Backpacking // Meeting New People // Cultural Immersion // Gap Year
Matilda is currently on her gap year so has started her backpacking and travelling journey fairly recently… but has already spent some time living in Colombia where she fell in love with the country and hasn’t stopped talking about it since! As a traveller she is keen to get stuck in and really get to know a country and its people rather than just travel through.
So we were incredibly excited at APPollo to chat with Matilda about some of her experiences and top tips. Although the lockdown cut her travels short, she can’t wait to explore more during her university holidays, and discover even more of Colombia as well as the rest of South America and beyond.
But for the meantime, here are some of her top tips for any young travellers looking to backpack South America on their Gap Year:
WHERE TO GO
I could go on for hours and hours about how much I love Medellin; firstly because Colombians have such a culture of openness and friendliness, making you feel welcome at all times. Secondly, Medellin also has an abundance of activity and things to do, from national parks to graffiti to football, and such a rich and interesting history of violence and danger to explore while you’re there. It is 100% my favourite city and I can’t wait to go back there.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio has everything you could possibly want: an amazing party scene, beautiful neighbourhoods, mountains, the beach… I could go on. Although I didn’t find the Brazilians quite as friendly, I met some super fun Brazilians in my hostel, and they showed me how fun the city really is! There are so many fantastic different areas and it really is the most beautiful city on earth.
Rio Carnival is also definitely a must do!
The capital of Brazil’s surfing scene boasts 42 stunning beaches, beautiful sand dunes and some insane hikes, as well as some seriously cheap hostels that offer free surfboards- paradise, I know! I could have stayed here for months on end- it was perfect.
WHERE TO EAT / DRINK
Café Zorba, Medellin
Who would have thought the best pizza you’ll ever eat would be in Colombia. A totally veggie restaurant often with live music in the heart of Medellin with pizza to die for and an amazing atmosphere. The pizza chefs are single mums from the city which is awesome.
Bazurto Market, Cartagena
I absolutely loved discovering this chaotic market on the outskirts of Cartagena. The food stall by Cecilia was one of the best meals I’d had in the country, and the whole atmosphere is so lively and buzzing. It’s a real staple of the locals lives there and not many tourists venture out to explore it, but it’s definitely worth it.
Trade Sky Bar, Buenos Aires
This bar has a 360-degree view of the beautiful BA and it’s amazing sunsets. I felt a so out of place there as a traveller among Argentina’s socialites and influencers, but it was such an awesome experience and the view is absolutely incredible, the drinks are pretty well priced too!
A hidden paradise in the mountains of Antioquia that so few travellers know to go to. There are so many hikes and activities to do here that will absolutely take your breath away, but the real special quality of Jardín is that it feels like it’s living 50 years in the past. There are horses trotting through the streets (not for the benefit of tourists), cowboys on street corners, and bands playing salsa and bachata all night long. A great place to meet other Colombians and really immerse yourself.
A really comprehensive and helpful guide to Jardin can be found here: https://www.laidbacktrip.com/posts/jardin-guide-colombia
This is the Cueva Del Esplendor.
Costeño Beach, Colombia
An absolute dream for surfers and yoga fans alike. Down a long bumpy track and past the stunning Tayrona park, you find the haven that is Costeño Beach. Sunsets here are top notch, and there are so many independent, delicious restaurants along the beach serving fresh seafood. There are a few hostels along the beach to stay at, and the palm trees and crashing waves are the perfect thing to wake up to.
There will not be one traveller you speak to that will have heard of this gem. A beachside town for Colombian tourists - I went there for Christmas with a lovely Colombian family - there are some stunning beaches and it’s great to get off the beaten track. I was a bit nervous when there were no taxis or any sort of tourist infrastructure to be seen, but the people there were unbelievably friendly and there are lots of places to stay all along the beach front. The sea there was alos the warmest I’ve ever been in!
Angeles de Medellin, Medellin
I understand many people’s aversion usually to voluntary tourism but this foundation is unlike anything else. Set up by an Expat in the poorest and most dangerous part of Medellin, Marcos’ foundation provides food, supplies, educational courses and a safe space to people who really need it. I volunteered here as the foundation’s English teacher, and you really have a window into the lives of Venezuelan refugees, homeless families and domestic violence victims, who you often help give the opportunity of a job or a way out of living under the rule of the gangs in their area. If you are ever in Colombia, please go and help these families here - you won’t regret it.
General Medellin Top Tips
Go to the Toucan language exchanges or any of the exchanges around the city, it’s the perfect way to meet friends, improve your Spanish and find out more about the recent history of Colombia as well as the nature of Colombians as people.
Go to the dance classes, especially at dance free, you can’t go to Colombia without learning how to dance salsa and bachata! This is also a great way to meet people.
Eat a menu del día at a Colombian restaurant! It may not be your thing, but you have to try their classic food!
Make sure you immerse yourself in the culture and really get to know the amazing people rather than just doing the touristy things and not venturing beyond Poblado- you’ll love it! I assure you you will fall in love with the city as much as I did.
BEST TRAVEL / ‘TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN’ MOMENT
A bit different, but it was when the mounted police came to the foundation to let the children play with the horses. I felt that it could be the start of these kids’ positive relationship with the police in their future, and I had real hope for these children, that they would be able to have a good life ahead of them and not have to get involved in gangs.
FIRST TRIP AFTER LOCKDOWN
It will definitely be back to Buenos Aires where I had to fly back from due to Corona, so that I can finish my travelling and explore many more places and countries in South America. I’m also really keen to start exploring the middle east, especially Jordan and Lebanon.
APPollo will be providing curated travel tips, guides and bitesize bespoke recommendations for you. Along with a handful of incredibly useful and beneficial tools to help you travel better and experience much more while away.
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