1. Don’t… say no to aguardiente.
You can slap them in the face, kick them the shins, or sleep with their partner, but never turn down a shot of aguardiente from a Colombian. Be warned though, this sugar-cane liquor has an aniseed flavor which takes getting used to.
Do… drink the blue-top (sin azucar) aguardiente.
Honestly, the hangover is much less agonizing than the sugar-fuelled red-top version. You’re welcome.
2. Don’t… eat thick arepas.
Wondering what those pale dough balls are on everyone’s finished lunch plate? Thick arepa, that’s what. For some unknown reason, restaurants regularly serve this cornbread in its absolute worst form — so thick that the inside remains uncooked and doughy, so dry that it instantly soaks any moisture from your mouth. Rather than adding taste, it actually diminishes flavor from other foods on your plate.
Do… eat the thin ones.
Before the entire population of Antioquia reach for their pitchforks and flaming 2x4s, we must pay homage to the properly cooked, thin version of arepa. Crispy, even slightly burnt on the outside, arepas are a perfect snack food.
3. Don’t… expect everywhere to be hot.
The true beauty of Colombia is in its diversity. Medellin might be the ‘city of eternal spring’, but a 30-minute journey up surrounding mountainsides will see temperatures plummet. Towns and cities circling Bogota might seem like the Sahara, but Colombia’s high-altitude capital is often teeth-chatteringly cold, especially at night.
Do…expect the unexpected when it comes to weather.
Recent years have seen bizarre weather patterns in Colombia — rain when there shouldn’t be rain, severe droughts, and even hailstorms in Medellin.
4. Don’t… restrict beach breaks to the Caribbean coast.
While there are great beaches on the Caribbean coast (Here’s looking at you, Parque Tayrona and Islas del Rosario), other areas are go unnoticed. A 45-minute flight from Medellin to the Pacific coastal town of Bahia Solano will open up a ton of tourist-free beaches with burgeoning surfing scenes and spectacular jungle, rivers, and waterfalls. Dip your toe in with a visit to El Valle or Nuqui.
Do… choose the right season before you hit the beach.
Dolphins, whales, turtles, hundreds of bird species, tropical flora, and ludicrous-looking lizards are part of the Pacific coast’s rich bio-diversity. But not all species appear at the same time, so choose your dates wisely. An ideal beach time is mid-September when you can witness migrating humpback whales in the day and nesting sea turtles at night.
5. Don’t… wear the wrong colors on soccer derby day.
Los Clasicos are the most hotly-contested soccer matches in the country, both on and off the field. Cities are transformed as fans deck themselves in their team’s colors, ready for battle. One of the fiercest clashes is in Medellin, where Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin lock horns. Here streets around the Atanasio Girardot Stadium transform into rivers flowing green and red. Venture down the wrong street in the wrong color and you’ll be faced with a tidal wave of abuse and often serious violence.
Do… go to a Clasico.
Whether it’s Santa Fe versus Millonarios, or Medellin lining up against Nacional, soccer derbies are the standout sporting events in Colombia. Expect to be both exhilarated and completely petrified.
6. Don’t… go to San Andres during December or January.
High season completely destroys the blissfulness of San Andres. Johnny Cay Island, a particular highlight of the visit, transforms in these months from a sunbathing paradise to a place where sand is continually flung into your face by scampering children and high season price inflation.
Do… explore the whole island when you are there.
One worthwhile spot is ‘la piscinita’, where slides embedded into the rock hurtle you out into the transparent sea.
7. Don’t… eat a light lunch.
Forget the salad, sandwich, or plastic-boxed pasta. The best value meal is the lunchtime menu del dia. An average 7,000 pesos price tag (about $3 USD) gets you a choice of soup, beans, a type of meat, vegetables, salad, pasta, fries, tropical fruit juice and, if you’re lucky, a small dessert.
Do… eat out.
Eating out is often as cheap, if not cheaper, than cooking at home or in a hostel. Factor in the fact that ovens are somewhat of a rarity here, and it really is a no brainer to eat out.
8. Don’t… go to Andrés Carne de Res in Bogota
There’s actually nothing wrong with this restaurant. In fact, it serves up fine steaks with a great party afterwards. It’s just that its bigger brother is so much better. Heading only to the Bogota one is like watching the Lakers in a pre-season game — good but not quite the real thing.
Do… go to the one in Chia.
Lurking an hour from Bogota is one of the best rumbas (parties) in all of Colombia. A labyrinth of intricately designed interior, elaborate lights and surreal-looking artefacts bamboozle party-goers much like a drop of LSD would. Even the food is served on bizarre wooden and metallic plates, and the shots of tequila come in tiny apothecary bottles. Restaurant, bar, club, an extravagant Tim Burton movie set; whatever this place is, it’s worth the trip.
9. Don’t… get bushy with your privates.
When it comes to pubic hair, it’s go clean or go home. While a nicely-shaven private area has the possibility of inducing a night of sexual healing Marvin Gaye style, a bushy, unkempt groin will result in you butt-naked staring through the window while your would-be partner goes running down the street yelling “Unclean!… Freak!…”
Do…go the extra mile when it comes to hygiene.
Colombians take grooming seriously. It’s common for both women AND men to regularly frequent beauty salons for manicures, pedicures, and waxing. Be ready to hear suggestions, even sometimes from complete strangers, on how you could improve your physical appearance.