Category Archives: Colombia

Hostel Rules and Regulations – Don’t Be THAT Traveller


What is it with a lack of hostel dorm etiquette? I (Gemma) write this annoyed after yet another sleepless night in a hostel dorm. This time a chica dragged her rucksack in at 2am, opened and closed about twenty zips, seriously how many zips on that thing? Then she shines her iPhone torch all over the joint. We get it, hostels are a cheap form of accommodation which makes a budget stretch further but they are not a replacement for home so stop treating 8-bed dorms like your bedroom back at your mum’s house. Turns out I am not alone in the hostel hustle, I reached out to fellow travellers and we’ve put together a list of hotels rules and regulations to help everyone sleep better at night. Be sure to tell us any of your stories or hostel tips and tricks in the comments below!

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What is a Hostel?

Hostels are an economical form of accommodation which comes after camping and couchsurfing in the international hierarchy of budget travel sleeping arrangements.

They usually offer some form of social setting whether that be a bar, garden or rooftop seating area, or even a swimming pool in warmer climates.

Hostels are a great place to meet new travel buddies because there usually is an element of organised fun through quizzes, pub crawls, themed nights and even cultural activities like city walking tours.

What is a Hostel Like?

Contrary to belief, hostels are not just for party backpackers. They come in all shapes and sizes from dives to rooms fit for divas. Sleeping arrangements differ depending on the hostel.

Some offer private rooms with private bathrooms, others have private rooms with shared bathing facilities. I’ve even been in hostels with outdoor sleeping options (in Budapest). Most hostels have dorm rooms in common.

What is a Dorm Room?

Forget North American sorority dorms and think more Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sleeping arrangements and you are halfway there.

Jokes aside, dorm rooms are rooms with beds which are usually in bunk form (one up/one down) to save space. You can expect anything from a 2-bed bunk to 16-bed and the price of a hostel stay gets less the more beds in the room.

There should be a locker for you to place your belongings.

They sassier hostels have lockers big enough for your 60l backpacks. Hostels are cosy, which means making friends is pretty easy.

The more modern dorms have privacy curtains, alternatively, opt for the bottom bunk and hang up a large scarf or flag.

Are Hostels Safe?

Hostels are only as safe as you prepare for them to be. Just because someone carries a backpack like you it doesn’t mean they are not an opportunist.

Now I am not accusing every traveller of being a thief, just have your wits about you and be wise. Tips – don’t leave out anything you want to keep from going walkies.

Personally, I don’t even charge electronics unless I am in the room.

Alternatively, charge a capacitor battery pack like our reliable Anker US / UK and use that to charge on the go.

We swear by the PacSafe net US / UK for keeping gear safe. We travelled with it through the Americas (North, Central, South) and Europe and came home target-free. To use, pack a day bag full of your expensive kit and passport then close it.

Place the bag in the PacSafe net before closing tight, wrap the wire around something non-moveable like a bed frame and then clip the padlock (TSA approved comes recommended) closed with the bag securely attached to the frame. Now cover with a scarf.

Most hostel buildings have call features at their front door to avoid anyone walking in and out. We’ve left our larger rucksacks in cloakrooms for days while out hiking and never faced any issues to do with security.

You can read individual hostel reviews on the likes of Hostelworld which will help you also make a decision about each one.

Hostel Rules and Regulations

So now that we’ve covered the basics of backpacker accommodation lets move on with the tips for staying in a hostel. Whether you are staying in a hostel for the first time or you’ve racked up the party hostel passport stamps, there’s a takeaway for everyone.

Hostel Dorm Security

Staying in a dorm requires a few quick checks. Take two seconds to memorise the code for the door, or try your key in the lock to make sure it works – even if it’s open when you arrive.

That door is the only security you and your fellow travellers have and it’s really important that you keep it secure.

Even if valuables are in lockers inside the rooms, most locker padlocks can easily be picked. So, make sure you always, always lock the door when you go out – that’s just good hostel manners.

By Danni Lawson |  Live in 10 countries

Granted, a dorm is never going to be as quiet as a private room.

Yet, a lot can be done to ensure the peaceful coexistence of all guests. One of the unspoken yet basic rules in hostel dorms should be that of keeping the level of noise to a minimum. Those checking out in the early hours should always make sure to pack their bags the night before, while nobody is asleep and preferably before 10 or 11 pm.

By doing that, they will keep noise levels at a minimum while everyone in the dorm is asleep. It’s a simple, yet very nice gesture that doesn’t require that much effort and that goes a long way into making sure that even the most crowded of spaces becomes an oasis of peace.

By Claudia Tavani | My Adventures Across The World

Do Not Turn On The Lights Between 11pm-8am

One of the most annoying things a traveller who is staying in a dorm room can do is to be inconsiderate when they switch on the light after 11 pm, especially when someone is already asleep. Be polite, some people have an early flight and want their beauty sleep as much as possible or the ones who come home late from a party will surely not appreciate the bright light too early either.

If you need to do something, you can use the torch of your phone. It’s just a simple but nice act.

