Conquering Colombia – A Solo Traveler’s Journey

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I sit at Gate B32 in the Atlanta airport waiting for my flight to Bogotá, Colombia. Time seems to drag. I start to feel nervous. Four days ago, I laughed when people said how Colombia was dangerous, warning me about cocaine, cartels, and guerillas. Yet, here I am traveling to Colombia.

I’m stuck sitting here for two hours, with all the horror stories rushing into my mind. Two men sitting near me speak in rapid Spanish. I can only make out three words. How am I going to communicate? I wonder if I can cancel my trip and catch a flight back home.

I stand up with every intention of inquiring about how to return home. A young Hispanic woman smiles at me. I smile back and take a deep breath. I make myself sit down. Why am I freaking again? I live and work in West Africa, where the government isn’t that stable, Ebola looms nearby, and pirates kidnap people. I decided that I had signed myself up for this adventure, and refuse to turn back before it has even begun. My flight is announced, and I board the plane.

Solo Travel Colombia
One of the churches in Bogota.

The young women is sitting across the aisle. “¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás,” She says. “Estoy bien,” I respond. We switch to English. Maria is from Cali. The conversation moves to my plans. I am heading to Southern Colombia. After five days, I would head back to Bogotá and the coffee city of Salento. I would end my trip in Cartagena and Caribbean coast. She exclaims, “You are going to have a fantástico time!” Her confidence helps me relax and take a nap.

Six hours later, it’s just after midnight, and I am about to get a taxi. I have never taken a taxi before. I’ve heard stories about “unofficial taxi drivers” that take you to an isolated ATM and force you to withdraw all your money, and leaves you stranded.

I step into the “official taxi” line and get a taxi. I hand him the paper with my hostel. Fifteen minutes later the driver pulls up to a dark building. I can’t see a sign and nothing looks like a hostel entrance. “Is this my hostel,” I ask. “Si,” he says with a nod of his head, “Si.” I climb out and grab my stuff. I expect the driver to leave. Instead, he gets out of the taxi. He presses the buzzer and waits until a hostel worker opens the door and lets me in. I thank my driver and begin to breathe again.

Solo Travel Colombia
A view from one of my transports while in Colombia.

The next morning, I go to the bus terminal. I have some minor communication issues trying to buy a bus ticket to Neiva. I finally find a bus clerk who figures out what I want. She hands me a ticket, then beckons a young man. He motions for me to follow him, and he guides me to a bus. I repeat this adventure several times over the next two weeks. Each time someone helps me find my way and get on the correct bus.

Next, I head to the scariest place on my itinerary, San Agustin. It is one of the active guerrilla areas. I ride the bus up the winding road. The road is surrounded by jungles and cliffs. I realize how easy it would be for a guerilla to make me disappear forever. I arrive in the town square and get directions to the hostel. I stop several times as ask for directions. Everyone is happy to share a smile and point me in the right direction. I am beginning to wonder why I put so much thought into Colombian horror stories.

Solo Travel Colombia
Exploring the statues in San Augstin.

After a couple of days, I head back to Bogotá with a 10-hour night bus ride from San Agustin. I had planned to avoid a night bus. But, I wanted an extra day, so the night bus was my only option. Some of the Colombia bus horror stories involve a night bus and being drugged and robbed. As I wait for the bus, I am handed a card in English. “Do not accept food or drinks from strangers on bus.” By departure, I had eight cards. After a long night, I make it to Bogotá. Another panic about over nothing.

Solo Travel Colombia
Enjoying the views in San Agustin.

I sit on a bench waiting for a pickup back to Salento. I get in the truck. A couple of minutes later, I notice my DSLR camera isn’t around my neck. Panic starts to rise. I ask the driver to turn around. I arrive back at the bench, and it’s gone. I am near tears when a shopkeeper motions me over. He leads me into his store and shows me my camera. “Keep camera here,” He explains as he slides the camera around my neck. I close my eyes in relief. It was my fault, but the amazing shopkeeper returned my camera. My panic dissipates and I can’t help feel that Colombia might not have the theft problems previous stated.

Solo Travel Colombia
An early morning hike in Salento’s Valley of Cocora

Enjoying a early morning hike in the Valley of Cocora.

On my last night in Colombia, I sat on the beach in Parcqu Tayrona. As the sun sets, I look at the card from San Agustin. I think back to my experiences. From the life worn grandmother who insisted I take that card from her to the shopkeeper to the taxi driver, these people were willing to help someone they had never met. They helped me with no thought of reward. It has been three weeks since I had my panic attack in Atlanta. I had traveled 900 miles on a bus, taken two flights, and experienced much of Colombia. I had survived the trip, and yet I didn’t feel that accomplished. I had conquered my fears about Colombia. I looked at that card. Was all that worry different than things I worry about at home? The trip taught me so much about myself and my limitations (which turned out to be far fewer than I thought they would be). The belief that traveling has given me is unparalleled. It doesn’t have to be a trip like this to feel so rewarded.

