For us rigidly-hipped, socially awkward Brits just a passing brush of the shoulder can be awkward, nevermind full on, face-to-face body contact with someone of the opposite sex! But, such is the life in South America and you better get used to it. No experience in Colombia is complete without dancing just a little salsa, and you’d be a fool to miss out having at least one dance with a Colombian. They’ll undoubtedly be keen to teach you. And not laugh, promise.
To your face, anyway.
This may, in fact, be the key to you embracing the dancefloor salsa-style. Aguardiente is an essential part of Colombian culture and the staple of any night spent drinking. It’s not the nicest drink in the world, but it’s cheap and seems to bring people together (see below). From old men on long bus journeys to youngsters in clubs, everyone here seems to enjoy a bit of it.
Listen to Vallenato
So you’ve taken a vacation to Colombia, you’ve decided to cut loose on the Aguardiente and you’ve ended up with a bunch of Colombians partying. Next think you know? Fat, drunk men singing to an accordian and a cheese grater while your friends suddenly become sentimental, start hugging and telling each other how good friends they are. You, my friend, just discovered the wonders of vallenato.
Eat a Bandeja Paisa
Hungry? You better be. Much like the English Breakfast only pretty much double the size, the bandeja paisa is a relic of a time when people used to eat bears. Oh wait, that never happened? Then why did they think this much food was possible? Anyway, it’s filling, delicious and something you have to try if you travel to Medellin.
See Botero’s work
Botero is Colombia’s most famous contribution to the art world. Lauded for his ‘Gorditos’, his style is a distinct version of expressionism, marked by bright colours and exaggerated forms. Often seemingly frivolous, many of his paintings carry a strong political message. The best Botero collections can be found in Bogota and Medellin.
Visit the Gold Museum
If the thought of trudging through hours worth of gold doesn’t sound appealing, you should keep in mind that gold plays a crucial part in Colombia’s history and, should you visit a Gold Museum, you’ll have a unique insight into the formation of Colombia from pre-Columbian times. Highly recommended are the museums in Bogota and Cartagena.
Well, obviously. Marcela’s dad reportedly used to drink in excess of 20 cups a day, so be sure to get your caffine fix just to fit in. It’s true that most of Colombia’s best coffee is exported, but don’t let that put you off, you can still get excellent coffee at low prices.
Eat a soup
I can’t emphasise this enough: Colombians love soup. Operating on a more-is-more policy, Colombian soups typically come with a lot of meat and potatoes, sometimes with rice for good measure. Highly recommended is the sancocho in Bogota.
Travel to Cartagena
Why pick out Cartagena above Bogota and Medellin? It’s not that it’s my favourite city, but more that for a tourist Cartagena is unique, unexpected and utterly charming. While Bogota moves relentlessly and Medellin lurches forward, Cartagena kind of stays still, content with its colonial archiecture and slow moving lifestyle. Medellin and Bogota are amazing cities, and I love them and can barely choose between them, but for your holidays you need to be sure to travel to Cartagena.
Speak to locals
Locals love to chat to foreigners and will welcome you with open arms into their country. Colombians are some of the nicest people you’ll meet and, even if you don’t speak Spanish, their warmth is evident as soon as you set foot in the country. Don’t leave Colombia without making friends with at least a few locals (I’m not sure that’s even possible, to be honest…).
All this and I haven’t even mentioned Tayrona National Park, Cocora Valley, Ciudad Perdida, Salento, the festivals, Cali, San Gil, La Guajira, Barranquilla, the Amazon, San Andres… It goes on.