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Finding the Hidden Gems in Colombia, 23 and Solo

written by Maddie Myall

Growing up I had always been a bit of a wuss when it came solo travel because it was easier, cheaper and supposedly safer traveling with other people. It wasn't until I had a mini life crisis that I finally developed an itch to travel somewhere far away, by myself. Despite my friends and family's protest, I hopped on a plane from LAX (jk it was Denver) to Colombia. This is what went down.

Day 1 – Touch down in Cartagena

I landed in Cartagena at 12pm after a long travel day. Gotta love Spirit Airlines for the insanely cheap flight (we’re talking $238 roundtrip baby) but the atmosphere could have been a little more enjoyable. When I landed, thankfully I already had an unlimited cell phone data plan set up so Uber was ready for action. From the airport, it only cost me $4 to get to my hotel. Pretty clutch.

When I arrived at my hotel, I was greeted by a boy who worked at the front desk. He was a little flustered at first since I bombarded him with 1000 questions and asked if he wanted to go to dinner later. I think I hopped on the “friendly solo traveller” train too soon cause he looked at me and said “Lo siento, I have work”. A good first attempt on my part though.

Casa Gloria

The best part of the hotel was the rooftop. It had a beautiful lounge area with a hot tub and a city view. The whole place was super peaceful and had a very relaxing, tropical vibe. After chilling for a bit, I decided to move the legs and go for a run. I strutted down to the main foyer and waved at the desk boy and he nearly jumped into the other room trying to avoid me lol. I ended up jogging around the walled city which was about a 2 mile perimeter. It was the perfect breath of fresh air that I needed.

Baluarte de Santo Domingo (the City Wall)

After my run, I was getting pretty hangry so I went out to find a local vibe. It took me a whole hour to decide on where to eat since there were so many tasty looking restaurants.

La Tapería

I ended up going for a small tapas bar at the southernmost part of the city because it was quiet and they were serving delicious looking open faced sandwiches. The place felt super authentic and even though it was close quarters, it ended up being a great way to meet people.


Day 2 – Personal Tour of Cartagena from Cesar

This was my only full day in Cartagena so I was determined to make the most out of it. I had some main sites in mind but other than that, no plans. As I started walking down the street, this local man came up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. He continued firing off questions and I was a little startled at first but as we got talking, I realized he just wanted to chat. He eventually offered to give me a full walking tour of the city and I said “why not”.

Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría, KGB, Teatro Heredia

I basically saw every famous and local spot in Cartagena thanks to Cesar! He had so many friends who were local business owners that I got to meet! He took me to taste the city’s famous juice blend, to see an emerald carver at work, to meet some ladies who carry bowls of fruit on their heads and to check out the underground cave system, all for free. Looking back, I probably should have avoided the underground cave system since he was a stranger but yolo (face palm)?

Calle Cuartel Del Fijo

After saying thank you and goodbye to Cesar, I got a table at the famous cevicheria that I had been dying to check out.

La Cevichería

The fish was beyond fresh and the subtle flavors made me want about 10 more plates of it. The restaurant’s atmosphere was airy and full of light since there was a huge opening that allowed for natural sun to shine in. It was even more dreamy than I imagined.

I ended my day by enjoying a rich, chocolate gelato on a little yellow bench surrounded by flowers. I took some time to people watch and savor the last little bit of time I had in the walled city since I was leaving for Medellín the next day.

Gelateria Tramonti


Day 3 – Arriving in Medellín

I wasn’t able to watch the whole descent out the window since my face was tucked into my elbow for 80% of the time due to my absurd fear of flying. I was however lucky enough to catch a glimpse of our plane cutting through the clouds and coming out directly over the Andes mountains. Once we landed, I ordered another Uber and went straight to my hotel.

Celestino Boutique Hotel

I loved this hotel with all my heart. Like I could literally live there. It’s rich green color and jungle decor made the atmosphere so aesthetic and fresh. Just like the last hotel, the best part was the rooftop. It featured a modern hot tub and an expansive city view. I spent the rest of my day soaking up the luxuries of this hotel.


Day 4 – Biking up into the clouds of Medellín

Day 4 was another big day since I had planned to conquer one of the famous climbs in the city. Before every bike ride, I like to fuel up on pancakes (duh). I set out to find a breakfast spot that could fulfill my bulking needs.

Querido Food & Love

I found this cute little cafe that offered a whole list of breakfast foods! The pancakes were fluffy and rich and they even had my favorite toppings: strawberries and bananas. Yum. Once I finished eating, I picked up my bike rental from another handsome young boy. I almost convinced him to do dinner. Almost.

Alto de las Palmas

Once I was set up, I started on my adventure ride up the 10 mile climb that had approximately 4,000ft of elevation gain. While the climb was pretty steep, the temperatures were cool and the views were incredible! I was a bit worried about cars going into the ride but they ended up being super courteous to me. When I got back to the hotel I followed Sebastian (cute bike rental guy) on Instagram so he could see my ride…a #flex.

After some chill time, I walked around El Poblado, the trendy, up and coming area where my hotel was situated. I found a great looking burger joint that was the perfect spot for my post work out meal. I was pleasantly surprised with how juicy and flavorful the burger was! All the ingredients were super fresh which made walking home much easier.

Chef Burger

Once I was back, I relaxed at the hotel until it was time for my reservation at the one “splurge” meal I had lined up. The restaurant had a tasting menu full of creative yet familiar plates that made the taste buds jump out of my mouth! The setting was divine and it was even more enjoyable when it started raining outside.

Carmen

My bill at this super fancy restaurant ended up being $30 with tip, which is basically equivalent to a breakfast in LA. You definitely get the best bang for your buck in Medellín. I ran home in the rain, sopping wet in my cheetah print maxi dress. Man, if Sebastian had come to dinner, it would have been a “Notebook” moment for sure.