By Mary | A Mary Road

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Put Your Phone On Silent

One of the best things you can do for the people in your hostel dorm room is to silence your phone. I have shared rooms with too many travellers who believe that everyone around them needs to know when they receive a text message or phone call, but it really just makes the rest of us stir crazy.

It is understood that if you’re waiting on an important call, you turn your phone on loudly so you don’t miss it. But, if you’re casually texting, it can be done in silence (this includes turning off keyboard sounds on phones).

In addition, it is also rude to have a conversation on your phone late at night or early in the morning inside a dorm room.

Most hostels have a social space or living area where you can take care of these matters – your bed is not the place to do it.

By Megan | Meganstarr

How To Deal With Snoring in Hostels

We get it, you’ve had a hard night on the sauce and you are prone to a little open mouth, blocked nose snoring action but pal, it really is not fair on anyone else in the room.

Many of your dorm friends might be getting up a 3 am for a hike so your freight train breathing is going to ruin their paid excursion.

  • If you are the guilty party, do everyone a favour and get a private room
  • If you are the victim

1. Try moving the snorer. Reddit recommends throwing M&Ms at the perpetrator.
2. Pack and use earplugs 
3. Consider a headphone headband. Craig even sleeps with it home, I don’t snore, honest!
4. Be really rude the next day and get ready REALLY noisily next the to the snorer.
5. Complain – we had to do it in Toronto. Three of us left a four-bed dorm. Mass exodus!

Bookmark | The best carry-on backpacks for travel 


Invest In Headphones

Listening to music and watching movies are great ways to pass time in the evenings or on a lazy day, but not everyone in a hostel dorm will want to listen at the same time.

Especially at night when others are sleeping, hostel guests should do what they can to avoid disturbing others – including sounds from phones and laptops.

Trying to fall asleep to the sound of gunfire in an action movie or a blend of three different people’s music at the same time is annoying and will surely draw complaints from light sleepers and people who like peace and quiet. Popping in a pair of headphones is an easy way to keep dormmates from holding a grudge.

They don’t need to be expensive noise-cancelling headphones – cheap earbuds will do the trick so music or movies can be played all night if necessary.

By Kris | Nomad by Trade

Sharing Is Not Caring

Hostels can be a bit intimidating for first-timers but they are fun and inexpensive. One of the downsides of staying in a hostel is the fact that some people can be disrespectful and clueless.

Paying for a shared space doesn’t mean everyone has the right to do what they want.

Asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I enjoy the aroma of dead-rat smelling shoes wafting around with the aircon-breeze while I’m contemplating life?
  • Do I want to see a naked lady changing bloody sanitary products while I’m thinking of what food to eat next?

The answer is always no! Most hostels have shoe racks outside of dorm rooms. Use it. Girls, there is a toilet just 5 metres away from your bed, insert there. It only takes a minute to spare someone from a life of tampon trauma. Be a hero and do your ladies’ business privately.

By Christine Rogador | The Travelling Pinoys

Save Your Smells

Dorm bedrooms are usually small, thus any smell inside becomes X times stronger than outside. Moreover, in AC rooms, all the smells are stuck in the closed space.

Bedrooms are mainly meant for sleeping, so it’s best to keep neutral/fresh scent there. That means eating spicy food or any types of snacks is not appropriate. There is a kitchen in any hostel, where you are more than welcomed to eat!

It’s also time to control your favourite perfume. Some people tend to apply more perfume since it becomes lighter outside because of the weather and wind. The air is still in the room, so all the sprays from all the guests will mix and stay.

If you are a smoker, hang-out outside for a while till the strong smell of cigarettes will reduce to the minimum. Many non-smokers are susceptible to cigarette scent and, most probably, they would not like it spread in the bedroom.

By Natalia |Mytriphack

Dorm Rooms Are Not Laundromats

Long-term travel can’t be non-stop awesome travel experiences. At some point, everyone needs to do their laundry. Many hostels have washing machines that travellers can pay to use.

Unfortunately, some travellers decide to save money and hang their wet clothes around the dorm to dry. Some string a line from one bed to another. Others merely drape their wet clothes and towel over their bed and sometimes over other bunks.

This is not OK; having to navigate around someone else’s laundry is unpleasant. Rather than hanging or draping their wet laundry around the dorm to dry, people staying in hostels should always use the dryer or hang their clothes outside on a washing line if there is one provided. Hostel staff can always advise what laundry facilities they have available.

By James Ian | Travel Collecting

Don’t Leave Your Sh*t In Communal Bathrooms

Hostels are normally associated with youth, freedom and a laid-back life, but that is not to be confused with lack of respect and common sense.

On the contrary, sharing space with others implies, or should imply, respecting one another and following unwritten rules of a certain kind of common sense which, unfortunately, not for everybody is “common”.

One of those rules concerns shared bathroom space. “Shared bathrooms” means that the bathroom is shared among many people and therefore it’s not wise nor respectful to leave one’s toiletries in the little space available, be it a chair, a shelf or whatever that is available.

That space is temporary for the person using the facilities at that time. Your toiletry bag is your storage, not the communal bathroom space. It’s easy to understand, there is simply no room for everybody’s stuff.

