Powdery paradise beach called Bwejuu, at the paradise island of Zanzibar

10 Romantic Destinations in East Africa

East Africa will spoil you with exquisite options for romantic getaways – from secluded beaches to private safaris and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Pamper your sweetheart at the luxurious safari lodges, hold hands while jumping off the epic Victoria Falls Bridge, or share the magic of game drives in Africa’s best national parks. Arouse your wanderlust with our list of 10 romantic destinations in East Africa!

For the Epic Moments Together

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

A morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater is straight from the fairytale. Even pronouncing the word Ngorongoro implies the excitement and brings memories from childhood geography books or acclaimed magazines. In Maasai language, ngorongoro means Gift of Life. Celebrate your love in one of the luxurious lodges located right on the edge of the rim, witnessing the unbelievable sunset over the caldera with skillfully prepared sundowners.

The sheer volume of wildlife makes the Ngorongoro Crater feel like a cradle of all species. Ngorongoro Conservation area is also considered as the cradle of humanity: the earliest shreds of evidence of mankind are found from the Olduvai Gorge.

Photographing Ngorongoro Crater from the viewpoint
Endangered black rhinos in Ngorongoro crater

Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe

“The Seventh Wonder of the World” melts even the hearts of seasoned travelers. Adventurous couples can share the adrenaline kick of jumping off Victoria Falls Bridge and freefalling 110 meters towards the crocodile-infested Zambezi River. The activity called “Gorge Swing” lets you jump together, holding hands. The falling phase is slower – and more enjoyable – than in bungee since you just take a long step from the platform instead of jumping. After the fall, you will be swinging above the tremendous Zambezi Gorge in a sitting position with plenty of time to cuddle. The bungee and related activities appear to be surprisingly popular among honeymooners – and why not to propose in the air? Check out our separate article on Victoria Falls bungee and gorge swing to get excited!

Naturally, Victoria Falls offers also more serene romantic activities. Simply walking by “The Smoke That Thunders” is fanciful. A sunset cruise on the Zambezi River showcases the Victoria Falls from a different perspective, and as an added bonus you can spot hippos and crocodiles. Also at sunset, a steam train dating back to 1952 takes lovers cross the Victoria Falls Bridge. Then there are helicopter flights and the world-famous “Devil’s Pool”, where you can soak right on the edge of Victoria Falls! If you’d consider canoeing (pretty dangerous on the rapids) or white-water rafting on the Zambezi romantic, they’re on the list, as well.

To crown your romantic holiday in Victoria Falls, stay at the unique Islands of Siankaba. Secluded cabins are scattered among the tree canopy and connected with hanging walkways. The lodge occupies a tiny island in the middle of the Zambezi River, offering prime Zambezi views from each cabin. As Victoria Falls lies on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, you can enter the falls from both sides.

The Victoria Falls Bridge seen from Livingstone, Zambia
Islands of Siankaba is a stunning safari lodge on a private island near Livingstone

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The third UNESCO World Heritage Site on our list, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, is a perfect location for the adventurous couples seeking both luxurious retreat and thrilling wildlife encounters.

Bwindi is one of the last places on earth, where you can meet the rare giants of the forest – mountain gorillas. Trust me; Bwindi’s gorilla trekking experience will be among the most memorable moments in your life. If you’re looking for a truly unique proposal, do it after the sweaty hike, in the middle of a gorilla family. But remember to whisper, as you’re not allowed to speak!

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has a handful of upscale lodges, from which we recommend the lovely Mahogany Springs. Enjoy a spectacular view straight to the hills of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from your private terrace and cuddle in the warmth of your own fireplace – the nights are chilly in the mountains.

Sun sets with the mists hanging low, in Bwindi Impenerable Forest National Park in Uganda.
A huge mountain gorilla looking at us in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda.

For Beach Lovers

Zanzibar, Tanzania

The remote Bwejuu beach resembles paradise island day-dreams with white, powdery sand and endless shades of turquoise and azure. Bwejuu has been selected among the top 30 beaches in the world by Conde Nast Traveler – we cannot disagree. There’s only a handful of hotels, and a couple of them offer intimate luxury getaways for couples.

Time travel to the era of sultans by staying at the luxurious Baraza Resort & Spa. The palace-like architecture celebrates the magic of Zanzibar and views to the turquoise Indian Ocean are so paradisiac that it’s hard to enjoy your private plunge pool when there’s whole ocean (and reef!) to explore. Check out our complete article on Bwejuu here.

Mafia Island, Tanzania

If you’re looking for a castaway romance, tiny Mafia Island caters those fantasies with crystal-clear waters and secluded beaches. The mass tourism is pleasantly absent, leaving room for rustic and romantic, “barefoot luxury” retreats. World-class snorkeling, whale shark watching and search for authentic paradise island experiences are the main reasons, which whisk couples into this crescent-shaped jewel off the coast of Tanzania.

Mafia Island Marine Park offers the highest diversity and some of the healthiest coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. Shallow reefs of Chole Bay are perfect for snorkeling and provide an exceptional variety of marine life from soft to hard corals and clouds of colorful fish. The best part is the lack of other tourists, which make the experience sublime. Check out our complete article on snorkeling in Chole Bay.

Powdery paradise beach called Bwejuu, in the southeastern corner of Zanzibar
Mafia Island has the most perfect sunsets over the Indian Ocean

For Wildlife Lovers

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Another of Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Serengeti leaves you breathless. Sunsets and sunrises upon the endless plains are to die for – share them with the love of your life. Stay at one of the private tented camps, right in the middle of Serengeti and away from the civilization. Let the sounds of nature lull you to sleep, wake to the roars of lions, and sip your morning coffee watching wildlife passing by on the horizon. The game drives in the Serengeti National Park offer more wildlife sightings than you can imagine. Many people claim that this is the best place in Africa to spot the famous Big 5 – and in record time.

Masai Mara, Kenya

In Masai Mara, we witnessed the epic Masai lions mating at sunset. Can it get any more romantic?

The Serengeti ecosystem expands from Tanzania (Serengeti National Park) to Kenya, where it’s called Masai Mara. Both Tanzanian and Kenyan sides of Serengeti host the world’s biggest wildlife migration – and the most abundant lion population in Africa.

Already excited and ready to take an African safari? Check our tips on how to plan the best safari in Tanzania from here!

Before the rain in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Sleepy lion on the branches of a tree in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Lower Zambezi is the dream destination for wildlife enthusiasts, where the abundant wildlife roams through the unfenced, luxurious safari camps. The Lower Zambezi National park is remote and unspoiled, but the lodges and guides here will make their best to spoil their guests for good.

Royal Zambezi Lodge is on our list of the safari best lodges we’ve ever visited and would be our suggestion for the romantic honeymoon splurge. The private, 5-star safari experience is honed to perfection with highly trained naturalist guides and exciting activities, intimate atmosphere and gourmet meals. Choose daily between private game drives, canoe safaris, fishing trips, sundowner cruises, bush walks, or even mountain hikes. Still, the most romantic moments are spent at your private terrace and pool, watching elephant herds slowly passing by the riverfront and plowing through the shallow waters – or taking a swim below the starry sky. Check out also our list of the best safari lodges in Zambia!

View towards the Zambezi river from our private terrace and plunge pool in Royal Zambezi Lodge, Zambia
Elephants crossed the premises of Royal Zambezi Lodge every day we stayed there

Tsavo National Park, Kenya

Split into East and West, the colossal Tsavo National Park is known as one of the largest game reserves and biodiversity strongholds in the world. The vast savannah of Tsavo East unwraps private encounters with elephants, the famous Tsavo lions and other wildlife, as there are rarely other vehicles on sight. Imagine bright red dust roads swirling between green, thorny bushes and swampy marshland, with sudden gray tones of an elephant herd peeking through the thick vegetation. The area is also rich in history, with archaeological sites dating back to Late Stone Age and the ancient Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world, which has been reshaped by erosion over the millennia.

High on stilts upon these wild plains rises Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge, one the most photographed lodges in the world. Unique architecture lets you observe wildlife from above, as the lodge stands upon a popular watering hole. An underground passage leading to the camouflaged observation bunker just beside the watering hole put the finalizing strokes to the exceptional experience. Descend through the darkness with your loved one during the dinner time to have it all by yourselves.

Strictly speaking, Salt Lick lies inside the boundaries of Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, bordering Tsavo West National Park. The sanctuary has only two lodges, both operated by Sarova Hotels.

Nairobi, Kenya

The last one took us by surprise, as well. But what would be more romantic than adopting an elephant together? Or staying at the famous Giraffe Manor, where the resident Rothschild giraffes might poke their head at your breakfast table? While Nairobi isn’t a romantic city, it’s probably on your route if you’re doing a safari in Kenya. And who wouldn’t mind a night at a classy hotel, great dinner, and a visit to the adorable elephant or giraffe sanctuary? What a perfect way to end a romantic East African safari!

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These romantic destinations in East Africa will spoil you with secluded beaches, private safaris and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Enjoy the luxurious safari lodges and let East Africa steal your heart!


Kuching Waterfront lines the south bank of Sarawak river, offering scenic views towards Fort Margherita and the Astana

What to Eat and Drink in Kuching - And Where!

The atmospheric city of Kuching is known for its food, so why not to eat and drink your way through Bornean cuisine? Between meals, take a rest by strolling through the well-preserved Chinatown and the historic waterfront with locals – and taste small street food delicacies from the stalls if you still have stomach left. Here comes our list of where to find best upscale, highland and street food dinners in Kuching.

Upscale Asian Fusion Dinner:

Bla Bla Bla

27 Tabuan Street

Go there for an upscale dinner that won’t break the bank. One of their signature dishes, Pandan Chicken, won our bellies. Also noodle dishes were great. Interior is just as fresh and full of flavors as the dishes: walk upon an enormous koi pond to reach your table.

Highland Jungle Food:

Tribal Stove

No.10, 1st Floor, Block H, Jalan Borneo, Taman Sri Sarawak (directly opposite Hilton)

Tiny Tribal Stove lives up to its name bringing Dayak home cooking and highland’s atmosphere into Kuching. Try traditional indigenous dishes like bamboo chicken or cheviche-like fish (or prawn) umai.

Everyone seemed to order midin, a jungle fern, so we followed the tip, and still continue to praise it. Here, midin is perfectly cooked and spiced – the best we had in Borneo.  I also liked strong, spinach-like jungle vegetable called cangkok manis (star gooseberry leaves).

The favorite of expats and tourists alike: Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar
Sarawak Laksa at Borneo Delight, Kuching

Cheap Local Eats:

Borneo Delight

13 Wayang St

Cheap local eats in a simple restaurant (or outdoor tables) instead of hawker stalls. If you haven’t yet tried the local favorite, Sarawak Laksa, do it now. The laksa here is sumptuous and appropriately spicy, slightly sour and sweet. Yellow noodles with curry is unordinary delicious, as well. We didn’t like ginger chicken, but all other portions tested were solid local fair.

 

Coffee:

Black Bean Coffee

87 Ewe Hai Street

This is your best bet for traditional Sarawak coffee, freshly roasted. Serves some solid coffee beans also from Java and traditional coffee nations. This is a local café, so don’t expect any third wave coffee snobbery, but enjoy the mellow vibes at small the terrace.

 

Beer:

Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar

68 Carpenter Street

The winning expat and tourist watering hole lurks inside the colorful Chinatown. Sip Guinness at the terrace under red lanterns while witnessing the night turn as dark as your pint (happy hour prices half/full pint of Guinness 13/19, Tiger comes at 12/18). Beer and whiskey selection is exceptional for Borneo and interior appropriately old school rock bar style.

If you have visited Kuching, what were your favorite restaurants or street food stalls? Share the gems with us in the comments below!

Don't be fooled by the humble facade of the Black Bean Coffee: step in and enjoy freshly ground coffee!

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Pick your favorite restaurant among the street eats, upscale fusion restaurants and cafés of Kuching, Malaysian Borneo!


View towards the city center of Medellín from the top of escaleras electricas, Comuna 13

Escalators to Heaven: Visiting Independently Medellín's Comuna 13, the Former Murder Capital of the World

“Comuna 13” was formerly known as a notorious slum area with the highest murder rate in Medellín. At the time, the city itself was ranked as the murder capital of the world. Now “the epicenter of the murder capital” is a growing its reputation around the world and its success story is imitated in troubled cities, such as Rio de Janeiro. Recently, a number of Comuna 13 tours have been launched, and hesitant tourists are trampling the colorful streets in the steps of the local guides. We decided to visit Comuna 13 independently to find out what’s it all about.

The Dark Past of Medellín’s Comuna 13: Drugs, Gangs, and Power Struggles

Comuna 13 used to be controlled by gangs, paramilitary groups, and infamous drug lords. Police had no control of the area because every gang had its own lookout so that they could escape well in advance if the cops even dared to enter the neighborhood through the narrow staircases. The main highway of Medellín (San Juan Highway) penetrates the slums, lifting the cartel in charge to control all illegal import and export business of Medellín.

Pablo Escobar controlled the area in the 1980s, and other gangs fought over control after his death in 1993. The murder rates in Comuna 13 tripled during 1997-2002. Police and national security forces tried to intervene violently 10 times without success.

In 2002, the Colombian military led a controversial Operation Orion with an ambitious goal to clean the most dangerous neighborhood of Medellín. The result? The left-wing guerrillas – FARC, ELN, and CAP ­– were removed. When the army, Police special forces, and air forces fought over guerrillas, 100 000 inhabitants of Comuna 13 were left in the middle of the heavy combat and siege. Innocent people, including children, were killed, injured – or officially just disappeared. Only the masters changed: Operation Orion gave control of Comuna 13 to paramilitary groups, which led to paramilitary hegemony over the whole city of Medellín. Later, paramilitary leaders have confessed an ally with the police.

What about the murder rates, then? Officially, things brightened up after Operation Orion. But we were told that instead of throwing corpses to the streets, they were more discreetly carried to the dump site of La Escombrera hill.

The Revival of Comuna 13: Paint, Escalators, and Communal Spirit

Then suddenly things started to change inside Comuna 13. Local government provided youngsters free paint to strengthen their sense of community and channel frustration into a creative force. Soon schools and shops followed their example. Then an architect suggested a creative public transport option, the world’s first outdoor escalators that would connect neighborhoods. The idea has since been copied by the several other cities, like Rio de Janeiro and Ankara.

As a result, on our visit in Comuna 13, we saw beautiful murals, tons of flowers, happy faces, and hope. Though we visited Comuna 13 independently, unlike most tourists, we felt safe. But, for sure, things aren’t that black and white. The official stories of the troubled past and current bloom of Comuna 13 seemed to be drastically different from the stories of locals. We recommend that you explore Medellín’s Comuna 13 on your own terms to draw conclusions.

The red-bricked and cement houses of Comuna 13, Medellin
The corrugated iron roofs of Comuna 13, Medellin

Riding the Escalators of Comuna 13

Medellín’s Comuna 13 is scattered upon such steep hills that it used to be accessible only by stairs. Climbing atop equals of climbing 28 stores. When the six covered outdoor escalators were assembled in 2011, the sweaty 30-minute climb was reduced to 5-minute escalator ride. What a massive improvement in life quality for more than 100 000 inhabitants – feel free to compare it yourself! We visited Comuna 13 on a hot summer day and opted to take the free ride.

The starting point of escalators offers a splendid view towards the hills filled with red-bricked houses, speckled with occasional bright walls. Comuna 13 is still one of the most heavily populated – and poorest – neighborhoods in Medellín. From the starting point, you can witness how small cement and brick houses are squeezed tightly together. At the top of the escalators, the corrugated iron roofs showcase the slum-like architecture. Some call Comuna 13 still a slum, but we saw it as a vibrant, quickly changing and creative neighborhood sparkling with hope and community spirit.

When you hop on the escalators, quickly passing glimpses of homes and backyards melt together into one, colorful canvas. The old cement stairway mirrors the escalators, offering a real-life canvas for both budding and famous street artists – and entertainment for visitors. Bright paint, skillful murals, and omnipresent flower pots make Comuna 13 a cheerful place to visit.

While changing escalators (or tramos aka sections), use the photo opportunities to capture changing views towards the center of Medellín– and upwards towards the hills. The landing areas offer splendid shots of the surroundings murals, as well.

The escalators ascent the slope for 384 meters, so naturally, the most breathtaking views are available at the top. Pose with a city view, walk around and taste local street food or enjoy ice-cream if you please.

View towards the city center of Medellín from the top of escaleras electricas, Comuna 13

How to Get to Medellin’s Comuna 13 & Escalators Independently

You can arrive at the Escalators of Comuna 13 (Escaleras electricas in Spanish) either with a taxi or public transport. It’s easy to take a metro from the city center or Poblado to San Javier, from where you can take a bus or taxi to the escalators. We chose to walk from San Javier to the escalators, as Google Maps showed the walking route and it was just 20-minute leisure walk (search Escalator Comuna 13 in Google Maps: the starting point is located at the square/crossroads, the other location on the map is the ending point). The bus line is 255 and buses even have “Escaleras” signs in their windows. Taxi trip should cost the minimum (5000 pesos) or a little bit more, depending on your luck.

The whole area around San Javier’s metro station is called Comuna 13, so feel free to explore deeper if you have time! Parque Biblioteca San Javier, a modern multi-level library and culture center, is well-worth of visiting and stands as a public sign of brighter future for the troubled area.

Is It Safe to Visit Comuna 13 and the Escalators?

The area immediately around San Javier metro station is considered safe, as are the escalators of Comuna 13. There are several policemen stationed around the escalators. Nowadays, tour groups flock the area during the daytime. Though our hotel advised against visiting Comuna 13 independently, many locals claim it safe.

Though our independent visit in Comuna 13 was safe and sound, I cannot guarantee that yours will be – ask the current security situation from locals or consider guided tour (there are also private tours available). Locals advise against wandering too far from the escalators themselves.

Please note that Medellín’s Comuna 13 is still low economic zone and watch your belongings. While homicide rates have sunk, street robberies are more than common. Don’t carry expensive cameras or other valuables if you decide to wander further from San Javier metro station or the escalators.

Have you visited Medellín’s Comuna 13 and the escalators – or would you dare to explore the area on your own?

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Explore Medellín's Comuna 13, the former murder capital of Colombia, now turned into colorful neighborhood filled with hope.


