarding to begin.
Everything ended up going smooth and I wasn’t asked for proof of onward travel this time. I didn’t see anyone else get asked either. I found it super ironic that they had asked me when I DIDN’T have proof, but that not a single word was uttered when I actually DID have the proof.
Anyway, I had learned my lesson! Always have proof of onward travel before attempting to enter a new country!
I made it to Colombia and this is where the adventure began! I hope I didn’t bore you with the build up to this point! I just really don’t want anyone else to make the same mistake that I made and lose money because of lack of proof of onward travel!
I made my way to my hostel and began getting used to being in Colombia. My first impressions were that the local accent sounded amazing and that everyone seemed to be so unbelievably genuine and friendly. I was really taken off guard by how nice everyone was being. The people at the hostel were also remarkably nice. I walked in with my bag and was instantly greeted by a Kiwi and her friends. She ran over, hugged me, welcomed me to the hostel and then told me that I should come back and hang out with them after I’d put my stuff away. This city didn’t seem real! I was quickly beginning to see what everyone was talking about!
An idea began to take form…
Fast forward a day or 2 and I was pretty used to being in the city. I’d met a few people in the hostel and was having a great time. I even bumped into a guy that I’d occasionally bump into at language exchanges in Canada. We randomly and with out prior planning, bumped into each other on the steps at the hostel when I was on my way to the bathroom! All of this happened in a different country… on a different continent! Yes, I know that I’m probably the only one that thinks that this was crazy!
Apart from all this, I’d also gone on a few walking tours, but my time was slowly coming to an end. A few people around the hostel had told me about a “magical” place called Guatapé. I went to the front desk and asked about it. They explained that they had a tour that went there and that I could go with the tour if I wanted to. The tour seemed a bit expensive and I was kind of strapped for cash at this point especially given the fact that I’d lost 300 dollars when I had missed my original flight.
A few people at the hostel explained to me that it was possible to go to Guatapé via a bus from the bus terminal and that I should check out a website called Rome2Rio.com in order to see the departure times and prices. It was way cheaper than the tour, so I decided to just do it this way. I only wanted to climb the rock and explore the city anyway, so I didn’t feel like I needed a guided tour. I could just look the history up online afterwards anyway.
All I had to figure out now was the day that I’d be going. It would be either the 23rd or the 24th of December. I thought about it for a while. Colombians celebrate Christmas on the 24th AND the 25th, so I was scared that things may be closed on the 24th. I was leaning more towards the 23rd, but a German couple that I’d met and I ended up going on an amazing walking tour through Comuna 13 on that day. My flight would be leaving on the 25th, so I had no choice, but to go on the 24th.
I tried to convince more people to come with me, but everyone had either already gone through the tour that was offered at the hostel or was busy. Looked like I’d be going alone just like when I went to Humantay Lake. I didn’t think too much of it because I was planning to just chat people up on the bus and hopefully end up walking up with one of them.
I woke up early on the 24th and went to go have breakfast with my German roommate and her Australian friend that she’d made at the hostel. One of them mentioned that there would be a really big Christmas dinner at another hostel later on that same night. The tickets needed to be booked in person, so I was originally on the fence about going because I still needed to catch the bus to Guatapé before it got too late.
I ultimately ended up going to book the tickets with a small group of people who also wanted to go. The bus would have me back from Guatapé before it started if I planned everything correctly anyway.
The Aussie girl ironically also mentioned how she’d entered Colombia on a one way ticket with no proof of onward travel. I guess I just got unlucky because she surprisingly wasn’t the only person that I’d met during my travels in South America to say that.
I now had my Christmas dinner ticket, so it was now only a matter of racing down to the bus terminal. I originally wanted to just take an Uber, but they’re illegal in the country, so I ended up just taking the metro. I got to the bus terminal pretty close to the departure time that was listed on Rome2Rio.com. I searched the station for a couple minutes trying to find the bus company that was listed on the website, but there were sooooo many bus companies that I couldn’t find the specific one that I was looking for.
