El Camino Travel: Colombia with Conde Nast Traveler #WomenWhoTravel


Colombia with El Camino Travel and #womenwhotravel

Colombia with El Camino Travel and #womenwhotravel

Photos via Amanda Villarosa

 

What happens when you take 15 women (mostly strangers) to Colombia for 9 days? Serious good times and adventure! I just returned from Conde Nast Traveler’s inaugural #WomenWhoTravel trip with El Camino Travel and  have officially fallen in love with Colombia. Thank goodness I’m happily married, because I seem to fall in love quite easily (see Haiti + Kenya lovers here!)

Let’s talk Colombia: 

El Camino Travel has been around for awhile - I remember eyeing their Cuba trip years ago (still eyeing TBH!) Aside from their incredible itineraries most trips also come with a photographer to document each day. This allows travelers to really immerse themselves  and not have to worry about capturing everything themselves. Ie: you’ll get the shot for the ‘gram, it will be profesh, and you’ll have really been in the moment! 

What’s unique about this trip is that it’s a collaboration with El Camino Travel and Conde Nast Traveler supporting Conde’s #WomenWhoTravel Initiative (ie: 100% women). Ps: there’s 8 more scheduled through the rest of the year. Other El Camino trips are co-ed. The trip fees cover your hotel, most meals, all activities, and the flight from Cartagena to Medellin.

 
Brights Streets of Cartagena, Colombia

Brights Streets of Cartagena, Colombia

Beautiful Caribbean water off Cartagena, Colombia

Beautiful Caribbean water off Cartagena, Colombia

Fresh coconut outside of Volcano Mud Bath in Colombia

Fresh coconut outside of Volcano Mud Bath in Colombia

 

The deets by the #s:

  • 9 days 

  • 15 gals (we had gals from everywhere in the US, London, and Kenya)

  • 2 locations: Cartagena + Medellin

  • 1 incredible local host (Hola, Patty!)

  • 1 photog (this changes by trip - besos to our gal Amanda)

  • 1 Conde Nast Editor (miss you Meagan!)


The prep:

  • PASSPORT? Yes. 

  • VISA? If you are a U.S. citizen you do NOT need a VISA. 

  • IMMUNIZATION?  Colombia does NOT require immunization records. I know a handful of gals who did get shots before this trip. TBH it never crossed my mind BUT I did just get ALL the shots for last year’s trip to Kenya

  • LEWKS: See all the outfits I packed here. 13+ in a carry on - woot woot!

The elephant in the room: did I feel safe?

100%! There was only one time late at night that myself and a friend were walking back from dinner in Cartagena that I felt a little bit uneasy. And it was because we were on a street we weren’t familiar with that also didn’t have a lot of people on it. We quickly found our path and all was good. Only time can erase the Narco/violence stigma that surrounds Colombia. Based on some of the homicide stats we learned about, it’s very clear to me that it’s more dangerous to be in any major city in the U.S. than major city in Colombia. So long story short, do not let fear prevent you from visiting this beautiful country!

 
Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

 

The Itinerary: We did ALL the things! 

Make sure to check out my COLOMBIA Highlight on my IG because I documented the whole trip. 

FIRST STOP: CARTAGENA

DAY 1

We checked in to the cutest boutique hotel called Casa Lola. I loved the location because it was outside the Walled City in an area called Gestemani which allowed us to explore a handful of areas. The area is walkable and safe! If you’re planning a trip there’s tons of cool Airbnbs in the area.

After settling in and meeting everyone we ventured out for the night. The city was POPPING! We started the night off with a cocktail tasting at Alquimico followed by dinner at Interno which is located inside a women’s prison. Interno provides a second opportunity for the inmates to reintegrate into the social and productive population. The menu was created by Michelin star chefs and is executed by the inmates. We really enjoyed the food and the story; it felt great to support these gals!

At night parts of the walled city felt like walking into The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland which sounds ridiculous but also makes sense given the architecture and that we were literally on the coast of the Caribbean Ocean. 

Day 2

We got up bright + early to head to a nearby volcano crater for a mud bath. It’s a pretty unique experience. If mud baths in volcanos are your thing then go for it but it wasn’t my favorite.

The highlights of day two were visiting a local home by our hotel and enjoying some homemade Colombian food. The women who prepared lunch for us have been partners for over 17 yrs and had recently just come out to their neighbors. It was an incredibly heart warming story and such a delicious lunch. The second part was salsa lessons!

Oh boy were our salsa teachers SPEECY SPICY! This was an exclusive class via this trip, so don’t have specific deets but it was so so fun. We learned some basic steps in a dance hall then took our new moves to local social clubs with cervezas in hand, of course. It was such a fun afternoon!

