So last week I shared my top tips about the things I wish I would have known before coming to live in Colombia. But it is nice to have some surprises, right? In fact, most of my favorite experiences in Colombia so far have come about while learning or finding out about parts of Colombian culture that would never have even crossed my mind before arriving. It is not an easy task, but again, got to keep some of the mystery, so I have whittled down a list of the top 5 surprising things about Colombia that I have learned now that I call it home.
1. Living in a fruit lovers paradise
Nothing could have prepared me for the astounding variety and abundance of fruit here. The tropical fruits category doesn’t even begin to cover it. Really it is all of the produce in general that has blown me out of the water. This shouldn’t be surprising for the most bio-diverse country per square kilometer in the world. Heck you have around 30 native potato varieties alone to choose from and plenty of other rare-looking brightly colored objects that can tempt you daily just to give it a try. Whether it is in a ubiquitously sold juice or picked right off the tree, a whole new world of deliciousness and flavors you have never seen in your grocer´s international section or really that you could even ever have imagined await you here.
2. Street art is alive
Graffiti as of late has taken on a new form as appreciated and recognized art all over the world with many household names, but in Bogotá it is its own complete sub-culture and it is a feast for the eyes no matter where you go! My first walks about the city I couldn’t believe that practically EVERY spare wall space or surface is covered in color, statements and images. And it is beautiful, powerful, exciting. Now it is even embraced here in Bogotá at least as a legal act, after a controversial past, with many building and shop owners commissioning artists to paint their walls to protect from vandalistic tags and add to the living museum. It is cultivating a group of incredible Colombian artists and impressively attracting international names as well. With an excellent graffiti tour as well here in Bogotá, you are sure to go home a street art groupie as I have come to be. In Medellín, Cartagena and many other cities you can find equally great art and endless inspiration for photos.
3. Ciclovía just all-around awesome.
Colombians take their Sundays seriously. Not only is it a day to spend with family but behold the great 40-year-old pioneering program, the Ciclovía! From 7am-2pm literally millions in Bogotá (as many as 30% of the population), Cali and Medellín get to enjoy 120km of CAR-FREE roads to get out and get moving! Forget weaving around busses and traffic jams. This day is for jumping on the bicycle, strapping on the rollerblades, hooking the dog on the leash or joining in on the free exercise classes in parks along the routes. Not to mention that it is great for people watching too. And thanks to Colombia’s impressive dedication to observing public holidays (nearly 20 each year!) you get an extra 3 weeks of Ciclovía as it is held on these days too. There is really no better reason to get in shape…at least once a week that is.
4. Arepas are their own food group.
Yes, I do remember learning about Arepas when I did my 10th grade spanish project on Venezuela…and I think I tried to make them which wasn’t so successful. A corn-cake typical of Colombia and Venezuela; What more could there be to it? Well that is just insulting. I have quickly learned that arepas and really ANY mix of any type of flour and cheese here is sacred. There are tons of different regional versions of arepas – the sweeter, baked Boyacenses (personal favorite!), the salty and indulgent Arepa with egg from the coast, the crave-worthy cheese Arepa, White corn Arepas, Yellow corn Arepas, Arepas topped with sweetened condensed milk…shall I go on?
5. You can still get “away” in Colombia.
One of the things I always crave in a travel experience is finding authenticity in the places I go. It is a bit convoluted, isn’t it? We are the tourist, yet we want it to be a never-seen or done experience. Well, it has been amazing to discover here in Colombia that you can still find yourself truly immersed. Maybe you are in a small town with only a church, main square and a family guest house or two and well, that is it. But mix that with unbelievably kind and welcoming residents and astounding scenery and you are in travel heaven. Whether on a 2 hour horseback ride to an organic coffee farm, repelling a 70m waterfall wondering “hmm, should I have checked the rope first?” or swimming among phosphorescent plankton in an island lagoon without a single other soul or sign of life around, there is still a whole lot of magic here if you go out and find it.