By Isabella Biava | Boundless Roads

Don’t Steal My Sh*t

Don’t steal other people’s stuff. You might think that this is obvious, but the amount of times things go missing in hostels it is ridiculous.

From mobile phones and other valuables to dirty clothes, shoes and food from the fridge, why do some people think its ok to take other people’s stuff? It is never OK to take things that don’t belong to you. Even if you’re drunk, eating someone else’s pizza is not cool.

Backpackers usually have a tight budget, which certainly won’t stretch to providing someone they don’t know with free food or anything else which takes their fancy! Buy your own stuff, or just go without.

By Claire Sturzaker | Tales of a Backpacker

You Can’t Sit With Us, Well Me (Name That Film)

For many travellers, staying at a hostel provides a built-in community on the road and potential new friends, which can be great – if you want that from your travel experience.

However, for travellers who are a bit more introverted or shy (or simply prefer solitude and travelling alone), hostels can quickly become overwhelming environments when others approach them constantly to try and make plans together.

When you’re staying at a hostel, be mindful of people’s personal space and aware of the cues they may be giving you. If you sense that someone is enjoying being alone and isn’t looking for a new travel companion, respect their wishes. Don’t insist that you eat together, hang out constantly, or travel together to the next destination.

Travelling is an inherently overstimulating and often overwhelming experience, and lots of people are seeking solitude and reflection time (or need to work while travelling), not necessarily looking for a crew of new pals to hang out with on the road.

That being said, there are plenty of hostellers who are happy to make new friends and pick up a travel buddy – look out for them and don’t hesitate to reach out when people seem receptive.

By Sierra Dehmler | Passport Voyager

Get A Room

I get it. You’re on holiday.

You’ve found THE ONE. Or maybe it’s the beer talking. Anyway. Things get heavy. It’s time to take this somewhere… more intimate. That towel you’ve put up hanging from the bunk above will act as the perfect sound and light barrier, right? Surely no-one will hear you?

The answer, I’m sad to say, is no. Everyone will hear you. No-one wants to. Please, do everyone a favour and don’t have sex in a hostel dorm.
Unless you are:

a) The only person in the hostel dorm or
b)… to be honest, there is no B.

Just don’t do it. If sex is something you find yourself doing, get a private room, or find a private place that doesn’t have a bunch of other strangers lying in the dark listening to your magnificent sounds. However quiet you think you are being, and however fluffy that towel… they can definitely hear you. And no-one wants that.

This also applies to tents incidentally.

By Laurence Norah | Finding the Universe

Final Words

Over 10+ tips later from angry travellers, I think we can all agree on this hostel etiquette advice and move forward in our quest to travel carefree and happily into the sun.

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Tips on how to survive hostels | Hostel dorms | Backpacking | Hostel dorm tips | Budget travel

What really grinds your gears in hostels?

How to Take an Independent Day Trip to Laguna de Guatape

What to do in Guatape Colombia

Ah, Laguna de Guatape: known as one of Colombia’s most colourful small towns, Guatape makes an excellent getaway from the hustle and bustle of nearby Medellin. Whether you want to slow down and relax, partake in adventure activities, or simply take in the views from Laguna de Guatape’s famous El Penol viewpoint, a Guatape day trip is well worth the effort it takes to visit. One of the worst mistakes we (Gemma and Craig) made in Colombia was missing the chance to visit the striking Laguna de Guatape. Luckily for us, Kate from Our Escape Clause has had the pleasure of climbing those stairs and taking in that view. Here’s her guide on what to do in Guatape and how to get there.

Where is Guatape?

Guatape is about two hours east of Medellin by bus and is most popularly visited as a day trip from Medellin. If you’re headed to Medellin, we’d recommend adding a day trip to Guatape onto any Colombia itinerary.

How to Get to Guatape Independently

The easiest way to reach Guatape is by guided tour, which you can purchase either in Medellin or book online in advance. Booking in advance typically costs around £30-£55/$40-$73 USD for a 10-hour day door-to-door trip. If you would like to include a boat trip there is an additional cost.

However, travelling to Guatape independently offers some advantages, including controlling your own schedule, not wasting time with scheduled lunch stops, and – of course – saving money.

Luckily, getting to Laguna de Guatape independently is very simple: buses run from Medellin’s North Station to Guatape and back several times a day.

Tickets cost around 14,000 Colombian pesos (or about $5.00 USD) per person, per way, and don’t need to be booked in advance – simply show up at the bus station an hour or so before departure.

What to Do in Guatape in One Day

Climb El Peñol for those epic views. 

Climbing El Peñol, that giant rock, is the number one thing to do in Guatape, and it is worth every one of the 700+ steps to the top.

Once you arrive in Guatape, make a beeline for El Peñol and climb it immediately – don’t wait another second for those views.

Numbers marked on the stairs will keep you going! The view is the first thing you think of when you hear the word Guartape as well as being the main image you see on social media when people are boasting (rightfully so) about the area!

La Piedra de El Peñol is one of Colombia’s main landmarks along with El Cabo Tayrona National Park and Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena.

Explore Laguna de Guatape’s colourful town centre

The centre of Guatape is an explosion of colour, with zocalos (artwork that depicts a scene or design) decorating the bottom half of many buildings.

