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The Breakdown: Colombia Round 1 – Villa de Leyva, Bogota and Guatavita

Exchange rate: $1 = approximately 1800 Colombian pesos (it’s really about 1790 COP, but we’ve been rounding up to 1800 in our calculations

Overall: Colombia is fantastic. Period. One of the best places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It made us laugh the first time we saw it, but the government’s tourism slogan, “Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay,” is totally true.

A big smile from the lady selling the corn

The energy and attitude of the people can make or break a country, and the people of Colombia are definitely making it. They’re warm, open-hearted and honest people. Between Marta’s “mi carinhos” in Villa de Leyva, surprise birthday cakes in Bogota and the most beautiful people at La Juanita, we were treated like close friends and made immediately comfortable in almost every place we stayed.

Beautiful nature in Guatavita

Add to that, a stunning natural environment, good food and reasonable costs, and you definitely have a winner in the travel lottery. Colombia is absolutely one of our top 5 countries in the world to visit.

Costs: We traveled to Colombia twice, with 3 weeks in Peru sandwiched in the middle of the visits. Therefore, these costs include the time we spent on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, as well.

I think we could’ve spent far less money in Colombia than we did, but I’m slowly realizing that we are just not that kind of travelers anymore. Maybe I’m getting soft as I approach middle age, but I’m finding that I need a certain level of comfort that I didn’t need before. I’m no longer willing to sacrifice a reasonable level of comfort or a daily latte or two, just to save a few dollars. (Well, that is until we got to Lima, but that’s a story for anther day).

Over our 19 days in Colombia, we averaged $89.74 per day for both of us, for a total of $1705.11. The largest expenditures, not surprisingly, were on food and accommodations, at 32% and 43% of the total budget, respectively. These numbers include everything, but flights, which we have decided to keep track of separately.

However, during our time exploring the Bogota area, we always stayed in private rooms, and had some pretty decent meals in nice restaurants. If you were really on a strict budget, you could definitely do Colombia for way less, by sleeping in dorms, self-catering and eating where the locals do.

The cost of traveling by bus or taxi is super affordable. For example, our 5 hour bus ride between Bogota and Villa de Leyva in a top of the line, air-conditioned bus cost just 20,000 COP each, or $11.

Once again, we used the Budget Your Trip website to track our expenses, and all of the gory details can be found here.

Peaceful times in Villa de Leyva

What we did: After landing in Bogota late and crashing for the night, we boarded a bus and headed to Villa de Leyva for a short 3 day visit. In retrospect, we could’ve spent many more days in Villa de Leyva. Beautiful, peaceful, and super affordable, it’s definitely a place that deserves some time. There’s not much to do in Villa de Leyva, except relax, read and enjoy the Colombian people, but sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

The Museum of Gold in Bogota

Hmm? Which of these magical doors in Candelaria leads to Felipe?

From Villa de Leyva, we headed back to Bogota for 2 nights. We visited the famous Museo del Oro and walked around the historical district of Candelaria. On our second night, we met up with Felipe from La Juanita and he whisked us away to our ayahuasca ceremony on the outskirts of Bogota.

Is this the entrance to paradise? Oh no...just La Juanita.

Caught in the rain at Lake Guatavita

After the insanity of the ceremony and the chaos and traffic of Bogota, we descended upon the peace and tranquility of Felipe’s farm for 5 days, where we enjoyed serenity, delicious home-cooked meals, an amazing hike through the mountains of Guatavita, a visit to the birthplace of El DoraIdo legend, Lake Guatavita, a soothing hot spring and great connections with wonderful people.

Not a bad start to our year of world travel, I’d say!

Bread in Villa de Leyva

Food: There was nothing extraordinary about Colombian food. I write this, because at this moment, 1 month after we left Colombia for the first time, I can’t for the life of me, remember what we ate. Which means that nothing was extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad. I think there was a lot of grilled fish. And maybe some potatoes. Or rice. I’m not sure.

