Tag Archives: Colombia

Bogotá – a city of contrasts

In many ways Colombia‘s capital, Bogotá, epitomizes the Latin American city, with its mix of crumbling colonial architecture and modern office blocks, vast divide between the rich and poor, and soaring population. The third highest capital city in the world (it stands at 2,600 meters – 8,530 ft – above sea level), it is both highly cosmopolitan and, in some regards, stuck in the past. With much to attract the artist, the historian and the pleasure-seeker, Bogotá has become a big destination for world travelers.

Bogotá by night

Though it may not immediately appeal (the daily rain and cloudy skies may have something to do with this), give it time and Bogotá will surely win you over with its abundance of museums, beautiful churches and plazas, sprawling parks, first-class cuisine, and, of course, its famous nightlife. In addition, you will find a thriving art and music scene. Any trip to Bogota should incorporate the historic and cultural center of La Candelaria; the world-renowned Museo del Oro; northern Bogota (in particular Parque de la 93, the Zona T and the Zona Rosa) with its diverse mix of flashy restaurants, bars, clubs and malls; the famous Sunday flea market in Usaquén; and finally, if you’re lucky, a performance at the beautifully ornate Teatro Colon.

Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota by Szeke

Travelers will find that Bogotá has recently undergone a serious makeover, though crime is still prevalent and visitors should be alert around tourist areas and government buildings. However, with massive investments in reviving public spaces, expanding infrastructure and improving social services, the Colombian capital now thrives as a case study of urban transformation in South America.

Old street in La Candelaria by NapaneeGal

Find out more about Bogotá and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Obama in Colombia

Last week, US President Barack Obama was in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia for the three-day Summit of the Americas, the sixth such summit since 1994. The last day of the summit, April 15th, saw Obama attend a ceremony in Cartagena’s Plaza San Pedro, in which land ownership titles were restored to representatives of Afro-Colombian families who had been displaced from their homes by armed rebel groups. Cartagena (and Colombia as a whole) has a large Afro-Colombian population, and an estimated 21 percent of the country’s population are of African descent.

Plaza San Pedro_by Urzula Araya

Many of the families involved in the land-ownership ceremony come from the town of San Basilio de Palenque, two hours east of Cartagena. The town was founded by run-away slaves in the late 16th century, and was an important center of resistance against Spanish rule and slavery. It has preserved its cultural traditions well (the town’s language is a unique blend of Congo River languages fused with Spanish), resulting in UNESCO declaring it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Go in October, where you can savor the annual musical and cultural festival, Festival de Tambores de Palenque. 

Festival de Tambores, San Basilico by Simón Sánchez S

Plaza en San Basilico de Palenque_by Paula

You can find out more about San Basilio de Palenque, Cartagena and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide, available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Also, be sure to take a look at award-winning travel journalist Tracy Barnett’s review of VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide on Amazon.com.

On the Road – Peru: Rains Complicating Travel Plans in Latin America

Another year of the La Niña weather system continues to batter Latin America, complicating travel plans in Peru and other countries.

 

Mexico and Nicaragua are reporting damaging flooding caused by heavy rains. In South America, Colombia is once more experiencing not only flooding, but also landslides, all of which has caused over 700 deaths in recent months. La Paz, Oruro and other places in Bolivia are also suffering, and a state of emergency has been declared in Pando department. It’s even raining in the driest place on the planet: the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The government there had to close major attractions until it could work on roads. Once more, tourists can get out to the region’s riches.

 

Peru has not been exempt from these damaging rains. Overflowing rivers, crop destruction and other damages are being reported in many parts of the country. The Amazon Basin is affected, from Tingo María in the central jungle down to Puerto Maldonado in the southern jungle. Southern Lima, Áncash and Madre de Dios Departments are under states of emergency, as is Ica, which suffered a 6.2 earthquake on January 30.

 

Archaeologists are concerned of damages to Chan Chan and other ruins along the north coast.

 

Roads in the Huaraz, Cusco, Arequipa and Colca Canyon areas are periodically blocked by landslides. Earlier this week, the border crossing between Peru and Chile had to be closed temporarily after intense rains unearthed anti-personnel mines that had been laid in 1975, during the Pinochet dictatorship.

 

Travelers are advised to keep an eye on the news. You can get to any part of the country, but you might be delayed because of road conditions.

