Guide to Colombia

South America is a childhood dream for me. I used to picture myself joining the vibrant and colorful carnivals of Brazil, dancing passionate tango in Argentina and reliving the ancient history of Peru on top of Machu Picchu. I don’t think I ever gave Colombia a thought back then, and yet it ended up being the first South American country I visited. But Colombia turned out to be the answer to my childhood dream. Here follows my best guide for this spectacular country.

Bogotá

Bogotá unexpectedly became one of the highlights of the trip, especially since many advised us “to skip the capital”. My advise is instead “whatever you do, don’t miss Bogotá”.

Where to stay?

My boyfriend and I used AirBnb as our only source for accommodation. There are plenty of great AirBnb stays in Bogotá and many of which are located in the most interesting areas of the city. We stayed at three different places in total to really get the best experience out of Bogotá. One in the hip Chapinero area, one in the mountains and one in the hipster area of Usaquen. One main goal with the trip was to improve our Spanish skills, and therefor we chose to stay with families rather than staying on our own. Despite it being a great option for improving Spanish it can sometimes feel overwhelming to socialize all the time. So, maybe you want to treat yourself with a private accommodation a few nights, unless you’re an inexhaustible extrovert.

Things to do in Bogotá

Discover Bogotá from a bike with Bogotá Bike Tours. The tour lasts a couple of hours and gives you a unique chance to get to know the city better. Engaged and knowledgeable guides take you through jaw-dropping fruit markets and to scenes where the series Narcos was shot. You will also participate in some local activities at a bar and taste coffee from heaven at a coffee roastery. You do not want to miss out on this tour, given the fact that it takes you to places you normally wouldn’t find without a local.

Enroll in a Spanish course

Why not combine travelling with some Spanish language skills while you’re in a Spanish speaking country? My boyfriend and I took Spanish classes in both Bogotá and Medellin with Nueva Lengua school, and we were very pleased with the course. Nueva Lengua offers Spanish classes in Bogotá, Medellin and Cartagena.

Visit the Gold Museum

In the district of La Candelaria you find Museo del Oro – the Gold Museum. This is one of the most famous museums of all of South America and can brag with its huge collection of gold. Join a guided tour at this museum and be prepared for a thorough history class in the theme of gold.

Where to eat in Bogotá?

Finding great restaurant options in Bogotá won’t be a problem for you if you know where to look. If it’s lunchtime it’s even easier – just follow the locals to the nearest restaurant and grab a menu del dia – the lunch of the day. For a mere pittance you can eat plenty. Fresh juice, some soup, a bowl of fruit and a main course; normally rice with some meat or fish and veggies.

For later meals you should head to the districts of Chapinero and Usaquen, where several awesome restaurant await.

Chapinero

Mini-mal

By far our favorite restaurant in Bogotá. A fusion between traditional Colombian tastes and international food makes exciting plates. Try the grilled shrimps in passion fruit marinade served with coconut rise. Simply delicious! Also take a look at the drinking menu and find some adventurous and mouth-watering cocktails.

El dia que me quieras

This Argentinian steakhouse serves top notch steaks cooked to perfection. The tender meat comes with some chimichurri and sides of your choice. Have a look at their wine list as well, which shouldn’t disappoint you.

Usaquen

Probably the hippest district of Bogotá and with lots of cool places to have a great meal. If you’re staying in Bogotá for some days you should definitely make a visit to Usaquen. I can guarantee that if the rest of Bogotá didn’t quite do it for you, Usaquen will.

Abasto

Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, an evening snack? It’s up to you, but whatever you go for this place will make your taste buds swing. I went for the breakfast option and found myself thrilling over buttery pancakes, French toast, fresh fruits, home-baked bread and excellent coffee. Everything at this restaurant is organic and locally produced and the ambience is just super charming.

WOK

An Asian food chain, and some of the best Asian food I’ve eaten outside of Asia. Choose from Cambodian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai food and save some place for dessert. WOK alone makes a trip to Bogotá worth while. Best food chain in the world if you ask me and Bogotá is the only place in the world where you’ll find it. Jeez!

