Wednesday, January 19, 2011

COLOMBIA ♪ Music, Friends, Alegría

A land of hauntingly beautiful faces, diverse landscapes from coast to mountains to the expanse of the Amazon, exuberant friendliness, deliriously feet moving music... Colombia is blowing stereotypes out of the water.

Step foot inside Colombia... and you'll never be the same again. Colombians have such a boundless ardor for life, music, friends, family, dance'll fall under a spell, and will return again and again. A country hidden from the world for so long, Colombia is on the cultural travel map again!

Most people around the world hold on to anachronistic images of Colombia, and are afraid to visit. This photographer's trip proved otherwise. Colombia is open for business ... and the time of your life. 

Her cities fashionably modern ... 

her coast scenic...

her Amazon enchanting ...

her people downright charming and welcoming...

and her women, renowned as amongst the most beautiful in the world, but also smart, unpretentious...

This is a país of green mountains and valleys, cities with eternal spring, a blue coastline, one of the most sensually charged cities you'll ever visit...Cali, South America's salsa capital, amongst the friendliest people you'll ever meet, and some of the most arresting and diverse faces you'll ever see.


This writer landed in Medellin, a city set in a beautiful valley where spring is perennial and undiscovered covergirl faces appear at every turn. Medellin would be the prologue to the utter shock of discovery of Colombia in its culture, music, diversity and joy for life.

Traversing Colombia

From the towns and the Tayrona National Reserve on the Caribbean coast, to Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region) in the middle, to Cali in the south and the Amazon in the south east, Colombia should be amongst your very top destinations in the world.

Bohemian Taganga, gateway to Tayrona National Park

Sunset on the River Amazon, Leticia
Art in Medellin

Smiling faces in Cali

Art in Cartagena's Old Town
Outside Medellin


Leticia docks

Visiting first in December, the writer was thrown headlong into Colombia's colorful, bright Christmas celebrations or ferias.

Sabaneta, Medellin


Music !

There was an indescribable sensuousness about just being in Colombia. Unconsciously, the writer's senses started to seek out her soul.

He found it ... in her music.

At times irresistibly foot tapping salsa...

then gossamer sounds of folksy vallenato  ...

... her music weaves, spins and washes over, and in that moment one feels fleetingly what it might mean to be Colombian.

Vallenato, salsa, cumbia, champeta, reggaeton ... every evening in this long-shrouded land can be spent singing and dancing with her people... feet moving to an intoxicating, joyful rhythm. This is perhaps why Colombians smile so much ... there's music playing in their soul, even when you can't hear it ... unless you listen closely. 

Here's a blend of traditional cumbia and vallenato given wider sex appeal appeal by Fonseca, a hugely successful young artist .

The writer showed up in the pretty university town of Manizales just after New Year's...and backed into an all-star cast at the

Feria de Manizales


Colombian women... Paisas, Caleñas, Bogotanas, Costeñas ..all, are beautiful. Extraordinarily...

Colombiana Jenny Osorio, actress and model


Salsa!  With her simplicity, friendly people, superlative salsa dancing, and blue-green mountains, it's easy to get hooked on Cali.

This traveler found Colombia's heart in Cali... in her people.

Not as touristed as Bogota, Medellin, or Cartagena, Cali feels real, and friendships effortless and lasting.

The Cali Sound

Here's a rockin salsa tune 'Cali Pachanguero' that dancing Colombians go nuts over, by the famous Colombian band from Cali, Grupo Niche.  Actually a beautiful love song to Cali, it's an anthem at all parties, salsa events and ferias. 'Pachanguero' loosely means party animal.

A millas siento tu aroma,
cualquiera justo razona,
que Cali es Cali señoras, señores
lo demás es loma. 

For miles I feel your scent
For good reason 
Cali is Cali ladies and gentlemen 
The rest is hillside 

Caleños are simple, down to earth, happy, and crazy about salsa ... you can dance at hot salsa clubs to the newest beats, whether from Colombian greats like Guayacan, and for the romantic in you the beautiful sound of the duo Son de Cali, or overseas artists like Luis Enrique, all week long. Make sure you visit during Feria de Cali, a five day salsa carnival the last week of December. As they say down there, "Cali es Cali".