 

Safe Journeys!

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

Choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World

One of the nominees: The Amazon

 

The organization New 7 Wonders is inviting you to choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World. You must hurry, though—voting ends this Friday, November 11, 2011.

 

Only three days are left to participate in this grand event. By going to New 7 Wonders’ website (www.new7wonders.com), you may choose seven of your favorite natural wonders among the 28 candidates.

 

 

 

Latin America has a strong field of candidates. The largest is the Amazon, which extends from the Guayanas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana), Venezuela and Colombia in the North, through Peru and Brazil, to Bolivia in the South. Puerto Rico rings in with El Yunque, a virgin tropical forest national park.

Will one New Wonder be Angel Falls?

Will Iguazú also make the final seven?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two waterfalls cascade down the list: the world’s highest cataract, Angel Falls in Venezuela, and Iguazú Falls, shared by Argentina and Brazil. Of course, nobody should be surprised that Ecuador’s enchanted, other-worldly isles—the Galápagos—also were nominated.

Galápagos is known for its unique nature.

 

Other nominees come from all over the world.  North America has only two representatives: Bay of Fundy (Canada) and the Grand Canyon (USA). On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe has five natural beauties on the list:

  • Black Forest (Germany)
  • Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  • Amsurian Lake District (Poland)
  • Matterhorn / Cervino (Switzerland, Italy)
  • Vesuvius (Italy)

 

Three Middle Eastern landscapes voters may choose from are: Bu Tinah Island (United Arab Emirates), Dead Sea (Israel, Palestine) and Jeita Grotto (Lebanon). The three African ones are: Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Islands of the Maldives (Maldives) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

 

Asia has the most candidates, with:

  • Halong Bay (Viet Nam)
  • Jeju Island (South Korea)
  • Komodo (Indonesia)
  • Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
  • PP Underground River (Philippines)
  • Sundarbans (Bangladesh, India)
  • Yushan (Chinese Taipei)

 

Australia and Oceania round out the competition, with three nominations: Great Barrier Reef (Australia, Papua New Guinea), Milford Sound (New Zealand) and Uluru (Australia).

 

The Swiss-based New 7 Wonders organization next campaign is the New 7 Wonders Cities. Which will be the 28 nominees? Will your city be included?

On the Road—Colombia: Crooked Cops

CCs, DPs, lawless blue boys, gun slingers, bent coppers, crooked cops—call them what you will. They exist in many countries, even in most of ours. It’s a topic, though, few want to talk about. People will look away, tugging at collars. And then, as if the room was wiretapped, in hushed voices they will tell what has happened to him, or to her, or a relative, a friend.

We feel uncomfortable, even paranoid, talking about it. But we must—if for nothing else but to warn others.

All in all, Colombian police are very friendly and helpful. Even Jack and Russell, two bikers from the US, attest to that. While in Cartagena, they were leaving a nightclub at 3 a.m. Four officers stopped them, to counsel them on returning to their hotel at that late hour. In the course of the friendly chat, the tourists were asked to see their IDs, so they handed over their wallets. Everything fine, everything in order. Be safe going back, the officers told the foreigners. But when they got back to their room, one discovered $80 had been lifted from his wallet. “But it was okay,” he said. “They were so kind and friendly. Never met nicer cops in my life.”

Indeed, like elsewhere, there are a few bad apples. Ask Colombians about it and the reaction is the same as anywhere: They look away, tug on collars and speak in low voices. Hostel owners say, “Yes, we warn foreigners about it.” Stories abound of “on-the-spot fines,” drugs being planted and other shady acts. The worst areas are where the foreigners go most: Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Caribbean coast destinations like Cartagena, Santa Marta and Taganga.

On the beach at Taganga, it is common to see police officers stopping young travelers, searching through their day packs and sometimes even frisking them.

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Colombians have a saying, “No dar papaya.” Literally it means, “Don’t give papaya”—advising you: Don’t make yourself a mark. A while back, On the Road—Colombia took on this topic, in the sense of how people set themselves up as a target for thieves. But it also can apply to dealings with officials. Maggie (also from the US) and Daaf (Holland) are perfect examples of this.