Bogotá Beer Company

Also a food/beer-chain in Bogotá, but with burgers on the menu rather than sushi. Treat yourself with some crispy fries and order a good old beer while watching a soccer game from one of the many screens.

Go to the cinema in Usaquen

If you’re in Usaquen (which you definitely should), you have to make a visit to the cinema. They show English movies with Spanish subtitles (not dubbed). Sit down in one of the comfy sofas and order in some food, drinks (yes, even alcohol consumption is allowed here) and snacks while enjoying the best cinema-experience of your life. Such an awesome activity after a long day of walking or on a rainy day.

Cook the food yourself!

One of the things I tend to miss the most after travelling for a while is cooking my own food. Moreover, one of the things I love to do the most when I’m in a new place is to visit a local supermarket. Staying at an AirBnb gives you the luxury to have your own kitchen, which was an opportunity we took advantage of a lot of times. Visit a local supermarket and be amazed by the enormous selection of fruits and vegetable, and rediscover the joy of cooking.

Barichara

240 kilometers north of Bogotá lies Barichara – probably one of the most charming and picturesque villages in the world. You come here to escape the stress of the bigger cities and to indulge in relaxation and the breathtaking beauty of this place. The architecture is stunning and the coffee and food make you marvel.

Accommodation

We stayed in Barichara for two nights, which was enough time to explore the village. If I would go back today I would however book a couple of nights in the outskirt of Barichara to get an even more spectacular view over the surroundings. Take one or two nights in the village, and a couple in the countryside for the best experience. Some hotel suggestions:

In the village of Barichara:

Casa Barichara Boutique

In the countryside of Barichara:

Casa Mahanaim Barichara

Hotel Terra Barichara

Serrania del Viento

Restaurants

Carambolo

I had one of my best restaurant experiences of my life at this place, and everything was delicious. A passionate chef runs the place and the menu varies depending on the season and the chef’s mood. One could class this restaurant as fine-dining, but with friendlier price tags.

Shanti

At this colorful and slightly funky place you can eat fresh salads with an Asian touch to it and drink amazing freshly squeezed juices. A mojito and pineapple juice became a strong favorite for us. However my favorite Colombian juice – or Jugo natural as they call it is without a doubt the passion fruit one, which goes by the name Maracuja. This place is also a great choice if you’re a vegetarian.

Medellín

Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia and appears to have a solid first place at many travelers’ top list. The weather, often described as “an endless spring”, could be one of the reasons for its likeability. It’s a lot warmer than in Bogotá, and yet not as humid as in Cartagena and on the Caribbean coast. Medellín is surrounded by layers and layers of green hills and majestic mountains and not far from here you find the coffee area of Colombia.

However Medellín hasn’t always had this great reputation, and for many years very few dared to set their foot in the city. As many might already be familiar with Medellín was actually the nest for drug cartels for many years and was ruled by the controversial and notorious narco gangster Pablo Escobar. Despite Medellín’s shattered history the city is now flourishing and keeps growing in popularity among tourists.

Where to stay?

As mentioned before my boyfriend and I engaged in Spanish studies on our Colombia trip, and because of that we chose to rent a room at the school during our stay in Medellín. The Nueva Lengua school is located in the area El Poblado, which is considered to be the safest and most vivid area of the city. For us it was a perfect accommodation. Check out accommodations alternatives at Nueva Lengua here.

Restaurants in the El Poblado area

There are several restaurant options in El Poblado and you can choose from both local cuisine and international cuisine. The area is quite small and restaurants can be found on every street. My best tip is to just head to El Poblado and take it from there. Let your senses decide what you feel like eating. Meat, fish, seafood, vegan food, fast food, healthy food, there is really something for everyone here. Check out this list for inspiration.

What to do in Medellín?

Hop on the metro cable

A ride with the metro cable is a must when in Medellín. It is a great way to get a closer glimpse of the stunning scenery around the city. From the cable you admire the spectacular and hilly landscape as well as urban skyscrapers and colorful favelas. At the end station you find Parque Arví, which is a nature park with focus on eco tourism and environmental awareness. Take a stroll in the park and make sure to bring a warmer sweater since the air is a lot breezier up here.

