My wife and I left our jobs and lives in San Francisco last year to drive the Pan American highway from Canada to Patagonia in a camper van. In doing so, we became what are known as “overlanders”, or travelers who chose to travel by land, as opposed to flying into each destination. It was something we dreamed about for several years; the ability to explore as we please and move slowly through new countries.
Why we choose to travel as overlanders:
- Overlanding heightens the feeling of adventure when traveling (driving on local roads, stopping to eat at small restaurants, traveling through small towns with no tourists)
- Driving allows for freedom as you travel. You get to experience the landscapes changing and when you want to stop and explore more or get that perfect photo, you can.
- It’s a great way to meet locals, as they tend to be more curious when they find out you are taking the time to travel slowly through their country.
Today we’ve been on the road for over a year, and our travels down the Americas have far exceeded our expectations. We were especially energized by our time in Colombia, where we spent two months exploring. It is our favourite country so far.
As with most visitors, our overlanding adventure in Colombia started in the energetic city of Cartagena. The colonial old town of Cartagena is beautiful, hot and lively, but what we remember most are the street performances and local action every night in Plaza Trinidad, the ceviche restaurants in the San Diego neighborhood, and the fresh maracuyá (passion fruit) cocktails at our favorite Caribbean restaurant, Malagana’s Cafe & Bar.
While Cartagena is unique, the real magic for us happened on the Caribbean beaches to the north, near the city of Santa Marta and especially Tayrona National park. We spent the week here camping, surfing, hiking and meeting the friendly locals.
After you’ve gotten your fill of the Caribbean beach vibe, Colombia will wow you with gorgeous lakes and mountain towns, where some of the best coffee in the world is grown.
We drove from Cartagena to Medellín, stopping along the way to dip in a huge mud volcano in the tiny town of Arboletes, and experience amazing views during our hike to the top of a huge rock formation in the quaint lake town of Guatapé.
After spending a few days in the wonderful city of Medellín, where the outdoor parks contain the most action at night, a few hours drive south will bring you to the start of Zona Cafetera. In this coffee region the hiking is incredible and the little guest houses on self-sustaining farms (fincas) will transport you back in time. Horseback is the preferred method of exploring and the coffee has to be tasted to be believed.
After relaxing in mountain towns and on fincas, the city of Cali and its surrounding lakes will get your heart racing again.
We were lucky to experience the Festival de Música del Pacífico in the city of Cali. This was a free multi-day festival celebrating the African-inspired music from the Pacific coast of Colombia. But even if you are not here for a festival, Cali is the home of salsa music and there is no better place to take classes and try your new moves than in the numerous salsa clubs. And if you’ve ever wanted to give kitesurfing a try, right outside Cali is Lago Calima, which is a beautiful lake with wind that blows nearly 365 days a year.
After all of this, you will come to realize the real attraction of Colombia is the people. Nowhere have we experienced such warm, kind, curious, and helpful locals. Even the police were the most friendly and helpful we’ve encountered. Colombia has gone through such a transformation with regards to security in recent years; we never felt unsafe. Yet Colombia still only receives a trickle of the tourists that other South American countries receive like Peru and Ecuador. Colombians are excited to share their amazing country, and it’ll be interesting to see tourism pick up here in the year’s to come.