Happy Bornean Sun Bear in a tree in Sabah, Malaysia

5 Things to Do in Sepilok: Perfect Introduction to Borneo!

The tiny town of Sepilok offers an exciting prelude to the orangutans, sun bears, and rainforests of Borneo – in just two days. Get inspiration for your Bornean adventures from our favorite things to do in Sepilok! 

1. Get Familiar with Orangutans – and Their Babies!

Thanks to Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok is the world-famous place to meet the orange-furred “men of the jungle”. Around 60 to 80 orphaned or injured orangutans live freely inside a slice of protected forest reserve.

The best thing: caretakers will bring the babies and adolescents to the outdoor nursery are just before the feeding times. You can watch mini-orangutans tumble, fight and play behind the glass of the air-conditioned observatory. Cuteness overload!

Adult sightings are not guaranteed, as the semi-wild orangutans move around freely, but here the chances are the best on earth. Daily morning and afternoon feedings seemed to draw so many orangutans to the feeding platforms that I could only think that torrential rain might keep them in the shade of the canopy. Double your chances by visiting both feeding sessions (entrance fee covers whole day) and arrive well in advance. We stumbled upon orangutans while just walking around on the elevated pathways before the feeding time. Boardwalks link the entrance, feeding platform, and outdoor nursery.

Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo

2. Meet the Smallest Bears on Earth: the Sun Bears

Bornean sun bears are among the cutest animals we’ve ever met. These black-furred, Paddington-sized bears have golden, horseshoe like marks on their chest, which resemble rising sun. The markings are unique, just like human fingerprints.

It’s your lucky day, as Sepilok is again the best place on earth to observe rescued sun bears climbing trees, grubbing ground in search of food, and minding their own business. Check out our separate article about visiting Bornean Sun Bear Center!

3. Take a Hike in the Bornean Rainforest

Some lodges have private walkways in the rainforest, but you can also have your introduction to the rainforests of Borneo at the Rainforest Discovery Center. They even have a 350-meters long canopy walkway, from where you can explore what happens in a rainforest at the level of the treetops. There’s also a network of walking trails and paddle boats to rent by the shore.

I’d highly recommend a mini-hike inside the orangutan sanctuary if any of the walking trails happen to be open (all trails were closed at the time of our visit until further notice). The loops vary from 250 meters to 5 kilometers.

4. Spot Giant Flying Squirrels

We were lucky to see plenty of giant flying squirrels during our Bornean adventure. After a numerous night walks, night drives and cruises at several locations, I confess with laughter that the best spot to watch these giants show off was our lodge’s terrace in Sepilok.

Flying red giant squirrels nest in a massive tree just beside MY Nature Resort. Restaurant’s terrace is aptly called the flying squirrel terrace, as it offers impeccable chances to observe these giants climb the tree and then glide upon you. Waiting for the squirrels to show off is evening entertainment at its best, accompanied by mouth-watering fried bananas.

The creatures are truly giant: from tail to head almost one meter. We got to see a perfect example of their skills, when one squirrel flew over us and the restaurant, arguably almost the 150 feet distance, which they are able to cover on one flight. 

A Bornean Sun Bear called Loki in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Malysia.
A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.
Stunning view to the rainforest from our private terrace in MY Nature Resort - it rains in the rainforest!

5. Spend a Day in Sandakan

After all the praise, the downside of Sepilok is the lack of town. There’s virtually just a highway crossing an area called Sepilok with a handful of lodges scattered around the highway and nearby orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries. Luckily, a small coastal town of Sandakan lies just 30 minutes away by a taxi or bus. We’ll publish soon a guide on the best restaurants in Sandakan!

Where to stay in Sepilok?

We chose MY Nature Resort for three reasons. Shortly: here you’ll experience the best that Sepilok has to offer in a unique way, with some added perks. The lodge is new and has the only pool in Sepilok (for now). Elevated pathway loops the back of the resort, offering mini jungle excursions into Sepilok Protected Forest Reserve. You’re free to explore the 1500 ft route on your own from 6 AM to 5 PM, and every night there’s an option for a guided night walk. At the time of booking, we didn’t know about the squirrels, but would recommend staying in MY Nature Resort even for the flying red giants!

MY Nature Resort is tucked away from the Sepilok highway, where most of the lodges lie. It’s a short walk from Rainforest Discovery Center, the third draw in Sepilok after the orangutans and sun bears. The accommodation package includes tickets and guided tours of orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and shuttle transfers from the hotel (twice a day, just 5-minute ride). You’ll also get an own guide who can lead nearby nature walks. Complimentary drinking water and always hot water thanks to the backup generators. Our cottage had a huge, private terrace overlooking the rainforest canopy – ask for a view!

Getting to Sepilok
Multiple daily flights cut the distance between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan into 45 scenic minutes. You’ll fly past Mt. Kinabatangan and weather-permitting the peak is fully visible. Be sure to book left side seat from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan – and vice versa! One-way prices start at 13$ (AirAsia). Taxi drive from Sandakan to Sepilok takes less than 30 minutes.

Also, local buses run frequently the routes Kota Kinabalu–Sepilok and Sandakan–Sepilok. But you have to jump off by the highway at ´Batu 14´, (Sepilok doesn’t have a center, so you’d need a taxi from Batu 14, and it can be expensive).

Where to Continue From Sepilok?

Sepilok acts as a gateway to the jungle explorations and cruises on Kinabatangan River. Get inspiration for your adventures from our separate article about spotting the rare pygmy elephants, orangutans, and nosy proboscis monkeys on Kinabatangan river cruises. Above mentioned Sandakan works as a coastal base for short cruises to the nearby islands. We highly recommend a paradisiac stay on the gorgeous Lankayan Island, snorkeling with turtles and exploring the mesmerizing underwater world. Check out our ultimate 2-week itinerary from the beaches to the rainforests of Borneo for inspiration!

Special thanks for S.I. Tours for helping us to arrange our visit in Sepilok.

Have you been in Sepilok or would you love to meet the orangutans and the sun bears some day?

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Sepilok offers a perfect introduction to Borneo, from orangutans and sun bears to the rainforest hikes. Browse our favorite things to do in Sepilok!


Just sit back and enjoy the paradise feel of Lankayan Island

Best Lodges to Experience the Real Borneo, Malaysia

Explore the rainforests of Borneo, swim with turtles on a paradise island and spot orangutans in their natural habitat – while staying in luxurious lodges, away from the crowds. Make your visit in Malaysian Borneo truly memorable by picking exclusive lodges, which allow you to experience the real Borneo.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley

The award-winning Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only lodge in Borneo, which lies inside primary rainforest and conservation area. You’ll be surrounded by the vast, untouched rainforest, where no modern man has stepped. Think of ultimate luxury and seclusion combined with unique nature excursions with a personal naturalist guide. I’d pick Borneo Rainforest Lodge for our “10 Lodges to Stay Before You Die” list.

Obviously, Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the best spot in Malaysian Borneo for authentic wildlife sightings. Hiking is allowed on private trails, which can take you to mesmerizing waterfalls, natural jacuzzi pools, dizzying viewpoints, and an ancient burial site. It’s possible to trek for a whole day chasing wildlife in their natural habitat. We loved our early morning walks (up to 4 hours) and were lucky to spot several orangutans. In addition to various trails, you can swim and tube down the clear waters of Danum River, take night safari drives, or just admire the unique views towards the home of truly wild orangutans. Don’t forget to visit the breathtaking canopy walkway, which has multiple viewing platforms! It’s simply the best canopy walk we’ve ever stepped on – and you can experience it in the privacy of your own hiking group.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge has only 30 rooms, built with locally sourced and sustainable materials. Deluxe rooms open to the ravishing Danum river (with private jacuzzis!), whereas standard rooms face the jungle with the best chances of spotting wildlife from the comfort of your bed. Orangutans had nested right above our cabin just a day before we arrived!

How to Get to Borneo Rainforest Lodge

All-inclusive rates cover 2-hour transfers from Lahad Datu (the nearest town and airport) – and daily activities with a professional naturalist guide. Driving through the vast secondary rainforest bordering the conservation area is an adventure as well: we spotted the rare Bornean pygmy elephants on both drives!

Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only lodge in Borneo, which lies inside primary rainforest and conservation area
Danum Valley's Canopy Walkway is a dream come true for nature photographers
The relaxing lounge area of Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Dining hall of Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Malaysian Borneo
The deluxe chalet with a river view in Borneo Rainforest Lodge, inside the gorgeous Danum Valley

Lankayan Island Dive Resort

While most other islands in Borneo are already crowded, Lankayan remains a remote paradise for snorkelers and divers, or anyone seeking a secluded tropical island. Lankayan has just one exclusive dive resort and blissfully empty stretches of powdery sand. The Sulu Sea glimmers in the most perfect shade of turquoise, mixing with the hues of blue, inviting you for a refreshing dip. Float quietly to witness the paradisiac scene, wondering if you’re really there, before exploring the underwater treasures, which include healthy reefs, clouds of colorful fish, playful turtles and exciting rarities like jawfish.

On Lankayan, you can feed you Robinson Crusoe fantasies with all the modern comforts. All the cottages are right on the shore. We stayed in #25, the second last one, which stands on stilts, both upon water and sand, and boasts unobstructed views of the turquoise ocean. For the ultimate win, I’d recommend #26, but in Lankayan, you always win.

How to Get to Lankayan Island

Fly, drive or take a bus to Sandakan, a coastal town in Sabah area of Malaysian Borneo. The all-inclusive rates of Lankayan Island Dive Resort include transfer from the airport or Sandakan city to the port and 1,5-2 hours’ speedboat trip to Lankayan Island.

Just sit back and enjoy the paradise feel of Lankayan Island
The main building of Lankayan Island Dive Resort in its evening gown
Tiny Lankayan Island is an unspoilt paradise far off the coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge & Abai Jungle Lodge

It’s hard to pick just one lodge from the Kinabatangan River, which snakes for more than 500 kilometers from the Sulu Sea, through rainforests towards the mountains and “the lost world” of western Sabah. One of the richest ecosystems in the world is home to orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and countless of other exotic species – even the elusive pygmy elephants. Most of the lodges are clustered around the village of Sukau, where wildlife sightings are great, but constant boat traffic hinders jungle daydreams.

If you yearn to experience the real magic of Sungai Kinabatangan, start your exploration by cruising from the port of Sandakan to the mouth of Kinabatangan river. Glide quietly downstream while spotting wildlife in the thick vegetation hanging over the river, stopping to admire a herd of proboscis monkeys or even orangutans if you’re lucky. Spend a night at the simple Abai Jungle Lodge upstream. There are no roads and no other tourists in sight, just fairy tale river vistas. Take private walks with your loved one on the elevated pathways at the back of the lodge and share the experience of living in a National Geographic document.

The next day, wake early to sip coffee admiring the magical morning mist upon the river. Take a cruise to the Pitas Oxbow Lake spotting wildlife and zigzagging through a narrow channel and strangling fig-trees. Enjoy an exclusive jungle breakfast in the company of macaques and wild pigs. To experience all that Kinabatangan River can offer, cruise all the way down to Sukau village and spend the other night in the eco-chic Kinabangan Riverside Lodge.

We loved the true wilderness feel of Abai Jungle Lodge. Combining it with Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge made our river adventure just perfect. During our transit day from Abai to Sukau we saw 6 orangutans and a herd of rare pygmy elephants! Both lodges have gorgeous terraces looking the river and private, elevated pathways for exploring the jungle.

How to Get to Kinabatangan River: Sukau and Abai Villages

The best and the easiest way is to take a tour, as also many of the lodges are owned by the tour companies. In theory, you can get either drive or negotiate a transfer to Sukau village and most lodges offer cruises. There are no public boats. We loved to explore the Kinabatangan River from its mouth to all the way to the Sukau and Bilit areas – one of the advantages of traveling with SI Tours and staying at their two separate lodges.

A beautiful view from the Abai Lodge's deck to the Kinabatangan River in Borneo
A view from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge's deck in Borneo
Abai Lodge at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo
Abai Lodge at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo
Rare Bornean Pygmy Elephants at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo

MY Nature Resort, Sepilok

MY Nature Resort was our first base in Borneo, offering just a perfect introduction to the treats of the rainforest. MY Nature Resort is tucked away from the other lodges and the Sepilok highway, offering an authentic jungle feel. Still, it’s a short walk from Rainforest Discovery Center, the third draw in Sepilok after the orangutans and sun bears.

The additional perks: the property is new and has the only pool in Sepilok (for now) and you are free to explore the surrounding rainforest on the elevated pathways. Flying giant squirrels show off at the restaurant’s terrace every evening: watching them glide past while munching fried bananas is evening entertainment at its best! Our cottage had a huge, private terrace overlooking the rainforest canopy – ask for a view.

The accommodation package includes tickets and guided tours of orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and shuttle transfers from the hotel (twice a day, just 5-minute ride). You’ll also get own guide who can lead nature walks. Check out a separate article on visiting the sun bear sanctuary in Sepilok to get excited!

How to Get to Sepilok

This one is easy: just fly into nearby Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu or take a bus. Taxi from Sandakan takes less than 30 minutes.

Special thanks for these handpicked lodges for helping us arrange our adventures in Borneo.

If you are planning a trip to Borneo, check out our detailed 2-week itinerary for inspiration!

If you have visited Malaysian Borneo, which were your favorite lodges and why?

The cabins of MY Nature Resort, Sepilok
The swimming pool of MY Nature Resort - the only one in Sepilok
Stunning view to the rainforest from our private terrace in MY Nature Resort - it rains in the rainforest!
Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo

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Stay at luxurious lodges while exploring the rainforests, reefs and rivers of Borneo! We handpicked the best lodges of Borneo to make your visit truly memorable.


Helsinki Railway Square filled with craft beer thirsty crowd

Local’s Guide to the Craft Beer Festivals in Helsinki, Finland

We had an amazing weekend soaking in the sun and the brews of Craft Beer Helsinki Festival. Small Finnish breweries together with some fierce competitors from the rest of the Europe took over Helsinki’s central landmark, Railway Square, offering a myriad of creative craft brews to sample. The best news: there still two other beer festivals coming up in Helsinki, in the same unique setting!

Craft Beer Helsinki Festival (the end of June/beginning of July)

Picture a long, sunny summer night (the sun sets in Helsinki in July around 11 PM) and a central square filled to the utmost with microbrew connoisseurs checking off their exhaustive tasting lists, combined with other loosely beer loving crowd, families, sun-seekers, odd dog walkers and tourists coming after the bubbling atmosphere. In its core, Craft Beer Helsinki is a fun, summery get-together, where everyone is welcomed. Most people seemed to pop in to sample the rare brews, not to get drunk. I loved the festival so much that I visited two days in a row (making it my first two-day beer fest)!

In 2017, there were more than 20 breweries and up to 200 brews (if I remember right, the list was exhaustive). Our favorites were found at the stand of the Swedish Omnipollo. Their Noa Pecan Mud Cake Stout (scoring 100 at RateBeer.com) is simply divine and I couldn’t find any fault from Zodiak IPA (scoring 95 at RateBeer.com). We also loved the newcomers from Finnish-Estonian Sori Brewing and our new Finnish indie fav Fat Lizard Brewing. Truthfully, we concentrated more on foreign brews, as the other summer beer festivals feature solely Finnish beers. This year, the entrance was free, but you had to buy a beer glass (4 to 5 €) to sample the brews.

Whereas Craft Beer Helsinki Festival is a charming newcomer, the other craft beer happenings of Railway Square offer similar vibes. You can even spot many of the Finnish microbreweries in all of them!

Helsinki Railway Square filled with craft beer thirsty crowd
The stand of Finnish craft brewery Pyynikin Panimo at Craft Beer Helsinki festival
The sours and slushes of Finnish CoolHead Brew were popular at Craft Beer Helsinki fest

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot “Great Beers – Small Breweries” (July)

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot festival serves microbrew-thirsty citizens already during the next weekend (from 26th to 29th of July). It’s the biggest microbrewery festival in Finland and showcases solely Finnish brewing talents and ingredients. Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot festival is held also in five other cities during summer, check out the dates and details from here (in English) » This summer, there are still beer fests coming up in Turku and Oulu. The entrance is free until 6 PM.

Syysstober Beer Festival (August)

One of our long-standing favorites is the mouthwatering combo of “Delicacies of Finland” and “Syysstober Beer Festival”. Again, a variety of Finnish breweries gather to the very same Railway Square at the beginning of August, but this time spiced up with prime food stalls and free samplings. The last summer festival has the strongest focus on food, serving an array of local delicacies from the different provinces – plenty of organic treats, of course! Beers are all Finn and mostly from microbreweries.

We love to walk through the food tastings and order something small to eat on the side of those noble brews. Usually, we also find nice sauces, pickles, jams, organic honey and such to take back home. This year, Syysstober will quench your thirst from 3rd to 5th of August, check out the details from here (in English) »
The entrance is free.

Craft Beer, Microbrew, or Just Another Great Beer?

Some puritans might argue that Craft Beer Helsinki is the only craft beer festival, while Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot (Great Beers – Small Breweries) is the only microbrewery festival in Helsinki. In a way, that can be true, if you agree that not all micro-brewed beers are craft beer, but we’re entering a war-zone here.

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot (Great Beers – Small Breweries) is organized by The Finnish Microbreweries’ Association, so the beers are strictly Finnish microbrews. According to the Finnish definition, a microbrewery can produce only a limited amount of 15 million litres of beer per year.

Craft beer, on the other hand, might be trickier to define. Some claim that craft brewery follows craft brewing standards, for example, the brew must contain at least half of traditional malt instead of oats or wheat. Personally, I Iabel my beer “craft” when it has been brewed with great craftsmanship, using high-quality ingredients and sometimes creative recipes (and I love oatmeal stouts). I know, what a punk. Leaving that discussion aside, you can find both high-quality Finnish craft beer and creative microbrews at all events listed above.

Fat Lizard Brewing's Raspy Mary is among my favorite Finnish IPAs
The beer list of Fat Lizard Brewing
Finnish National Theathre guards the railway Square – and the summer beer festivals of Helsinki

Why to Visit Summer Beer Festivals in Helsinki?

Passionate craft beer scene is – finally – booming in Finland. While there are many excellent brewpubs, the beer festivals still remain the best opportunity to sample through hundreds of brews and chat with the brewers.