Pueblito Paisa

Make a small excursion to the cute neighborhood of Pueblito Paisa. This area is one of the main tourist attractions of Medellín and you come here to spot snug little houses, visit a Catholic church and enjoy an ice cream or a coffee.

Guided tours

Comuna 13, guided graffiti tour

If I could only recommend one guided tour in Medellín, it would be this one. Mainly because you get a unique chance to experience the life of most of Medellíns inhabitants, who are not living in the modern area of El Poblado, but rather in the shantytown. Comuna 13 is one such place where unemployment and poverty is the norm and where violence is a natural outcome due to these issues. One does best in not coming here alone, but with a local guide in order to be safe and to show respect to the people living here. The tour serves not only as an eye-opener in terms of experiencing the unchartered part of the society and become more humble as a tourist and as a human being. But also to marvel over the creativity and the driving spirit among the talented youths that call this place their home.

Walls are covered with dashing graffiti and the neighborhood is home to plenty of artists of various kinds. Dancers, singers, rappers, painters and so on and so on. Our guide himself was a rap musician and spoke with pride about this community. The tour finishes off with a visit in the music studio.

Pablo Escobar Tour

Indeed a much more controversial tour than the one before and maybe I would do best in not recommending it at all, but unfortunately I cannot resist. The Pablo Escobar tourism is expanding in the city after the popularity of Netflix’s Narcos series. Dedicated viewers want to experience the violent history of Medellín with the ghost of Pablo as their guide.

As one might realize this morbid fascination and narco-exotism among tourists isn’t always appreciated by locals. However there are some who take advantage of the huge interest in Pablo Escobar and make money out of it. This guided tour is an example of just that, where even former villains see a way to earn some extra cash. On our tour we find out that the bus driver himself was no other than the private life guard of Gustavia Escobar, Pablo’s cousin. And when one thought it couldn’t get more surreal, Robert Escobar, the brother of Pablo appeared at the last stop on the tour after having served several years in prison for involvement in many crimes.

The tour lasts a couple of hours and takes you to places that are somehow connected with Pablo Escobar. For example we visited the tombstone of Pablo and one of the many houses he owned. Most of the properties that used to belong to Pablo now stand empty since few have an interest in buying them partly due to superstition.

Guatapé and El Peñol

Sadly I didn’t myself have time to go on this tour, but it’s on my top list of things to do next time I travel to Colombia. From Medellín one can book a guided bus tour to these places. For more information look here. Once you arrive you get to stroll around a village of quirky and colorful houses, climb up some squiggly stairs and visit an artificial lake. Guatapé is located two hours from Medellín by bus.

Santa Rosa de Cabal

Santa Rosa de Cabal is a Colombian city in miniature. Maybe you don’t come here for the city itself, but instead to warm yourself in the natural hot springs, to see some kick ass waterfalls and to visit the coffee plantations outside of the city.

Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal is the go to place for hot springs and dazzling waterfalls. To get here you need to take a bus from Santa Rosa de Cabal, which you’ll easily find since the town is really small and the bus station is right at the town square. Or you can just ask anyone on the streets and they will take you to the bus you need to get.

Accommodation in Santa Rosa de Cabal

Coffee Town Hostel

We spent two or three nights at this simple yet affordable hostel. If I were to travel here again I would have chosen to stay in a finca up where the coffee plantations are. Why? Because Santa Rosa de Cabal gets quite boring after a day or two and is a rather sleepy village. Not saying it’s not worth visiting at all, but you might not want to spend two much of your precious time here.

Finca del Coffee Tour

Needless to say, a visit to the coffee plantations is kind of a must when you’re in this part of Colombia. Who would want to miss out on tasting the most delicious coffee in the world anyway? We spent half a day at a coffee farm with a local farmer and went through the whole process of coffee making. From picking the ripen coffee beans, roasting and grinding them, and of course the best part – tasting the coffee through different brewing methods. This coffee farm also offers accommodation options, which I would definitely recommend. Not only because of the coffee and the experience, but also because of the breathtaking scenery that surrounds the coffee plantation. Hard to beat that dawn over the finca, something extraordinary to wake up to.

