10 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places You Need To Visit In Colombia

It’s not just me, also Lonely Planet thinks it’s about time for you to get out there and visit Colombia. The iconic travel brand just awarded its “Best in Travel” award naming it as the 2nd best country to visit in 2017. Rightly so, because Colombia is pretty amazing.

  • It is the only South American country with two coastlines
  • It is the country with the highest level of biodiversity per square meter in the world
  • It is home to the highest coastal mountain in the world, the Sierra Nevada
  • Colombians have been ranked as the happiest and most welcoming people in the world

Convinced? Let me share 10 of my favorite off-the-beaten-path locations with you.

1. The Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest

About a third of Colombia’s area is covered by the Amazon Rainforest (about the size of California). Pristine jungle, incredible wildlife and one famous river awaits you. However, beware: trips to the jungle are only recommended with a guide. Book ahead and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime. Activities include boat tours on the Amazon, feeding monkeys on monkey island, hopping over the border to explore wildlife on the Peruvian side of the river, hikes through the forest, visits to indigenous villages…

Fun fact: the Amazon is also the place where the idea of NomadApp was born while we were hiking through the jungle and looking for wild sloths. Since then, we’ve been on a mission to make it easier for you to get out there and see the world. Get the app for free here.

2. Guajira Desert

Guajira Desert

juannikin / Via Instagram: @juannikin

Colombia’s great unknown Guajira Desert covers the northern part of the continent including Venezuelan territory. The region is home to the indigenous Wayuu people and boasts some mind-boggling landscapes. Have you ever wanted to ride a motorbike into the sunset where all you can see around you is sand dunes, bizarre rock formations and the ocean? Then The Guajira is the right choice for you. Don’t expect any luxury though — be prepared to spend a day traveling through the sand to get to the few Wayuu settlements where you can rent a room from local people.

3. Punta Gallinas

Punta Gallinas

Punta Gallinas is the name of the northernmost point of the South American continent. If you stand at this remote desert spot in the Guajira desert, the whole continent lies behind you.

4. Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

One of my favorite spots on this planet is the Tayrona National Park. It’s big enough to spend weeks camping out, snorkeling, and exploring remote Caribbean beaches. Also, you can embark on a four-day hike to “Ciudad Perdida”, a Machu-Picchu-like lost city in the Colombian Sierra Nevada mountains.

5. Zona Cafetera

Zona Cafetera

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The Valle de Cocora is a valley in the department of Quindío in the country of Colombia. It is located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains and home to the iconic wax palms. The palm trees get as high as 60 meters and are increasingly endangered. The whole national park and area around Salento is known for its coffee estates and picturesque scenery.

6. Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena de Indias

Caribbean flair, great music, delicious food and colonial charm — that’s what makes up Cartagena de Indias. It is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast. It’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a labyrinth of cobbled alleys, colorful houses, tasty street food, and massive churches.

7. Guatapé Lake

Guatapé Lake

A few hours away from the capital Bogota you will find totally different climate and culture. Medellin is the second-largest city in Colombia and the capital of the department of Antioquia. A nice day trip around the city is a visit to the breathtaking Guatapé Lake. Guatapé is an amazing town surrounded by Antioquia’s hills and lakes. Visitors usually flock to the famous El Peñon rock, which towers at 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) above sea level. Don’t miss out on the scenic views over the Guatapé Lake.

8. Caño Cristales

Caño Cristales

Also called the “River of Five Colors” or “Liquid Rainbow” the river is often referred to as the most beautiful river in the world. Between end of July through November the river’s colors change from yellow, green, blue, black and red. The stunning colors are caused by bacteria on the bottom of the river.

9. Cañón del Chicamocha

Cañón del Chicamocha

No, the Grand Canyon is not the only Canyon in the world. Actually, the Cañón del Chicamocha in Colombia is the second largest in the world. It is a Colombian national park (also known as Panachi) located about 50km from the city of Bucaramanga, Santander. Prepare yourself for one of the longest cable car rides in your life and breathtaking views.

10. Bogotá

Bogotá

Bogotá, has gone through a big revival during the last decade and is now considered a hidden gem for travelers. Located high up in the mountains the climate is quite different from the Caribbean vibes you got in Cartagena. Insider tip: hike up the Mount Monserrate and enjoy the best view over Bogotá.