For here is a guide with further information on Colombia solo travel.

Solo Travel Colombia
The view for Tayrona on my last night in the park.

Would you be will to solo travel in Colombia after my experiences? What do you think of Colombia?

A reflection on my solo trip to Colombia after I almost panic canceled the trip in the airport. I am so glad I didn't cancel and conquered Colombia.

34 thoughts on “Conquering Colombia – A Solo Traveler’s Journey”

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Colombia, I am a solo female traveller too – and in Colombia now! I have met so many lovely people here, and any worries I started with quickly disappeared. I LOVE Colombia and would recommend to anyone!

  2. Wow!!! Traveling Solo is one different experience but traveling with kids is a different one too. OWuld you recommend Colombia with kids?:) Thank you

    1. I think Colombia with kids would be fine. I’m not sure if the hostels would work. I would also keep an eye on the kids if you are taking bus but I don’t see any issue.

  3. Congratulations on overcoming your fears. I think we all have some fears, whether it’s on a short trip within your area or a longer trip to a more challenging place. It comes with travel and for me, is part of the fun…

  4. Hi! I think Colombia is not as dangerous as people say! I see you managed well as solo female traveler, huh? PS: I am also scared to take taxis abroad, but sometimes that really helped – when there is no other transport possibility, one is really grateful for taxi.

  5. I can feel all your emotion and tension in this post. Oh, that feeling right before you head out on a trip and you wonder what on earth you were thinking. I always have a moment where I want to abandon all my plans and just stay at home, hiding under the covers. But in the end, it’s always worth it, isn’t it?

  6. Ah it’s always been a dream of mine to come here. Great post and thanks for sharing! Also, what an awesome shopkeeper for keeping your camera safe. It’s hard to find honest people these days!

    1. I suspect there are more honest people than most people realize. It is just they get over shadowed by the bad people.

  7. What a kind shopkeeper! That isn’t what usually happens anywhere, not just Columbia. Its great to hear how people were always looking out for you, like the driver walking you to your hostel door. Kind strangers while travelling can really change the way you feel about a new place.

    1. I know. The people were amazing and it was so unexpected but I have learned some great things about the country and to not judge the book by the cover.

  8. That was such a lovely read. We always think the worse when we hear bad news about a country. Yes, Colombia might be known for its drug cartels, but also for its amazing coffee and beautiful scenery. And, as you noticed, the kindness of people. It was such a nice gesture for the taxi driver to wait with you until you got into your hostel and the same, for the store man to keep your camera safe.

    1. Thank. I look at it as most the really bad stories are from 20+ years ago. Colombia has come a long way from being the Colombia of the 1980s.

  9. I have a co-worker from Columbia. He is always saying how much he loves his country. I’d love to be able to visit one day!

  10. I’ve had some hesitations when it comes to using Taxi’s as well, but at least he waited with you until you were inside. Glad you conquered your fears; shouldn’t ever let them hold you back.

    1. I did for a while but after a while I just called and didn’t worry about it. We have fake taxis in the USA and I have neve worried about it.

  11. Beautifully written and it goes to show you never know how a country will welcome you until you are actually there. I am definitely more open to traveling to Colombia after reading this post, thank you for sharing!

  12. Oh I love this. I remember feeling like this about India and had similiar concerns yet people looked after me. I would love to visit Colombia

  13. Congratulations you have made it and it sounded like a tense and heart-pounding experience. I had the same feeling sometimes when traveling alone. But I figured it’s better to be prepared and cautious than sorry ~ 😛

  14. Well done!!!! I can totally relate to the fear of travelling alone, while i haven’t travelled to anywhere too scary alone, the fact that you’re alone can make things harder and more stressful so well don’t for challenging yourself and putting yourself out of the usual box, most people live in.
    Im so glad you had such positive experiences and its lovely to see that their are so many kinds people given the bad rap Columbia has!
    Once again well done and make sure to keep travelling solo when you get a chance, its a good way to challenge yourself!

  15. You are certainly intrepid and brave but also very practical. I walk across into Tijuana several times a year and just keep my wits about me. I don’t go to party and that can lead to problems for solo women no matter where you are. Don’t you feel stronger for your experience? I think preparation is important but so is staying in the present, trusting your gut and keeping on.

    1. I do feel stronger and know I can trust myself and my instincts. I am glad I pushed myself and stepped out of my comfort zone.

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