If you’re not into beer, you can still enjoy the festive atmosphere and sample the street food, which is plentiful at all beer fests. In Craft Beer Helsinki, head to the awesome Craft Cider Stand – cider is usually served also at the other festivals. Even better, collect your bravery and give a try to the Finnish fruit beers and sours. Some of my favorite Finnish sours and gruit ales come from Hopping Brewsters, Humalove, and Hiisi.

As a Finn, I dare to state that these festivals offer tourists a rare chance to chat with a Finn. We Finns are a peculiar tribe, slightly reserved and often introverted. We tend to avoid small talk and stay silent. For example, in public transport, we avoid sitting by a stranger and while waiting a bus or at the elevator, we consider it weird to talk to fellow passengers. After a long and dark winter, the light-filled summer makes us more playful, and after a drink we might open for a casual small talk. I might be exaggerating a bit, come and judge yourself. But I can almost guarantee that at the beer festivals it’s possible to find new Finnish friends.

The Beer Festivals of Helsinki Outside Summer

Two other yearly beer festivals make you smile outside the Finnish summertime. Both of them are held indoors in Kaapelitehdas, an old cable factory turned into the largest cultural centre in Finland. The oldest beer festival in Finland, called plainly Helsinki Beer Festival, takes place in April, and OlutExpo (“BeerExpo”) in October.

Is that the ultimate grilling experience? It looks cool!
Yet another street food stall at Craft Beer Helsinki

Bizarre Facts: Finland & Beer

The national epic of Finland, the Kalevala, describes the creation of the beer in 400 lines, whereas the creation of the world and man is summarized in 200 lines. The Finnish God of beer was called Pekko.

Finnish sahti is among the oldest surviving beer styles in the world. Homebrew-like sahti is brewed with barley malt and rye, but without hops, using junipers in the fermentation process.

Only beer weaker than 4.7 % can be sold in regular retail stores. Stronger alcohol products are only available in government-owned Alko stores, restaurants and bars.

Finnish alcohol legislation is strict and weird. For example, you have to be careful to use women, athletes, Santa Claus, or animal mascots in beer labels. Finnish government agency Valvira even asked Facebook to remove Like button, so that people wouldn’t be able to like alcohol related posts.

Ever heard about beer floating? Yes, it’s an annual festival in Finland, where thousands of participants float down a river in make-shift rafts and inflatable dinghies while getting drunk.

Beer consumption is 85 litres per capita (scoring as 12th highest in the world)

If you’ve visited the beer festivals in Helsinki, which is your favorite and why?

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Small craft breweries take over Railway Square of Helsinki, Finland. Sample creative brews and binge on street food!


The gate to the walled, old city of Cartagena, Colombia

The Best Cafés in Cartagena, Colombia – Picks from a Specialty Coffee Geek

While roaming the colorful streets of Cartagena de Indias, stop by to one of the best cafés in Colombia to sip some serious espresso or cold-brew. The café scene in Colombia is developing fast: today you can drink the best coffee in the world in the country that produces it!

I’m an irritatingly picky coffee drinker who approves only prime, high-grown beans and prefers to skip the average coffee. So, I usually end up being a tea-drinker during our holidays. We’ve visited several coffee producing countries, such as Tanzania, Rwanda, and Nicaragua – and I’ve got used to getting just one good cup of coffee (or none) during those trips. Luckily, Colombia turned the tables. I’ve already listed our favorite cafés in Bogota, so now is time to look at the quirky coffee houses of Cartagena!

Café San Alberto

Calle Santos de Piedra #3-86, Cartagena (diagonal to the cathedral)

If you take your coffee extremely seriously, there might be only one place that will cater your specialty coffee needs in Cartagena: Café San Alberto inside the old town. But one perfect little café is more than enough! We ended up getting our caffeine fix there every day. Their take on the science of coffee is humbling.

The coffee of San Alberto claims to be the most award-winning coffee in Colombia. They call it super-premium: the single origin beans are produced under their 5-step selection process, in the spirit of French wine-making. The coffee comes from their own Hacienda de San Alberto, located in Buenavista region. The beans meet my strict coffee geek criteria: they’re grown high enough (1500–1800 meters above sea level) and wet-processed.

But how does it taste? Think of dark chocolate and caramel, juicy and balanced acidity. I loved every cup I had there: from espresso to cold brew and siphon – and Piritta loved their mochaccinos, as well. Yes, they provide all the brewing methods you could think of. And the interior is lovely, as well, pouring the story of the coffee with images and fact sheets. The upper floor feels more private than buzzing (and hot!) street level and wifi might lure you to stay longer than planned. And don’t worry, if you’re not a coffee geek, the knowledgeable baristas are happy to explain the different brewing methods if you’d like to taste something else than a cappuccino. They offer coffee tasting sessions, as well!

My only regret was that Cartagena was the first stop during our 4-week tour in Colombia, so it made no sense to drag the coffee bags for one month – and the beans wouldn’t have been at their best when we finally returned home. Maybe next time I’ll travel with my beloved AeroPress and Hario Skerton Coffee Mill – I’ve been thinking about it for years since they take such a little room in luggage!

Café San Alberto has catered the coffee aficionados of Cartagena since 2015. You’ll get your fix cheaper elsewhere, but it’s hard to match their standards. They’re even the exclusive distributor of Hario and Chemex in Colombia. Praise the beans!

Roaming the streets of Cartagena in search of the best cafés – can't blame the views!
Café San Alberto inside the old town of Cartagena caters your specialty coffee needs with their super premium, wet-processed beans
Café San Alberto inside the old town of Cartagena caters your specialty coffee needs with their super premium, wet-processed beans
Café San Alberto in the old town of Cartagena provides all the brewing methods needed to showcase their specialty coffee beans

Café de las Novias

Calle 25 #8B-126, Cartagena

Hidden on the quiet street in Getsemani, Café de Novias is a pleasant spot for a cake. Compared to Café San Alberto, their coffee is just average, but the cakes and weird wedding themed interior make it up. Go for the cakes and wedding planning if you are in the need! Yes, it’s a wedding planning shop turned into bakery slash coffee house (novia translates into bride).

Café del Mural

Carrera 9a (Calle San Juan) #25-60, Cartagena

Another praised café in Getsemani, which takes their beans seriously. Based on what I’ve heard, I’d highly recommend tasting their take on the specialty coffee of Colombia, though many seem to prefer San Alberto. In my eyes, Café de Mural appears to have more experimental and underground coffee lab feel. To my regret, they open at 3PM after which I limit my caffeine intake. If you’ve visited Café de Mural, please share your experience in the comments below!

Época Espresso Bar

Calle de Arzopispado, Carrera 5 #34-52, Cartagena

Not far from Plaza de Bolivar, Época Café quenches your thirst of espresso in the historical center. The coffee is roasted on the spot and they sell a variety of beans. Época’s signature drink is Carajillo Ahumado (espresso with Aguardiente, sugar cane and cassia).

Ábaco Café y Libros (Bookstore Café)

Calle de La Iglesia #3-86, Cartagena (on the corner of Calle de La Mantilla)
Visit this charming bookstore café for the love of books and coffee cocktails: cold brew or espresso-based drinks.

Boundless Mezcal Café

Plaza de los Coches, Calle 34, #7-33, Cartagena

One more exciting venue to the bucket list, if you love mezcal and coffee. Weird combination to me, but why not!

Juan Valdez Café

There are several branches on Juan Valdéz Café in Cartagena (and other big cities of Colombia). If they’re on your route, feel free to get your fix. Long story short, Juan Valdéz Café isn’t my favorite, and you can read more my opinions about them in the article on the best cafés of Bogotá.

If you’ve sampled great coffee in Cartagena, please share your favorite café in the comments below!

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Taste the best coffee beans in Colombia inside the walled old city of Cartagena. Browse the best cafes for a specialty coffee geek!


An Orangutan Thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, Malaysian Borneo

The Best of Borneo in 2 Weeks: Itinerary for Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, Snorkeling, and Jungles

Squeeze the highlights of Borneo into an adventurous 2-week itinerary. Explore the last stronghold of Bornean primary rainforest – the real jungle – in Danum Valley, make a record in orangutan spotting on tranquil river cruises along Kinabatangan, unwind on a secluded paradise island snorkeling with turtles, visit orangutan sanctuaries, and indulge in Bornean cuisine and cultural treats in the charming cities.

Along the way, you can choose between world-class hiking, snorkeling, and wildlife spotting – or just opt to sit back and enjoy the sceneries. This two-week route maximizes the chances to find funny-looking proboscis monkeys, orangutans and rare Borneo pygmy elephants in the wild – astonishingly, we saw the latter three times!

The pace is laid-back, so following this 2-week itinerary will set you to relaxed vacation mode. But at the same time, you’ll pack in a lot in terms of truly experiencing all the different flavors of Borneo. Let’s take off!

Sepilok: Introduction to Borneo with Orangutans, Sun Bears, and Giant Flying Squirrels (2 nights)

Sepilok is a perfect spot to start your journey, as it allows you to avoid starting and ending your trip in Kota Kinabalu. When time is short, every night counts! Internal flight from Kota Kinabalu (where your international flight lands) to a nearby coastal city of Sandakan takes just 45 minutes, and from there it’s less than 30 minutes’ taxi drive to Sepilok.

But why Sepilok? Choose a resort that is tucked away from it all and a room facing the rainforest and sleep away your jetlag. Wake up to the sounds of exotic birds and enjoy breakfast outdoors while spotting monkeys in the trees. Then head to the world-famous orangutan sanctuary to witness semi-wild red-furred cousins swinging to the feeding platforms for their lunch. Still not completely charged up? What about visiting orangutan nursery and watching babies wrestling and chasing each other?

Still, the highlight for us was visiting Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where you can watch the pint-sized bears climbing up the trees and minding their own businesses. We also loved the nature walks in the rainforest, on the elevated platforms just behind our hotel, MY Nature Resort. The additional perks included watching giant red flying squirrels glide upon us during the evenings. In Sepilok, you’ll get a perfect foretaste of Borneo – the orangutans, sun bears, and rainforest – in just one day! Get inspired and read our separate article: 5 Things To Do In Sepilok!

Getting to Sepilok
There are multiple daily flights between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. One-way prices start at 13$ (AirAsia), so there’s absolutely no reason to take the road. That’s also a total bargain for the one most scenic aerial views: you’ll be flying past Mt. Kinabatangan and weather-permitting the peak is fully visible. Be sure to book left side seat from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan!

Taxi drive from Sepilok to Sandakan takes less than 30 minutes. It’s worthwhile to check if your hotel offers return transfers – ours did. I wouldn’t bother thinking about the bus. Local buses leave hourly from ´Batu 14´, by the highway (Sepilok doesn’t have a center, so you’d need a taxi to Batu 14).

Sandakan: Soak in the Small City Charm (1 night)

Spend a day in the authentic Bornean small-town vibes mingling with locals. Zigzag between the hawker and fruit stalls of Sandakan Central Market and stock on everything you’d possibly need from the nearby Harbour Mall, which alone would be a justifiable reason to spend a night in Sandakan before heading off the grid. We enjoyed a great lunch at a quaint café, lovely rooftop drinks, and authentic Malay dinner at the waterfront with locals. Sandakan offered us a welcome city break before spending a week in the remote corners of Borneo!

Getting to Sandakan
Use either a taxi or bus – or ask the transfer from your hotel, as specified above (check out “Getting to Sepilok”).

A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.
Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo

All photographs by Piritta

Lankayan Island: Ultimate Paradise Island with World-Class Diving and Snorkeling (2 nights)

Welcome to the paradise! Lankayan Island is straight out of the tropical daydream: a tiny jewel-shaped, coral-ringed island far off the coast and crowds, in the turquoise Sulu Sea. Imagine chalk-white sand beaches and a magical underwater world, which bewitches divers and snorkelers alike. Then add an exquisite luxury resort, with just 26 seafront chalets, all facing the endless, turquoise ocean. This uninhabited island offers ultimate seclusion – a perfect spot for romantic getaways. Just look at the pictures, the words are not enough.

The best thing is that you don’t need to be a diver to see rare creatures, like jawfish, explore colorful coral reefs, and swim with turtles or sharks. You can do it all in the shallow waters of the Lankayan jetty, even if you’ve never snorkeled before. We searched long and hard for the best place to snorkel in Borneo – and found it from Lankayan. A separate article about the magical underwater world of Lankayan is coming out soon!

Getting to Lankayan
Private boat transfer (included in the rates of Lankayan Island Dive Resort) leaves Sandakan at 10 AM and leaves Lankayan at 7 AM, so plan your itinerary accordingly. If you’re flying in Sandakan, note that your flight has to land before 9 AM.

Tiny Lankayan Island is an unspoilt paradise far off the coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
The main building of Lankayan Island Dive Resort in its evening gown

Sungai Kinabatangan River: Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys in the Wild (2 nights)

Kinabatangan River is the best bet to see wild orangutans in Borneo – the sightings could be almost guaranteed if you stay two nights at the river (our guides said that the likelihood is 70%). Proboscis monkeys are omnipresent and nearly impossible to miss, still watching their plump bellies and funny noses will guarantee smiles at every encounter.

What we couldn’t believe was spotting a herd of endangered Borneo pygmy elephants. There are only 1500 of these baby-faced forest elephants left in the world, as their population has dropped by 50% during the last three generations. It’s incredibly hard to pick the highlight of our Kinabatangan adventure: every moment spent watching wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys felt sacred, and we were up in the clouds while trying to spot the massive gray ears and trunks of those pygmy elephants through reeds. Still, all river cruises felt serene, though during one morning we didn’t spot any orangutans, and I enjoyed jungle breakfast with cheeky macaques and wild pigs.

Kinabatangan River attracts loads of tourists, so pick your lodge wisely. I’d recommend spending at least one night upriver, far from the cluster of lodges in Sukau village, where riverboat traffic disrupts the jungle fantasies. We loved the privacy of the Abai area combined with one night in Sukau, where wildlife spotting was excellent. Get more inspiration for your trip from our separate article on Kinabatangan River!

One word of warning for Kinabatangan River: there is a devastating reason for the massive numbers of orangutans and other wildlife. The palm oil industry has left only a narrow corridor of the jungle for animals to move around. As splendid as it feels to visit Kinabatangan, it isn’t a real, untouched wilderness – and that’s the perfect reason to venture deeper and add our next destination into your itinerary!

Getting to Kinabatangan River
Either book a tour beforehand or negotiate with the tour operators in Sandakan. Some of the lodges also allow straight bookings (though many are owned by tour companies), but you’ll need river transports anyway. Sukau village is also reachable by car, but we’d recommend venturing further for more authentic Kinabatangan experience. We recommend a tour as then all transports and activities are included – and even the transits become exciting chances to spot wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys!

Proboscis Monkeys by Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo

Danum Valley: The Real Bornean Rainforest and Wildlife with Luxury (3 nights)

If I’d have to pick only one destination in Malaysian Borneo, it would be Danum Valley. It’s the last stronghold of primary rainforest in Borneo, where you can hike along marked trails gazing to the immense, untouched jungle where no man has set foot. Danum Valley is a naturalist’s paradise: before these 438 square kilometers of lowland dipterocarp forest was declared a conservation area, there were no human settlements, meaning no hunting or other interference with wildlife. More than 340 species of birds and 124 species of mammals call this their home – count in orangutans and Borneo pygmy elephants, both of which we were lucky to see more than once.

There’s only one lodge inside the Danum Valley Conservation Area, boasting ultimate seclusion and luxury. The award-winning Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers a gateway to the real jungle of Borneo on its private hiking trails inside the conservation area, along with the iconic, 300 meters long treetop canopy walkway, open exclusively to the guests. All-inclusive rates cover exciting activities – choose between nature walks with a naturalist guide, fun river tubing, longer hikes, birding, and night drives.

Getting to Danum Valley from Kinabangan River (or Lahad Datu)
All-inclusive rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge include 2-hour transfer from the town of Lahad Datu. MasWings has several daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu. If you’re coming from Kinabatangan, ground transport is the quickest option (appr. 1-1,5 hours from Sukau to Lahad Datu). Either your lodge in Kinabatangan or Borneo Nature Lodge can organize the transfer.

Danum Valley's Canopy Walkway is a dream come true for nature photographers

Kuching: Bustling Colonial City with Exciting Day Trips (3 nights)

After exploring the Sabah area for more than a week now, venture into another side of Malaysian Borneo: Sarawak. Kuching offers a convenient – and exciting – shortcut to the vast Sarawak. The city itself needs to be felt: roam the riverfront and the colorful streets of Old China Town with locals, pop in the acclaimed fusion restaurants and local eateries and eat your way through the highland and tribal cuisines. Check out a separate foodie guide for the best restaurants in Kuching!

The day trips are the draw of Kuching: you can visit even the far-flung corners of Sarawak on a day trip from Kuching. The hardest part is to choose between the several options and still leave enough time to feel the beat of Kuching. We visited Bako National Park and Semenggoh Nature Reserve – both spellbinding in their own way. For us, the encounters with semi-wild orangutans in Semenggoh Wildlife Center felt more personal and special than in Sepilok, as the orangutan sanctuary is both smaller and less visited.

Bako National Park offers unbelievable versatile trails for short and long day hikes. The sceneries are otherworldly: think of untamed jungle beaches where bearded pigs grub sand and thick forest where proboscis monkeys play upon you. The vegetation is an incredibly versatile with seven different eco-systems – from mangrove to majestic cliffs and weird rock formations, swamp to mixed dipterocarp forest and keranga (a heath forest with acidic, sandy soil).

Getting to Kuching from Danum Valley (or Kota Kinabalu)
Cheap internal flights carry you conveniently almost from the furthest fringe of Sabah to the capital of Sarawak. Driving would be insane (more than 1500 kilometers), as the flights take just a couple of hours. We flew with Mas Wings from Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu:  they have four daily flights with promo prices around 25$. To Kota Kinabalu–Kuching leg AirAsia proved to be a cheaper option.

Kota Kinabalu: Farewell in Bornean Style (1 night)

Kota Kinabalu entertained us only for one evening, but feel free to expand your stay. We enjoyed our sunset walk along the waterfront with locals, popping in the bustling – and endless – street food market. Somehow one night still felt enough for us: after the jewels of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu felt rather chaotic and dirty. Some find it a pleasant base for daytripping the nearby islands, but after Lankayan – or Semporna islands – you won’t find paradise here. The others end or start their holiday at the nearby beach resorts, but our research drove us to ponder between Semporna Islands and Sandakan Islands (Lankayan). The Kudat area on the tip of Sabah (accessible via Kota Kinabalu by road) sounds perfect for a budget beach stay.

