This is the plan from Nov 17 – Dec 17.
Bangkok ->Chiang Mai/Pai/Chiang Rai -> Koh Samui -> Koh Pha Ngan -> Ko Tao (diving) -> Krabi
This is the plan from Nov 17 – Dec 17.
Bangkok ->Chiang Mai/Pai/Chiang Rai -> Koh Samui -> Koh Pha Ngan -> Ko Tao (diving) -> Krabi
Egypt -> Israel -> Jordan
Days traveled = 30 days
Kms traveled = 2500
What…you went to Colombia? Isn’t it dangerous? Are you missing an organ now? You went to make deals with a drug cartel?
I have come across many people during my travels this year, both fellow travelers and locals. Just a mere mention of Colombia to them immediately stirs up the stereotypical fear of drug infested, unlawful country that has nothing to offer but cheap drugs and sex. When a country goes through such a dramatic period in history filled with drug overlords with extravagant luxury, bodyguards and sophisticated drug supply chains and power to control the lives of everyday Colombians it is hard to remove that negative image from people’s minds. But Paisas (this is what they call the people from that state of Antioquia where Medellin is located) wants to put this behind them and move on to greener pastures of their life, the one filled with hopes and better life for them and their future generations.
Medellin was the epicenter of drug industry twenty years ago dominated by cartel tycoon Pablo Escobar. He was Medellin and Medellin was he to most people outside the country. Everyone in Medellin feared him that is until the C.I.A funded operation that helped Colombia’s military (thanks to Uribe, president of Colombia at that time) to end him and rest of the drug cartels along with him. Picture is worth a thousand words. The image below shows the sharp decline of homicides in Medellin since the mid 90’s.
Today Medellin is the most vibrant and innovative city in the whole of South America. Beginning in the late 90’s the city has heavily invested in infrastructure, transportation, parks, educational centers that overall has contributed to a higher quality of life to the city residents. In fact the city has seen many innovative changes that it even went on to win the most Innovative city of the world in 2013. Much of this credit goes to the former Mayor Luis Perez who initiated city-wide reform in 2000 and helped financed the metro cable systems.
In fact Medellin has one of the most reliable and cleanest metro systems in the world. When I did my free walking tour in Medellin (as I always do in all my travels), the tour guide mentioned the metro system is so important to Paisas that it has become a lifeline for them to feel proud of the city.
It helps lift their spirits after all the negative things they had to go through in the last 20 years. The city has the biggest outdoor public escalators in the world. It stretches 28 stories. The cable cars are both efficient and reliable. If you ever go to Medellin take a cable car ride to Arvi, which is located at the top of the hill.
“Encicla” – the free biking system started with the idea of integrating all universities, parks and metro rail is free to use for both residents and tourists. The city street has many paved bike paths. They even have car free street days every weekend where residents can go running or biking in the city (better than in New York where it is only 3 days in a year).
As a traveler you are always looking for free wifi to check your emails or catch up on your social media updates. The free wifi can be found in many metro stations, universities, parks and tourist locations.
Parque Explora is a science and technology museum encompassing the largest aquarium in Latin America. The botanical garden is full of exotic plants and trees that could be a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. It can be a great date spot or a meeting place. The outdoors botanical garden is free. But you have to pay to get inside the Parque Explora aquarium and technology experimental center. It is definitely worth your money and time.
International investors are slowly discovering the city’s great potential. When I visited Medellin in 2015, I spotted many new residential and office-building constructions across the city. Medellin sits on a valley so the view is really gorgeous from any part of the city as long as you are on a higher floor.
Because the city sits in a valley formation the weather tends to be pretty consistent throughout the year. The temperature hovers anywhere between 65-85 F (18-30 C) hence the city is referred to as “City of Eternal Spring”.
Places to live or stay while visiting Medellin
Without a doubt my favorite neighborhood to stay in Medellin would be Laureles/Estadio. If you come to Medellin don’t stay in Poblado. This is where most of the gringos end up going to live. Parque Lleras, which is the center of Poblada is where you find the drug vendors, call girls and prostitutes. I literally hate that area. I much prefer the quieter area like Laureles where you can meet the local paisas and experience the true paisa life. Plus the area is almost flat so walking or biking is not tiresome as supposed to other barrios like Envigado or Poblado. In Laureles find a place (either an Airbnb or a rental) close to Estadio so you can take advantage of the stadium close to the metro. Many of the services in Estadio like the running track, gym, tennis court and swimming pools are free to use regardless of your resident status.