That night we had some free time and a few gals and I went to La Cevicheria for dinner. It’s supposed to be the BEST Ceviche in Cartagena as dubbed by the late Anthony Bourdain. Not going to lie, I thought it was good but not out of this world. To be fair, by the time we sat down they were out of a lot of items on the menu. I suggest going early to put your name in then stepping across the way to the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena for cocktails. The hotel is an old convent and apparently haunted! The drinks were top notch and I loved the vibe of the hotel.

 
Cocktail making at Alquimico in Cartagena with #womenwhotravel - ph: Amanda Villarosa

Cocktail making at Alquimico in Cartagena with #womenwhotravel - ph: Amanda Villarosa

Upstairs Patio of Alquimico, Cartagena Colombia ph: Amanda Villarosa

Upstairs Patio of Alquimico, Cartagena Colombia ph: Amanda Villarosa

Volcano Mud Bath Outside of Cartagena, Colmbia

Volcano Mud Bath Outside of Cartagena, Colmbia

Cartagena, Colombia #womenwhotravel

Cartagena, Colombia #womenwhotravel

Home cooked meal in Cartagena, Colombia

Home cooked meal in Cartagena, Colombia

Salsa Dancing Lessons in Cartagena, Colombia

Salsa Dancing Lessons in Cartagena, Colombia

Volcano Mud Bath in Colombia ph: Amanda Villarosa

Volcano Mud Bath in Colombia ph: Amanda Villarosa

Cartagena, Colombia with El Camino Travel

Cartagena, Colombia with El Camino Travel

Salsa dancing in Cartagena, Colombia

Salsa dancing in Cartagena, Colombia

 

Day 3

Up early again for a trip to sail the Rosario Islands on a private catamaran. You know I love me a day on the water! The waters were pretty smooth on the way out but some gals did get a little sea sick. My trick: beer. I’ve always found a beer in hand on boat rides helps! After a few hours on the catamaran we stopped at Isla Baru for some fun in the sun and lunch. It’s the cutest little island with lots of bars, some little hotels, and gorgeous aqua water. I’m the happiest in a bikini on the sand, so you know this was one of my favorite days. The ride back was a little rough (I’ve heard this from others who’ve done similar rides) but we all made it back in one piece and saw the sunset as we were docking in the harbor.

We had about 45 minutes to freshen up before dinner. GUYSSSS, these trips are BUSY. This is a full immersive experience - think study abroad compacted into 9 days. At times you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation, but then you’re also so so happy you got to do ALL.THE.THINGS.

Dinner was at Celele Restaurant which was walking distance from our hotel. The chefs used to do pop-ups and finally just landed on a permanent spot. Hands down my FAVE meal in Cartagena. It’s a modern take on local cuisine and definitely the most upscale restaurant we ate at in Cartagena. They had delicious wine and cocktail pairings as well. It’s a MUST if you visit Cartagena.

 
 

DAY 4

After the prior days activities I was SPENT and needed a minute. One great thing about these trips is that everything is optional, so if you want to have a moment to yourself or you’re not feeling the day’s activity then you can opt out. That’s exactly what I did that morning. I believe the group went to a local school to learn about this music/drum program that keeps youth off the streets but I’m not 100% sure.

Myself and a few gals slept in a bit then headed to the Walled City for some exploring. There’s so much beauty on every corner it’s kind of crazy. I loved all the colors and architecture. We just kind of wandered which was much needed after some very scheduled days prior. A few stores that I fell in love with:

  • Agua De Leon - gorgeous clothes, jewelry, and accessories all from Colombian designers. It reminds me of Intermix.

  • Territorio - jewelry and hat store (there’s multiple in the walled city)

  • Casa Abba - a cool concept store with a bunch of different designer “booths” - it’s kind of like a swap meet

  • Capa Joyeria - clothing, mostly swim and beach wear plus some beautiful accessories.

 
Shopping in Colombia

Shopping in Colombia

Shopping in Colombia

Shopping in Colombia

 

We met up with the group in the afternoon for a street food tour that was SO freakin’ yummy but also SO filling. Think arepas, empanadas, buñuelos… lots of meat, cheese, and fried things. TBH i was a little nervous about this because I feel like in the states you only eat street food if you’re very drunk - haha- post football game or going out. Some of the gals definitely got tummy aches but I was okay. I don’t think it’s because the food was bad or not handled properly, I think it’s because everything we ate was SUPER rich and we’re not used to eating like that at home. I would suggest doing a tour like this but really watch your portions. Think of it like a wine tasting… just a little bit of everything.