Day 5 – The Day I literally died from Sun Poisoning

Unfortunately, on day 5 I woke up with a sunburn that was so bad it was making me feel terribly sick. I apparently should have put sunscreen on (don’t tell my mom). I spent most of the day in bed trying not to move because it hurt so badly. The burn started to go away but then I began to swell up like a watermelon. Wear your sunscreen kids.

The stages of my terrible sunburn- yikes

For dinner, I walked across the street and found a pizza place that was completely empty (the perfect spot for hiding my face lol). The pizza was super fresh since they made it in their pizza oven. I kept things simple with a cheese pizza since I didn’t want to upset my stomach. The pizza made me very, very happy and took my mind off the pain. The staff was super sweet and offered me some ice to help the swelling go down (I didn’t even tell them what happened, they just knew).

Pizzaiolo


Day 6 – I made a Friend and saw a Big Rock

I was able to build up enough strength to do a tour the next day. I had originally planned to bike to this famous rock but since my physical condition was ~not ideal~, I booked a tour the night before. I’m not one to typically book a tour since I like discovering things on my own but I actually really enjoyed this tour! When I took my seat on the bus, a friendly looking guy popped a squat next to me. At this point I had given up on making friends so I put my earphones in and gazed out the window. But what do you know, a couple minutes later, the guy tapped me on the shoulder and put his hand out. He said “Hi I’m Tobias”. Booya! We were in business.

El Peñol Guatapé

Our first stop was at the famous rock called El Peñol. We had to climb 700 stairs to reach the top but it was worth it for the amazing views and tasty carmel filled treats. After chowing down some arepas, we bussed over to this colorful little town called Gutapé. We had an hour or so to walk around and check it out. Every street had it’s own unique, colorful layout. I took so many pictures here it was ridiculous. The town’s main square was filled with vendors selling various trinkets so Tobias and I obviously bought matching hats.

Guatapé


Day 7 – My final day in Medellín

For my last breakfast, I decided to try out the cute cafe attached to my hotel. I had some of the funkiest, chocolate pancakes of my life. They looked like a beautiful dessert pastry but still had the warm and chewy pancake composition I desired. I ended up staying there for a while since the cafe was so open and calming. I was able to get a little bit of work done before heading out for my last adventure, believe it or not.

Azul Selva

I went for a long walk to check out this market that was located outside of El Pobloado. I was pretty toasted when I arrived so I grabbed a refreshing mango smoothie and watched the soccer game on their Jumbotron (gooooooooooal). Before heading back, I strolled around the market to see what other vendors were offering. They basically had every cuisine you could think of. I grabbed a to-go tikka masala wrap and headed out for my 2 mile walk back home.

Mercado Del Rio

When I got back to El Poblado, I walked around this boutique street for a while, weaving in and out of all the cute little trinket, clothing and self care stores. They had some really trendy looking clothing for super cheap prices but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get much since I only brought a backpack on the trip. Probably for the best because I don’t think I would have pulled off heeled sneakers.

Carrera 37

For my last meal, I got a spot at this whole in the wall that I had been trying to eat at all week long. They didn’t take reservations and the wait was always super long when I showed up before. But on my last day, I showed up right when they opened and I was able to get a table in 10 mins. Their food was remarkable and the service was super quick. It was a perfect last evening.

Bao Bei Cocina Asiatica Contemporanea


Day 8 – Leaving Colombia

Before my flight, I sought out a smoothie bowl to be loaded up with plenty of nutrients for the ride home. The bowls were super aesthetic which was an added bonus. Once I returned to the hotel, I packed my things and headed to the airport.

Bett’y Bowls

As I sat in the terminal waiting for my flight, I started to tear up a little bit for no good reason. Looking back at that moment now, it’s clear to me now that I was crying because I had such an amazing time discovering a new culture, finding new Pao spots and making new friends (or at least attempting to). As silly as it sounds, I was proud of myself for pulling off my very first solo adventure. I’m confident that when these travel bans are lifted and things return to being safe, I’ll be exploring the world again on my own. If you haven’t tried solo traveling yet, I HIGHLY recommend it:)


Name: Maddie Myall
Pao username: @maddie
About: Maddie is a co-founder of Pao and is responsible for all social media efforts, accounting, and management of Pao’s interns. Her free time usually consists of riding her bike and eating tasty food wether it’s in Boulder, CO where she lives or somewhere around the world. Maddie hopes to get all of her lazy friends and family off the couch and into the world so they can explore all the amazing places that Pao has to offer.

Want to save and go to all of her spots from her trip to Colombia? Download Pao now.

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Anna Zervos

CEO

Anna graduated from UCLA in 2017 where she studied psychology and cognitive science. Her passion for travel, design, and psychology fuel her passion for Pao. On the Pao team she is in charge of feature development, business strategy, UI/UX, and big picture marketing strategies. Anna has been to over 40 countries and plans to keep that number growing. She hopes to inspire people to get outside their comfort zones and eventually give back to people who aren’t able to.

Favorite food

Tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas

Favorite band

The 1975

Favorite movie genre

Psychological horror/thriller

Favorite hobby

Singing and playing guitar

Favorite place in the world

Antipaxos, Greece

Sara Zervos

CFO

Sara is has a PhD in Economics and spent 22 years in the finance industry managing teams and over $20bn in assets. She is Pao’s CFO and CTO, and also spearheads business development and AI initiatives. She has traveled to over 57 countries, adores animals and the outdoors. Sara loves to connect with people and help them learn and strive to be their best selves.

Favorite food

Peanut Butter

Favorite band

P!nk

Favorite movie genre

Sci Fi

Favorite hobby

Salsa Dancing

Favorite place in the world

Kauai & New Zealand are tied