Traveling in Colombia: Medellín, Minca, Salento

Excited to get back to South America and traveling instead of just vacation, Sadie and I took off to Colombia for three weeks. We spent about a week in Medellín, Minca (North Coast) and Salento (Central Coffee Region) respectively. The big thing to know is that Colombia is pretty safe now (aside from a couple specific regions) with a very active tourist industry that seems likely to keep it that way. If you follow basic traveler safety tips for any foreigner who is rich by local standards, you’ll have a fine time.

  • Highlights: Colombian and vegetarian food, coffee farm tours, canyoneering, volcano trek, bright colors, huge dog culture, salsa lessons, Medellín cable cars, good street art, explosive Tejo
  • Lowlights: Built for instagram/tourism experiences, nature entrance fees, sex tourism nightlife vibe
  • Intentionally Skipped: Cartagena, Cali, Bogota, The Lost City
  • Not Enough/The Right Time: Amazon, Caño Cristales River, El Cocuy Andes, more time in small towns like San Carlos
Three dogs all hanging out watching the street in Minca. Never have I seen such prevalent, friendly, varied in breed, healthy dogs traveling.

Medellín: A Hip City

Watching the moon rise over Medellín from rooftop bar / hangout area of Masaya Medellín

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t understand how to travel in cities. Sure cities have a ton of cool things relating to food, art and culture, but what do you do the 80% rest of the time? I really enjoy walking cities, but was a little unsure about doing that haphazardly in Medellín. At first I got a little bored, then I realized Medellín was a little more of a nightlife city. However, when I tried the nightlife in Lleras it was more like being constantly hassled to either enter a barker’s bar/restaurant or sold something on the street amid guys looking women up and down and a fair amount of sex tourism undertone…

Riding the L-line to Parque Avri out of the city

Canyoning in San Carlos

Santa Marta / Minca: The North Caribbean Coast

View from Minca towards Santa Marta and Caribbean

Most people go to Cartagena for their beach town experience but it didn’t sound like my vibe so we came to Santa Marta for an ocean-day before entering the forested foothills of the Colombian Sierra Nevada near Minca. Minca is a small town with like two streets and a ton of tourist activity zipping around on motor bikes. It was hot and we should have brought more effective bug spray for the small gnat bugs which could leave a big welt. We stayed in my favorite places of the trip here: a historic house in Santa Marta and a sustainably minded eco lodge. There was stuff to do, but not a lot. It was a good place for relaxing.

Salento: Coffee Region Foothills of the Andes

Salento was the most western touristy place we visited but had a lot of good charm with all their taxis as 4×4 Jeeps you can stand on the back of, lots of coffee culture and vibrantly painted buildings. It felt super safe to wander around, had a good shop-street and lots of tasty food with vegetarian options. It’s so popular mainly I think because of the Cocora Valley which honestly I don’t know why is that notable a destination after passing through it. We super enjoyed the cafe and coffee farm near where we stayed (which was maybe a little too far outside of town) and the nearby Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados has some interesting trekking options.

Sadie getting some points in Tejo, “Alcohol is required!”

Costs in 2024

View from our jungly suite outside Salento

I think due to 2022-2023 inflation, increased tourism and people updating the date of their travel articles but not the content… I found in-person prices 20-50% more expensive than what I had read in internet articles. The below prices are mainly for the tourist areas I visited and were pretty consistent.

Food / Beverage

  • Beer: 5-12.000 COP ($1-3 USD)
  • Juice: 8-10.000 COP ($2-3 USD)
  • Restaurant food: 20-35.000 COP ($5-9 USD)
  • Cocktail: 13-18.000 COP (outside of ‘nightlife’ or ‘high-end’ areas) ($3-5 USD)


  • Medellín Uber (in-city): 8-15.000 COP ($2-4 USD)
  • Airport Taxi: 40-110.000 COP ($10-40 USD)
  • Domestic flight: $100 USD


  • A half-day or few hour tour: 40-100.000 COP ($10-40 USD)
  • Specialty full day / multi-day tour: 300.000 COP per day ($85 USD/day)
  • Waterfall / Park / Point of Interest admission: 10-20.000 COP ($3-6 USD)
  • Gifts / Souvenirs: Typically very affordable, but not always authentic of the region 

Lodging: We kinda did some speciality, fun lodging that is on the higher end of travel in Colombia so I don’t have a good read on this. The a nice or unique places can be $100-150 a day in the main tourist areas which is a lot more than a $10 hostel, but also not close to the most expensive thing available.

