It’s 4am, and the only glow on the street is coming from the corner bakery. The men all have their top buttons loosened; the women are carrying their heels. We haven’t slept, but the morning came anyway—the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries fill the shop as we make our selections and pile back into the taxi. I have only known these fellow travelers one day, but traveling solo in Colombia has led me to this moment: exhausted from dancing all night in Cali, the birthplace of salsa, with new friends and a delicious cheese-filled baguette.
Colombia still hasn’t shaken off it’s notorious reputation, and it does (as with most places), still require a cautious and common-sense attitude. However, while traveling solo in Colombia as a female, the country showed me nothing but kindness, adventure, and breath-taking beauty. It’s Caribbean coast, jungle vibes, and mountainous landscapes are a joy to savor along with a cup of local Colombian coffee.
Cali is the first stop for many backpackers who travel north from Ecuador, which is just as well since I too approached Colombia with a sense of cautious optimism. Cali is not entirely safe to wander during the day or on your own at night, but with a group of people—found either at a hostel or at a group tour—will allow you to witness the city come alive, with dancers of all skill levels. And impressive skill levels. There are covers to the bars because no one has time to drink anything. Hired dancers go around and offer to be dance partners with men and women alike. By the end of the night I like to think I was a better dancer, and I had the blisters to prove it!
Just outside of Cali is San Cipriano, a small town only accessible by riding a wooden trolly system (attached to a motorcycle) into the jungle. There me and my new travel partner, a New Zealander I met while on a bike tour, tubed down the river and feasted on fresh local fish.
On the next bus our group became two Australians bigger as we traveled to our next destination: Solento. The contrast between a dirty city with soul to a quaint, picturesque countryside was a surprise. Filled with palm trees in the Corcoran Valley, coffee farms, and a colorful artisan market it is a town safe for hiking, horse rides, and shopping solo. I found some “me” time before we all made our way to Guatape. A storybook town filled with colorful design and smiling locals, its safe for anyone to wander before climbing up Penol Rock for fantastic views of the many islands that make up the area.
After reconnecting with nature, it was time to plug-in at a major city. Solo travelers will easily make friends in Medellin in an area known as Parque Lleras, where drinks flow and music blasts. It’s safe for women who know not to take drinks from strangers, like to strike up conversations, and drink responsibly. During the day there is plenty to see in the city once voted the most dangerous in the world, so long as valuables are hidden and one sticks to public transportation. Now safe, there are pueblos where you can explore local art via outdoor escalators, mountains you can get to by cable car, and plazas to wander to see famous over-sized sculptures.
But the easiest place to make friends is the beach. On the Caribbean coast there is the sleepy town of Santa Marta, the gorgeous coastal jungle of Tyrona Park, the Rosalita Islands, and the colorfully historic city of Cartagena. Buses to and from these places are safe, reliable, and cheap. They allow you to explore the coast at any pace you’d like. Even flights are famously cheap, and many public transportation options take you anywhere in the country safely and efficiently.
Throughout the country I made friends, but felt confident enough to go off on my own when I wanted to. Whether dancing in Cali, or in a club in Medellin, or at a beach bar in Santa Marta, or while watching the sunset in Cartagena I felt at home. And there are so many other places throughout the country with their own characteristics, adventures, and friends to be made. Even though there are still unresolved issues with the FARC that require research (as well as staying up to date), Colombia is a place to explore beautiful people and places. As a women anywhere in the world there are precautions to take, but Colombia is only going to grow in popularity as more and more people discover its amazing secrets.
Words and Photos by Brianna Stimpson