I’m in the stages of planning for a trip to Colombia. It’s a country I knew very little about. Well, I won’t downplay the drug business starring Pablo Escobar and the dangers posed by the guerilla and the cartels, but that history isn’t going to stop me from visiting and falling in love with this beautiful country.
I honestly knew very little. I wasn’t sure if Medellin or Bogota was the capital (it’s Bogota), if the country has a variety of climates (it does), or what kind of currency they use (Colombian pesos), or if I’d need a visa to enter (I don’t).
So essentially, if I had left with what little knowledge that I had about Colombia, I would’ve been screwed.
Besides, going into something blind is usually a bad call. (I say this because stepping into the wrong neighborhood in any country is bad. Or drinking tap water and getting really sick. That’s not smart!) — PS. you can drink tap water in Medellin and Bogota.
I’ll be honest, I love researching places I haven’t been. So looking for information wasn’t very difficult for me.
One of the first things I do is read about the country on the CIA Factbook. Weird, I know, but you get the general idea of the country from an objective view. Pure facts and data. That helps me place where the big cities are, what its climate is going to be like, what the government is like, and some interesting tidbits about international issues it faces (topics to avoid in conversations).
I also like to go to Wikitravel and read extensively about the country. This way, I gain some valuable insight as to where to go and what to see and which places to avoid. I use it in tandem with Lonely Planet.
I guess this is just me, but I want to be up-to-date with news and information as much as possible, so I read online newspapers in English — I also try to read them in Spanish.
Here are a couple that I read:
I think I’m forgetting a couple of important things.
I read blogs. A lot of them. They’re really important sources of information as they’re from people who are actually on the the ground with their flip-flops, or tattered Converse sneakers, or what have you.
I was introduced to Medellin Living while Googling “How to get a visa to enter Colombia”. Dave is the guy who runs the site and he has really valuable tips and advice on navigating life in Medellin, Colombia.
(Goats on the Road also published this epic guide to Colombia early this year.)
I also try to converse with a lot of locals. How can I do this without visiting the country? It’s easy. The internet. Believe it or not, websites like Conversation Exchange and apps like HelloTalk can help open doors you’ve never thought of. For example, I made a friend in Buenos Aires through Conversation Exchange — she is learning English and she’s actually going to visit the United States for her job. She’s also offered me her apartment to stay at when I make my way down to Argentina.
I’ve also made friends on HelloTalk and as locals to their country and culture, teach me about fun things to do and cool places to go — getting my information directly from the source! And I get to learn slang. I also help them learn English and shed light on some good ol’ American culture.
Finally, I really enjoy watching YouTube vlogs. I’m one of those people who have watched almost all of Casey Neistat’s vlog series. I stumbled onto Marshall Powers’ Youtube channel early this summer and watched his journey from Cartagena to Bogota and Medellin and back to the US.
I think YouTube vlogs are a great way to gather information about a country. You get to see people and you’re able to immerse yourself into the culture. Most vlogs aren’t highly polished, ready-to-be-syndicated on television. That’s what makes it feel genuine and authentic. I guess that’s what I look for when I’m searching for information.
It’s great to take advice from people who have been there, or are from there. They know what they’re talking about. And sometimes, you just have to do some things spontaneously.
And so, my Colombian itinerary looks like this:
Who’s coming with me?