I eventually found it, booked my ticket and then had to find the bus. I walked around trying to find the right bus. There were tonnnnns of buses all lined up, but I finally ended up finding my bus! Now I just had to brace myself for the 2 hour bus ride that would follow.
The bus ride
The bus ride itself was honestly pretty smooth, but it was really hot on the bus and I remember sweating a lot. It was assigned seating, so I ended up sitting beside a man and his kids. The rest of the passengers seemed to predominantly be families with young kids. I did spot a few other people that seemed like solo travellers around my age, but they were too far away to talk to due to the assigned seating.
This thwarted my plan to socialize and make friends during the bus ride. This was going to be a solitary climb.
The bus ride made a few stops along the way and a few rappers got on at one of them with a bluetooth speaker. They put on a freestyle rap show for everyone. They actually did a pretty good job. I found rap culture to be pretty big in Colombia and I could totally see free style rap shows on public transit being a common thing in the country or at least near Medellín.
Arrived at last!
Alright, so I was under the impression that I’d have to take the bus all the way into Guatapé and then have to take a Tuk Tuk to the base of the legendary rock. I was wrong! The bus stops near the rock and lets a bunch of people off before continuing to Guatapé itself. This was convenient for me because my plan was to climb the rock first and to explore the city afterwards anyway.
I got off the bus, mentally prepared and then began walking.
La Piedra de Peñol
The rock’s name is “La Piedra de Peñol” and I could kind of see it in the distance. The ascent to the top of the rock consists of 700 steps that are each labeled, but before you climb the rock, you have to GET to the rock. I remember needing to climb some steps up some steep terrain to get to the base of the rock. I climbed up the first set and was already exhausted! I couldn’t believe it! I was exhausted and out of breath and I hadn’t even started climbing the actual rock yet.
I pushed on.
I made it to the base of the rock and just stared up at it. It was TALL. This was NOT going to be easy, but I was up for the challenge. All the hiking in Peru had apparently turned me into a masochist and I was actually really looking forward to the pain. I bought my ticket and entered. (I can’t remember how much the entry costed, but it was pretty cheap)
Once I had entered, getting to the top was as simple as putting one foot in front of the other… Well in theory that is…The steps were all numbered and this was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because on the one hand, I knew how high I’d climbed, but a curse because on the other hand, I was constantly reminded how much higher I still needed to climb.
I continued to climb. I had to take a lot of breaks, but I kept climbing. The view was amazing as I got higher and only seemed to get better as I went on. Despite this, something felt different and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I ignored the discomfort and kept climbing. It wasn’t a physical discomfort, but a mental one and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
There didn’t seem to be very many other people climbing the rock other than families with small children. I noticed a couple that seemed to be around my age and overheard them speaking English, so I tried to make brief small talk with them in the hopes that it would transition into a full on conversation. It seemed like it could have hooked, but I got into my head and they also stopped to take a breather which caused us to lose each other. I kept walking and walking until I was pretty much at the top. There are a few stores on top and you can buy quite a few different things up there. The prices seemed a bit higher than at the bottom, but it was still convenient. I walked around the stores and then went back to climbing the last 5%.
Lonely at the top of the world!
After the gruelling climb, I made it to the top of the rock. Step number 700 felt good, but I’m not going to lie, it was fulfilling, but also very underwhelming at the same time. I felt accomplished for having reached the top, but it honestly just felt like every other hike in Peru. It was still beautiful and I’d still recommend it. The view was still magical and I can’t deny that. I took a moment to let the fresh breeze blow through my tank top to cool me down before making my way to the edge. I looked out at the vast landscape that unraveled before my eyes. It was magical and words don’t describe how nice it all looked. I really wanted to share this moment with other people, but I was alone and that’s when it dawned on me! I WAS LONELY!