Conclusion:

What are you waiting for? Colombia has gone through a decade of transformation and should totally be on your 2017 bucket list. Mountains, cities, two oceans, rainforests, rolling hills, Caribbean flairs, deserts, some of the most hospitable and friendly people in the world, delicious food, great music, cheap transportation… Colombia has it all! Let’s go!

Need a tool to find out where to go after Colombia? We’d love to help you find out where to go next – get NomadApp for free.

Originally published on Buzzfeed.

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How Travel Will Prepare You to be a Better Entrepreneur

I never thought I’d become an entrepreneur. In college I wanted to be successful, independent and make an impact. I interned for big, international organizations, thought I’d work in Human Rights or for the UN. But then, I lived on four different continents and traveled over 30 countries in three years.

I pivoted: every job suddenly seemed too slow moving, every industry too narrow-minded, a life lost in a blur of daily routine. Unthinkable. I started my own marketing business and co-founded NomadApp, now a Silicon Valley-based travel tech startup. I am by far not “ready” to be an entrepreneur (nobody’s ever ready) but I think travel has been a big puzzle piece in preparing me for startup life and has taught me a few interesting things along the way.

Traveling Teaches you Resilience

Having a resilient team is one of the most important things in a startup. Things will go wrong — all the time. You will run out of money, lose clients, and get rejected. Sometimes, you will have to tough it out. Spend the night on buses, shower in dirty hostel bathrooms, and sleep in bunk beds with noisy roommates. But in the end, resilient travelers and entrepreneurs alike will get up the next day, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy the journey.

You Learn to be Humble

Travel has also taught me to be humble. I have met incredible people all over the world that have received me like family in their homes. Random acts of kindness — often by people that had less than I did. People have shared their life stories with me making my own problems seem small and almost ridiculous. Once, I lived with a lady who has lived on her own since she was fourteen and has worked two jobs while sleeping only two-four hours each night for the last forty years. And I’m complaining about my 12h a day startup-life?? She has taught me more than all the business books I’ve ever read. The most successful startup entrepreneurs are incredibly humble and down-to-earth. I believe only humble leaders can be good leaders.

You Learn not to Sweat the Small Stuff

Thought, losing a client is the end of your world? You think getting your phone stolen is gonna ruin your life? No, it’s not. If you travel, you’re gonna lose stuff, miss a flight or a bag. Not a big deal. Life goes on. You realize that only very few things in life really matter.

Traveling Teaches you to be Spontaneous and Pivot Fast

Startup life is like landing in an unknown city. You can take an Uber to the closest hostel, head straight to the beach or rent a tent to camp out . Which one will be the right decision? Nobody knows. You can make plans, but things change ALL the time. You have to be able to read the signs (often in a confusing language), follow your guts and be spontaneous; even taking the night airfare that dropped to only $20 to get to the next destination. If you stay home all day, you’ll miss out. Keep going.

You Learn to See Different Perspectives

Traveling puts everything into perspective. You meet people of various cultures with different ways of thinking. As a startup founder (especially in Silicon Valley) it is easy to get stuck in your little bubble, creating a Silicon Valley solution that fixes only Silicon Valley problems (or nobody’s problem at all). Go out there, listen to other people’s problems, see how they see the world and tackle their daily lives — create solutions for the world’s problems.

Traveling Sparks Creativity

You ran out of money? Create a viral video about your life. Sell cereal to fund your startup like AirBnB did. There are plenty of ways to tackle problems if you’re creative. A CEO’s job is not to burn the most amount of investor money in the shortest period of time. His job is to create maximum impact with limited funds. The day our little travel tribe had to prepare food over an actual fireplace in a Caribbean National Park, we worked together best as a team. Everybody ate and it was probably the most delicious meal we have ever had. Traveling, you learn how to open coconuts without a machete and make your investment money last as long as possible.

Traveling Encourages you Live Louder

One of the best things about traveling is that it made me appreciate every single day and realize how fast life goes by unless you get out of your comfort zone every now and then. Much of being a traveler is a mindset: to be resilient, humble and thirsty for adventure. Life’s an adventure: get out there and live it! With our startup NomadApp we want to make it easier for you to go out there and see the world. We created an algorithm that shows you all the places you can go based on your budget and preferences. Get it for free here.

