I put together 10 points that South Americans and I believe can help you make the most of your time in Colombia and other South American countries. Whether you stay for two weeks or long-time, it all comes down to listening close to what the locals recommend.
1. Adjust ASAP to the new time zone
There are various international flight connections to Bogotá. Arrival times depend on the airline. In any case I recommend doing what the locals do at the destination. If you arrive at night do not lose time and try to get to bed as fast as possible. If you arrive in the morning or afternoon, do what you would normally do back home.
The idea is that your body functions react to daylight and adjust to a distinct rhythm of sunlight exposures. Adjustment times though are different to each person. To enhance that process I recommend eating light and looking for opportunities to expose you to daylight. Blood circulation and metabolic processes familiarize with the new time zone and the Jet lag will be gone faster.
Hint: do not get your body into trouble with additional tasks like digestion of alcohol or too much animal fats.
Watch this video for more info:
2. Never underestimate the sun
I always try to remind myself to put on sunblock, but sometimes I just forget it, even for larger excursions. You can bring sunblock from home because here it is very expensive compared to the price level.
Do not mess with the sun, especially in higher locations were exposure to sunlight is not always obvious. It is the evenings when you realise you should have taken some sunblock. The higher you travel the higher the risk to get sunburned without noticing. The locals know why they use hats and long clothing which could be an alternative to those absolutely not open for sunblock. I wish I followed my own hints a lot more. In the end of the day one has to listen to the locals or self-experiment.
3. Show interest in the life of locals
Since we built a second life in social media we all know how important it is to be recognized. Same applies for daily life. Everytime I am interested in others, and integrate myself into local day to day life I earn respect and appreciation. Vice versa I show respect and do what they do. The people feel that somebody treats their habits with interest.
Locals should be part of any vacation or trip we take. I think that if travelers want to be happy while travelling they should take recommendations of locals serious.
This concept, the true interest of both traveler and locals provides the ability to take a deeper look into a culture and locals feel that visitors come not only to visit the most important sights. This may due to my long-term experiences but I believe that even in a two-week itinerary there is always time to integrate local, authentic experiences.
Speaking the language can be valuable but is not necessary to show moods. Some words at least will put a smile on every local along your way. One should not forget that even if most Colombians cannot travel as us Europeans or Americans but they are still very interested in our culture.
To learn the numbers in a foreign language is not too difficult and because prices rise when they meet visitors I recommend to know at least the basics from zero to ten. Situations where your bargaining skills will be tested occur in the first minutes after your arrival and will continue until you fly home. So be prepared and try it out! As a three-week traveler your might see this different, but I work here and I can’t effort gringo-prices every time I take a taxi. On the other hand, I see bargaining skills in South America also as a mean of earning respect. You show self-confidence to your negotiating partner which will drop prices for sure.
A basic rule would be to fix the deal before you get the service or item (e.g. before you get into a taxi). If someone asks for 20,000 Peso, go for 10,000 and meet him at the upper middle.
- This is even too much, but we look like travelers and we normally own more money, so accept it.
- If you are together with locals, let them negotiate, they will get a better deal.
- Ask other locals about normal prices to get a feeling for the range.
- There is always a group-discount (from 2 persons on) and most likely the best argument
5. Everyday a fresh-made juice
There are many fruits I forgot the names, because either I did not know them and I tried them for the first time or I was simply too lazy to internalize the sheer endless amount of fruit. There is one that I gave the name “Brainfruit” because its flesh looks like a brain, but it is actually called “Granadilla” and is available all around Colombia. Around every corner you can find juices and fruit, in the entire country. It is cheap, super-healthy and something we have to pay tremendous prices back home. Adventurers will love the unknown fruit and everybody should try something new, for those conservative there is also black berry and banana. You can only get healthier. Another benefit is that you save time buying from the street and there are no bottles to carry around. I recommend “Lulo”, since I like acid fruits.
6. Don’t hesitate to buy fruits and veggies from the street.
On the street you can find all sorts of groceries that you need. Indigenous communities enter the cities early in the morning to sell their home produced food. They sit on the sidewalks and often they wrapped their products in plastic bags so that even car drivers can order a quick snack or a pack of oranges. Sometimes you don’t have the time to go to a supermarket plus the products from the indigenous people are cheaper. Purchasing from them often supports their community directly which is otherwise hard to do if you are not a local. Additionally, I believe that the quality is much better than in a supermarket. The sheer surplus of fruit and veggies in the countries near the equator should be appreciated, as back home it is more expensive and there is not that vast variety. But do not forget to wash fruits and veggies which is an easy task with a bottle of water and right on the street.
7. Try to speak as much spanish as possible
I know that it can be hard to learn a foreign language only for vacation. From own experiences and stories from my parents I can tell that you don’t need to be perfect, by far not. Sometimes it is enough to listen close and use the few words you know. Nobody will go mad, if you pronounce a certain word incorrectly. Put a smile on their face, that’s all you need to do to get understood. Nevertheless respect comes easier with a good basic vocabulary. New opportunities will open up. You can ask better questions and you will catch words during conversations among locals. You will get better advice. Once you can ask everybody for the way, you are more relaxed if you speak at least the most important phrases. As a thumbnail I would say that the more independent you want to travel the more Spanish you need. Visitors without Spanish skills have to follow others and pay more. So the longer you stay the lesser your costs should be.
All over the world people tick different, follow different rythms. There is no way to teach them punctuality. Polychrome people do many things at once and sometimes wait until lastminute. That may lead to waiting times. The western world’s time management is more structured, more linear.
Visitors want to enjoy their holidays and go through their experience without hassle. But waiting times are part of the game here and there is a need to understand and cope with it. Do something you would not have time for without waiting for the bus. Get some pics for example, just don’t get mad. In any case don’t think that they let you wait by purpose. If you happen to wait 15 minutes take it with pleasure. The more happy you are if you will get on finally. While on vacation we have time to do nothing, to let time fly a little. This is something we cannot expect from home anymore.
9. Keep your head up
Risk a view down to the ground. Be aware of bad streets with open holes without notice. Nevertheless keep your head up high. Go through any country with open eyes, because you never know when or where to expect the next great situation. It helps you discover. What is more people tend to look down when they feel unsecure. Therefore keeping your eyes up is a sign of healthy self-esteem and this is a bad sign for deceivers.
10. Only drink bottled water
Some people adjust to the tap water, most don’t. Don’t think that water from the tap is always bad in other countries. There are quality controls as well, especially in urban areas. A certain role though play the bacteria in the tap water that are not the same as back home. It is simply a hard and unusual digestion process that our body goes through. Diarrhea can be the consequence. So rather buy bottled water as a short-time visitor. There is also plastic bags in all sizes. You can squeeze the small ones directly into your mouth. Bigger bottles like the one at the picture are for home and rather interesting for longer stays at one place. Nevertheless plastic bags are a lot cheaper than bottles. By using them you benefit from less wait you carry around, since especially the small ones are sold on every street corner.