I met Daaf in Bogotá. He had been traveling throughout Colombia, taking in the country’s natural beauty—and products. Three times police had stopped and searched him. And three times, he had to pay $200 “on-the-spot fines” because he had marijuana on him. Daaf was a bit down. He was having to end his trip earlier than planned because he had run out of money.

Maggie and her boyfriend, Mike, also “gave papaya.” One evening in Cartagena, they went and to get a small bag from a dealer from whom they’d bought several times previously. She took it and returned to their hostel. A few minutes later, Mike was stopped by a uniformed officer who frisked him—and found a small bag of weed in Mike’s back pocket. The policeman hauled Mike off to the police station and left. For hours Mike insisted the bag was not his and that he was set up. After several hours of complaining, he was released. (Luckily Mike is fluent is Spanish.)

I told Maggie that perhaps the dealer had set them up with the police. “But we had bought from him several times before!” she insisted. Yes, but that could have been to gain your confidence, or perhaps he had to cut a deal with the police to save his own neck. “You think?” she asked me.

When I asked locals about how travelers can lessen there chance of these kinds of encounters, or what they should do if approached, Colombians were at a loss. Really, there is nothing much that you can do. If approached by a police officer, be courteous. Try to have a reliable person witness the encounter. Be aware of the image you are projecting: Do you look like a “hippie” or a drunken tourist that can easily be taken advantage of? Do you look like someone rolling in money? Also, no matter how often we say it, it cannot hurt to say it again: Don’t mess with drugs while on vacation in a foreign land. It’s the perfect way of setting yourself up for “fines” or worse.

The majority of police in Colombia are very friends and helpful, though. So don’t be too paranoid about them on your explorations of this wonderfully diverse and fascinating country.

Editor’s note: All names have been changed to protect identities.

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA COLOMBIA. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Colombia: Off-the-Beaten Track Destinations with the Tempestuous Girl

A week’s hiatus and I’m back. I was off the beaten track, exploring a corner of Colombia where few foreigners go. It’s a favorite Caribbean destination for Colombians who now feel secure in getting to know their country once again.

Boating through the lagoon. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Besides a beach stretching three kilometers (1.8 miles) and more on other side of a point and a crystalline sea, this destination offers other natural wonders: mud volcanoes in which to immerse yourself, soaking away months of hard travel; ciénagas to slow-boat through, admiring scurrying crabs and multitudes of birds coming to their evening roosts; and an archipelago national park to explore on tour. The civilization of internet is at least six kilometers (3.6 miles) away.

The only reason to go there is to relax, eat good seafood and watch the sun gloriously set over the Caribbean Sea.

Where is this paradise? Ah – no fear. V!VA Colombia takes you there, with complete coverage of what to do, where to sleep and have a wondrous fresh fish meal washed down by an icy beer.

Spectacular sunsets. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But getting to such places is quite an adventure, thanks to the heavy La Niña rains in Colombia. Still the roads from the Caribbean coast to Medellín and further south are under repair. Sudden drop-offs into abysses narrow the highways to one lane.

The downpours moved eastward, battering the zone between the Cordilleras Central and Oriental.Television shows the flooding affecting Chía, Usaquén and other suburbs of Bogotá. The waters are rising dangerously close to El Dorado airport. The Bogotá-Bucaramanga road has been severed in several areas, causing delays in travel. Now the storms seem to be rolling off into the Llanos. A landslide took out the Yopal’s aqueduct, leaving Casanare’s capital without water.

These La Niña rains, though, have affected much more than travel plans. This year’s coffee harvest will be lower than in previous years. Corn and other food crops are also affected.

Meteorologists say La Niña is finally packing up her bags, and heading into retirement, until her next appearance (which hopefully won’t be too soon). Road crews can continue their work repairing roads and bridges, making Colombia an even safer place to travel.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Colombia: Colombia's Changing Scene

Back in the “olden times,” almost two decades ago, very few people traveled in Colombia. Not even Colombians would dare to venture out to discover their homeland. (They would say journeying by bus, especially at night, was a lotería, a lottery, because you took your chances.) Almost the only insane souls you would meet on these roads and in basic residencia hotels were foreign backpackers on a long-term trip through the Americas or the handful who came to sample more than snow-white beaches.

I first knew Colombia at the beginning of 1992, passing through on an overland trip from North America to Ecuador. Those were the days when the drug cartels were reeling from the government’s war against them.