I literally think you get more value out of your money spent in Medellin. Food, Public transportation, Accommodation (Rental or Airbnb), Haircut, Personal services, Hospital care, Prescription drugs all cost less than 1/3rd of what you would pay in any city in the developed world (e.g New York or London).
Every lunch meal in Medellin is served with some fresh fruit juice. The typical “Menu del dia” (Menu of the day) comes with a 3-course meal for literally 3-4 USD.
Did I mention Medellin is host to the biggest collection of tropical fruits in the planet? If you visit Medellin make a point to stop by either La Majorista (little further from the center) or La Minorista (only a cheap taxi ride from the center) to sample the amazing variety of fruits. The fruits are not only fresh and natural but also very cheap.
A note about taking transportation
If you are visiting any touristy spots in the center of the city my advice would be take the metro after 9 am and return back before the peak time hits at 5 pm. The metro is packed during the peak hours and it stops at midnight. Alternatively take the taxi to get around the city. Taxis in Medellin are both reliable and cheap. Another alternative would be Uber, which usually has English-speaking drivers that can help you to navigate the city.
I know it is understandable for single travelers to feel a little scared about visiting Colombia the first time. My advice would be to take the free walking tour on Day one to get a feel for the neighborhoods and hear directly from the travel guide on some safety tips. Read my other post regarding travel safety while traveling as a solo traveler.
Interesting things to do while you are staying in Medellin
1. Parque Arvi
I mentioned this earlier in my post. Situated in the eastern slopes of Aburra Valley, Parque Arvi is the nearest vacation destination for both the paisas. The ride to the top of the hill by cable car ride alone is worth taking this trip. Make sure to stop at Santo Domingo and walk around a little bit but not too deep into the favelas. Try some pastries and the tasty fried Empanadas.
How to get there? Take the metro train to Acevado station and then cable car to Santo Domingo and switch to another cable car that goes to Parque Arvi. Use metro card for both metro and cable car rides.
2.Guatape/Piedra del penol
These two places are a must visit for anyone who is visiting Medellin. Not only you get an amazing view when you get to the top of Penol but also you can get a taste of the Colombian way of living while wandering the streets of Guatape.
The climb to the top of Penol is an easy hike if you are in decent shape. I did find some of the local paisas stopping every 10 minutes and trying to catch their breadth. You will not regret the climb once you get to the top of the rock.
Guatape is a colorful town with each house decorated and painted differently. There is a resoirvoir where you can take a ferry or a boar tide around the lake or take a zip line ride across the reservoir.
How to get there? Take the metro to Caribe station and then catch a bus from Terminal de Norte (about 2 hours) to Penol. Ask the driver to drop you off at the rock first. To avoid the tourist crowd try to get there before 10 am.
You can take the same bus from the Penol to Guatape. It takes additional 20-30 minutes.
Perhaps one of the best places to experience inexpensive paragliding in the world is Medellin. A 20 minute ride would cost you $35 including renting a GoPro camera + SD card. The view is breathtaking when you are almost 3000 feet above the valley.
How to get there? Take the metro to Caribe station and bus from Terminal De norte to San Felix. It takes about an hour to get there.
4. Feria de Las Flores (Flower festival)
Every summer (around early August) the city of Medellin hosts a week long festival to display its proud heritage of the variety of flowers that grow in and around the countryside. Usually there are fireworks, exotic flower displays, live music concerts and a road show of old vintage cars
Santa Fe mall, one of the largest malls in South America usually has an interesting display of the flowers to celebrate this festival.
How to see the flower festival? Check the feria de flores official website for schedule of events and locations.
Australian comedian Jim Jefferies has his opinion on American gun control.
Greece 3 week plan:
Athens -> Meteora -> Corfu -> Kefalonia -> Crete -> Plakia -> Santorini
By plane, ferry, train and bus.
Places visited: Istanbul, Izmir, Ephesus, Bodrum, Fethiye, Olympus, Pamukkale, Antalya, and Cappadachia
It is better to be safer than sorry. I know it is a cliché to say this but it works in real life. I have been traveling solo for almost 8 months now from South East Asia to Central Europe (see my post on former Yugoslavia) to Latin America. I take safety very seriously. I thought I would write a guide that perhaps could help fellow solo travelers or at least spark a little conversation that might help other fellow travelers.