Vibrant paint covers every inch of available space. Churches, souvenir shops, and cafes dot the centre of town, so be sure to wander around with a camera in hand to discover the best spots.

What stories can you create from the interesting artwork? Look out for the tuk-tuks, who am I kidding, you can’t miss them. Yes, they’ve had a paint makeover too.

Guatape Colombia

Play paintball in Pablo Escobar’s mansion

The abandoned mansion of La Manuela (named for Escobar’s daughter) has sat abandoned since it was bombed by a vigilante group in 1993, and today sits in legal limbo as the Colombian government considers what to do with it.

In the years since the bombing, nature has started to creep back in and take over the abandoned building, making it an interesting (and somewhat controversial) place to play paintball – but controversy aside, these paintball games remain one of the most popular things to do in Guatape.

Enjoy the lake of Laguna de Guatape

Jet skis, boat trips, swimming, kayaking, or even zip lining over the water – if you want to interact with the lake itself in Guatape, it’s not hard to find a way to do it.

With only one day in Guatape, you’ll likely have to narrow your choices down to just one activity on the lake – but whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong when deciding what to do in Guatape.

If you stick around for the evening…

Take a break from Colombian food and check out Thai Terrace. After weeks of snacking on one country’s cuisine, it’s easy to crave some variety. Somewhat unexpectedly, Guatape is home to a tasty Thai restaurant.

Thai Terrace serves up Pad Thai, curries, and other backpacker favourites.

The restaurant also boasts a small bar, making it an excellent place to close out an evening in Guatape.

If you came as a couple… 

Nothing says romance like being alone on the open road: consider renting a motorbike and taking a few hours in the afternoon to ride down to the village of San Rafael and back.

The village itself is colourful and a great place to stop for lunch, but the views along the way are the real showstopper. Be prepared for winding curves, epic views of the Andes Mountains, and lush landscapes in every direction.

Get the Guides

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Guatape?

Travelling to Laguna de Guatape, like most of Colombia, can be extremely affordable.

  • Bus tickets from Medellin to Guatape run about 14,000 Colombian pesos per person, per way
  • Climbing the famous El Penol to get the best view of Laguna de Guatape costs 18,000 pesos per person (the price has risen sharply in recent years due to the popularity of the sight)
  • When eating in Guatape, the most expensive restaurants will be along the lakefront, where you can expect to pay $7-10 USD for a meal. For less expensive food, eat within the town itself

The Best Time to Visit Guatape

Laguna de Guatape is a popular weekend destination for Colombians, so for a quieter visit, consider taking your Guatape day trip on a weekday.

Guatape has a very temperate climate, with highs almost always falling around 23 degrees Celsius/73 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, Laguna de Guatape experiences lots of rainfall, so keep an eye on the weather and try to pick a day with good odds for your Guatape day trip from Medellin. On average, the driest months in Guatape are December, January, and February.

What to Pack for a Day in Guatape

You won’t need much for one day in Guatape, but here are a couple of things to consider throwing in your day bag:

  • Swimsuit – Better to bring it and not use it than be without one and want to take a dip!
  • Suntan lotion
  • A change of clothes – Whether you’re swimming or playing paintball, consider bringing along some clothes on your Guatape day trip to switch into for the bus ride home
  • Colombian pesos – Laguna de Guatape is primarily a cash-based town – while there are ATMs available, don’t expect to use your card to pay for most transactions
  • Motion sickness medication – The bus from Medellin to Guatape has a tendency to cause motion sickness in people who are susceptible to it – there are lots of twists and turns along the way
  • It’s a long day, don’t forget a phone/camera capacitor
  • Stay hydrated, pack your filter bottle – check out the DrinkSafe review here
  • Waterproof coat
  • If hiring a bike, remember to take a waterproof day bag cover to avoid electronics being drenched in downpours
  • Don’t forget your travel insurance for Colombia too. Two Scots Abroad use True Traveller because they are cheaper than popular alternatives, payout (Gemma had to claim in Canada) and cover high altitude hikes which is essential for South America

Accommodation in Guatape

If you do decide to stay overnight there are a few options for all budgets. Hotels in Guatape start at around £35/$47 such as the Santa Maria de las Aguas Peñol.

This includes breakfast and great views of Peñol. For the luxury side of Guatape check out Mansion de Oriente, which has a swimming pool, breakfast buffet and sun terrace.

Hostels are more economical option for budget travellers. Dorms start at £6/$8, check out the swimming pool at Happy Buddha Hostel. A little more expensive but on the lake is appropriately named Lake Hostel.

Save for later, pin to your Colombia board

Laguna de Guatape in Colombia makes the perfect day trip from the bustling Medellin! Climb the rock to see stunning views of the Guatape rock.