We finished the day at Cafe del Mar where we had drinks and watched the sunset. It’s probably the BEST place in Cartagena to watch the sunset. They have a DJ and it kind of feels like Euro-clubby. Looking out over the coast reminded me a lot of Los Angeles. At one point I was like “are we in Santa Monica?”

Sadly we never made it out to any of the “clubs” like Cafe Havana (everyone recommends) because we were sooo exhausted every night after the day’s activities. I do wish I was able to add a day or two of just FREE time to continue to explore.

I would 100% go back. I LOVED Cartagena. There’s so much the city has to offer and I honestly fell in love with all the colors and architecture. The weather was definitely humid and hot but not unbearable (keep in mind it’s February). I can’t even imagine what it be like in the summer months haha!

 
Catamaran off Cartagena, Colombia

Catamaran off Cartagena, Colombia

Beach day in Colombia

Beach day in Colombia

On the beach on Isla Baru in Colombia

On the beach on Isla Baru in Colombia

Dinner at Celele Restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia

Dinner at Celele Restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia

Food Tour in Cartagena, Colombia

Food Tour in Cartagena, Colombia

Gals hanging in Cartagena, Colombia

Gals hanging in Cartagena, Colombia

 

LAST STOP: Medellin

DAY 5

Travel day! All 15 of us headed to the airport to hop on our flight Medellin. The flight was SUPER easy - I think less than 2 hours. It was fun to all be on the same flight together; haven’t done something like that since college.

After a 40 minute bus ride into the city we made it. First impression: WHOAH, this is a CITY! It was a stark contrast from Cartagena. Cartagena feels like a blast from the past, similar to Cuba, whereas Medellin is a modern metropolis. It’s also nestled in the mountains, so the views are amazing. Lush green peaks everywhere we looked. The elevation also makes the temperature much cooler than Cartagena. I believe it’s called the “City of Eternal Spring” because it’s known for being temperate year ‘round, with moderate temperatures in the mid-to hi-70’s. Kind of like Los Angeles without the beach!

We got settled into our hotel (ART HOTEL) which TBH, wasn’t my fave. I’m 99% sure the hotels have changed for future #WomenWhoTravel trips. The location was AWESOME but the hotel rooms were super dark - like “I hope I don’t walk out looking like a clown” dark - and a little dated.

That night we had a cooking class scheduled for us with a local chef (exclusive to this trip) which was such a treat. After dinner we went to the rooftop at The Charlee Hotel called “Envy Rooftop.” The panoramic views from the rooftop were incredible - lights on lights! The area we were staying in (El Pablado) was super central to a bunch of fun bars, restaurants, and nightlife. Highly recommend!

DAY 6

We started the day at our favorite coffee shop: Pergamino. It reminded me of a Blue Bottle! It was one of our favorite morning and afternoon stops during our time there. One of our gals also had a huge crush on a barista, so that was fun!

Medellin is very different than Cartagena in that it’s MASSIVE and very spread out with pockets of really interesting neighborhoods throughout. Very LA in that sense. We got a really great “view” of the city by doing an electric bike tour that took us through the downtown area and the bustling streets nearby. It was definitely a cool way to take in the city but it was also really intense. There’s a lot of traffic (regular and foot), so we were mentally and physically exhausted by the time the tour was done.

Luckily that afternoon was FREE! A few gals and I ventured around our hotel and found some INCREDIBLE shops; so many handmade bags, jewelry, and accessories. Some of our favorite stops:

That night for dinner we went to Alambique and it was BOMB. My second favorite meal in Medellin (the last night was bananas!!). They have this bacon wrapped avocado dish that is out of this world. The cocktails are also delish. Def a must stop spot if you’re in the city!

 
Makeno in Madellin, Colombia

Makeno in Madellin, Colombia

Makeno - great store in Medellin, Colombia

Makeno - great store in Medellin, Colombia

Cooking class in Medellin, Colombia

Cooking class in Medellin, Colombia

Colombian Cuisine

Colombian Cuisine

Medellin, Colombia

Medellin, Colombia

View of Guatape, Colombia

View of Guatape, Colombia

Everyday Pursuits in Medellin Colombia

Everyday Pursuits in Medellin Colombia

 

DAY 7

By day 7 I was TIRED. As I mentioned above, it really is a go-go-go itinerary which allows you to see everything but can leave you feeling drained at points. It worked out perfectly because that day we had a veg day at this insane lakeside villa.

We first drove to Guatape which is this cute little town about 2 hours outside of the city then took a boat to this gorgeous villa that had 360 views of the man made lake. Supposedly you can rent this place on Airbnb but I did not see it on there. There’s some other amazing places tho - just search El Peñol, Colombia. Renting one of those places could be great idea for bachelorettes or birthdays!