When you’re in the area make some time for visiting the cute colonial towns in the neighborhood. One such charming town is Salento, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit. When I go to Salento I want to stay at one of these places.

Cartagena

Enchanting Spanish-colonial architecture, houses painted in childish and happy colors and adorable Catholic churches. The list could go on, but what I’ve mentioned so far gives you a hint about the reasons for the huge popularity of Cartagena as a tourist destination. Throw in some stunning beaches, a turquoise sea and some delicious seafood and you’re home. And if that doesn’t do it for you, add some Afro-Colombian music and imagine sipping on a fresh Mojito while you build up a thirst for swinging your hips along to some live Latin music at a local salsa pub. Don’t fancy alcohol? No problem, Cartagena is the king of fresh juices where you can pick and choose from more fruits than you even thought existed. Without ever having put my food on Cuba I picture Cartagena as a Havana in miniature.

Accommodation

We stayed at an AirBnb with a family of three near the ocean. The old lady and owner of the house provided us with fresh mango juice with mangos picked from her mango tree outside of her house every morning. Her two sons and plenty of animals of various kind shared the household with her.

Even though we had a very pleasant stay at this place, mostly due to the family’s great hospitality, one might want to go for a more central accommodation in Cartagena. At least if you’re only there for a few days. Whatever accommodation option you go for make sure you have air condition, because if not your trip will probably turn into a nightmare. If I go back to Cartagena I want to stay here or here or here.

Beaches near Cartagena

Check out the Culture’s trip list over the most beautiful beaches around Cartagena. Since we only spent a few nights in the city (way too short time), we unfortunately didn’t have time to go to some of the most stunning beaches. Instead we enjoyed the beach outside of our house, which wasn’t too bad either. But it’s worth to mention that you won’t find the dreamiest beaches around the city center. However you don’t have to go very far to find them. The beaches of Rosario Islands are supposed to be magic, and about every local recommended it.

Cafés in Cartagena

Abaco libros y Cafe

A really cute little hub that is a must-go-to-place for the bookworm. Escape the midday sun and enjoy some great literature – preferably by a Colombian author while sipping at a wonderful cup of coffee.

Café Havana

This place includes salsa nights and live music accompanied by fresh mojitos. If you’re a fan of Cuban rhythms this cafe/bar is great, even though there probably are even better places for live music in Cartagena.

Cartagena is full of interesting restaurants, cafes and bars, you just need to spend some time in the city center to find them. I recommend at least two-three days in the city and then two-three days more to experience the surroundings.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta is another Caribbean pearl really worth visiting. It’s less known by tourists, but very popular among locals. Maybe it’s not the city in itself that makes Santa Marta so attractive, but more so the spectacular nature and exciting adventures that surrounds it. Santa Marta is the gate to some of Colombia’s most famous and beautiful places, such as Tayrona National Park and Ciudad Perdida. You do however want to spend some time in the city itself, since it surely has its certain charm.

I recommend to spend one or two nights in the city, and then use the city as a base when traveling to for example Tayrona and Perdida. We stayed at an AirBnb with a family in the outskirts of Santa Marta. I recommend you to find a place more central in order to use your feet rather than a taxi to go to restaurants.

Tayrona National Park

The depth of the jungle hides some unexpected and outright amazing beaches with the bluest of water. The reward doesn’t come without a struggle, because the ticket to get here is a two hour long hike through the jungle. It is totally worth it though, and if you’re lucky you can spot some exotic and shy animals along the way. We did it as a one day excursion which was fine, but if I’d do it again I’d definitely spend a night in a hammock by the sea and enjoy some beach life.

Ciudad Perdida

Also called “the lost city”. We unfortunately didn’t manage to get there, but heard from other travelers that it was fantastic. If you have time you should really make an effort to get here but be prepared for quite a heavy hike. As I understood it you have to do the hike with a guide. Together with the guide you follow the traces of Colombia’s ancestors and reach the lost city at sunrise. Read more about the hike and Perdida here.

Food in Santa Marta

Ouzo

After discovering Colombian food for three weeks we craved for some good old pizzas and Mediterranean food. And the pizzas at this place are simply delicious and baked in a wood oven. Really friendly waiters, yummy drinks and so, so good food. You have to eat here at least once if you’re in Santa Marta.