Our Escape Clause

Kate is busy travelling the world with her husband and documenting all the adventures on her blog, Our Escape Clause. When she’s not writing, you can normally find her on a hike somewhere gorgeous, swimming in a beautiful sea, wandering around a city, or planning one of the next thousand trips she plans to take. Follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Introducing the lesser-known Colombian city: Popayán

Popayan Colombia

Popayán, one of the Colombian destinations we never quite made it to , but it gives us an excuse to go back! Luckily for us, Katie from What’s Katie Doing has been and was happy to share her experience of this south-western Colombian city. Here are the details on where to stay and things to do in Popayán, Colombia. Hey foodies! I should point out that Popayán is one of UNESCO’s Creative Cities of Gastronomy. So let’s dig in…

Where is Popayán?

Popayán is over a day’s drive north of the border with Ecuador, which makes it a convenient stop when you are travelling between the border and Colombia’s Cali or Medellin. It is located between two mountain ranges, so the city is pretty much circled by mountains. I first stopped at Pastor before travelling on to Popayán on my way to Medellin.

Popayán is known as La Ciudad Blanca as it is a beautifully preserved town, full of grand white buildings. The bus station is walking distance from town; I managed the walk to my hostel in the centre quite easily with a full backpack.

Popayán’s People and Culture

Popayán is a university city and the students give this town a vibrant feel. However it’s not as full on a party town like Cali, and doesn’t have an established ‘gringo’ centre like Medellin. The fact that the city hosts students means that it suits a backpacker budget with plenty of places to get cheap food and snacks. There are also lots of museums and churches to visit.

Cathedral | Popayan Colombia Travel Guide | Things to do in Popayán, Colombia

Another South American city with stunning churches

Things to do in Popayán, Colombia

Walk Around the Colonial Centre

Check out the Cathedral on the Parque Caldas and the main landmark of Popayán, Puente del Humilladero, which connects the centre to the northern suburbs. It is right next to the Puente de la Custodia, a pretty stone bridge built to allow priests to cross the Río Molino to bring the holy orders to the sick.

  • Iglesia de San Francisco is the largest colonial church and very beautiful. It is possible to get a guided tour from 2,000 COP / 68 cents / 56p cnr Carrera 9 & Calle 4

Turning every corner you will spot another church.

San Fransisco Church | Popayan Colombia Travel Guide | Things to do in Popayán, Colombia

Visit the Museums

Museo Guillermo Valencia, a well preserved late 18th century building full of period paintings, furniture and old photos that used to belong to its poet owner.

  • Carrera 6 No 2-69

Casa Museo Mosquera – the museum is set in an 18th century mansion, which was home to General Tomas Cipriano de Mosquera (who was president of Colombia four times from 1845-1867). Apparently the urn in the wall contains his heart!

  • Calle 3 No 5-38

Museo Arquidiocesano de Arte Religioso – a collection of religious art, including paintings, statues, silverware and altar pieces from 17th-19th century.

  • Calle 4 No 4-56

Museo de Historica Natural – the natural history museum situated on the university grounds. It has an extensive collection of stuffed birds, insects, and butterflies.

  • Carrera 2 No 1A-25

Spot Street Art

The large population of young people has introduced a vibrant art scene, which is easy to spot out with the preserved colonial centre. Don’t miss Bogotá graffiti scene; it’s the best in Colombia.

Street Art | Popayan Colombia Travel Guide | Things to do in Popayán, Colombia
Talent on the walls

See the City

Like many of Colombia’s tourist attractions, you merely need to use your two feet to explore them. Walk up to the Popayán viewpoint over the city. A statue of the city’s founder, Sebastian de Belalcazar, seated on a horse overlooks the town. It is actually situated on top of an ancient pyramid El Morro de Tulcan. Locals also use this green space. On a clear day you can see across the Old Town, all the way through to the mountains that circle the city.

El morro del tulcan | Popayan Colombia Travel Guide | Things to do in Popayán, ColombiaThings to do in Popayán – hike!

Get Out of Popayán

Why not take a trip to San Agustín which is famous for the UNESCO pre Colombian archaeological site. I’d recommend a couple of days in San Agustín, seeing the main sites in the town via horseback!

Restaurants in Popayán

There is a wide selection of typical Colombian eateries. As the town caters to the student population, there are cheap cafes which sell arepas – Colombian corn bread filled with meat, vegetables and cheese.

Alternatively, you can go more up market by grabbing an amazing set lunch – almuerzo (lunch) with steak which costs 10,000 COP. Try the plateful local dish, Bandeja Paisa which is rice, beans, fried egg, steaks, pork fat crisped up, avocado and plantain – we had to go for a walk to burn it off!

As Popayan is a UNESCO city of gastronomy there are plenty of seriously good restaurants, however these were out of a backpacker budget. There are also several vegetarian restaurants should you want to try them out.

Accommodation in Popayán

I chose to stay at the Park Life hostel and was pleasantly surprised to find it right in the main square, Parque Caldas, sharing a wall with the Cathedral.

It is a converted colonial house and offers breakfast accompanied by hymns from the Cathedral!

They have both shared dorms for £6 / $7.31 a night and some very cute private rooms starting from £16 / $19.49 a night.

Dorm beds in hostels in Popayán are naturally cheaper than hotels however hotels in Popayán are not ridiculously priced starting at £9.85/ $12 for a private room in a 6.9 rated hotel. Prices vary up to £123.12 / $150.