Doing Your Research

Often trying to find reliable information online was like asking for guidance from this oracle in the Medellín bus station

I saved this for the end because this is my rant about two pieces of travel information everyone uses: traditional sources (US Government, Trip Advisor, etc.) and first hand accounts (travel bloggers).

Traditional Sources

If you’ve traveled a little you immediately find that ‘traditional sources’ of travel information are super risk averse and more prone towards stereotypes and reinforcing classic perceptions. Although Colombia (which has a “reconsider travel” advisory) has some ‘do not go to’ areas, it has a super established and popular tourism industry and is not as dangerous as Israel whom shares its rating (“reconsider travel”) and is currently at war. Along those lines, maybe Kyrgystan is not safer than the UK… (US Travel Advisories).

Similarly, despite what TripAdvisor might say, European cities are not super safe everywhere and can have a ton of problems with scams, pickpockets, etc. in tourist areas and elsewhere. Using basic travelers precautions keeps you out of trouble most places in the world. Meanwhile, these sources railroad everyone towards the same tourism circuit with often uninteresting ‘things to do’ that are generic. I didn’t come to Colombia to go to a science / discover museum… (#2 from Trip Advisor for Medellín)

First Hand Accounts

To me, travel blogs used to be authentic first hand accounts to counter the scripted press releases of governments, tourist agencies and major brands like Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. They were places to find interesting experiences and understand the real experience of traveling in an area or doing an activity. That was until, (like Instagram) people thought, “there might be money in this.” Now the top SEO’d search results for travel to an area contain articles resembling the recipe pages listing the origin of spaghetti and philosophy of a tomato before providing me a few sentences of ingredients and instructions.

No Minca is not ‘sleepy’ or ‘off the beaten path’. No I don’t need a ‘1500 word complete guide to Santa Rita waterfall’ which is a 30 minute hike in a private park. It’s clear, but not disclosed that you wrote this story on your blog to promote this hot springs resort and were compensated in some way while given intimate access for highly staged photos with no one else there. No this is not an original, helpful account of cool stuff to do in an area that just repeats and offers referral links to Trip Advisor tours. No, you don’t throw gunpowder in Tejo, you hit gunpowder with a metal disk…have you played? No, your article and photos are not representative that this “natural waterfall” is essentially a resort built around a water fall destination.

I rarely cross the professional-personal barrier anymore on this blog, but maybe this is just reflective of the state of things in 2023 with worse Google search results and the enshitification of everything digital. Maybe it’s also infected the internet, in general. I’m not trashing these sites because I want to be #1 on google. I will never put adds on my blog. This is a passion project for me, my community and maybe a random passer-by. I am just so frustrated that I could spend forever trying to research anything for travel and still have no idea whether its authentic or just hype or even interesting before I invest a lot of time and capital deciding where to explore. Travel is not easy or quick in the developing world and every day on a limited vacation is precious. I know things are unpredictable and you can’t plan everything, but I’m also not constantly being lied to on the ground like the internet is doing to me beforehand.

I just want more of authentic experiences like this blog that helped me zero in on canyoneering in Colombia. More than ever, this last trip made it hard to find (and more frustrating figuring out) what is real before being on the ground and even during. Maybe this is the problem with being outside the hostel ecosystem? (I’m sorry accommodation, I didn’t come to Colombia to go to a vapid theme park loosely associated with coffee)

I think there are unique experiences in Colombia, but I found it hard to discover them. Its clear that ‘anyone can do it’, ‘makes a great photo’, ‘bucketlist’, ‘we think this will sell to a tourist’ travel has come to Colombia and I just had a hard time getting off the Gringo Trail