How to get started in any new place… and combat lonliness

Let’s be real: being an expat or living abroad for extended periods of time is freaking hard. When you’re far away from your loved ones and familiar home lonliness is lurking at very street corner.

During the last 3 years I’ve lived on 4 continents and in 5 different countries. This is my ultimate game plan to get your life started anywhere and find friends.

Being on your own in a new city can be depressing. I remember the first day I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a 6 months internship. I didn’t have a place to stay, nobody to talk to, my hostel room was so small I couldn’t even fit my backpack into it next to the shabby mattress, it was raining and I felt nothing but lost. Never in my life have I felt so out of place. The first day I just wanted to cry and go straight back home. I didn’t leave the hostel the first day.

LESSON 1: GET OUT THERE. PEOPLE ARE GOOD.

So well, the next day I made it out of the door. I grabbed my guidebook and just did one walking tour after the other. I took tons of pictures and just forced myself to be out there. I climbed up the KL Tower and met a Malaysian family on top. They started chatting with me and we ended up having coffee together. I realized: it is NOT THAT DIFFICULT to meet people. Just go out there and start talking to people. I felt better. If you don’t wanna chat up random strangers try the following:

  • Go to a local co-working space and get a tour. It will get you out there.
  • Hang out in the lobby of a backpacker hostel
  • Go to a Couchsurfing meetup
  • Go to eventbrite and attend the next event coming up

LESSON 2: THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE SAME SITUATION.

Anywhere you go, chances are there is a strong community of travelers, interns, international students or expats around. I am a huge fan of connecting with locals but sometimes internationals are just easier as they are in the same situation as you are and looking for friends, too. So make an effort to find them (not even a big effort). In my experience you’ll always at least find Germans and French people around (no idea why these guys travel so much).

Here’s my usual routine.

  1. Go to Couchsurfing.com and look up the upcoming events at your location. Yes, couchsurfing’s not only a place to find a place to crush for a few nights. It’s also a really cool community to find like-minded people.
    One of the coolest things I’ve ever done was go to the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur with a group of Couchsurfing people. One night in Bangkok I celebratet my birthday with a really cool bunch of Couchsurfers. I loved it.
  2. Internations is a worldwide community for expats organizing events and regular meetups for internationals. I felt a bit out of place when I was younger but I went there anyways.
  3. Meetup.com — I totally love, love, love Meetup. Literally anybody can start an interest-based meetup group and organize regular events and workshops.
  4. Local Event Pages: Google or ask people if there are local event calendars that feature meetups or stuff going on. In NYC I used Garysguide for startup events, Timeout KL was great for events in Kuala Lumpur… Just look for stuff going on.
  5. Facebook Groups: there are a lot of facebook groups focusing on local communities. Look for them and you’ll find.

Now that you’ve done your homework. Get out there and talk to people. Don’t be afraid to go there on your own either. You’ll find that especially abroad you’ll meet a lot of solo travelers or expats. And in case the event gets weird or you feel like you’re the only stranger — remember: nobody of these people will ever see you again.

LESSON 3: LOCALS ARE COOL.

I’ve learnt people are kind and cool. The majority is hospitable and happy to break out from their daily routines by letting you into their lives. I’ve lived with Colombian grandparents and been invited to Malaysian weddings. Be open to experiences and serious about sharing your life. I personally enjoy opening my doors to foreigners — it’s like traveling without actually traveling. Sometimes giving can be even more enriching than receiving. I’ve learnt that people are happy to give if you’re truly interested in them and willing to get to know them. How to meet locals? I usually look up my facebook contacts for people who’ve been to places I am looking connections in. I ask them for referrals and I’ve had great success rates. People are good — believe it.

Conclusion: Being new in an exotic place on your own can be hard. It may be overwhelming in the beginning and it might pull you down. Culture shock does exist. But you must not get caught up in it. Get out there and meet people. Nobody cares. It’s a great chance for you to re-invent yourself, do things you might not have done otherwise and meet people that will change your life. I found it’s sometimes even easier to get to know people abroad than it is at “home” as there are tons of people looking for friends, too.

Let it happen.

One Day in Bogotá. Bogotá in One Day.

Today I finally set out to explore Bogotá and had a perfect Sunday. Here’s my walking tour.