Getting Around

Buses in Colombia are fairly easy to use and the bus station in Popayán is easy to get to from the centre of town on foot. Cheap local buses to Popayán are accessible but they are slow and stop at each town until full. The larger bus companies provide overnight buses which are more expensive but faster.

Popayán does have an airport, and flights can cut down on time on buses. The local airlines are like easyJet in Europe; you can book online and they take credit cards.

How Much Things Cost in Popayán

  • Hostels are from £6 a night for a bed in a shared dorm, £16 for a private room
  • Museum entry and/or guided tours start from 2,000 COP to 5,000 COP
  • Bus ride to Medellin is from £20 (12 hour ride, the direct overnight recommended)
  • Food – a decent set lunch or almuerzo is c10,000 COP (around £2.50), snacks will be cheaper

I saved money by cooking at the hostel – there is a supermarket around the corner from Park Life hostel, so eggs for breakfast and plenty of fresh baguettes with cheese and avocado for lunch! I even splashed out and made pasta one night, with some wine, it’s the small luxuries!

Like Barranquilla, Popayán may not be the hottest city on every Colombia itinerary list but it is a pleasant stop over to break up the journey with cheap options, which won’t break el banco!

Popping to Popayan?
Hover over image and Pin to Colombia Pinterest board

Popayan Colombia Travel Guide


Katie is based in London, UK and has been travelling since she was a child with family and then independently from her late teens. She currently has 56 countries under her belt, with a lot of help from a year off that in 2013/2014, which included 5 months in South America. Outside of travel she adores trying new foods and is passionate about gin.

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Fiesta! Colombia’s El Carnaval de Barranquilla

El Carnaval de Barranquilla

For me (Dane from Holiday from Where guest posting to fill in Gemma and Craig’s Colombia travel gaps), Barranquilla was the full Colombian experience; beauty, danger, dancing, tropical beaches, the incredible culture of the Colombian people, and not to forget the buzzing El Carnaval de Barranquilla.

Click to read our extensive Colombia travel guide

Why You Shouldn’t Miss Barranquilla
(like Gemma and Craig)

It was completely by chance that I was in Barranquilla in February, which meant one thing – Barranquilla’s Carnival. I was travelling solo and not really paying that much attention to big dates on the Colombian calendar when I arrived the day before Batalla de Flores (the opening day). Since it was what everyone was talking about, I was looking forward to experiencing it for myself. The entire city was full of festivities from the moment I stepped off the bus – bright colours, loud music, dancing, and drinking.

Although all of these things are very ingrained in Colombian culture already they are on another level in the run-up to Barranquilla’s Carnival. When I awoke the next day the party was already well underway. Traditionally Carnaval de Barranquilla lasts for four days (February 6th -9th), four days of non-stop 24 hours partying on a level I had never seen before. Truly one of the most vibrant things to do in Colombia.

El Carnaval de Barranquilla

As you make your way through the streets you hear yelling, loud music, dancing, and see so many costumes and smiles all around. On arrival at the main arena, you can expect a quick pat down by security then you are in. It took no time at all before I was grabbed by a Colombian family who asked me to go with them to meet their friends and watch the carnival with them.

I took my seat in the stand and from then on it was just a constant string of colour. It is one of the first things that hits you about El Carnaval de Barranquilla, the extravagance. It is so unbelievable; the effort that they have gone to. The costumes and floats are so elaborate you can only wonder how many hours are spent dressing one another and putting makeup on not to mention the making of the costumes in the first place.

The family wanted to tell me the entire history of the carnival, like how it started in the 19th century and that it the second biggest carnival in South America, after the Rio Carnival. We also attempted a few other things that I think got lost in translation. Then they offered me something to drink, I have not drunk since 2001 when I was a teenager.

However, when a local family offers you local rum out of a leather sack at one of the biggest parties in the world there is not really any grounds to refuse. One hit was enough though as it almost knocked my head off! After a few hours watching the non-stop line of floats, costumes, and dancing I decided it was time to eat, I said my goodbyes with the customary kisses and left.

When Barranquilla is Not Safe

Walking alone in Barranquilla is when I was reminded of where I was and despite the festivities, there is always the element of danger surrounding you in South America. I was never directly touched by this but I saw it on a number of occasions. As I was walking down the street behind the stands I heard yelling I turned around and looked and less than 5 meters away a man had another man against the wall by the throat and had a gun to his head. I should have just put my head down and kept walking but sometimes curiosity just gets the best of you and me just kind of stood there watching, no idea what I was expecting to see.

The aggressor had a few guys with him standing just behind him and when one of them locked eyes with me for more than a couple of seconds in a less than gracious or festive manner I realised it was my time to leave so I just put my head down and walked off.

I never heard a loud bang so I made the assumption it was all OK but it was a swift reminder to stay a little more vigilant than I otherwise had been. The day ended with no other incidents except the fact that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much, my throat was in pain from talking too loudly, and I was a little dehydrated. The laughter and mood of the people are so infectious, I think it is almost impossible to let anything ruin the day.

Overall it was a mind-blowing experience and one I will probably never forget.