An Orangutan Thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, Malaysian Borneo
Kuching Waterfront lines the south bank of Sarawak river, offering scenic views towards Fort Margherita and the Astana

Our Tweaks for 1-Week, 10-Day and 3-Week Itinerary in Malaysian Borneo: Mt Kinabalu, Maliau Basin and More of Sarawak

If you long for a more tranquil beat and have more time to spend, I’d suggest adding more days on Lankayan Island (especially if you’re a diver or avid snorkeler) and Danum Valley (especially if you’re into hiking). If you have only 7 to 10 days to spend, I’d drop visiting Kuching (Sarawak) and narrow down the nights in Sepilok/Sandakan area.

We were exceptionally pleased with this 2-week itinerary, so personally, I wouldn’t remove or add anything – other than more time to explore more destinations. I’d happily add extra loops for climbing Mt Kinabalu (we will return for that!), visiting Maliau Basin National Park in Sabah and doing more day-trips from Kuching to the rest of Sarawak (Gunung Mulu caves, river cruises, Kelabit Highlands, and the longhouses of the headhunter tribe). And of course, we will return for the vast Indonesian side of Borneo called Kalimantan – there’s a lot the explore!

Where to Stay in Borneo

If this 2-week Borneo itinerary gets you going, be sure to check our favorite lodges around the Malaysian Borneo to get out the most of your stay! We handpicked four luxurious lodges, which will give you to a real taste of Borneo with all the modern comforts, sumptuous dinners, and authentic wildlife encounters. 
Check out our list of the best lodges in Malaysian Borneo!

Excited and ready to book your trip to Borneo? Would you follow our steps tracking the beat of Borneo on this 2-week itinerary? If you’ve visited Malaysian Borneo, what were the highlights for you and would you change something in our itinerary?

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The best of Borneo squeezed into a 2-week itinerary: orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, and turtles; Danum Valley, Kinabatangan, Lankayan Island and more!


English Tea House is a surprising find in Malaysian Borneo. Tucked away upon a hill overlooking Sandakan Bay, English Tea House boasts a croquet lawn and spectacular views towards the Sulu Sea and islets guarding the coastal town.

Sight of the Week: English Tea House, Sandakan (Borneo)

Authentic English Tea House with a croquet lawn is a surprising find in Borneo. Tucked away upon a hill overlooking Sandakan Bay, English Tea House boasts spectacular view towards the Sulu Sea and islets guarding the coastal town.

Haven for History Buffs and English Tea Lovers

The colonial-style villa casts long, history filled shadows also upon the well-manicured garden and shady terrace. American writer Agnes Keith used to live in the adjacent British colonial house, which serve now as a museum presenting author’s life. Her book “Land Below The Wind” has nicknamed Sabah area according the title. The book was written in 1939 in this very house, now aptly named Agnes Keith House.

English Tea House serves local Sabah Tea, which took me by surprise me exceeding my usual expectations towards local tea. Grown without pesticides at the mouth Mt Kinabalu and manufactured without added colorings, Sabah Tea is chemical-free and naturally flavorful. Flavored versions English Breakfast Tea and Earl Grey are developed together with English Tea House. Authentic afternoon tea sets served at the terrace of English Tea House crown the deal.

We loved to walk around the croquet lawn photobombing chickens, stopping by at the lovely gazebos to pet the friendly dogs. Food and service lived up to the expectations, as well. Visit English Tea House for the colonial atmosphere and the best view in Sandakan and stay for a lunch or afternoon tea!

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English Tea House is a surprising find in Borneo. Authentic tea sets, fish'n'chips, and a croquet lawn are crowned with an incredible view towards the Sulu Sea and the coastal town of Sandakan.


Enjoying the warm winter terrace of T-Anker, Prague

Best Craft Beer Pubs in Prague for Tasting Czech Microbrews

When we visited Prague in January, craft beer tasting was at the top of our bucket list. Beer is so essential part of Czech culture that I recommend microbrewery tour for anyone spending a weekend in Prague. Before it was all about mass-produced brands, like locally brewed Pilsner Urquell, but nowadays Prague has become a mecca for microbreweries and craft beer pubs, which stand proudly against international comparison. Visit our favorite microbrew venues and get lost in their exhaustive craft beer menus!

U Kunstatu

We popped in U Kunstatu right after arriving in Prague, which proved out to be an excellent choice. The atmosphere and the craft beer selection were the best we found on our weekend getaway in Prague.

Beer sampler with 6 glasses (350CZK, appr. 13€) means 2 pints of liquid, but don’t worry, you can share it just like we did. The ubiquitous list covers 100 beers. If feeling overwhelmed, leave your faith into the loving hands of the savant bartenders. We enjoyed the tough call and careful negotiation about the chosen ones, ending up with 2 porters, 2 IPAs, one ale, and one stout. The clear winners were the flavored porters from Kocour Brewery. Both cherry and strawberry porters amazed us with crisp berry tones: just like you’ve sliced fresh berries among your beer. I also liked a lot Sherpa IPA from Czech Permon Brewery.

If you need to limit your beer exploration in Prague into one craft beer pub, let it be U Kunstatu. Their unique selection, homey vibe, and candle-lit tables fit even for a romantic night out and give a perfect introduction to the Czech microbrewery scene.

You are also free to explore the well-preserved Romanesque palace at the cellar level of the pub. The former palace of King George of Podebrady is a UNESCO protected monument dating back to the 1200th century, and you probably have the site all to yourself. What un unforgettable add-on to the beer tasting in Prague style!

Address & Opening Hours of U Kunstatu
Retezova 3, Prague 1
Open: Daily 2PM­–11PM, guided beer tasting sessions at 6 PM
www.ukunstatu.cz

Nota Bene

Nota Bene requires a short hike off the tourist trail, behind Wenceslas Square. The “craft beer point” located at the cellar serves 12 draft beers, while the restaurant at the next door had four beers on tap during our exploration. Good news is that all of them are from a local microbrewery called Unetické pivo, located just behind the borders of Prague. We sampled a truly excellent Zitná IPA and velvety Black IPA, both highly recommended.

Since you’ve made it this far, indulge in the treats of the kitchen, as well. We had fantastic fillet mignons, mine accompanied with three different mushrooms and delicious sauce with cauliflower puree; Piritta requested ginger sauce with mashed potatoes. We usually share the dessert, but Nota Bene’s espresso cheesecake was so yummy that we had to order a second one. Go for a craft beer and stay for a meal!

Address & Opening Hours of Nota Bene
Mikovcova 4, Praha 2
Open: Mon-Fri 11AM-11PM, Sat 12PM-11PM, Sun closed
www.notabene-restaurant.cz

T-Anker

T-Anker is a hidden gem lurking on the shady side street in the heart of Prague. From Náměstí Republiky square, step on a bystreet called Králodvorská and take a gritty elevator to the fifth floor. You’ll be rewarded with a solid craft beer selection, both from Czech microbreweries and abroad – 9 on tap and 60 in bottles!

As an added bonus, you’ll get unrivaled panorama upon the roofs of Malastrana. Even in the middle of winter, the rooftop terrace is pleasantly heated. You can even see the omnipresent twin towers of Tyn church while sampling, for example, some fine IPA from Malešov, Holá Rit’, or Permon. I’d select T-Anker for aperitifs or night cap in a good company.

Address & Opening Hours of T-Anker
5th floor of OD Kotva (department store), Náměstí Republiky, Praha 1
Open: Daily 11AM-10PM
www.t-anker.cz/en

Pivovarsky Dum

Founded already in 1998, Pivovarsky Dum (“the brewer’s house) is a modern classic in Prague craft beer scene. When I visited Prague the first time in 2008, Pivovarsky Dum was one of a kind, as there weren’t many other microbreweries. I loved the unique experience of tasting local brews back then. Nowadays, I’d venture into Pivovarsky Dum after their specialty beers – such as banana beer, nettle beer, or beer champagne – if those kinds of experiments rock your boat.

Address & Opening Hours of Pivovarsky Dum
Křižíkova 17°, Praha 8 – Karlín
Open: Daily 11AM-11.30PM
www.pivovarskydum.com

Still thirsty for more? If you’re into everything bizarre like us, try the herbal beers of Pivovar U Dobřenských. I love medicinal herbs, but it’s pretty rare to find them in beer. The specialty of this microbrewery is an ale brewed with tribulus terrestris, herb which known to boost testosterone levels. A little bit more mainstream version on tap is a stout with sage, and the third beer is always seasonal.

With already three locations, Beer Museum will pop around the corner sooner or later while strolling around the streets of Prague. We didn’t take the chance, as they charge an entrance fee and the place looked extremely touristic. Feel free to visit also the traditional watering holes, such as U Fleku or U Zlateho Tygra. We don’t like them that much (both overly touristic and often crammed with drunks), but what the heck, it’s worth a try while you’re in Prague.

Have you visited the microbreweries or craft beer pubs in Prague – or would you like to include “a microbrew crawl” on your bucket list?

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Prague is a mecca for microbreweries and craft beer pubs. Visit our favorite pubs and get lost in the exhaustive microbrew menus!


Paragliding in Medellín, Colombia

Paragliding Upon the Hills of Medellín, Colombia

While putting on a paragliding harness, I’m staring down at the meandering skyline of Medellín, shivering from the second thoughts. A couple of brave-hearts are already gliding through the sky, some spinning recklessly, the others gaining altitude firmly. I’m envious of their infinite panorama over the green hills that guard the valley of Medellín and the tapestry of the red-bricked roofs below their feet. The urge to see the world like a bird convinces me to push my boundaries: I’ve come this far to paraglide upon Medellín.

Struggling Against the Fear of Free-Flying

My paragliding instructor wakes me up, telling that the weather is just perfect today, as the wind is “only” 22 meters per second. I ask, still nervous if we’ll use an engine. The answer is negative; we are just free-flying. I’m thinking how much skill it would take to glide upwards more than a thousand meters and not to fall down when a sudden blast takes on the light-weight paragliding wing. There will be turbulence, I’ve heard, and I can clearly see how airborne paragliders struggle. What if a nasty blast whisks us too high, or our paragliding wing collapses?

We’ve been paragliding before, but it was more than six years ago in Romania, and I was as terrified back then, as well. But somehow it felt more safe, as we were backed up by a motor, and just descending from the mountains of Brasov – not free-flying upon an enormous valley, and a city, like the paragliders of Medellín. Maybe my fear of heights has grown bigger, or the 1,5-hour bus trip upon the hills, followed by a short, but grueling climb upon the peak just took its mental toll. My head is buzzing, but in the shadows lurks still the old excitement – I’m pretty sure I’ll love the paragliding experience nevertheless, at least when it’s over.

Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia
Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia

Taking Off – the Hardest Part

I watch how Piritta takes off, seemingly happily. For the next 20 minutes, I won’t let her parachute out of my sight. But just before the landing time I lost the blue and white paraglider wing behind the trees, and immediately, threat scenarios fill my mind. Then they tumble back on the hill top, laughing out loud. Sudden relief is mixed with a flash of horror, as my instructor says that it’s our time to take off.

We walk to the parachute, and the team runs to us, quickly attaching our harnesses into the aircraft. Strong wind beats us down several times before we even try to run off. While trying to run, I fall bringing down the promisingly kiting parachute. The team calms me down just to make me realize who nervous I am. I decide to keep my legs and get this done. Next time, a hearty breeze helps us to take off smoothly. We’re getting altitude quickly, swinging from side to side. Still pressing the metallic sidebars of our paragliding wing, I’m all smile. Taking off is always the hardest part; now it’s time to enjoy the ride.

Piritta's team making preparations just before running to take off with their paraglide
Piritta is just taking off with her paragliding instructor from the hills of Medellín

Letting It Go – My Triumph Over Paragliding

We are floating on the breeze like a bird. I rest my eyes on the vast urban texture of Medellín that wiggles over a hilly surface, evading from green peaks. From the air, it’s easy to believe that Medellín is the second biggest metropolis in Colombia. The neighborhoods of Medellín have such a pleasant small town feel that the city feels smaller when you walk the streets.

Excelling my limits feels amazing, again. Last time I challenged my fear of heights by jumping a bungee from Victoria Falls Bridge in Zambia. I wasn’t sure if I ever enjoyed the bungee, but this time I’m ecstatic. For a moment, we glide together with an eagle. I’m bursting with feelings of unlimited freedom and joy.

The hillside is peppered with small farms, and at lower altitudes, I can even recognize cows and goats wandering lazily around the pasture. Just when I feel in harmony with the surroundings, my pilot asks if I’d like to have some adrenaline. With a sudden flash of confidence, I nod cheerfully, though I know from experience what’s in store for me.

During the next five minutes, I got a taste of “paragliding acro” like the pros call it. “Paragliding aerobatics” is freestyle paragliding, performing all kinds of tricks in the air. Nowadays the daredevils compete in yearly World Paragliding Aerobatics Championships. We’re spinning in the air, losing altitude quickly, then almost touching down before getting high again – just to do some more spinning. I laugh recklessly, awe-struck. I’m having a blast, but not without my old companion, the fear of crashing down.

Hello from the air! That's me paragliding over the skies of Medellín, Colombia

How Safe Is Paragliding in Medellín, Colombia?

I’m not the right person to ask, but due to my fears, I’ve studied some statistics about paragliding safety. When you’re taking a tandem flight, an experienced pilot with a proper paragliding equipment serves as your safety net. So choose your paragliding operator carefully. Almost all accidents are caused by the mistakes of the paragliding pilot or poor weather.

Still, there are some risks, which you can avoid though you’re not the pilot. Weather-wise, the best times to fly are the first and 3 last hours of daylight. That’s also the timeframe our paragliding operator in Medellín suggested, though we picked another timing.

Agreeing into “the adrenaline ride” has its risks. Spinning, or spirals, might cause the pilot to black out. Vertical wingovers might collapse the paragliding wing. Paragliding too low is risky because of the wires, though I didn’t see them on our hillside. There’s also a nasty “downwind demon”, a risk of colliding with something due to the illusion that haunts pilots only when flying too low. In Medellín, the landing area seemed huge, making it a secure spot to paraglide even for several paragliders at a time. Still, it might be fatal if you crash into another paraglider in the air, but an experienced pilot knows the risks.

We were paragliding with Ruben Fly, a pioneering paragliding company in Medellín, which has a record of more than 8000 successful flights without accidents. Some companies sell paragliding tours, but we would recommend a straight booking through a paragliding company (just search for “paragliding medellin” or in Spanish “parapente medellin” from Google). That way you know the company you’re dealing with and can also double-check their reputation. The paragliding company will offer transfers if you’d like to book them separately. We used local bus according to their instructions and it was very easy to find the spot. The views are stunning, so the bus ride felt pleasant enough, though it lasted an hour.

According to statistics, paragliding is as almost safe as driving. Paragliding is safer than for example motorcycling. Skydiving is about 4 times more dangerous than paragliding. More than 90 % of paragliding accidents happen within the first 10 flights of the pilot. All tandem pilots are naturally experienced. I find these numbers extremely calming.

In the end, paragliding is not really an adventure sport and your pilot won’t do any “tricks” unless you ask for them. The essence of paragliding is just floating calmly in the air and enjoying the scenery. Paragliding in Medellín is a perfect introduction to the sport of paragliding since it feels safe and adventurous at the same time and the stunning bird-eye view will leave you wanting more!

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Paraglide over the hills of Medellín, Colombia! Face your fears spinning in the air and enjoy the sublime scenery. #paragliding #Medellin #Colombia


Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino

10 Reasons to Visit Colombia – Right Now!

Colombia is a perfect holiday destination and with stabilizing security situation, it’s rising to the radar fast. The Caribbean beaches, archeological sites, mountain treks and other adventurous activities are some of the best in South America, and the Colombian Amazon remains relatively unspoiled, unlike Peruvian and Brasilian sides. Check out why you should book your next adventure to the country of magical realism!

While Colombia has become tourist-friendly, its natural beauty remains unsullied. Beaches, mountains, and jungles, together with many small colonial towns, throw you into wild adventures veering off the beaten path. We loved the authentic feel of Colombia throughout our 4-week tour, even though we visited many famous attractions. Read on to see why Colombia stole our hearts to pick your favorites and take off to the pristine adventures before the masses arrive!

1. Untamed Paradise Beaches

Tourism hasn’t spoiled Colombia’s best beaches. There are still endless, untamed jungle beaches on both Caribbean and Pacific sides. Small stretches beside the major cities like Cartagena and Santa Marta have their share of sun seekers, but just outside the biggest tourist draws spread the real gems. We loved our visit to a spectacular jungle beach between Tayrona National Park and Palomino.

Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park
Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

2. Snowcapped Mountains and High-Altitude Páramos

The unique high-altitude plains of Colombia, called páramo, once again scream out the concept of magical realism. Multi-day treks can take you to eerie high-altitude lakes and the snow-capped Andes. The largest páramo ecosystem of the world, Páramo de Sumapaz, can even be visited on a day tour from Bogotá, but it’s still a challenging, high-altitude hike.

Good news is that you’ll only need to take a public bus from Popayán to San Agustín to get a glimpse of the surrealistic páramo landscapes. On a one month tour in Colombia, you’d probably like to visit San Agustín anyway, so the páramo will be conveniently on your route!

3. Cultural Adventures

Colombia’s rich history still vibrates in the air in the cobbled streets of lovingly restored colonial cities, between the man-sized statues of San Agustín, and in the vegetation covered ruins of ancient civilizations found deep in the jungles.

Colombians love their heritage. Bogotá has a museum for everybody, as the treasures are scaling from gold to remarkable South American art, the famed sword of Simon Bolívar (featured in Narcos, as well), ex-police headquarters, Pablo Escobar’s Harley Davidson and pistol, military uniforms, old prison cells, and Pre-Colombian mummies.

Throughout Colombia, you’ll bump into indigenous tribes, from more than 70 tribes living in the Colombian Amazon to the biggest tribe called Wayúu that populates the La Guajira peninsula on the Caribbean coast. In Tayrona National Park you’ll meet the Kogi, descendants of Tairona people and in the Colombian Andes live other groups, such as the Guambiano that can be encountered in Popayán. Indigenous tribes form 3,5 % of Colombia’s total population making it the second most ethnically diverse country in America (right after Brazil).