The long-desired route on foot through the Darien Gap had just gotten too dangerous to do. That jungle between Panama and Colombia were teeming with guerrillas, paramilitaries, DEA and CIA agents, and forces of the recently deposed Panamanian ruler, Manuel Noriega. Two Belgium women told me how they turned back after a few days because every other step was a booby trap.

Air fares were beyond the pocketbook of most shoestring backpackers. The only choice they had then for getting from Central to South America was along the North Coast, taking chalupas (local speed boats) from Puerto Obaldía to Turbo—a route that is once more gaining popularity. The road from that port city to Medellín was only then being built. Buses and banana trucks could traverse the Mutatá-Medellín stretch through the Red Zone only between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Over the next two decades, I returned to Colombia several times. Many swatches of the country were inaccessible because of the on-going civil war. But that didn’t stop us from coming again and again during these, the country’s most difficult times. We all fell in love with the country and its people. And many would not tell their family where they were until they were well out of the country, so as not to worry kin.

In 2004, the security in Colombia was already improving. It was then I could finally fulfill my dream of traveling up the Magdalena River. My ninth sojourn in Colombia was for six months in 2007-2008, to research and co-author V!VA Colombia’s first edition. But even still, few foreigners ventured to this country.

Three years later, I return to this country that continues to amaze me with its culture and natural beauty. And this time I am stunned by the number of changes that has happened. Backpacker hostels and boutique hotels have opened throughout the country. Many foreigners have discovered that what the Colombian Tourism Board says, “The only risk is wanting to stay,” is true. They have stayed and opened lodges and bistros. The streets of Bogotá, Taganga, Cartagena and other cities are crowded with foreigners on holidays. Prices have gone up startingly so in some tourist hot spots, and tour rates need to be haggled.

Taganga has been tamed for tourism. Photo by C. Hughes

In a way, the mystique of Colombia is disappearing. It is becoming just another destination on the “Gringo trail.”

The other day, another long-time traveler to Colombia and I got to talking about how traveling in Colombia has quickly been changing. We traded tales like veterans sharing war stories, showing off battle scars. We told of journeys down night highways, our bus passing unscathed while another was robbed at gunpoint. We confessed to close encounters of the FARC kind, with just some curious questions or a political lecture, then being allowed to continue our ways.

We had no choice—that was the risks we had to face back then. And yet, we choose to take them, in order to get to know a country no-one else dared to visit.

Is it time for us to unpack our knapsacks, stowing everything into drawers and closets, and settle down into a retirement home? Heavens, no. While the novices are hitting the Caribbean coast’s beaches and the big cities’ museums, we shall be getting to know more of this country we adore so much. We still do have frontiers to push—into the Chocó, the Llanos and the jungles. The adventure continues.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Colombia: Cyclists, Families & Other Travelers Just Like You …

Every trip begins with a dream to see another land, its natural wonders and cultures. The future traveler goes to the local library to check out a V!VA or other travel guide and spends hours exploring the country on paper.  Perhaps a friend has gone, or knows someone who knows someone that has, can tell about his or her exploits.

Many types of travelers are coming to Colombia these days. Recent university graduates taking a break, before entering the “real world.” Polish workers on two-week vacations. The retired US-European couple, passing the Mediterranean yachting off-season in the warm climes Colombia has to offer. But these run-of-the-mill tourists aren’t the only ones coming to know this country.

In Cartagena, I met many bicyclists that had just sailed down from Panama. We sat around the hotel’s patio, talking about how they planned for just a trip. They told me about the websites past and present bikers have written. Ronald and Esther of Holland said one of the best is Iris en Tore op reis, of another Dutch couple’s 2001-2003 sojourn. Although it is a bit dated, it has excellent travelogues and maps in English. Panamericana on a Recumbent Bike lists reports and altitudes for all points between Alaska and Ushuaia.

Erin, Alan and Dolores getting ready to hit the road. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Several thousand bicyclists post their journals on Crazy Guy on a Bike. Casa de Ciclistas is a network of local bicycle enthusiasts providing homestays and logistics for bikers. Ronald said they don’t have a central website, though. Just search the term and city, and you’ll find contacts’ information.