What I do remember is all of the amazing healthy and natural food we had at La Juanita. All home-cooked, flavourful and totally nurturing. Meals at La Juanita were not just meals, but an all-day event that you could smell brewing for hours beforehand. Yum yum yum.

Can you smell the goodness? Deliciousness at La Juanita.

Travel Tip: Make sure you visit the regulated taxi stand at Bogota International Airport and get a coupon for your ride. It’s a bit difficult to find when you exit International Arrivals, but totally worth it. Quoted prices from taxi touts at the airport were double or triple the actual rate.

We learned this the hard way, but know that there are 2 separate bus terminals in Bogota. The Terminal de Transporte and the Portal del Norte. Depending on where you’re staying in the city, you could save yourself a lot of time by leaving from the closer terminal.

Attraction Tip: Get out of the city and into the rural areas of Colombia as fast as you can. Bogota was an interesting city to visit, but a few days is all we really needed.

It’s when we got to Villa de Leyva and Guatavita that Colombia became truly memorable. Villa de Leyva is a mere 4-5 hour bus ride away, and Guatavita is even closer. Just a few hours by bus from Bogota. But that 2 hours could be a million miles away for the difference you will feel upon breathing in the fresh mountain oxygen and taking in the unbelieveable scenery.

When in Colombia: Greet everyone you meet with an enthusiastic Buenos Dias (good morning), Buenos Tardes (good afternoon) or Buenos Noches (good evening). Of course, this doesn’t apply to every single person you pass on the busy streets of Bogota, but if you can acknowledge someone else in Colombia, you do. Like I said, the people are nothing if not open-hearted. And the most beautiful thing of all is that it’s totally authentic.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on La Juanita Guatavita.

    April 21, 2012
  2. bobneary #

    I’ve wanted to go back to Colombia and spend more time there since my first visit back in November. La Juanita sounds like a wonderful place for a retreat.

    April 22, 2012
    • Shelley #

      Definitely a place of real serenity and peace. You can even join Felipe for yoga and meditation in the mornings. Where did you go when you first visited?? Favourite place?

      I had a look at your “About” page….have you found that you’re experiences have been different traveling as an American? As Canadians, we are sometimes mistaken for Americans and the reactions when they find out we are not are quite interesting.

      April 23, 2012
      • bobneary #

        I visited Bogota for three days. I stayed at the Hotel Lido which is just a couple blocks from the Plaza de Bolivar. I spent roughly 16 hours of each day canvasing the city with my camera. It’s an amazing place, I haven’t spent enough time there to have a favorite place.

        Deciding whether my experiences are different as an American as opposed to another nationality is difficult to answer. I’m very much a westerner and that was made apparent during my brief stay in Bogota.

        April 23, 2012
        • Shelley #

          Perspective is so interesting! Because we’ve been living in Asia for the last 3 years, we definitely feel a big difference between the “West” and the “East.” To us, South America feels very Western…

          If you ever get a chance to go back and visit Colombia again, I def recommend a stay at La Juanita. It’s a totally unique and beautiful experience! 🙂

          April 25, 2012
          • bobneary #

            I can see how South America would feel very western compared with Asia. Culturally, like North America and Europe, it is very much in the realm of Christendom. Asia, while I haven’t yet had the opportunity to travel there, I would imagine is very separate from that. No doubt there are many other differences too.

            I should probably redefine the cause of my culture shock. Thinking back on it however, it’s still difficult to point at any one thing. Just plain different is still about as close as I can get. All the more reason to go back.

            April 25, 2012
  3. Great summary and I love hearing people say that Colombia’s a fantastic place to visit. I haven’t been yet but our best friends are from Bogota (now living in Australia) and we hope to all go together one day – I am certainly sick of people saying that Colombia’s dangerous.

    April 24, 2012
    • Shelley #

      Hey Amanda! Thanks for reading and commenting. Colombia is the last thing, but dangerous. The people are soooo amazing and honest. We even had cab drivers give us prices that were lower than what was on the meter. When does that happen ever?? 😉

      April 25, 2012

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  1. The Breakdown: Colombia Round 2 – Cartagena, Taganga, La Guajira | Travel-Stained

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