For me, the spirit of Colombian literary superstar Gabriel García Márquez was omnipresent in the form of “magical realism”. The myths, spirits, legends, and unbelievable stories linger below the visible surface of this multifaceted country. Colombians worship their “Gabo”: tours are run in his name and you can trample on his footsteps in Cartagena, Bogotá, Barranquilla, Mombox, and his hometown Aracataca.

After the Netflix hit series Narcos, Medellín is facing a real tourism boom in the name of Pablo Escobar, on which we’ll shed light later on. Talking about culture, carnivals, salsa, football, and Roman Catholic influence shouldn’t be forgotten, either. Some might also add Shakira to this weird mix.

View towards Medellín from the luxurious
View towards Medellín from the luxurious "prison" called La Catedral, which Pablo Escobar built for himself

4. Adrenaline Adventures

Airborne activities like parasailing and skydiving are offered in many cities, even outside “the adventure capital” San Gil. We tried our wings upon the green hills and red roofs of Medellín and will share the thrill in another post.

Snorkeling and diving are divine on the shores, particularly on the Caribbean islands of Providencia and San Andres. Even the reefs of the most popular tourist destinations, Tayrona National Park and Rosario Islands, are worth plunging.

Horseback riding in Colombia is as good as it gets without fancy ranches and thoroughbreds. We were surprised how good the local horses looked throughout the country and galloped through the national parks of Tayrona and San Agustín respectively. Then there are unrivaled mountain treks, surfing, white-water rafting, rock climbing, and whale watching, making it hard to choose what to skip!

Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia
Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia

5. Top-notch Archaeological Sites with an Adventurous Twist

Colombia is not yet famous for its archaeological sites, but it definitely should be. You’ve probably heard about the most hyped destination called the Lost City, Ciudad Perdida, which can only be reached through a popular multi-day trek. The more modest ruins of the same Tairona civilization can be visited in nearby Tayrona National Park.

At the other side of the country, amidst emerald green hills and at the foot of the snowcapped Andes, lurk two less hyped but more important archaeological sites. Scattered around stunning countryside and jungle, the ruins of San Agustín make up the world’s biggest necropolis. The stunning stone statues, graves, and ceremonial sites can be reached by a leisure half day hike inside the archaeological park, another half day of horseback riding, and a half day loop with a jeep. Visiting the ruins on horseback feels adventurous and showcases the sleepy countryside at the same time.

Tierradentro is the third destination for archaeological buffs with similar man-sized statues as in San Agustín and important underground tombs and burial chambers. Both San Agustín and Tierradentro are Unesco World Heritage Sites.

One of the few colorful statues in San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia.
One of the few colorful statues in San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia

6. Unparalleled Colonial Cities, Towns, and Villages

While Cartagena is the most stunning colonial city we’ve ever visited, and we’re not alone with our affection, the story doesn’t stop there. Locals prefer smaller – and to their experience more authentic – Santa Marta over Cartagena. Even La Candelaria, the colonial barrio of Bogotá, will enchant you with blissfully preserved and charmingly crumbled colonial buildings, now housing world-class museums and restaurants. Photogenic colonial towns and tiny villages are sprinkled all around the country, all you need to do is to pick your favorite from the beauties such as but not limited to Villa de Leyva, Mompox, Jardin, Popayán, and Barichara!

The cathedral of Popayán, Catedral Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

7. Lovely Boutique Hotels

You don’t need to rough it to enjoy the splendors of Colombia. Hotel scene is developing rapidly with the new tourism boom, but in my opinion, only Bogotá and Cartagena have a full spectrum of luxury hotels and boutique hotels. Even in Medellín, it was a tough call to find an affordable, high-quality boutique hotel. Luckily many small towns receiving a steady number of tourists, like San Agustín, have a couple of attractive, though not luxurious, boutique hotels. Check out our list of affordable boutique hotels in Colombia!

8. Varied Culinary Experiences

One of the biggest surprises for me was the level of cooking and the sheer amount of brilliant culinary experiences we encountered in Colombia. Regional cuisines are strong, but some stables, like patacones (fried plantains), arroz coco (coconut rice), and arepas (fried corn cakes) are found everywhere. Fruits and vegetables are, naturally, delicious. Meat and fish tend to be perfectly cooked. In bigger cities like Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, and Santa Marta we ate our way through fabulous international restaurants. From local treats, we loved the aji picante in Medellín, spicier foods like curries on the Caribbean coast, and Amazonian fish dishes.

The Colombian food was the best we’ve had on the continent. Also, as coffee geeks, we haven’t tasted better local coffee in any country, though we’ve visited several renown coffee producers like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nicaragua. If you’d like to get caffeinated and find the best cafés in Bogotá, click here.

The mass-produced local beer brands – Club Colombia, Àguila, and Poker – rose to near the top of our list the best local beers. Club Colombia Dorada (golden) and Roja (red) were our undisputed favorites. Although Colombian microbreweries didn’t win our hearts, I believe that scene is developing fast, as well.

9. Cheap Internal Flights

If you yearn to see the many faces of Colombia, you’ll need to visit several districts. But Colombia is bigger than you’d imagine: distances are long. Mountains and unpaved roads make drives both exhausting and unpredictable. Luckily, with a bit of travel hacking, you can fly around rather affordably. For example, we preferred 30 $ flight from Bogotá to Cartagena (1,5 hours) over a bus trip of the same cost (27 $) that would have lasted more than 18 hours. Still, many foreign tourists use long distance buses, since they cannot book cheap flights. Learn our flight hacks and book cheap internal flights to crown your trip in Colombia!

The legendary Cafe Havana, Cartagena

10. Relaxed Ambiance & Friendly Colombians

After a long list, there’s still something “more” about Colombia that remains obscure and hard to describe. I’ll label it into relaxed atmosphere and friendliness of Colombians, though that’s not the whole story here, either. I could label it into “magic of Colombia” or “the magical realism”, as well.

The ambiance is very welcoming everywhere, from the tiny jungle and mountain villages to the barrios of the big cities. If you need any help and try to express yourself in broken Spanish, there’s always somebody who’ll take care of your problem.

Part of the spell is the natural beauty of the countryside and mountains, for sure. The other half could be the myths and legends rooted in the culture: the stories about spirits and ancestors that Colombians have been telling their kids for centuries. People appear happy – and that makes me smile, as well.

After my lengthy confession, why would you love to visit Colombia? If you’ve already lost your heart to this magical country, why you’d recommend it to other travelers? Please share the love in the comments below. After all the political struggles, Colombia deserves more visitors and positive reputation – it’s an amazing destination for adventurers, families, beach bums, mountaineers, history buffs, coffee geeks, and even foodies!

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Colombia is rising to the radar fast: the Caribbean beaches, mountain treks, and Amazon adventures are some of the best in South America.


Libertario Café: the best specialty coffee in Bogotá if you ask me!

The Best Cafes of Bogotá – Picks from a Specialty Coffee Geek

There’s something exciting brewing in Bogotá’s cafe scene. Tens of hip specialty coffee houses have been popping up during the last couple of years – and they serve some of the best coffee in the world. Even if you’re not in Colombia in the hunt of coffee, stop by at one of the cafe gems listed below to sniff out the cool hipster vibes of Bogotá.

Just a couple of years back, it was still hard to find a solid cup of specialty coffee in Bogotá, or anywhere in Colombia. Though Colombia has ranked among three biggest coffee producing countries in the world for decades, the best coffee beans used to be imported to roasteries around the world. The same story has become a little too familiar to us after touring several coffee nations in the hunt of the best beans, like Nicaragua, Kenya, Tanzania, and some of the upcoming stars such as Uganda and Rwanda. But let’s go back to the bustling streets of Bogotá for some serious coffee tasting!

First, work your way into trendy Chapinero neighborhood (we preferred taxis in Bogotá), which is the unofficial hipster coffee house mecca of Bogotá. We even chose Chapinero as our home base in Bogotá and picked our hotel in the middle of the coffee house triangle, which I drafted on Google Maps (I know, my caffeine addiction sounds bad)! All the first four coffee houses were less than a 10-minute walk from our hotel (and from each other), meaning that you can visit all of them conveniently during one morning or afternoon. Just watch out for that caffeine high!

Libertario Coffee

Calle 71 #534, Chapinero

Libertario Coffee won our hearts even before we landed at Bogota. They have their own, ultramodern and experimental coffee farm called La Palma y El Tucan in Cundinamarca area, 1,5 hours by car from Bogotá. The passion for specialty coffee vibrates in the air: they call their extremely knowledgeable baristas barirockstars and host visiting (famed) baristas from all over the globe.

Sampling their rarities (Geisha and SL28) in a small, fancy yet relaxed café was one of the highlights of our trip. We left with broad smiles on our faces and boxes of praised Geisha beans in our bags. In future, their coffee farm also welcomes non-trade coffee pilgrims!

Café Cultor

Calle 69 #6-20, Chapinero

Hipstery container café with a sunny rooftop terrace and unbeatable beans – what else you could wish! Located next to Impact Hub, in the very heart of the entertaining district called Zona G, Café Cultor is just a 5-minute walk from both Amor Perfecto and Libertario Coffee.

The roots of Café Cultor reflect the past coffee scene of Colombia: they started as an export company but decided to open a local café after realizing that majority of their beans were flowing out of the country. Thus, they aim to educate on Colombian coffee with infographics and workshops, and (free!) tastings. Coffee is roasted in their own lab.

Café Devoción

Carrera 7 #72-41, Chapinero (inside Hilton Hotel)

Don’t let the location or late 1800’s pharmacy look fool you, inside Hilton lurks a true gem of Colombian boutique coffee roaster. Actually, they are more than boutique, also serving ”exotic” and ”grand cru” scale coffee (rated by Specialty Coffee Association of America).

Bizarre fact of the day: 90% of their coffee beans comes from ”the red zones” of Colombia a.k.a guerrilla-infested areas. By supporting Café Devoción, you’ll support farmers on those troubled, hard-to-reach corners of the country. Go there especially for exotic coffee bean souvenirs and cold slow brewed coffee. Café Devoción has a separate roastery in Bogotá.

And that’s not all! Café Devoción has a high-end sister café in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. Prime Colombian coffee beans are shipped to New York within 10 days of harvesting. I’d call that true devotion (devoción)!

Ps. Café Devoción has a webshop shipping the freshest possible Colombian coffee within the US.

Amor Perfecto

Carrera. 4 #66-46, Chapinero

Amor Perfecto is the first specialty coffee roaster in Colombia, established already in 1997. Their single-origin coffee is available in 600 locations around the country, from supermarkets to other cafés. While we didn’t have time to visit their café, we had the chance to taste their beans.

Bourbon Coffee Roasters

Calle 70A #13-83, Chapinero
A 15-minute hike from cafés listed above, Bourbon Coffee Roasters hides near the TransMilenio station of Chapinero. So if you use buses, it’s probably on your way. Coffee is roasted on the spot.

Bubbling under:

Juan Valdez Café, El Dorado International Airport

Arrive at Colombia in style: pop in Juan Valdéz Café right at the airport! It will be the best cup you can find at the El Dorado International Airport for sure. Geek it up and order chocolate-flavored beans from Sierra Nevada mountains, brewed imposingly at your table with Siphon. In my opinion, that’s the best cup you can get from Juan Valdez, assuming that the barista is skilled.

While not our favorite, Juan Valdez Café is a Colombian coffee icon. The multinational coffee chain has cafés all around the country, quenching your thirst of coffee conveniently almost anywhere you roam. You might have heard of the brand, as they even have own café shops for example in the US, Spain, Mexico, and several other countries, mainly in South and Central America.

One word of warning, though. I’d call Juan Valdez a mainstream version of specialty coffee shop, with chain-like atmosphere and average coffee beans but a variety of brewing methods (though the selection of both beans and brewing methods varies between the branches). The quality between baristas and thus our cups varied tremendously during our one-month tour in Colombia (both within one cafe and between branches). Still, Juan Valdez is always a decent choice for a quick espresso fix, if there aren’t independent specialty coffee shops around.

Juan Valdez claims to be the only internationally recognized coffee brand that belongs to coffee growers. It was established in 2002 by a non-profit, National Federation of Coffee Growers. A fictional character named Juan Valdez illustrates their cups and merchandises with his mule – fun souvenir options for coffee geeks among your friends or family.

Join the discussion! We had a limited time to roam the specialty coffee scene in Bogotá, so what are your favorite cafes and why?

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The hipster cafes of Bogotá serve some of the best coffee in the world. Stop by at one of the cafe gems to sniff out the cool vibes of Bogotá!


Check out our Beach Hopping and Horseback Riding Guide to Tayrona National Park, Colombia!

Beach Hopping and Horseback Riding in Tayrona National Park, Colombia

The beaches of Tayrona National Park will shake you with drastic beauty, but visiting the national park can make you gasp out of frustration, as well. Go there for laidback beach hopping at one of the prettiest shorelines of Colombia, pre-Colombian ruins, and scenic horseback riding routes. Grab a map, mend the rules, rent a horse, and play a game of beach hopping with us!

Tayrona National Park appears as an ancient paradise that has been cloistered from the modern civilization. The curtain of lush coconut palms reveals the raging, azure Caribbean, which is tamed into lulling waves in some sheltered bays. Monumental boulders rhythm the coastline, casting shade for jazzy corals and playful fish. The spell is deepened by stories of an ancient indigenous tribe, Tayrona people, who inhabited this thick jungle in addition to their more famous terraced city, Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City.

When leaving our hotel, we got an intriguing map of Tayrona National Park, which resembled old board games. Excited, I decided to call our day “the beach hopping Monopoly” since we were using horses to travel from one beach to another, crossing several properties, and aimed to visit the pre-Hispanic town of Pueblito. During the day, we had to take our chances, speeding up but still failing to accomplish everything we had planned.

The ancient Tayrona people set sail from Cabo San Juan del Guia, after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills
The ancient Tayrona people set sail from Cabo San Juan del Guia, after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills

Avoid the Pitfalls and Mend the Rules

At first, let’s check out the rules to get the most out of your visit. In case you’re not interested in the rules at this point, jump over to the next chapter and start the game by renting a horse!

Visiting Tayrona National Park in just one day will also showcase the cons of Colombia. The queues can be intolerable, especially on weekends, and the backpacker vibe is loudly manifested at the most stunning beaches, such as Cabo San Juan del Guia. But if you know what to expect and plan accordingly, your visit to Tayrona National Park will still feel magical!

At the starting line, we’ll need to mend the official rules to get in the game more rapidly. Walk towards the gate looking determined. Probably, you cannot avoid the first checkpoint, where your bag will be inspected. It’s not allowed to bring glass bottles or alcohol inside the park, dare you! Also, plastic bags are forbidden, so make sure you don’t carry any.

Put your firm face on and walk on, trying to sneak past the next park officers, who urge you to watch a lengthy film about the park. Once again, it’s hard to avoid the nuisance. Take a backseat and try to evaporate as soon as you can. We used an arriving group as our cover. Time is money if you have only one day inside the park!

Now, proceed towards the ticket queue and hope for the best. We had to wait in line almost one hour. You can try to avoid the rush by arriving early and visiting on the weekdays (make sure it’s not a national holiday, either). We arrived at 9.30 AM, whereas the gates open at 8 AM, and cursed vigorously sleeping in. However, we heard later that people, who arrived well before opening and watched the information film in the first group of the day, still had to wait 1,5 hours because the personnel came late and some people didn’t have their ID’s. Welcome to Colombia.

There are obvious management issues, but you can try to smooth things by holding your passport and entrance fee (43000 COP, about 15$) at hand. Please don’t ask any questions at the ticket booth; there are plenty of guides and park officers hanging around the entrance, who can give more information about the park, routes, and sights – also in English.

Finally, with the tickets in your hand, proceed forward towards the vans, which carry visitors the 4 km leg to Cañaveral against the 3000 COP fee. Save your strength and skip an uninspiring, 1-hour walk by the paved road. Cañaveral marks the first beach on your route, but if you have just one day in the park, hit the trail here.

Wouldn't you love to find the secluded coves in Tayrona National Park?

Rent Horses and Gallop to the Jungles of Tayrona

If you have only one day inside Tayrona National Park, I’d suggest covering some of the distance with horses. The same goes if you are planning to spend a night in the park since you’ll have a lot to carry and need to hurry to get the best spot (the most beautiful beach called Cabo San Juan del Guia has only two double rooms which can’t be booked in advance). I always play Monopoly with a horse token, so my opinion might be biased, but as you cannot take a car or plane inside the park, a horse is way better than just a wheelbarrow, though locals use them for transporting goods, as well.

Cañaveral is the best spot to rent horses. The stables are on the left from where the van drops you. You’ll also drive past a tiny square just before Cañaveral; we opted walking back a couple of hundred meters to pick our horses from there. The price is 40000 COP (about 14$) all the way to Cabo San Juan del Guia (one-way, per person). Just note that horses have a partly different route than hikers. Whereas the hiking route hugs beach most of the time, horses go a bit deeper inland. I loved both sceneries, so I would recommend walking back to get the whole deal!

You don’t have to be an experienced rider because the horses are reliable and know how to move on the challenging terrain. They won’t gallop unless you’ll encourage them to speed up. Still, you need to be prepared to ride up and down very steep hills, through narrow gorges between stones, and wooden bridges.

Everyone says that the horses know the route by heart, but we ended up taking the wrong turn more than once. But then again, we galloped and trotted so much that the horses probably didn’t feel to be on a traditional shift. If you ride calmly, the owner will walk with you showing the route all the time.

To our experience, the horses won’t spook out if they see lizards or birds, so probably that’s the case with bigger wildlife, as well. To be honest, you have to be incredibly lucky to spot more than howler monkeys, but the chances are better if you take a hike during night-time. Tayrona National Park is the last place on earth to see cotton-top tamarins and in the shades of the jungle lurk also elusive jaguars and tiger cats (oncillas).

“Let your eyes rest on the sliding blend of the light blue ocean and sky, occasionally stopping to the austere boulders that rise from the lulling waves like giant shells of mystical, ancient creatures.”