Another cycling couple I met was Erin and Alan, young newlyweds from Wisconsin. They spent several years planning for their big adventure. Then in June 2010, they set out on their tandem bike, Dolores, to begin their journey from the mouth of the Mackenzie River in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada to Ushuaia. Their adventures can be followed on their blog, 2 to Tango.

In my ramblings through the breadth of Colombia, I met several families traveling. Team T, as they call themselves, is a Vermont family with a three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. They just spent five months getting to know the sights between Peru and Colombia. They relate their adventures in Team T International Blog.

So, no matter what kind of person you may be—if you have that dream, do not be afraid to come to Colombia or any other part of Latin America. Anything is possible. Begin reading, begin scaping odd cents together, begin packing the knapsack. And perhaps Rocinante and I will bump into you someplace on this great continent.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Colombia: Safety—Highways & Papaya

The rains and adventures continue in Colombia. Reportedly, the journey between Medellín and Mutatá is now taking 17-18 hours. Buses must go by way of Montería, as a bridge near Mutatá is out. Travelers coming to Cartagena from Medellín say trips are taking several hours longer than usual.

The images flashed across TV screens and splashed upon newspaper front pages show the situation to be quite desperate in some parts of the country. But how much is just hype?

Last week a couple traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia on bikes left Cartagena with hopes of getting to Mompós. They were a bit concerned about what Invías (the highway department) and newspapers were reporting. Nonetheless, they made it in a few days.

Richard McColl, owner of Casa Amarilla hostel in Mompós, reports that in recent weeks neither Mompós nor Magangué have been totally isolated. The Cartagena-Magangué road is fine; work is being done between Bodega and Mompós. Even though the road isn’t good, Unitransco’s direct Cartagena-Mompós and other transport continue.

Richard says, “Mompós never can be isolated … as it is a riverside town so can always reach here by boat. When there are problems, chalupas are put on from Magangué. The conditions may not be great, but it’s all in the spirit of adventure and travel and we must always remember that it has never been straightforward getting to Mompós, and it is this issue that has protected the town and for this reason remains an unspoiled corner of Colombia.” If you have any concerns about the road conditions to Mompós, contact Richard.

Indeed—Mompós is one of those many corners of Colombia that is difficult to get to even in the best of times, but well worth the adventure. Others are the Guajira, Llanos and Putumayo.  And with these La Niña rains, such adventures are presented to travelers wending through most of the country.

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But there’s another facet of safety that visitors need to keep in mind as well, that has nothing to do with physical or political climate.

Colombians warn travelers, “No dar papaya.” Literally this means, “Don’t give papaya”—a strange way, perhaps to advise you: Don’t make yourself a mark for thieves.

Does this mean Colombia is a Den of Thieves? No, far from it. But as any place in the world, foreigners are an easy and logical mark for robbers. We either physically stand out from the local crowd—or do so once we open our mouths and our thickly accented Spanish comes stumbling out. Some would-be thieves believe if we’re traveling we must be rich. And often we are. Passports, bank and credit cards, travelers checks and cash. Laptops, cameras, iPods and other gadgets. Anything is easy to get rid of on the black market. Thieves around the world know this.

V!VA Colombia and other guidebooks warn about Colombian thieves’ tricks of the trade. When you meet travelers who have fallen into the same ol’ familiar traps, you can’t help but ask, “But didn’t you read …” “Yeh, I did, but I never …” is often the response.

Here are some real-life Colombian experiences of travelers from all over the world and of all ages. Some are seasoned journeyers, others are green on the road. Only the names have been changed to protect the identities of these people who gave papaya.

Magdalena, a retired travel consultant from Buenos Aires, was walking through Bogotá’s Candelaria neighborhood. While listening to her iPod music, she admired the colonial architecture and Jorge Olave’s statues of daily Bogotanos perched atop buildings. Suddenly she felt something wet hit the top of her head. “Oh,” a woman passing by told her, “a pigeon just shat on you.” Before Magdalena knew it, the woman was gone—and her iPod, too.

Swedish Per was sitting in Parque de los Periodistas, people watching. A plainclothes “police officer” came up to him and demanded to see his identification and proof that he had sufficient funds to be in the country. The “officer” also requested the same from another Latino “foreigner” sitting next to Per. He thought, well he’s complying, so should I. He told the officer his passport and such was at his hostel. While they walked back to the hostel, the “officer” kept hold of Per’s wallet. Per entered, turned around—and the cop was gone. (Note: There are no plain clothes police in Colombia.)

