In November, I started my journey to Colombia in Medellin. Medellin, as the 2nd largest city in Colombia, is breathtaking. This bustling metroplex is buried in a valley so you are surrounded 360 degrees by city views. I think the Paisas (local people to this area) do not understand the beauty that engulfs them every single day. But maybe they do for the torrid past of Medellin is buried deep in their hearts and minds.
In general, people of Medellin are kind and helpful. Since tourism is very new to this city I found that people in service were less patient and understanding with my beginner Spanish. Very few people speak English, even in the more touristy part of town called El Poblado. I tried to speak Spanish to get my point across but almost never got what I needed or asked for. I struggled literally every single day. I’ve been to 34 countries now, and I’ve never had so much failure and struggle. So I would say if you aren’t intermediate in Spanish I’d wait a few more years to visit Colombia. Just recently have tourists felt safe to travel here so I expect the welcoming of tourists to develop more and more.
Being vegan was fairly challenging. Only a few coffeeshops in El Poblado had non-dairy milk available. None of the Colombian coffee chains had soy milk and there was only one Starbucks in the whole town. I’m not a fan of Starbucks but at least I know across the world I can get a soy latte. I ended up drinking coffee black and then I started taking a little bottle of almond milk with me that I found at a natural market.
If you are going to survive long-term you’ll want to cook your own meals. Thankfully, produce is very cheap so I could easily eat for under $10 a day cooking my own food. If you are staying for just a few days you’ll be fine if you position yourself near some vegetarian restaurants. There’s meat and cheese in everything at regular restaurants and always meat in the beans, which is super frustrating. Before you book your accommodations search for vegetarian and vegan restaurants (consult HappyCow because Google Maps left me searching for over ten restaurants that weren’t actually there!!).
I luckily found my “Cheers” in Saludpan, a little cafe and market right down the street from Flying Tree Yoga studio. I was able to get a latte with soy milk and even tofu scramble! One woman named Mercedes spoke English and was able to help me out to get what I needed. I often came here for breakfast, but their menu del dia for lunch is also amazing. They have a number of vegan desserts including a gluten-free chocolate cake that I’m embarrassed to admit I ate every few days. The market sells tofu, seitan, other plant-based meat products, non-dairy milk, any natural food thing you could ever need, and a few bulk items.
My life was changed when I found out Barrito Burrito, a fast food joint reminiscent of Chipotle, had vegan rice and beans. I had a really nice veggie bowl at Mundo Verde, and menu del dia at Antonio’s a few times, who also sells some vegan meats and treats. The burrito at Lenteja Express is tasty. Los Robots is the craziest restaurant I’ve ever been to so go there just for the experience. Overall I found the food to be meh. Nothing was mind-blowing except I really enjoyed the menu of the day at Espiritu Libre, which I didn’t find until my last few days in Medellin. As a vegan in a Latin American country, you have to be content and grateful to find anything at all vegan. Just don’t come here thinking you’ll find food the likes of Candle 79 in New York or Spiral Diner in Dallas.
I stayed in the Laureles neighborhood attending at yoga and Spanish language course with Flying Yoga Tree. This was truly an amazing experience and I highly recommend this area of town as opposed to the popular El Poblado. The people I met at the studio gave me life and the neighborhood is safe, quiet, & a more local feel. The election happened while I was in the course (with 3 Americans and 1 polish gal) and I found myself in the most melancholy state. This coupled with the daily struggles I faced with my poor Spanish left me wondering what the hell I was doing in Colombia. I bought a ticket to return home earlier than planned.
Then I went to visit Guatape for 3 days. This little town two hours away from Medellin renewed my spirit. The mountains, fresh air, friendly faces, and beautiful landscapes are a must when in Colombia. I stayed at Mi Casa hostel, owned by Suzie and Sean, and woke up to the most amazing view over the lake every morning. It’s about a 30 minute walk into town or you can take a shared jeep for 1800 pesos. In Guatape you’ll find a number of vegan options; Rame, Namaste, Hecho al Amor, and Indian food at Don de Sam. I climbed the rock, did a boat tour around the lake, and shared wine and stories with my hosts. It was a great time!
My plan was to spend another week in Colombia, between Cartagena, Santa Marta and the surrounding coastal towns but plans changed. A good friend was suppose to meet me there but couldn’t get to Colombia so I changed my ticket to go home early only spending one night in Cartagena. But it was enough! The air was so hot and humid, I was sweating buckets after only a few minutes outside. It was touristy, dirty, smelly, and I didn’t feel comfortable walking the streets at night.
I’ll go over what I spent while in Colombia. You can definitely do Colombia for cheaper, but I kind of splurged a bit more on food once I discovered a few great vegan options.
Length of Stay: November 2nd – December 2nd (30 days)
Accommodations: $454 (mostly private rooms)
Transportation: $425 (includes flight to Medellin, but not flight back home because I ended up changing it and it cost way more than it should have)
Total Expenses: $1328 ($1667 with flight home)
I was amazed at how cheap everything was: typically around $11-14 a night for private rooms (hostels/Airbnb), taxi/Uber rides all under $5, and most restaurant meals were around $5. It’s no surprise that so many expats settle down in Medellin because of the cheap cost of living and good weather. You can see all my expenses here.
Overall I’m happy I went to Colombia and experienced some of the country. Reflecting now, I would go back someday to explore the dancing scene in Cali but for now I travel on. Big plans are in the works for this year and I look forward to sharing my travels with you. New retreat dates and details will be coming soon!