Despite the magic, this is the first time that I recall feeling truly LONELY during this entire trip. A lot of people ask me if I ever get lonely when I travel because I prefer to travel alone. The answer is; Pretty rarely. I always challenge myself to talk to new people when ever I get to a new city because I normally don’t know a single soul upon arrival and if I don’t talk to anyone, it will stay that way. As I mentioned before, I tried to convince people to come to the rock with me, but everybody had either already gone or was busy which forced me to just go alone with the hopes of meeting people either on the bus or on the way up. A lot of people I’ve met tell me that I’m apparently really good at socializing and meeting strangers, so I decided to put my alleged “skills” to the test, but as you all know, the bus was full of mostly families and it was also assigned seating, so I wasn’t able to talk to the other people who also seemed to be travelling solo and I also coincidentally chose to climb the rock at a pretty quiet time, so there weren’t very many people to talk to on the way up either. All of this resulted in a very solitary climb and I felt every solitary moment of it. I still don’t know what made this any different than any of the other solitary activities that I did during this trip, but I was lonely and the loneliness didn’t end there as I still had a solitary descent ahead of me.
The walk back down was kind of hard on my knees, but that was to be expected. Some of the steps were also very narrow which meant that I had to be very vigilant if I didn’t want to end up on my ass. I made it in the end and took a Tuk Tuk into the actual city afterwards. You can find them all over the area and you can haggle on the price too. I was able to get the driver to drive me into town for a pretty decent price. The driver was a teenager who literally stared at the ass of every woman that passed us as we drove. I was really scared that we were going to crash because he was hardly paying attention to the road at all.
In the end, I made it to town alive and went to a vegan restaurant to eat. The restaurant was unfortunately also empty which made me feel even more lonely which took me even more off guard because as I said, I don’t normally feel this lonely when I travel. I actually tend to feel LESS lonely on the road than in my hometown. I guess it was only natural for the loneliness to creep in eventually.
I explored Guatapé a little bit more after eating and it was honestly a very cute and colourful town that I would definitely like to return to in the future if I get the chance. My only real complaint other than almost suffering “death by buttocks” was how expensive most of the food was and some of the prices were even listed in American dollars. It was NOT cheap. After I felt satisfied with how much I’d seen, I hopped on another Tuk Tuk and made my way back to where I had originally been dropped off and caught the bus back to Medellin
Christmas Dinner on the 24th?!
The loneliness went away pretty quickly upon returning to Medellín. I met up with a huge group of people from my and a few other hostels and we had Christmas dinner together because they celebrate on the 24th AND the 25th in Colombia. It was a lot of fun. I never thought that I’d be celebrating Christmas in Colombia. It was definitely one for the books and I’m really going to miss Medellín and all the people that I met there!
If you made it all the way here, congratulations! You read so far that you forgot how to vacation! No one can ever say that you ain’t had the dedication! You and I both know that you read the last sentence in a Post Malone voice and are now very confused, but bad jokes aside, I really did enjoy this little day trip. I know there’s a pattern in all of these entries and that is that I enjoyed all of them! This one was also probably the cheapest and quickest to get to out of all of them!
I highly recommend checking out both La Piedra de Peñol and the city of Guatapé itself if you ever get the chance and are in Colombia! As usual, bring water and snacks to eat and drink on the bus because it doesn’t make any food stops. I also recommend going to the bathroom before boarding the bus because there weren’t any bathroom stops until it had arrived at its destination and you have to pay for them. They were extremely cheap, but you still had to pay!
Remember that feeling lonely is natural. We’re all human and are guaranteed to feel things. The key is to not let our emotions control our lives. Never beat yourself up for how you feel. Yes, I was really caught off guard by the loneliness that I felt during this short day trip, but all I could do was accept it. Beating myself up for feeling would only make things worse anyway. I felt lonely, but that’s ok because I’m allowed to feel loneliness. You’re also allowed to feel loneliness, sadness, happiness or any other emotion when you travel! Travel effects everyone differently, but is almost always a profound experience. Profound experiences result in feeling profound emotions
Last, but not least; make sure you have proof of onward travel before attempting to enter a country! 300$ goes a long way and I am most certainly not getting it back!