Young Australians Jenny and Bill, and their friend Mary couldn’t resist nightclubbing their last evening in Bogotá. A group of friendly, chatty Colombians sat down at their table. Jenny and Bill got up to dance. After a while, Mary began to feel “strange.” The three of them decided to go back to the hostel straight away. Mary began fainting away. An emergency visit to the hospital confirmed her drink had been drugged.

Sarah (UK) was sitting on Cartagena’s fortress walls, writing in her journal. She felt something hit her leg. As she looked down to see what it was (a soccer ball), her daypack (along with her guidebook, camera, passport and credit cards) disappeared from here other side. The same trick happened to Charles (US) while sitting in Plaza San Pedro Claver in the same city.

This is an unfortunate thing to say, but in my over 20 years traveling in Latin America, I have learned that much thieving isn’t done by locals at all. Rather, it’s a traveler-on-traveler crime. Too many tourists come to places like Colombia and get involved in taking cocaine or crack. The money runs out and the easiest mark is other foreigners. They’re in the same hostel, and of course they have passports, bank and credit cards, travelers checks and cash. Laptops, cameras, iPods and other gadgets. (Anything is easy to get rid of on the black market, after all.) And who would ever suspect that the culprit is another foreigner just like you? Never!

To keep from giving papaya to these would-be-thieves, take care about where you are staying. Avoid hotels that have a reputation for drugs (they’re illegal anyways). Choose hostels with personal safes or lockers, and use a good-quality lock. Be sure to keep all valuables locked away.

For more security tips, check out V!VA’s Safety in Colombia.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Colombia: La Niña Adventures Continue – & Free in Cartagena

La Niña Adventures Continue

The La Niña rains are continuing in most parts of the country, adding a different dimension to travelers’ Colombian adventures. The TV news shows images of the extensive flooding in Medellín, Honda and the Magdalena River Valley. Mudslides cause temporary delays in bus trips. But most people journeying by that means are arriving safely (though a bit late).

Bicyclists, though, are facing tougher challenges. One Danish couple riding from Mexico to Colombia is due to fly out from Bogotá. They began down the road from Cartagena to the capital, but had to turn back. All roads – save La Línea (a high-altitude pass) – are affected. Others are deciding to stay a while yet on the coast, until the rains stop.

All travelers, whether in bus or car, on motorcycle or bicycle, are advised to check Invías’ (the national highway department) website for up-to-date information on road condition.

Casa Museo Rafael Núñez is easy on the wallet. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Free in Cartagena

The only part of the country not having heavy rains seems to be the Caribbean coast. Even though it is officially the rainy season, it is anything but that. The days swell into a sultry stupor, but rarely erupt into a thunder-bumper. So many travelers are deciding to stay on the coast until road conditions (hopefully) improve.

Unfortunately, shoestring backpackers are dumbfounded by the cost of Cartagena’s museums, and excursions to Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario are. These journeyers wonder they can do here on a meager budget. The answer is, Plenty.

Grab the camera and had out to wander the streets of the Old City, savoring the plazas and colonial architecture. Take a rest on the fortress walls, enjoying the sea and passers-by. Stroll over to Isla Manga and take in its seaside promenade.

Free dance & music. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

To cool off on these sultry days, pack a picnic and head to one of the near-by beaches, like Marbella and the ones on Bocagrande peninsula. For a few dollars, take a buseta out to La Boquilla where the best mainland playa is.

If museums are more your thing, you aren’t totally out of luck. The Museo del Oro Zenú and Museo de la Esmeralda are always free, and Museo de Arte Moderno is gratis every Wednesday. The Casa Museo Rafael Núñez costs less than a dollar. The last Sunday of each month, some of the pricey museums are fortresses are free.

A fine dose of rhythmic culture can be savored every afternoon (5-6 p.m.), when troupes perform Afro-Colombian dance and music at Plaza de los Coches. The various cultural centers in town host free art exhibits, movies and other events.

Click here for details on all these activities.

Another free event budget travelers could take in this past week was the Semana Santa processions that wended through the Cartagena’s streets. I close out this week with some images from Good Friday’s cortege – and until next week.

All Photos by Lorraine Caputo

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.