When backpackers and other tourists get past their hangups and visit Cali, they find it hard to leave. The rhythm is euphoric, the Cali sound and the sexy body movement - pure joy. Check out this hugely loved song and watch those kids dance that salsa.

Oiga, mire, vea
Vengase a Cali para que vea!
Oiga, mire, vea
Goce la feria para que vea!

Si usted va llegando
Vayase entonando
Que de baile en baile
Se va acomodando

Hey, look, see 
Come to Cali to see! 
Hey, look, see 
A joy the Feria to see! 

If you are coming 
Go away singing 
Dance that dance
Be accommodating

This writer believes wars in the northern hemisphere would end if more people heard, and danced, Salsa. 


Many tourists to Colombia like to head for Cartagena ... a hot, muggy coastal city heavily marketed in brochures for its inner walled town, a colonial era architectural enclave.

Cartagena has also given birth to some of the country's finest music, like José 'Joe' Arroyo's. Arroyo’s most famous song, Rebelión is an ode to 17th-century Cartagena symbolized by a young man's uprising against the ill-treatment of his bride and of his African brethren by the colonial rulers, and its chorus “No le pegue a la negra” .. “Don’t hit the black woman” .. brings tears to Colombians even today. Alvaro José Arroyo González, born in Cartagena in 1955, passed away just recently on July 26, 2011.

Cartagena's brochure appeal of a colonial past has such a draw on tourists, that most never set out to explore the rest of Colombia, places far more engaging than Cartagena... and to really understand and admire this complex and beautiful country which is trying so hard to shed the images of its tragic history.

Cartagena's inner walled city is certainly well preserved and worth a stay for tourists, though backpackers prefer the outdoor adventures and prettier landscape further along the coast in Santa Marta, Taganga, and the Tayrona National Park.

Saying Goodbye

As the time came for the writer to leave Colombia, he reflected on the friendly approachability of her people...

and the sights and images of this festive, once secluded culture...

This was to be a land to return to. 

Go to Colombia...

Revel in her simple beauty...

her sensuality...

 ... "the only risk is wanting to stay"

Go salsa fellow travelers. Colombia is a jewel ... a musical and sensual lust-for-life culture.

Colombia ...  a long due destination.

Travel Tips
  1. For airlines within Colombia, this is a helpful list . Aires usually has the best promos.
  2. International flights land in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and even Cartagena.
  3. Use a travel guidebook or online resources to research and book hotels or hostels.
  4. The younger, private-educated crowd in large cities speaks English to some degree, but generally in Colombia you'd be best served to know at least passable Español.
  5. Buses connect most towns and cities in Colombia. The roads are generally good, but heed warnings about rains, night time routes that could be dangerous, and crazy drivers. Stick to the best bus companies.
  6. Music: Colombia is a haven for music and dance lovers. For Salsa, visit Cali. For Vallenato, pretty much any town in Colombia, but it originated in the northeast. For international-style music and night life, Medellin and Bogota are good bets.
  7. Don't buy into the marketing that surrounds Cartagena .. it's not that brilliant a destination, and Colombia has far more to offer. If in Cartagena, explore nearby islands and go east down the coast to Tayrona National Park.
  8. Go easy on the Aguardiente ... it may seem like an innocent, clear alcoholic drink but it can knock you out.
  9. Make friends. Colombians are incredibly friendly ... and misunderstood.
  10. Safety: Colombia is actually a safe and pleasant destination. As with all South American cities, you should exercise normal caution and commonsense in all Colombian cities and towns. Be aware of your surroundings, don't wander off into unknown barrios, make local friends, buddy up, don't flash fancy cameras and smartphones, take taxis at night. In the remote instance that you're mugged in any South American city, largely a result of being careless and straying into dodgy areas, do not resist.. simply let them take your belongings, as the moral threshold can be very low.