Beach Hopping Guide to Tayrona National Park

Leisure, one-hour jungle trek, or a slightly less with a horse, escorts you to Arricifes, which rates amongst the most gorgeous beaches inside Tayrona National Park. The rip current makes even swimming risky; more than 250 people have drowned here since locals started to count the deaths ten years back. The current pattern is difficult to read even for experienced swimmers and surfers.

If you are on horseback, the route won’t take you to the seafront. It pays to walk back since then you can hug the beach almost the whole leg between Arricifes and your final destination, Cabo San Juan de Guia. Part of the walk is on the sand. The walking route from Cañaveral to Arricifes is also more picturesque, though slightly longer than the route for horses.

Arricifes has the best restaurants in the park. If you still haven’t tried limonada de coco, do it here! The first camping area is called Yuluka and the second El Paraiso; both have restaurants; the other end of the beach is called Bukaru.

From there, it’s a spellbinding 15-minute walk to La Piscina. The route lingers by the beach and crosses a lush palm grove before reaching the calmest beach, La Piscina, which is Spanish for the pool.

La Piscina was my favorite beach in Tayrona National Park; it nourished my body and soul between the riding and hiking legs. Let your eyes rest on the sliding blend of the light blue ocean and sky, occasionally stopping to the austere boulders that rise from the lulling waves like giant shells of mystical, ancient creatures. Just looking around feels like meditating.

The lagoon of La Piscina is the best spot for snorkeling and swimming. Although we didn’t have time to snorkel, we floated besides the majestic boulders on our way back. The water is unbelievably clear, and sand is not as crowded as in Cabo San Juan del Guia, which is your last destination on this walking route. Trek there takes only 15 minutes.

Cabo San Juan del Guia is the most photogenic beach in the park, but unfortunately somehow spoiled with a large camping ground, a huge restaurant, and a plethora of sun worshippers. Without the crowds, it would be the ultimate paradise beach. Now you just have to see through the backpacker vibe and try to time-travel into the ancient times. Grab a beer from the stall beside the restaurant and sit on the sand, allowing the gentle breeze lull you into paradise mode.

Massive boulders guard the powdery sand, letting in the Caribbean Sea in the shades of turquoise and azul. El Cabo must have been the spot, where the ancient Tayrona people set sail after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills. They probably used to swim here and clean up the dust of hunting. I wonder if this spectacular beach has had even deeper meaning for them, maybe as a ritual place. Little is known about the habits of Chibcha Indians, who inhabited the area of Tayrona National Park more than 2000 years ago. There’s even evidence of human population dating back to 4000 BCE.

If you’re spending the night in the park, hike up to the ruins of Pueblito. The path leading to the mountains of Tayrona starts behind the camping area of Cabo San Juan del Guia. It’s a challenging two-hour trek upwards and one hour to descend, but you’ll be rewarded with small-scale pre-Hispanic ruins of the Tayrona village. Most of the town is buried beneath the vegetation, but there are some terraces, similar to those of Ciudad Perdida. On the way, you have good chances to spot wildlife, since a few people visit the site.

Unfortunately, we had to skip visiting Pueblito due to arriving too late to the trail head. You should start the hike before 2 PM to make it back during the daylight. We lost too much time at the gate and took a couple of wrong turns with the horses. Although we tried to catch time at first, at a halfway we made the decision of just enjoying the ride. If you have just one day in Tayrona National Park and plan to visit Pueblito, be sure to arrive before 8 AM.

Beach Hotels Near Tayrona National Park

The beaches in Tayrona National Park are arguably picture-perfect, but consequently, they are also full. Accommodation options inside the park are rather limited outside budget alternatives, camping, and very ripped down cottages. A couple of lovely lodges come with a hefty price tag, and you can’t still escape the crowds.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced boutique hotel at a deserted beach, you’ll have a couple of options outside the national park, nearby the villages of Palomino, Buritaca, and Guachaca. After a thorough search, we found our match from La Mar de Bien, as we were looking for a small-scale boutique hotel with affordable prices, great meals, and a stunning beach. La Mar de Bien is the only hotel in the area with a pool – and it comes with massaging hydrothermals and hydrojets if you wish. It’s a green oasis of lush coconut palms and fruit trees just beside one of the most dramatic beaches we’ve seen. The best part is that you’ll have kilometers of sand just for yourself! During our endless beach walks, we encountered only a couple other people. La Mar de Bien has only five rooms and one cabaña, so book well in advance to ensure your ticket to paradise!

What Would I Change on Our Visit to Tayrona National Park?

Our beach hopping and riding adventure in Tayrona felt special, but it could have been even better with more careful planning. The biggest downfall was that we ran out of time. If we’d visit Tayrona again, I’d arrive well before the gate opens at 8 AM and hope for better luck at the ticket booth.

Ultimately, I’d prefer spending one night inside Tayrona National Park to guarantee enough time for snorkeling, visiting the ruins of Pueblito, witnessing one of those spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and having enough beach time. I would still stay at least a couple of nights just outside the park’s limits, at one of the gorgeous beaches near Palomino. All this would just require more time than we had on this tour.

Our day in Tayrona National Park was long and a bit tiring, but blessed with otherworldly sceneries and great horseback riding paths. Everything didn’t turn out like planned, but in the end, we still grinned like winners. The spell of Tayrona National Park was too much to resist, despite the crowds and unfortunate chances.

La Mar de Bien hosted our stay nearby Tayrona National Park, but all opinions remain our own.

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Rent a horse and gallop through the jungle from beach to another in the drastic Tayrona National Park, Colombia.


The Best Boutique Hotels in Colombia, from the beaches to the Amazon

The Best Affordable Boutique Hotels in Colombia – Our 5 Picks

Smelling out an affordable luxury hotel in the big cities of Colombia proved out to be as hard as finding a genuine boutique hotel from the remote locations, such as the Amazon. Check out our top picks, from affordable design hotels to the beachside villa and a classy B&B in the middle of the Amazon!

La Mar de Bien Illustrious Guest House, Palomino (near Tayrona National Park)

Things get complicated when you’d like to stay in a gorgeous boutique hotel at a secluded paradise beach – and at an affordable price. La Mar de Bien has it all.

A retired architect has created his dream beachside villa and turned it into a six-room boutique hotel. There’s even one cabaña (cottage) if you yearn for complete solitude, but all the rooms have well-needed privacy and most come with own porch. We fell in love with the penthouse room, where we could admire the crown of coconut palms and blue sky (or stars!) straight from our bed and hammock.

The mansion has been built using recycled materials from the owners’ previous house and nearby resources, like oaks from Magdalena region and stones thrown by the sea. Delicious Caribbean fusion meals are served in a lovely outdoor restaurant that is atmospherically lit during evenings. There’s also a new swimming pool, the only one in the area, equipped with massaging hydrothermals and hydrojets.

The beach is pleasantly untamed and feels deserted. During our stay, we encountered only one couple at the sand. The captivating Caribbean sunsets sprinkle magic into mellow evenings, while days spend inside the green oasis of coconut palms and fruit trees soothe your every cell. The magical Tayrona National Park is a just short drive (or taxi trip) away.

La Mar de Bien combines jungle and exclusion with all the modern comforts you could wish. The sounds of nature surround you; waves crashing on the shore, palms dancing in the breeze; a plethora of exotic birds, crickets, and frogs waking you up and lulling you to sleep. If you are planning to stay in only one beach hotel in Colombia, let it be La Mar de Bien! The name implies the vibe in old Spanish: heaps of goodness.

Hotel Sites 45, Medellín (Poblado)

Live like a local in the hip Poblado neighborhood with the easiness of a hotel stay. Rooms in Hotel Sites 45 are more like luxurious apartments: even standard rooms have perks like small kitchenettes and private balconies with views over the red-bricked roofs of Medellín.

The best panorama opens from the rooftop terrace, which has a thermal pool, Turkish steam bath, and gym – all at your free disposal. There are even BBQ and self-service laundry facilities!

Personnel were so welcoming and engaging that we used to get stuck to the reception for half an hour to chitchat and change restaurant tips. We preferred Hotel Sites 45 over a more hyped, pricier and bigger luxury hotel, where we spent one night. The huge, spotless and contemporarily designed rooms, varied breakfast buffet, the level of service, and roof terrace facilities created a perfect boutique hotel feel at a bargain price.

Night view from the roof terrace of Sites 45, Medellín

Terrazas de San Agustin, San Agustín

Arriving at the modest town of San Agustín, it’s hard to believe there’s a real boutique hotel hiding at the hilly side street, just a couple of hundred meters from the center. From the outside, Terrazas de San Agustin looks like it’s straight from the architecture catalog. Rooms are clean, sheets crisp, service top-notch (though mainly in Spanish). Some of the rooms have private balconies, but the shared balconies at the top boast the best view of the town.

As the night crawls in, you might be tempted to skip all outing plans. Even we Finns approved the herbal sauna (free of charge), which soothed our sore muscles after hiking and riding in San Agustín National Park. Cool down in a jacuzzi at the terraced bar area or in the solitude of the upper balcony, watching the night sky and the lights of San Agustín.

Hotel Amazon B&B, Leticia

Everyone visiting Amazon from the Colombian side must fly in the chaotic town of Leticia. Most accommodation options are just decent, but lovely Amazon B&B lures you almost to love your visit in Leticia. The cordial service takes you by surprise already at the airport, where they’ll wait to pick you up (without advertising it in advance, a gentle tip for every boutique hotel).

As ugly and gray as Leticia might be, Amazon B&B is the total opposite. Listening to the chirping inside the lush garden makes you forget that you’re still in town. Beautiful rooms are equipped with hot water, fridges, and enough fans (no need for air-con). Bungalows offer more privacy than the rooms and have own porches with hammocks.

Amazon B&B can arrange a variety of jungle trips, from night safaris to short and long day tours into the nearby Natural Reserves. Many visitors fall in love with the genuine boutique hotel charm of Amazon B&B and opt to stay there making just day excursions into the Amazon. We loved the tranquil atmosphere, ecological attitude, and the relaxed bar area in the middle of the lush garden.

Amazonas B&B offers a tranquil retreat from the chaotic Leticia

Hotel GHL Style Mika Suites, Bogotá (Chapinero)

GHL Mika Suites is a very practical boutique hotel in Bogotá. It’s just a couple of hundred meters from Bogotá’s best cafés, which was the main reason for our stay. The easy-going and leafy neighborhood is considered as the gastronomic zone of Bogotá. As it’s a taxi-drive from the main tourist draws, room prices are extremely affordable. But you can walk safely (rare in Bogotá) to several praised restaurants!

Rooms are trendy, beds are great (that’s a huge compliment from us, as we both have back problems), and showers the best we had in Colombia. Proximity to the bohemian Chapinero neighborhood and the entertainment district Zona G make GHL Style Mika Suites a perfect location for all hedonists. We just love this kind of small and affordable boutique hotels that are popping up in all big cities!

Disclaimer: Some of the hotels listed here hosted our stay, but like always, all opinions remain our own. The article has affiliate links: if you choose to book your accommodation through Booking.com and use our links, you won’t pay any extra but we’ll get a small compensation that will fuel our travels. Thanks for your support!

Get inspiration for your trip from our 4-week itinerary around Colombia »

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Discover the best boutique hotels in Colombia, from the paradise beaches to the Amazon!


Four week itinerary around Colombia from Cartagena to Medellín and Amazonas

Reveal the Magic of Colombia: 4-week Itinerary in Colombia

Discover the splendors of Colombia on a 4-week itinerary winding through paradise beaches to the roots of ancient civilizations and infamous kingpin Pablo Escobar, branching at the high-altitudes, mysterious mini-desert, and the jungles of Amazon! On the way, sample some of the best coffee in the world and enjoy delicious meals under unbelievably clear starry skies.

Colombia is enormous and versatile; experiencing its various faces takes weeks. I mean, where else you can experience so much on the same holiday, inside just one country? The Caribbean beaches, archeological sites, mountain treks and other adventurous activities are some of the best in South America, and the Colombian Amazon remains relatively unspoiled, unlike the Peruvian and Brasilian sides. We tried our best to squeeze the secret ingredients into the ultimate 4-week itinerary around Colombia. Inevitably, the magic of Colombia stole our hearts. Take off with us and start to plan your own itinerary into the heart of Colombia!

Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino
Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino

Cartagena (4 nights): Old Colonial City with Spanish Castles and Beach Hideaways

Start your 4-week tour around Colombia from the cobbled streets of Cartagena de Indias. Visit Spanish castles, feast on culinary delights, and just wander around the old walled city spellbound. Cartagena has probably the most picturesque old town we’ve ever visited. The pastel-colored colonial houses cast well-needed shadows into hot afternoons, and bougainvilleas hang from the pillared balconies like clouds from the paradise. The turquoise Caribbean lures you to take a boat to dreamy beaches and small islands, the nearest called Tierrabomba being just 20 minutes’ ride from the shore.

Less than four days won’t be enough to experience Cartagena at a relaxed pace. Plan to unwind and indulge in the Colombian culture. Roaming around unintentionally unwraps the secrets of this old colonial city. Local and international restaurants cater to your every craving, and a couple of small specialty coffee houses give a perfect introduction to the coffee heritage of Colombia. Check out an article about the best cafés in Cartagena and get charged up! Colombian coffee beans are among the best in the world.

How to get to Cartagena from Bogotá

There are several cheap, daily flights from Bogotá, so don’t bother with the exhausting bus trips or drives. We paid around 30$ per person for the one-way ticket, and even cheaper fares are available. Save time on transits to squeeze more destinations into your Colombian itinerary!

Tayrona National Park and Beaches Near Palomino (3 nights): Untamed Colombian Beaches, Ancient Ruins, and Mellow Vibes

Get sun-toasted at the immaculate Caribbean beaches, dip in the turquoise waters, and admire majestic boulders that have witnessed the rites of ancient civilizations. Tayrona National Park is made for an adventurous day of beach-hopping, snorkeling, and hiking or horseback riding. In the backdrop of Sierra Nevada mountains lurks the pre-Hispanic ruins of Pueblito, the town of Tairona people, which sees surprisingly few tourists. The charm of Tayrona National Park can be experienced in one long and adventurous day, but it will entice you to linger for more leisure beach time.

Tayrona National Park is the most visited park in Colombia for a reason and shouldn’t be skipped. To craft your visit truly unforgettable and avoid the negative sides of tourism, check out our guide on visiting Tayrona National Park: “Beach Hopping by Horseback in Tayrona National Park. We opted to stay outside the national park to avoid the masses and found our untamed paradise beach near the town of Palomino.

How to get from Cartagena to Tayrona National Park and Palomino

We took a door-to-door minivan from Cartagena to our hotel, La Mar de Bien near Palomino (4,5-7 hours, depending on the driver and company). It was cheaper, easier, and quicker than flying with ground transports at both ends (taxi to the airport, flight, taxi to either bus terminal and bus trip or one-hour taxi drive straight to Palomino from the airport).

Santa Marta and Minca (2 nights): Authentic Colonial Feel and Misty Mountains

Locals prefer Santa Marta over Cartagena for its authenticity. Many tourists visit Santa Marta only for the nearby attractions since it makes a great base for exploring Tayrona National Park and the nearby mountain village of Minca. We’d recommend stealing a couple of nights from your 4-week itinerary for the colonial center of Santa Marta. Choose one excursion (ours was Minca) and afterward just enjoy the treats of “a small city break”: stroll around the streets with locals, enjoy great dinners, and discover the hidden charm of this Colombian colonial city.

“The authenticity” means that Santa Marta is not polished for tourists like Cartagena, and the experience will be more “raw”. There are just a couple of picturesque streets, a small park, and a short “beach boulevard”, where locals hang around street food stalls. Outside the colonial center, there’s not much to see. Nearby Taganga offers a backpacker-style beach getaway with bars and party vibe, but we’d recommend venturing into the beaches near Palomino for a secluded and boutique-style beach holiday.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range can be visited on a day (or multi-day) trip from Santa Marta. We just negotiated a deal with a local taxi driver to visit Minca for a couple of hours. If you yearn to hike, bike or ride on the mountain trails, it might be a better idea to take a tour from Santa Marta or overnight in Minca to arrange it independently. There’s a trailhead in the town (ask from locals) for a short independent stroll. Also, an organic coffee plantation or some of the nearby waterfalls can be visited on an independent day trip. If you’re enticed to visit Minca but short on time, consider changing our itinerary so that you’d stay in Minca instead of Santa Marta.

How to get from Tayrona National Park/Palomino to Santa Marta

Door-to-door minivans are an affordable and relatively comfortable way to travel short distances in Colombia. From Palomino/Tayrona National Park to Santa Marta the travel time is only 1-1,5 hours.

Medellín and Guatapé (4–5 nights): Explore the Roots of the “Paisas” and Pablo Escobar, Indulge in Adrenaline Activities or Amazing Restaurants

Without visiting Medellín and the paisa district, you cannot say you’ve seen Colombia. After the Netflix hit series “Narcos”, many tourists visit Medellín in search of the infamous Pablo Escobar sights. But Medellín is so much bigger than its narco reputation. From the former murder capital of the world has risen unbelievably success stories, which are imitated in other troubled cities all around the world. Of course, things are not that black-and-white, and you’ll need to explore Medellín to draw your own conclusions.

Medellín took me by surprise and jumped high to my list of favorite cities. Some of the main draws: fantastic restaurant and coffee house scene, a plethora of tours and activities from trampling the “Pablo Escobar trail” to paragliding and other extreme sports, the unexpected green oases around the center, outdoor escalators that have turned a former slum into a creative and safe neighborhood, the famous cable car, vibrant street art culture rivaling with the small art galleries and outdoor statues of Fernando Botero, and so complex and magnetic urban culture that I have to leave it for another article. Nicknamed as “the city of Eternal Spring” and with hilly streets, Medellín reminds a lot of San Francisco.

Just for the craziness of it, we were supposed to take part in the paintball war at the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s former hacienda in Guatapé. Unfortunately, the activity was canceled just before our tour, and the decision appears permanent. The quaint town of Guatapé makes still a lovely countryside break if your Colombian itinerary allows a couple of extra days. The town is located on the bank of an artificial lake that used to be among the favorite holiday destinations of drug lords at the time of Escobar. If your itinerary allows, I’d recommend expanding your stay in Medellín-Guatape area into one week.