El Carnaval de Barranquilla | Colombia

Other Things to do in Barranquilla

Now I am sure there is more to Barranquilla than just carnival but with this kind of party going on in every street in the city other attractions pale a little in comparison, however, I did manage to explore and some of the highlights were as follows:

  • Saint Nicholas’ Church which is in the historic centre of Barranquilla and a beautiful white and peach colour (Carrera 42 No. 35-35)
  • Customs House Square is another interesting one, which in true South American fashion is a bright pastel yellow. Built in 1849, it is now a cultural centre and has an interesting art collection inside
  • Then there is Maria Reina Metropolitan Cathedral which is a modern church designed by an Italian architect. The exterior is nice but when you step inside its like no church I have ever seen before. It has a unique stain glass windows I have ever seen with a perfectly lit circular end that is completed with a giant brass sculpture protruding out of the wall and was probably my architectural highlight for sure!

Accommodation in Barranquilla

I winged accommodation and considering the fact it was carnival I think I got extremely lucky to find something at the first hostel I went to. I am still a little dumbfounded on how this happened but it did. The hostel was The Meeting Point Hostel which is in the centre of Barranquilla.

It was well priced (£6.75 / $8.51+ for a dorm, £9.21 / $11.61+ private) and the staff were super friendly. It was clean, offered free wifi, towels, and a kitchen which is about as much as you can ask for when you’re travelling on a budget. Hotels in Barranquilla start from as little as £11 /13.86, £25 / 31.50 for swimming pool access.

Saint Nicholas’ Church, Barranquilla

Getting there

Many visitors actually fly into Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport which is in the south of the city then take a taxi or bus into town. Buses run from Cartagena, Santa Marta (every hour) and Medellín. Private air-conditioned door to door pick up is also available for around £73 (2.5 hours) from Cartagena. Gemma and Craig took a private shuttle from Santa Marta to Cartagena for ease and to save time.

Beyond Barranquilla

Overall Barranquilla is amazing! I highly recommend going to one of Colombia’s lesser-known tourist attractions, El Carnaval de Barranquilla. I also highly recommend pre-booking accommodation unlike I did stupidly.

Barranquilla is in close proximity to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona / Tayrona National Park, which has stunning secluded beaches through a jungle (arrive by bus from Barranquilla).

There is camping in the jungle, just a short walk from the water. It is not accessible by car so it means it remains mostly untouched by mass tourism. Warning, Tayrona National Park’s security would not let me take my surfboard in which was somewhat heartbreaking. But despite this, it is also an extremely high recommendation for things to do around Barranquilla.

Many thanks to Dane for writing this article on Barranquilla for us. As always we aim to give you the full story and since we only had 3.5 weeks to backpack around Colombia we had to be selective in our choice of destinations. It’s so encouraging to read yet another positive post about our favourite South American country to date, has it piqued an interest?

Catch up with Dane on his website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest. Over to you…

Have you been to Barranquilla?
Would you like to go?

La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

Things to do in Bogota Colombia

Did you know that it rains most days in Colombia’s capital, Bogota? I know, it was a surprise to me (Gemma) too! Hence the greater need to find cool things to do in Bogota come rain or shine. Here’s a lowdown on the two distinct areas of Bogota, La Candelaria v Chapinero, where you’ll find accommodation, food, nightlife, and tourist attractions.


Things to do in Chapinero

Chapinero officially runs from Calle 39 (south) to Calle 100 (north) and according to Vogue, Chapinero Alto (Calle 22 to 72) is the Williamsburg of Bogota!

The area itself had heaps of restaurants and local cafes with every type of cuisine on your doorstep, including local.

Craig enjoyed a typical Colombian breakfast of Caldo de Costilla which is soup with meat and potatoes. 

The grid system of Bogota makes navigation super easy, even for a map killer like me.

(About) ten blocks (max) north of Fulano Backpackers you will find the jumping area of Zona G.

We walked back at night and felt safe but taxicabs are cheap so you don’t need to worry about the price. 

There are two apps that you can use to get even cheaper taxi services, Uber and Easy Taxi.

We dined at La Hamburgueseria whilst listening to a Colombian band do reggae!

Honestly, there are heaps of restaurants in Bogota and Zona G has an eclectic mix of them so you can please everyone.

Looking for something more relaxed? Head to the food truck park at Calle 73. 

During the day you will also find a shiny shopping centre but most shops are outwith a backpacker’s budget! Alternatively, Carrera 14 has lots of preloved clothes shops if you need to replenish your outfits.

Not to deviate from Chapinero just yet, my favourite shop at Zona G was an ice cream shop which sells delicious ice lollies. I mean heavily delicious ice lollies! Who cares if it’s raining? Eating ice cream was one of my favourite things to do in Bogota!

Ice Cream La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

You’ll see lots of locals hanging about Zona G, it also had an open art exhibition on while we were there.

There is a lot of green space in Chapinero; we walked to Parque 93, which is on Calle 93, funny enough.

It had a dog park within and is also surrounded by lots of restaurants and bars such as Bogota Beer Company.

We probably wouldn’t have found all of these places if it wasn’t for the kindness of our Colombian friend, Ricardo, whom we met for ten minutes on Taquile Island in Peru.