Cabo de la vela

If Santa Marta, and especially Tayrona is all about the perfect combination of jungle and beach, Cabo de la Vela is instead about a magic combo of beach and desert. The fruit paradise is long gone, due to the dryness of this place only cactus survive. Cabo de la Vela is also all about going analogue, and where you quickly need to switch your cellphone to a book. This notorious place is home to the indigenous population of Colombia called Wayuu, that also live at the other side of the Venezuelan border. The Wayuu people are some of the poorest people in the country and every year people die due to lack of water access.

How to get there

It is a bit tricky to get to Cabo de la Vela, which is situated in the very north of Colombia. Having that said, it’s not impossible and I would recommend anyone to go here. Most of all because it’s total unique and doesn’t resemblance any other place in Colombia. If you decide to go there, make sure to first get to the city Riohacha. Spend a night there and be ready to leave for Cabo de la vela early next morning.

Don’t try and get there by yourself, it will only lead to exhaustion. It’s a bumpy road that is best tackled with by four-wheeler. We booked everything at our hotel in Riohacha, and in the city center you also find some travel agencies that offer trips to Cabo de la Vela. Find more information on how to get to Cabo de la Vela, and what there is to do there here. At this website you can also book the trip online in advance.

Accommodation and food

Once you arrive in Cabo de la Vela you can take a motorbike taxi to get around the island. And for dinner, try some gratinated lobster and just enjoy the relaxed vibe and feel the stress wash away. We slept in a hammock right in front of the sea and the accommodation was included in the price that the agency provided for the trip.

Playa del Pilon

This is the beach you want to look for when you get to Cabo de la Vela. It is quite breathtaking and at least when we were here the opposite of crowded. We spent a whole day here and met some new Colombian friends and enjoyed beer, some good laughs and conversations, beach football a lots of swims together. One of the highlights of our trip for sure, and probably the most spectacular sunset on our journey.

What to skip!

Punta Gallina

If you go to Cabo de la Vela agencies want to tell you that you should also pay a visit to Punta Gallina – the most northern point of Colombia. We did it, and it was honestly like throwing money in the trash can. What you find in Punta Gallina, as supposed to desert landscapes and pretty beaches, you will also find in Cabo de la Vela, and the money they charge for the trip to Punta Gallina is simply not worth it, according to me.

Once you arrive to your accommodation at midday there’s nothing left to do but wait until sunrise. Moreover the service at the place we stayed and on the tour was terrible. And I don’t blame the people for it! From my understanding only wayuu people lives here and are struggling to survive for themselves. Besides, one could feel that it was not them themselves that had set the rules and conditions for their business and the whole place shined with its misery.

If you want to support the wayuu people I recommend that you instead buy some of their beautiful handmade textiles. Their specialty is a colorful and gorgeous bag called Mochilla bags.

What to think about before travelling to Colombia

Vaccine against the yellow fever

It’s not required to take this vaccine if you go to Colombia, but I would highly recommend it if you intend on traveling to various parts of the country. There are some areas where the virus exists and it would be really unnecessary to be diseased, don’t you think? Besides, you could run into some problems if when you travel from Colombia to another country, where they might not let you in if you cannot show evidence of having the vaccine. One really cool thing is that you actually can get the vaccine for free when you arrive in Bogotá, either at the airport or at the bus station.

But I want to give you a little heads up here. You have to fill in a blanket and answer some medical questions before receiving the vaccine. I have diabetes (which was one of the questions) and was therefore denied the vaccine due to some vague explanations about insulin not working with the vaccine. After talking to my doctor in Sweden this information turned out to be false, and I had to visit another private clinic (not free anymore) and lie about my diabetes, by saying I didn’t suffer from it. So, if you’re a diabetic like me or have another diseases you’re treated for I really recommend you to fix the vaccine at home before traveling. It will save you some energy and worry.

How to get around safely

Taxi

We used Uber during our whole stay in Colombia and it was great. It’s also considered to be a lot safer than taking a regular cab, because there are reports on robberies in taxis. Be safe.