Our consolation prize was a thrilling experience of paragliding upon the red roofs of Medellín, click here to check out the pictures! We also loved exploring the street-art painted Comuna 13, formerly a notorious gang area, which has been uplifted to the new heights with the famous outdoor escalators.

How to get from Santa Marta to Medellín

Avianca has one straight daily flight from Santa Marta to Medellín (1 hour 15 minutes), so grab it! We paid around 60$ per person. Other Colombian carriers offer the leg with a layover in Bogotá. Road travel over the mountains between Bogotá and Medellín is nightmarish and even locals avoid it – you’ve been warned. The bus trip to Guatapé takes two hours, and the famous La Piedra (stone monolith) can be visited on the route.

Popayán (2 nights): White-washed Colombian Colonial Town

The white-washed Popayán inevitably collides with your itinerary, if you’re planning to visit the archaeological treasures of San Agustín or Tierradentro. Yet another Colombian colonial town, you might think. Somehow Popayán is still different. It feels even more authentic than Santa Marta, and you won’t see many tourists around.

Popayán was our least favorite place in Colombia. Still, we were glad to experience its unique atmosphere. It’s said to be the most religious city in Colombia, so if you’re into churches and monasteries, you’ll appreciate it more than we did. Nearby mountain village Silvia hosts a colorful market every Tuesday, and other villages and thermal springs can be explored on a horseback riding or mountain bike trip.

How to get from Medellín to Popayán

Once again: domestic flights are the most comfortable choice. Bus travel or self-drive is doable but would require changing the itinerary since it would take days. We reserved our flights pretty late and ended up paying around 100$ per person. If considering road travel, expand the itinerary and stay a couple of days both in the “the coffee triangle” (the town of Salento or bigger cities of Manizales, Armenia, and Pereira) and Cali respectively. I’d add a week’s extra loop in the case of road travel. If you have time and don’t hate long drives, I’d even recommend expanding our 4-week itinerary into 5 weeks!

San Agustín (3 nights): Horseback Riding and Hiking Among Ancient Statues

San Agustín is considered as the most important archaeological site in South America, surprisingly winning the title from the hyped Machu Picchu. While we loved them both, I’d probably pick the less visited San Agustín as my personal favorite. The cryptic stone statues, graves, and ceremonial sites are scattered around stunning river valleys, jungle, and rolling hills. Horseback riding between the archaeological sites of San Agustín makes an exciting day trip. Hiking inside the archaeological park of San Agustín deserves another day. The small town charm keeps you entertained for a couple of days, and the waking tourism boom has brought a few good hotels and restaurants.

How to get from Popayán to San Agustín

Road travel is the only choice, but this time, it’s worth the effort! The road winds up to the scenic high-altitude páramo almost straight after Popayán, and it’s dubbed as the most beautiful bus route inside Colombia. Local bus crawls the distance in 5–7 hours; minivans can speed it up even to 4 hours. The road is getting paved slowly, cutting travel times each year.

Desierto de la Tatacoa and Neiva (2 nights): Surreal Mini Desert

Desierto de la Tatacoa is among the Colombian destinations that scream magical realism. It’s hard to believe that such a mini-desert with canyons reminding of Arizona even exists in the middle of green hills and mild tropical climate of Colombia. Near the visitors’ center and observatory lies “the red desert” with a labyrinth of narrow pathways. To keep things even more interesting, a short moto ride takes you to the “gray desert”, which has its own oasis, a natural pool.

How to get from San Agustín to Neiva/Desierto de la Tatacoa

This is the second – and last – leg in our 4-week itinerary requiring road travel. Minivans can cut the distance between San Agustín and Neiva into 4 hours (reserve longer, if you go through Pitalito). Desierto de la Tatacoa can be visited on a day trip from Neiva (take a taxi to the desert or a minivan to the village of Villavieja, from where you can hire a moto taxi). With its observatory, Tatacoa Desert is a perfect spot for stargazing, so feel free to stay there, if you’re not afraid of basic accommodation. We opted to stay in Neiva for comfort and great food – one of the best dinners we had during our 4-week tour in Colombia.

I’d strongly recommend including Tatacoa Desert into your Colombian itinerary, though it’ll mean an extra loop. We flew from Neiva to the Amazon to minimize transit time. Bus from Neiva to Bogotá takes around 6 hours; Avianca has several daily, direct flights.

The surreal view to the
The surreal view to the "red desert" of Tatacoa desert

Amazonas (4–6 nights): Explore the Colombian Amazon – or Visit Brazil and Peru!

Visiting Amazon is an essential part of experiencing the multiple faces of Colombia. Amazonas, as Colombians call their stretch of the river basin, covers a third of Colombia. Visiting Amazon on the Colombian side will feel more authentic than embarking on the jungle adventures from the Brasilian or Peruvian side. The Colombian border town of Leticia rivals those of its neighbors, and if you pick a good hotel, it could even feel a pleasant small town for a couple of days. Get inspiration for your stay from our list of “Best Things to Do in Leticia”.

Still, Leticia is just a starting point for your Amazon adventures. Venture deeper with public or private boats and take hikes in the rainforest, visit indigenous tribes, spot pink and gray river dolphins, and go fishing if you please. We stayed two nights in Leticia and two nights in the small eco-village of Puerto Nariño, 75 kilometers upstream from Leticia.

Puerto Nariño is an excellent base for independent Amazon adventures. There are a couple of decent lodges, and plenty of villagers are eager to take you on affordable, yet private Amazon excursions with their wooden fishing boats. Ready-made Amazon tour packages come with hefty price tags. Search online before you book to make sure that the guides and lodges will meet your expectations.

Getting to Leticia from Bogotá (or anywhere from Colombia)

If you’re visiting Colombian Amazon, the flights are obligatory. There are no roads to Leticia from the Colombian side. We paid 80–100$ one way, per person. Here’s the trick: we encourage you to fly from any destination inside Colombia into Leticia. You’ll have a layover in Bogotá, but according to our investigations, the multi-destination flight will be only a slightly more expensive than a single leg from Bogotá to Leticia. We paid around 100$ for the Neiva-Leticia leg and 80$ for the Leticia-Bogotá leg. Book early for the best deals; we reserved all our internal flights pretty late.

From Leticia, we took a public riverboat to Puerto Nariño (75 kilometers, 1,5-2,5 hours) in the Colombian Amazon. Book tickets at the port the day before.

Bogotá, the cool capital of Colombia (2 nights or more)

Whereas many capitals in southern or central America feel forbidden and ugly, Bogotá is a cool and even beautiful colonial city. If you’re into museums, reserve more than two days: in Bogotá, you’ll be spoiled. I love the hilly layout and tourist-filled old town La Candelaria, but it’s the strike of “urban cool”, similar to that of Medellín, which charms me even more. Sample some of the best coffee in the world in hipster coffee houses in up-and-coming Chapinero area, follow the beats to the clubs of nearby Zona Rosa, and climb to green Cerro de Monserrate to escape it all.

Due to the international airport, your itinerary in Colombia probably starts and ends in Bogotá. We had only 2 nights to spare in the capital, which allowed us to see only a scratch. If your itinerary allows, stay longer for a more thorough urban exploration – oh yes, the street art scene is booming, as well. In the meantime, raise your spirits by sampling our guide to the best cafés in Bogotá!

Where to Stay in Colombia: Our Picks for Affordable Boutique Hotels

We did a massive legwork to dig out the best boutique hotels in Colombia. Our picks include affordable design hotels in the big cities of Colombia, genuine boutique hotels in San Agustín and the Amazon (yes, you can do those Amazon adventures comfortably!), and a secluded beachside villa near Tayrona National Park. Check out our list of the affordable boutique hotels in Colombia to spice up your Colombian itinerary!

Exploit Cheap Domestic Flights in Colombia

During our 4-week tour in Colombia, we preferred flying instead of exhausting drives or uncomfortable bus trips. Distances are long, the Andes and other mountain ranges pierce the country, and many roads remain unpaved. We needed five flights to complete our one-month itinerary on a relatively tight schedule and were extremely happy with the Colombian domestic carrier Avianca. However, the default flight prices for foreign visitors are rather high. Check out our flight hacks and book the domestic flights in Colombia at cheap, local fares!

Our Destination Picks for a Longer Itinerary in Colombia

Unless you are blessed with unlimited time, you’d need to decide which destinations to skip, since all the enchanting sights of Colombia would keep you busy for months. Hence, this 4-week itinerary highlights our interests and is overshadowed by the fact that we needed to prioritize. The biggest miss for us is Ciudad Perdida trek. We would have needed a week more – or at bare minimum four days – to complete it. For us, it’s a perfect reason to return to Colombia!

Personally, I would have wanted to visit the sand dune beaches of the remote La Guajira peninsula, which can be reached by a long jeep journey from Santa Marta. I was eager to also include a longer trekking trip to the Colombian mountains, preferably in the national park of El Cocuy, where the snow-capped peaks reach out to staggering 5 kilometers. Luckily, we saw drastic high-altitude páramo landscapes on our journey from Popayán to San Agustin.  It was also painful to drop out the Caribbean islands of Providencia and San Andres, but high flight prices (even with the flight hacks) helped me with reasoning. The untamed beaches near Palomino and inside Tayrona National Park did the job this time.

As a fresh bouldering enthusiast, I yearned to test my skills on the massive rock wall of Suesca, so I tried my best to lure Piritta into this small town with ghost stories, but without success. Suesca can be reached on a day trip from Bogotá, but I would have combined it with the colonial gem of Villa de Leyva. On our 4-week itinerary, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Bogotá, and Popayán showcased the colonial roots of Colombia. If you feel the need to fine-tune your “time travel vibes”, just add one of the smaller colonial towns, such as Mompox, Jardin, or Barichara, into your Colombian itinerary.

Piritta’s major tweak into this itinerary would be to add more time in the Amazon. Visiting the reserves on the Peruvian and Brasilian side remain in our dreams. But we know that we will return to the Amazon; so those adventures will wait for us.

Then there’s of course ”the coffee triangle”, which was on our itinerary until the nick of time. We decided to trade the picturesque coffee town of Salento, hot springs near Pereira, and horseback riding amidst the towering wax palms of Valle Cocora into the adventurous triangle of Popayán, San Agustin, and Neiva. And we were happy about the choice since San Agustin was one of the highlights of our 4-week Colombian tour! As coffee geeks, we got the best fix ever in the specialty coffee shops of Bogotá and managed to find great brews also in Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Medellín.

We’ve visited several coffee farms during the last years and were just looking for the best quality beans from small producers, which are usually hard to find outside specialty coffee shops. Smaller farms tend to export their gold, and even bigger farms might not sell their best beans on the spot. But I still have one recommendation, if you’re a coffee enthusiast. Go off the beaten track and visit the rising star of Colombia’s specialty coffee trade, La Palma & El Tucan. They’ve just opened “an experimental boutique hotel”, which allows ordinary coffee tourists get a unique glimpse into a modern coffee farm. Their beans are to die for, and you can find them also in Bogotá. The farms inside the Colombian coffee triangle tend to be old-fashioned and extremely touristy to my likings.

As you can see, our 4-week itinerary in Colombia was full of compromises, because the country is so tremendous. If you can, spend more than one month and explore deeper than we did to avoid tough calls. Still, even a 4-week tour in Colombia will steal your heart!

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Discover the magic of Colombia in 4 weeks! Explore paradise beaches and the roots of ancient civilizations, peek in the high-altitudes and mysterious mini-desert, and sail down the Amazon!

Colombia Facts

  • Official name: Republic of Colombia, República de Colombia
  • Official languages: Spanish and 68 ethnic languages and dialects; also English in the Caribbean islands
  • President: Juan Manuel Santos (2017)
  • Population: More than 49 000 000 (2017)
  • Currency: Peso (COP)
  • Geography: 6 natural regions: the Andes, the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, the Amazon rainforest, the plains (Llanos), and the islands (Pacific & Caribbean)
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Colombian Visa: Not required for stays up to 90 days for citizens of the Americas, most of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Africa
  • Time zone: COT (5 hours behind GMT)
  • Mobile phone network coverage: Great 3G all over the country (excluding the remote corners of the Amazon, of course)

Bizarre Facts About Colombia

  • The name Colombia comes from Christopher Columbus (you guessed!)
  • Colombia ranks first in bird species and is the second most biodiverse country in the world (right after Brazil, which is seven times bigger!)
  • President has declared World Cup match days as a national holiday – Colombians are crazy about the football!
  • In his heyday, Pablo Escobar used to smuggle 15 tons of pure cocaine into the US each day, collecting 420 millions a week!
  • Pablo Escobar offered to pay Colombia’s national debt (10 billion)
  • Colombia is all about renaissance: for example, Medellín was known as “the murder capital of the world”, but now its success story is imitated around the world.
  • The mythical El Dorado and Macondo have their roots in Colombia. The birth town of Gabriel García Márquez even tried to change its name into Macondo!

Is Colombia Safe For Americans in 2018?

Since we’ve been asked a lot if it’s safe to travel to Colombia, here’s our opinion. Colombia is a perfectly safe destination for Americans, solo female travelers, and families with small kids. We encountered plenty of American travelers during our 4-week tour, in all areas of Colombia. Of course, before booking a trip to any destination, you should check the current travel warnings. Here you can find the latest, updated travel information from US Department of State. According to the current travel warning, tens of thousands of US citizens visit Colombia safely each year. There have been no reports of Americans targeted based on their nationality.

It’s safe to visit the majority of the tourist destinations – and all destinations listed in our Colombian 4-week itinerary. Although the security situation in Colombia has improved radically, due to narco-trafficking and guerrilla (and paramilitary group) activity, there are still some “red zones”, which you’d probably like to avoid. Plan your itinerary carefully to also avoid ground transport through the areas with a travel warning. Luckily, internal flights are cheap in Colombia (especially if you use our flight hacks), so you can visit all the tourist areas safe and sound.

If you have any concerns about visiting Colombia or questions about our 4-week itinerary, please just ask in the comments below – we are happy to help!


Elephant orphans adore their the Keepers of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Adopt an Orphaned Elephant From The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Before Christmas, we’ve usually been pondering between ingenious travel gadgets and booking flights, but this time we wanted to make a difference by adopting an orphaned elephant. We have been dreaming about fostering a baby elephant ever since our visit to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s elephant orphanage in Nairobi. After just a couple of clicks, we’re now proud foster parents of orphaned elephant called Roi.

Why We Decided to Adopt an Elephant

Obviously, we love those gray giants. African elephants are the biggest mammals walking on earth, and seeing them in their natural habitat is always intriguing; it feels almost sacred. Their eyes are so deep, full of wisdom and unconditional love towards their tribe. Elephants remember everything and suffer deeply if their family member dies. The bushes are full of stories of their empathy: for example, the whole herd tends to return to the spot where their member has faced his death, every year on the stroke of the hour. And they cry out loudly.

We lost our hearts to Africa on our very first safari in Tanzania almost two years ago. Since then, we’ve already visited six African countries and spend hundreds of hours on game drives, but just can’t get enough. I could pour countless stories about our elephant encounters: watching them calmly stroll around in herds, flapping their giant ears to keep off the heat, whisking their trunks to eat, bathing joyously in the mud, or even charging our jeep, agitated from our presence. Elephants are highly intelligent. They grieve, joy and fear just like we humans do.

Orphan elephant having a green snack in The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Nursery, Kenya

During the past 100 years, African elephant population has been dropped by 97%. More than 30 000 elephants are killed every year, one in every 15 minutes.

Elephants are among our favorite creatures and the ivory trade breaks our heart. More than 30 000 elephants are killed every year, one in every 15 minutes. This rate is leading to the complete distinction faster than we can expect. According to IUCN’s current report, Africa’s elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past decade. In some countries, like Somalia and Sudan, elephants have already faced distinction. During the past 100 years, African elephant population has been dropped by 97%. We, humans, are the worst enemy for elephants, but we are also the only ones who can help.

This fall, we have been moved by two brilliant documents. If you haven’t yet caught the hype around The Ivory Game, you can watch it on Netflix. Executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, the document exposes the complex problems of corruption and poaching caused by the global ivory trade. The Finnish superhero ivory dog called Rokka made a short appearance in The Ivory Game. It was Finnish Team Rokka who found critical evidence against the Tanzania’s most wanted elephant poacher and ivory trafficker called Shetani (meaning ”devil” in Swahili) that led to his arrest. In Finland, a tv series about Team Rokka aired this fall. You can watch the Finnish trailer on their website. Go Team Rokka!

Of course, you can support several organizations, such as PAMS Foundation (Tanzania), International Anti-Poaching Foundation, or Save the Elephants. But if you would like to give a concrete gift of life, you can also adopt an orphaned elephant from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, as we did for ourselves and our loved ones.

Hungry elephant following the Keeper and his milk bottle in The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya

When an elephant is orphaned, usually its mother and family have been poached to death. The family is everything for elephants, and baby’s survival depends upon its mother’s milk for the first two years.

Adopting an Orphan Elephant From The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has done immense conservation work in Kenya since 1977. They have developed the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and are among the pioneering conservation organizations in East Africa. We felt privileged to visit their elephant orphanage in Nairobi with our trusted safari guide Ombeni African Safaris. Our visit was overly emotional, one of the highlights of our 10-day safari in Kenya. But we’ll write another article about our experience about The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, with tons of cute elephant pictures, so stay tuned!

For now, you can trust us that The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does an amazing job in raising orphaned baby elephants and introducing them back to Tsavo East National Park. They’ve hand-raised over 160 elephants with their special milk formula and husbandry that took decades to master.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Foster Parent Programme is simple. The hardest part is to choose your own adopted elephant among the available orphans since all stories and pictures will quite probably touch your heart. After finding the perfect match, just fill your details online and pay a yearly fostering fee (50$ minimum) with a credit card. You will receive a fostering certificate via email with further information and images of your adopted elephant, including a map indicating the place from where the orphaned elephant was rescued. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will send you monthly news and photos on your adopted elephant so that you can immerse in the life of the trunk of your choice. By logging into The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trusts website, you can also read the daily diary of your elephant’s Keeper.

You can also adopt a baby elephant as a gift for your loved ones, so they’ll receive a gift certificate and all the other material described above, including the monthly watercolor by Angela Sheldrick. DSWT also has a special Christmas Gift Elephant Fostering Programme as an answer to this holiday season.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s orphan-elephant rescue program is the most successful in the world. They’ve hand-raised over 150 orphaned baby elephants with their special milk formula and husbandry that took decades to master. 