I left at around 11 am for Usaquén: an artistic, cute little district in the north of Bogotá. Originally it was a separate municipality but as Bogotá has grown and grown the city has just “eaten up” the village. Now Usaquén stays a village by its own with an own nice square, cafés and cobbled streets that turn into a street market every Sunday. Lots of Colombians come here on the weekends to have brunch, stroll around or do sports. Every Sunday a big part of the city’s streets are closed for runners and cyclers – it’s called the “Ciclovía” and I swear half of Bogotá is outside in the streets.

Bogotá

La Ciclovía: Bogotá is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Latin America.

In one sentence: Usaquén is the perfect place to have breakfast, enjoy music in the streets and stroll around the market stands on a Sunday morning.

colombian breakfast

pan de bocadillo and orange juice

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As for me I had breakfast in a cute café at the corner of Usaquén square. Outside people were dancing in the street. I was having delicious orange juice and “pan de bocadillo” (pastry filled with a Colombian sweet made of Guayaba).

Later I took a taxi to meet up with a friend in the center and made my way to the Calendaría – the historic, colonial center of Bogotá. On Sundays entrance into Bogotá’s museums is for free, so it’s the perfect day to explore the city. I started off at the “Museo de Botero” – one of Colombia’s most famous artists.

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Later I strolled down the busy streets and stopped by a café that caught my attention. I entered and asked one of the meseros for a recommendation. He brought me “chocolate completo”: one cup of hot chocolate with typical colombian cheese, ovenfresh pandebono (bread made of corn flour, cassava starch, cheese and eggs) and bread with butter.

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The cheese is dropped into the chocolate and eaten warm and creamy. Colombian’s love hot chocolate! For me this was always a kind of children’s drink but here hot chocolate with bread is one of the most typical dinners. I fell in love with the place before opening my Lonely Planet Guide and realizing I had landed at the legendary café “Puerta Falsa” – a cute café and bakery famous for its hot chocolates and a history dating back to 1836.

Later I strolled down Carrera 11 to land directly at Bogotás most famous square – Plaza Bolivar. From there I exlored the pedestrian zone “Carrera Septima”. On Sunday afternoons the street is full of food stands and artists.

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At its’s end I took a taxi to “Parque de la 93”. A nice, clean park surrounded by bars and restaurants – ideal for having dinner around there. I had a cup of coffe at Juan Valdez – Colombia’s most popular coffee chain.

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I set out without a fixed plan but ended up having just a perfect Sunday walk around Bogotá. Very much recommended. Still missing: The Monserrate – a mountain that rises up to 3,152 metres and a spectacular view over the city.

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Cameron Highlands are one of Malaysia’s most well-known tourist destinations. The famous tea plantations lie high up in the mountains and make for a great weekend or day-trip.

We did it on a nice day-trip. Our friend Sjoerd from the Netherlands volunteered as he had a company car. It is difficult to get to Cameron Highlands by bus as it’s a quite strenuous, about 4-hour drive from KL, high up through curvy mountain roads. So we were glad about the offer.

We started our day with a hearty breakfast at our favorite café: Antipodean in Bangsar Village. It’s also the place where Nina and I had met Sjoerd for the first time by chance.

Then we made our way to the tea plantations and wound our way up into the highlands. At the first occasion, we had deliciously scented black tea and stunned at the impressive landscape. Later we took the tour through the beautiful visitor center of the Boh tea factory, tasting all kinds of teas and learning about the long history.

It’s mostly green and black tea; scented with all kinds of flavors.

I remember there were a couple of hikes and treks around but as we just stayed one day we didn’t have time and returned back to KL at night.

The endless tea plantations of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, 2014.

Comfort Zone Crusher: Volcan Paricutin, Michoacan, Mexico

Comfort zone crusher // Volcán Paricutín, Michoacan, Mexico // 10/2013 // “The most rewarding experiences in my life were moments when I crushed my comfort zone. It was a strenious climb up onto the volcano Paricutín. The night before we only slept about two hours. I was wasted. Still a small group of survivors climbed the Paricutín. Little did we know it’s over 3000m high. We are much stronger than we think. I wanna remind myself that crushing your comfort zone is always the right decision. Go out there: climb that volcano, make that call, take that step. It’s worth it.”  The Paricutin is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and one of the youngest and most active vocanos in the world. It literally grew out of the nothing over night in 1943, devastating the surrounding villages and displacing over 7k people. It’s located in the state of Michoacan.

“There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky. And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling…What if you fly?” – Erin Hanson