He insisted on taking us on a tour of his beloved city. We are very grateful for this and his friendship!

Ricardo, Colombia friend - La Candelaria v Chapinero, BogotaRicardo, Colombian friend and impromptu tour guide

Bogota Hostels, Chapinero

The red-bricked Tudor houses of Chapinero could easily be confused for Manchester in England. We stayed at Fulano Backpackers, which is high up on our favourites list for hostels so far.

La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

I loved its clean and minimalist feel. We stayed in an eight-bed dorm which was spacious and comfortable. The showers were always scorching and they even have a separate showering area for the ladies!

Fulano Backpackers La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

There is a kitchen, which you can prepare and cook your own food but the bar also sells breakfast for 5 (£1.25) or 8 COP (£2.00) depending on your choice. We spent 71 COP / £17.72 over two nights at the bar, succumbing to happy hour on both nights where I enjoyed mojitos the size of my head!

La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

A DJ played both the Friday and the Saturday night, throwing out a mix of European dance music and Colombian tunes.

The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, they even let us leave our cabin bag in storage for three weeks! And most importantly (?) the WiFi was fast which meant I could catch up on the blogging I missed in La Paz.

  • Address: Carrera 10A # 69 – 41
  • Contact:  +571 4672530 / [email protected]
  • Price: 23 – 50 COP / £5.74 – £12.48

La Candelaria 

Things to do in La Candelaria 

Stick to 7th if you get lost in Bogota, one of the tour guides from the outstanding Bogota Graffiti Tour advised us. This advice put us in good stead for the trip. 7th is the Sauchiehall Street of Bogota. You’ll find lots of shops and buskers.

La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

La Candelaria is in the South of the city and is where most of the epic graffiti lives but don’t just stare at the images, learn the story behind the street art…

Bogota Graffiti Tour - La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

Bogota Graffiti Tour

The one thing you can’t miss in Bogota is the Graffiti Tour. Rey and Jay (American/Colombians) take you on a two and half hour tour of the city’s street art, providing very detailed explanations of the artists’ artwork.

There is a large variety of street art so there is a lot to be said. The artists all have their own story and some are internationally known.

We asked how the artists felt about tagging which is a nuisance in Scotland, but they said they didn’t mind it as it was a ‘way in’ to the good stuff. There’s even an area at the local school where the artists support the students during projects (with police protection at night if necessary).

This really set the vibes for Colombia for me, it is such an incredible country. If you like street art you might be interested to hear that my lesser-known home region in Scotland, Fife, has started to commission work, read about the emerging scene here.

Bogota Graffiti Tour - La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota

Many of La Candelaria hostels have graffitied facades; many were commissioned by the owners which is cool. Rolos (people from Bogota) are obviously pretty liberal!

Bogota Graffiti Tour - La Candelaria v Chapinero, BogotaBogota Graffiti Tour – top for things to do in Bogota 

  • What: RSVP up here * no affiliation, it’s just damn kickass!
  • Where: Parque de Los Periodistas
  • When: 10am and 2pm every day
  • How much: For tips (20,000 – 30,000 COP / £4.99 – £7.49

Bogota Hostels, La Candelaria

We stayed at Hostal Bakano which was nice enough, not the most social which was fine for us as we were preparing to go to Cuba at this point. It is definitely in the heart of La Candelaria. Staff spoke only Spanish but were very accommodating.

La Candelaria Restaurants 

We dined at Dos Gatos y Simone which is a Mexican fusion restaurant. I went for the mango salad which had beef, cheese and nuts through it. We were even envious of everyone’s food around us and vowed to go back but it was closed on the Sunday when we returned!

I loved the colours of Calle Jon del Embudo, we were told this was the spot for great nightlife in Bogota so we took a stroll for drinks but it appears to be pretty dead on a Sunday night.

We had one Chicha Color y Sabor, which tasted like acid, not very pleasant! On the wander home we stumbled across a cool bar with a local indie band, ah, don’t you just love cities?

Calle Jon del Embudo

Bogota Weather

Be prepared for the weather! Forget your initial image of piña coladas in pineapples in the sunshine (save that for the North!) as it actually rains most days in Bogota so make use of the extensive bus service.

How to get to Bogota

Bogota is usually your first stop but may also be your exit city.

Armenia (Salento) To Bogota

Overnight bus of doom from Armenia (Salento) was 41 COP / £10.23 and took 7.5 hours with Bolivariano.

It was a hellish bumpy ride, even with semi-reclined seats and a toilet. The driver must have been over the speed limit the whole way but this was just our experience, other travellers had a fine time!

Flights with Avianca take under one hour and can be anything between 82 to 800 COP!

Santa Marta to Bogota

Fly from Santa Marta. Flights will set you back about £75 and takes you a couple of hours. We actually missed our flight (Bogota to Santa Marta) and got one with LAN for £35 at the desk!

The bus is 17-20 hours long and costs 82 – 100 COP / £20.47 – £24.96

Looking for things to do in Bogota?
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Bogotal Street Art - Colombia

La Candelaria v Chapinero, Bogota – where is your preference?

Thanks to Fulanos for our two nights stay in the dorm, an honest review as always.