Remember as a backpacker when you are exploring the city day and night you want to minimize the risk from losing everything. Losing something may jeopardize your entire travel experience.
1) I try to keep my life simple. So here is what I carry in my pocket when I am out there exploring a new place. I carry cash required for the day, public transportation card, copy of my passport, phone and perhaps a map. If you lose your wallet (or purse for ladies) you lose everything including your cash, credit cards, phone, passport and cash. It is a single point of failure. I am never a fan of wearing those money belts that explicitly identifies you as a traveler. It is like bulls eye for potential muggers. If you are going to wear at least wear it under your clothes.
2) Never leave anything valuable in your back pocket. I think this is a sure way to lose your money/credit card or phone. I’ve seen a few travelers do this. In fact a French guy I met in Belgrade had a troubling story. This guy worked hard in the summer and saved 500 Euros to travel in Europe. He went to an ATM in a busy Belgrade street to withdraw cash but unfortunately he put the cash he took from the ATM in his backpocket. It only took two minutes for a robber to steal the money. He lost 500 Euros that day. He had to return back to Paris the next day :(.
3) In crowded spaces don’t wear backpacks on your back. Just hold them in front of you. Keep the passport and valuables deep inside the bag or better yet in your front pockets. A friend of mine was traveling to Paris. He had his backpack with his company’s laptop, passport, credit cards and cash. As he was leaving the crowded metro station, a mugger cut his bag from the back and ran away with the backpack. My friend lost everything that day.
4) For inter city travel in developing countries (like Colombia) plan your trip during the day. You have a couple of advantages by doing that a) reduce the risk of getting stopped and mugged by some gangs and/or losing personal valuables, b) better sight seeing opportunities during day light. I know an Israeli group of friends were driving in the night time between Armenia and Solenta in Colombia. They were stopped by a bike gang and got everything robbed including laptops and cameras.
5) When you are backpacking you are constantly moving from one place to another. Almost every hostel, hotel and Airbnb places have free wifi. It is a good idea to download the map in advance. Use maps.me or Google Maps to download the navigation direction so you can keep track of your travel path in case if you get lost.
6) I usually keep a safety profile for countries I am visiting based on my own research and what I hear from other people. It is better not to wear any kind of jewelry that you cannot afford to lose. Feel free to leave your most expensive camera at the hostel/Airbnb and take iPhone/smart phone instead. It is not that you come across great scenery every day that requires you to have your Nikon DSLR with you all the time.
7) This one I can’t stress enough. When staying in a hostel or in a shared space use safety locker to lock your personal valuables such as your camera, laptop, passport, cash and credit cards. In the extreme case if the place doesn’t have a locker, hide it under the bed sheet or in your backpack.
8) Try to blend in. In places like Medellin, Colombia locals don’t wear shorts or hats. Read this great post on Medellin living. So why wear shorts and make yourself as a “gringo” target for muggers. Yes the city gets hot during the day. But you can wear thin long cotton pants and still avoid being an obvious target. Most importantly if you are traveling in a Muslim country the dress code becomes even more conservative for both guys and gals.
9) Don’t leave anything unattended in pubic. Ask someone to watch it for you. If you are one of those who don’t carry a selfie stick and want to take a picture of yourself, ask someone you can trust (like a couple or older person).
10) Another idea to hide your personal valuables like credit card and cash is to use Zip-it travel socks. Keep a little cash in your pocket and the rest in your travel sock.
11) Learn some basics of the local language. This will help you to communicate with the locals and also know how to ask for help in case if you come across any bad situations.
12) Your domestic insurance almost never covers travel and adventure activities outside your country. So it is safer to purchase insurance before you go on your long travel. Consider a travel insurance broker like Travelguard. A basic plan will cost you close to $200 for 4-6 months. If you want to add adventure sports it will cost you a little more into your budget.
13) Register with your country’s consulate about your travel plans. This may not be an option for all countries but for instance U.S Consulate sends warning notices about any type of potential protest/risk zones that you may want to avoid while traveling. Also you can provide your emergency contact info in the case of any emergencies.
What do you do to stay safe? Feel free to share safety tips from your own travel experiences.