Green-coated Keeper feeding a baby elephant with the secret milk recipe created by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The Story of Roi, Our Adopted Orphan Elephant

Roi’s mother was poached down in the vast plains of Masai Mara. The day before, she had been photographed nursing 10-months old Roi underfoot. Next day, the same visitor found a confused baby beside her dead mother. The mourning baby elephant was already shunned by the rest of the herd. As she was still milk-dependant, she wouldn’t have chances with the group anyway since the mother of the herd wouldn’t have had enough milk for two calves. Without her mother, the baby elephant would have got weaker and weaker every day. Still, separating the baby elephant from the herd turned out to be tricky, because the matriarch was protective towards the orphaned baby elephant, though she pushed her away when Roi tried to suckle her milk.

Eventually, Roi was skillfully separated from the herd, wrapped in blankets and strapped for the flight towards Nairobi and the elephant orphanage of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Despite being without her mother’s milk, Roi proved out to be a strong little elephant, who protested against being left in the fencing while the other elephants took their daily outing in the park. Luckily, Roi accepted the milk bottle almost instantly and was also let out with the others although she wasn’t tamed down. Roi felt at home immediately with the other orphaned elephants and became dependant of the milk bottle, getting used to her Keepers.

Nowadays, two years after her rescue, Roi is genuinely happy and playful little elephant who’s not afraid to command other members of the herd. For example, according to her Keeper’s diary, a couple of days ago Roi got head butted (don’t ask!) and was furious for the intruder. The day before, on their daily outing in the park, Roi charged the Keepers to notify them about an approaching lion pride. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s herd lost that day their beloved ostrich Pea for the lioness, but luckily the rest of the herd is safe. Though we adopted our orphaned elephant just a couple of days ago, reading about her undertakings has already brought us joy and excitement.

Why We Love The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Adoption Program

While also some other organizations, such as WWF, offer elephant adoption programs, we prefer the concreteness of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. For example, WWF’s elephant adoption program is solely symbolic: you donate a fixed amount to the elephant conservation (55-250$) and receive a gift set consisting of toy elephant, gift bag, and an adoption certificate. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust won’t send you material gifts (all money goes for the elephants), and they give you the named elephant whose life you can follow, even daily.

We, humans, are the worst enemy for elephants, but we are also the only ones who can help. Give a gift of life and hope – adopt an orphaned elephant and help to break the vicious cycle of poaching. 

Written by Niina & Photography by Piritta. Ombeni African Safaris hosted our visit in The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and our safari in Kenya, but all opinions remain our own.

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Give a gift of life - adopt an orphaned elephant! We visited The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's orphanage in Kenya and decided to foster a baby elephant.
The little elephant orphans adore their keepers!


Small river town of El Castillo, Nicaragua

Sail the Route of Pirates Through Rio San Juan River, Nicaragua

Navigate upstream the legendary Rio San Juan in the footsteps of pirates, venture into the untouched jungle and visit the ruins of the Spanish fortress of El Castillo. The San Juan River wriggles 192 kilometers from San Juan de Nicaragua at the Atlantic coast to Lake Nicaragua, hugging the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Famed pirates and buccaneers, and later smugglers, used this channel to access “the jewel by the Sweet Sea”, the Spanish trading town of Granada.

Rio San Juan is one of the rare border rivers that belongs solely to one country. The strategic location has made the waters a conflict zone for centuries. Spanish and the pirates battled over the dominance since the 16th century, which was followed by numerous border disputes between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Rio San Juan was supposed to serve as a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but due to the political reasons, the canal was built in Panama instead.

If you would like to experience the old day charm of Rio San Juan and visit the untouched jungle, go there now! Pirates didn’t appreciate detours, but we do, so we added a couple of options to explore the surrounding jungles on top of seeing Rio San Juan from start to finish. Check out our itinerary for getting the best out of Rio San Juan in just 4 to 7 days!

The Starting Point of Rio San Juan: San Juan de Nicaragua and Indio-Maíz Jungle (3–4 nights)

Spend at least 3 days exploring the area around the starting point of Rio San Juan. Start your journey from already remote San Juan de Nicaragua. This small jungle town is the gateway to the outermost jungle in Nicaragua: the vast Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, which is inhabited only by a small tribe of Rama Indians. For us, a trip to Indio Maíz offered a way more authentic jungle experience than the Amazon. We highly recommend 2-day Indio Maíz adventure with a real Indian homestay and a hike to the mysterious jungle pyramids of Canta Gallo!

The town of San Juan de Nicaragua isn’t very attractive, but the sights in the vicinity deserve at least one full day of your time before venturing into the Indio Maíz jungle. Tramble on the weird concrete walkways build upon marshland, visit the historical sights such as the four graveyards of the ancient Greytown, a rusty dredger that was supposed to construct a canal here before that of Panama, and a shipwreck belonging to the dredger, Vanderbilt’s Transit Company. A lbit longer boat trip (half-day to full day) showcases nearby lagoons with an opportunity to spot manatees and the raging shore of the Atlantic, the starting point of Rio San Juan River.

During your days in San Juan de Nicaragua, find a local Rama Indian guide to take you into the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. Prepare to see crocodiles, alligators, a plethora of monkeys, exotic birds, and poisonous frogs. Spend some precious time with the Rama Indians and hike to the sacred Rama Indian jungle pyramids. Check out our tips for organizing a trip to Indio Maíz in a separate article.

Getting to San Juan de Nicaragua and Indio Maíz
Fly to San Juan de Nicaragua. There are no roads, so the only way out is the Rio San Juan river that you’ll be taking from here. If you are up to an Indio Maíz jungle trip, you need to stay at least the first and the last night in town. Try to book an accommodation beforehand: check out our tips from a separate article covering San Juan de Nicaragua.

BOAT TIMETABLE SAN JUAN DE NIGARAGUA-SAN CARLOS 2017

Public boat from San Juan de Nicaragua to San Carlos
Thursday 5 AM (Express: duration 7 hours & Normal line: duration 12 hours)
Saturday 5 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Sunday 5 AM (Express: duration 7 hours & Normal line: duration 12 hours)

Public boat from San Carlos to San Juan de Nicaragua
Tuesday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Tuesday 6.30 AM (Express: duration 7 hours)
Thursday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Friday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Friday 6.30 AM (Express: duration 7 hours)

Please confirm the boat timetable from your accommodation. We received this schedule from our kind reader in June 2017, but cannot guarantee that it stays up to date. Please inform us about any changes to help fellow travelers.

El Castillo (1 night) or/and Bartola Basecamp (1–3 nights), Rio San Juan

Depending on your schedule and how many nights you’ve already spent in the Indio Maíz jungle, you can either stay one to three nights in the picturesque river town of El Castillo or expand your jungle exploration by venturing down Rio Bartola.

The charming town of El Castillo overlooks the gruesome rapids of Rio San Juan, dubbed as Raudal del Diablo for a reason. In the 17th century, Spaniards built here a fortification in the hopes of protecting Granada from the pirates that struggled to cross the raging rapids. However, the fortress was attacked time and again.

Today, El Castillo is the most popular base for short Indio Maíz jungle trips down Rio Bartola tributary that borders the reserve in the west. El Castillo is a touristy little town with one main street, a bunch of tour operators, and the enchanting fortress ruins. Cobbled-stone alleys, colorful houses, and decent restaurants will keep you satisfied for a day or two. After a real jungle adventure, the small hotels of El Castillo with real beds and toilets feel like a sinful splurge!

If you already miss the jungle, book a trip to the Bartola Basecamp and hop off the San Juan de Nicaragua–San Carlos river boat already before El Castillo, at the Bartola junction. After 1,5 hours of paddling, you’ll be one happy camper (tents come with mattresses) on the other side of Indio Maíz, actually quite near Canta Gallo. We were enticed to visit the place but had only one night left, which would have made the trip too quick and cumbersome. You’ll need at least two nights for Rio Bartola if you must catch a boat to San Carlos the next morning. Many have asked us which one to choose, Indio Maíz or Rio Bartola. We picked Indio Maíz for the remoteness and the Rama Indians.

We also were tempted to load our batteries in Rio Bartola River Lodge, but after passing it on our journey upwards the river, we opted a more civilized habitat in El Castillo. If you’ve already been deep in the Indio Maíz, the surroundings of Rio Bartola River Lodge just don’t feel like a real jungle, as there are roads, real houses, and other people around. It’s not a luxurious place either, where you could chill out in the solitude.

It’s hard, and not recommendable, to resist the spell of El Castillo while approaching the tiny fortress town from the river. Relish in the small town charm for one day – it’s the another side of the pirate story, anyway!

Getting to El Castillo (or Bartola Basecamp)
Catch the earliest possible ferry from San Juan de Nicaragua to San Carlos. Hop off either in El Castillo or at the Bartola junction a little bit before El Castillo, if you’re heading to Bartola Basecamp. The fastest river boat cuts the distance in 4,5 hours. On the way, you’ll stop in the small river town of Boca de Sábalos and have great chances to spot huge crocodiles.

The Thread of “Nicaragua Canal” Project

During the last couple of years, the old plans of dredging a canal through Rio San Juan were revived creating massive ecological concerns. Luckily, according to the current plans, Rio San Juan would remain untouched, and the possible Canal de Nicaragua will be built further to the north, from Punta Gorda River on the Atlantic to Brito River on the Pacific side. We certainly hope that the project will never be accomplished, as it would endanger biodiversity of these precious lands and the fresh water lake of Lago Nicaragua. The disputed canal project is led by a Chinese billionaire whose wealth suddenly crashed in the stock market, so the plans might even be canceled, though Nicaraguan government has already approved the construction of the canal.

San Carlos, the Ending Point of Rio San Juan (1 night/afternoon)

San Carlos is a busy but small port town on the mouth of Lake Nicaragua. It’s not blessed with urban beauty, but well worth exploring at least for an afternoon.

Walk around the buzzing waterfront boulevard (malecón) stopping for a coffee or ice-cream and climb to the small Spanish fort to enjoy the best views to the Lake Nicaragua. Entrance to Fortaleza de San Carlos is free, and Restaurant Mirador in its inner yard is a pleasant place to down a beer or two. There are even cannons!

Getting to San Carlos (or Ometepe Island through San Carlos)
On your final day in El Castillo, catch a ferry to San Carlos (1,5 hours). If you would like to travel forward on the same day, take an early morning ferry from El Castillo to San Carlos. At least walk around in the harbor area before catching a flight to Managua or Ometepe. From San Carlos, you can even take a bus all the way to Managua, though flying is the most pleasant option. We took a night ferry to Ometepe (14PM–0AM), enjoying a perfect sunset over Lake Nicaragua but suffering from the sea sickness due to ripple around the midnight. It’s a huge lake!

The majority of tourists only venture from San Carlos to El Castillo, covering solely one-third of the San Juan River. Of course, that’s better than nothing, but please consider sacrificing a couple of days more to reach the real jungle around San Juan de Nicaragua. Cruising upstream Rio San Juan, together with visiting Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, was the climax of our 4-week Nicaraguan adventure.

Have you sailed down Rio San Juan – or visited El Castillo, San Juan de Nicaragua, or Indio Maíz? Share your experiences from Rio San Juan in the comments below!

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Navigate Rio San Juan in the footsteps of pirates, venture into the untouched Indio Maíz jungle and visit the ruins of El Castillo fortress in Nicaragua.


Parrots arriving at Parque Santander, Leticia, just before sunset

5 Things to do in Leticia, Colombian Amazon

Are you planning a trip to the Amazon, but still pondering whether to stay in the Colombian border town of Leticia and what to do there? Leticia has received its’ share of the bad rap, but we encourage you to spend a couple of nights there to get another view to the Amazonas. Check out favorite activities in Leticia for inspiration!

1. Take a Boat to the Amazon

The real Amazon awaits almost outside of Leticia. Not quite literally, since we saw a bit more pristine rainforest only after an hour’s speedboat trip. However, Leticia is a great base for various Amazon trips, whether you yearn to remain inside the borders of Colombian Amazonas or visit the Peruvian or Brasilian Amazon. Pretty many tourists opt to stay in the hotels of Leticia and do only day tours – it’s an affordable and comfortable way to explore Amazon.

2. Hang Around the Port Area

To feel the chaotic soul of this border town, spend some time walking around the grittier side of Leticia near the port. Casinos, casas de gambiar, bazaar-like shacks selling everything from clothes to souvenirs, and small hole-in-the-wall restaurants with plastic chairs form a blazing blend. And aren’t those wooden fishing boats against the muddy banks of Amazon just adorable! Take a seat between locals at the beach boulevard, feed a stray dog and blend in!

Sunset boat trip to the Amazon from Puerto Narino
The view to the Amazon from Puerto Narino's Mirador just before sunset

3. Witness “the Parrot Show” at Sunset in Parque Santander

It pays to spend at least one sunset in Parque Santander like a local.  Thousands of parrots blacken the sky when they return to the park to feed and rest for the night. The surreal scene reminds “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock, but in a pleasant way. You’ll be safe, just be careful of the droppings. The most scenic spot is the church tower, but there’s only room for 14 people at a time.

4. Eat Casabes

The specialty of Leticia, pizzas called casabe, won our hearts. The dough is made of tapioca or yuca instead of wheat flour. Healthy and tasty, if you ask me! We loved the casabes of Santo Angel so much that we returned there on our last night (which we rarely do). Accidentally we also ate there the other specialty, a fish called pirarucu. It’s absolutely delicious and tastes like chicken, but due to overfishing, it’s not that ethical choice.

5. Visit Brasil

You’re already just a couple of hundred meters from the border, so why not take a walk on other side? We spent one afternoon in the Brasilian border town Tabatinga. Celebrate the border post of three countries by hopping from Colombia to Brasil and enjoying a Peruvian lunch at Saõ Jorge. They serve pretty good ceviche and two Peruvian beers, Cuscueña and Pilsen. Before exiting, pop in the garden of “Tres Fronteiras” restaurant and toast with the Brasilian penguin beer. It’s the loveliest restaurant in Tabatinga and competing with Saõ Jorge about the title of the best restaurant in town.

Have you visited Leticia or Colombian Amazon, if so, what were your favorite things to do?


Book cheap domestic flights in Colombia and save time to enjoy the sublime sceneries!

How to Book Cheap Domestic Flights in Colombia as a Foreigner

So you’d like to fly within Colombia to save time without breaking the bank? That’s wise! Colombia is enormous, many roads are bumpy and unpaved, and mountainous terrain makes drives unpredictable. Even locals prefer flying over 10-hour bus travel since it’s possible to find cheap domestic flights in Colombia. There’s just one problem: foreign visitors get ”tourist prices” without a bit of flight hacking. But worry not, we’ll share our flight hacks to save some serious bucks!

The Best Domestic Airlines in Colombia

We compared Colombian flight prices online for weeks before making our choice. Our top 4 airline choices included Avianca, LAN, Satena, and Viva Colombia. The first thing that we check is safety: these four are labeled as secure choices for air travel. LAN (or nowadays officially LATAM) is the biggest airline in Latin America, originally from Chile; the others are Colombian domestic carriers.

Avianca was the only carrier that flew to all destinations on our 4-week itinerary, but at first, the prices on Avianca’s international site kicked us out. After surfing around forums, we were convinced that it would be safe to book domestic flights at local prices, on the Avianca’s Colombian website. This illumination dropped off LAN and Satena, which had higher fares to most destinations.

Viva Colombia is a low-cost carrier with tempting prices. It’s the first credible low-cost airline in Colombia, nowadays partly owned by Ryanair. Like most discount airlines, Viva Colombia charges hefty fees on hold luggage. We were traveling with almost 20 kg backpacks, which would have risen Viva Colombia’s total prices near or even over those of Avianca. Still, we might have saved a couple of euros at some legs, if we’ve chosen Viva Colombia for those distances.

For ease, we opted to book all our flights within Colombia from Avianca. One reason was that Avianca offered us many straight flights, whereas the other airlines had layovers. For instance, on Santa Marta-Medellín leg Avianca has the very only straight flight. Because Avianca is the Colombia’s biggest domestic airline, they have the widest spectrum of domestic flights meaning convenient flight times and quick connections in case of layovers (we flew through Bogotá many times).

Book cheap domestic flights in Colombia – and head to the beach!
Book cheap domestic flights in Colombia – and head to the beach!

How to Book Avianca’s Cheap Domestic Flights

This is flight hacking at it’s best: simple and quick. Just change your location, when you visit Avianca’s website to unlock your cheap flights in Colombia. If you google ”Avianca” from abroad, you’ll be directed to Avianca’s international website. If you simply choose a different language, español in this case, you’ll still be offered with content aimed at foreigners. We have to be more clever to find the cheap flights!

In the domain field of your browser, just correct the end of the URL into ”en-co” so that the domain will be http://www.avianca.com/en-co/ This will allow you to book the internal flights in English, but get the Colombian prices! It’s your time to smile.

Otherwise, Avianca’s website is very easy to use. The prices are shown only in Colombian pesos (COP) when you browse the Colombian site. Just use some web-based currency converter. We prefer XE’s currency converter.

After your flight hacking trick, you can see and choose any of the ticket classes, even the cheapest ”super promo” price (marked in red). On the international site, you cannot even see the best flight offers.

Here’s the last catch: you can book the flights at Avianca’s website with a credit card issued in North America and many European countries, such as UK, Spain, and Germany. At the time of our booking, just a couple of months ago, Avianca didn’t accept Finnish credit cards, but now they do! Fortunately, we were incredibly lucky to have a friend in Bogotá, who booked the flights for us.

At the check-in and boarding, you’d simply need to show your passport. Avianca’s web check-in worked smoothly, supplying handy mobile boarding passes. At the moment, Avianca’s official rules still require printed boarding pass, but mobile versions proved out to be legitimate, as well.

You’ll quite likely get the best fares from Avianca if you book your flights well in advance. However, we ended up booking ours just a couple weeks before and were still happy with the cheap flight prices.

The Mysterious Avianca Airpass

Web forums are still raving about Avianca’s Airpass. It was once a real bargain for tourists aiming to book several flights within Colombia but hasn’t been available for years. None of the other airlines offer any air passes in Colombia at the moment, either. But with our flight hacking tips, you’ll find cheap domestic flights in Colombia on your own!

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Book domestic flights in Colombia at dirt cheap local prices!