It was an all day adventure and so so fun. We salsa danced, had margaritas, lounged by the pool, and just let it all sink in. I wanted to stay there ALL night but sadly we left before the sun went down. 99% sure I fell asleep at 8:30 that not but a few gals went to Criminal Taqueria for dinner - a taco spot around the corner from our hotel. Sadly I never got to try Criminal, however, everyone said they LOVEd and I know a few gals that went multiple times on our trip.

Day 8

We kicked off our last full day in the Comuna 13 neighborhood with a graffiti tour. We learned about it’s transformation through art, music, and tourism. This is was one of many educational moments of the trip. Throughout our trip we had one guide who was with us 24/7 (hola, Patty!). She answered all of our questions, gave us 411 on the cities we were in, dove into key moments of Colombian history, and was just all around awesome. In addition to Patty, for almost every excursion/activity we also had a secondary guide, so we were always learning from different people about their upbringing and experiences in Colombia.

Some of the gals went on a coffee tour after this but I decided to stay back and do some more roaming. There’s tons of street vendors and cute little shops in the El Pablado. Just like Cartagena, I felt like I needed a another day or two to really soak up the city.

We had an experiential farewell dinner at Restaurant El Cielo. It was out of this world. We had around 13 “moments” - different dishes and gastronomic delights that were all modern takes of Colombian classics. Hands down my favorite meal of the trip. Beyond unique and very delicious.

 
Gorgeous house in Penol, Colombia

Gorgeous house in Penol, Colombia

Practicing our salsa skills!

Practicing our salsa skills!

Beautiful Penol, Colombia

Beautiful Penol, Colombia

Living my best life in Colombia

Living my best life in Colombia

Babes on a boat in Penol, Colombia

Babes on a boat in Penol, Colombia

Local boy holding a baby chick in Medellin, Colombia

Local boy holding a baby chick in Medellin, Colombia

View from the top of Communa 13

View from the top of Communa 13

Dinner at Restaurant El Cielo

Dinner at Restaurant El Cielo

Graffiti Tour in Communa 13

Graffiti Tour in Communa 13

Graffiti Tour in Communa 13

Graffiti Tour in Communa 13

Dinner at Restaurant El Cielo

Dinner at Restaurant El Cielo

 

DAY 9

Time to say goodbye! We all parted ways on our 9th day, some going back home and others continuing their adventure to different places in Colombia. I definitely wish I added on a few days of my own personal travel - something to remember for next time.

WHAT a trip. I’m still digesting everything (physically and mentally - hah). The people of Colombia are so warm and welcoming. I was inspired by their stories - to hear the challenges they faced growing up both directly and indirectly and how they’ve overcome them individually and as a community was incredible. I never really understood the history of Colombia until this trip. Our guides’ first hand accounts and in -depth information helped paint the picture so much more clearly. 

The best part: I left our 9 day experience with new friends around the world that I know will continue to blossom into life long relationships.

Make sure to check out my COLOMBIA Highlight on my IG because I documented the whole trip. 

I’m working on a post about the pros and cons of group travel experiences, so stay tuned! As always, I’m happy to answer any Qs. Holler at me @everydaypursuits or in the comments below.

xx - Ashley

EATS + DRINKS

Cartagena

  • Celele Restaurant - my FAVE meal in Cartagena. It’s a modern take on local cuisine.

  • Interno

  • Cafe del Mar - grab drinks and watch the sunset

  • La Cevicheria

  • Street Food Tour

  • Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena - cocktails, cocktals, cocktails

  • Alquimico - great for pre or post dinner drinks. Everything is fresh + made in house. Very cool vibe and a gorgeous rooftop views.

Medellin

 
Agua De Leon Store in Cartagena, Colombia

Agua De Leon Store in Cartagena, Colombia

Shopping in Colombia

Shopping in Colombia

 

Shopping

Cartagena

  • Agua De Leon - gorgeous clothes, jewelry, and accessories all from Colombian designers. It reminds me of Intermix.

  • Territorio - jewelry and hat store (there’s multiple in the walled city)

  • Casa Abba - a cool concept store with a bunch of different designer “booths” - it’s kind of like a swap meet

  • Capa Joyeria - clothing, mostly swim and beach wear plus some beautiful accessories.

Medellin

  • Makeno Teinda - gorgeous clothes, jewelry, and accessories all from Colombian designers. They carried similar brands to the Agua De Leon store.

  • Ocho 43

  • Makua - beautiful handmade jewelry

 

more travel guides