Bus

Flights may be more convenient and faster, but we used the bus every time we went to a new place or city in Colombia. It’s a bit more friendly to the environment and also gives you an opportunity to catch some stunning scenery from the window as you go. You should however think about the safety aspect when it comes to traveling by bus also. Use one of these bus companies, don’t gamble. Also make sure to bring a blanket or put on some warm clothes for your bus ride. For some reason they love their air condition a bit too much, and the temperature can get really cold.

Best guide to Edinburgh

Autumn. It’s that time of the year when the broadleaves start blushing and we curl up inside with warming candles. It is also the perfect season to make a trip to Edinburgh and Scotland – the birthplace of Harry Potter. Here are some great things to see and do during your fall vacation in Edinburgh!

Where to stay?

Macdonald Holyrood hotel

Located at the very end of the main street, right next to the highlights of the city. This is a great option for an accommodation in Edinburgh. Comfy beds, spacious rooms with a spectacular view of Arthur’s Seat from the Window. In the morning awaits a hearty and steady breakfast with home cooked sausages, toast, fresh juice et cetera. The staff is professional and polite and serve top notch cocktails in the hotel bar. I definitely recommend this hotel!

A room with a view

Nature

Arthur’s Seat

Our neighbor and a part of the Holyrood Park, and once upon a time a volcano. A pleasant 45 minutes hike from bottom to top makes a great morning excursion. The effort is worth while, because at the top you can overlook the whole city. Pretty majestic!

Some autumn foliage

Architecture

The Royal Mile and the castle

Edinburgh is UNESCO World Heritage listed, and it’s easy to understand when you’re strolling along the Royal Mile – the capital’s main street. The architecture is simply magnificent and it almost fools you to believe you’ve entered the Harry Potter world for real. Especially considering that the Hogwarts lookalike castle – the star of the city is evident wherever you walk. You’ll also find some of Edinburgh’s best pubs and restaurants around the Royal Mile.

Where to eat?

Fazenda

A steakhouse with a twist. Just an amazing place to go to for the meat lover. This place does not only serve awesome food, the concept of the restaurant is also a unique experience in itself. You start off with a huge sallad buffet, picking out your favorites. You do want to leave some room for what will come next, so even though the sallad buffet makes you drool, be gentle with the portion size. What now follows is waiters coming to your table with all kinds of juicy chunks of meet straight from the grill. You choose anything you want alongside with fresh French fries and vegetables from the barbecue. Build up an appetite and go eat as much as you want at Fazenda. I promise you won’t regret it. Inform the staff beforehand for vegan options. https://fazenda.co.uk/edinburgh/

The Canon’s Gait

Cosy place with local cuisine with the national dish Haggis always on the menu. I had the “pie of the day”, and ate a lovely leek and chicken pie with a perfect crust and creamy filling. This place also offers good local beers. Located right at The Royal Mile. This place also have Scottish live folk music during some nights of the week if you’re interested in that.

Where to drink?

The hanging bat

A paradise for the beer nerd with a great choice of home-brewed IPA’s, Ales and Lagers. This hipster hide out with its long-bearded and knowledgeable bartenders is the perfect place for a great pub night. Innovative and inviting interior. Probably the best beer in Edinburgh!

The Waverley pub

A really nice gem for listening to some live Scottish folk music. Grab a beer, have a seat and enjoy the creative musicians improvising in front of you. Prepare to be swept away by bagpipes, banjo, violin, guitar and some haunting acapella song in Gaelic. This is also a great place to hang out with the local crowd.

Markets

Stockbridge market

Gloat in various delicacies from all over the world at this lovely outdoor market. The market is open every Sunday from 10-17. While you’re here don’t forget to take a stroll in Stockbridge, a less touristy district of Edinburgh with a youthful atmosphere to it.

Grassmarket

Same market, different location. Every Saturday from 10-17. Close to The Royal Mile and next to nice cafés and lunch places. Also right next to Victoria street, which is said to be the inspiration for the Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies. A kind of mysterious and magical place and a must-visit when in Edinburgh.

Some great cafées

Made in Italy

An Italian café at Grassmarket. Almost makes you believe that you’ve suddenly been transported to Rome. The café is run by Italians and the coffee here is as one might expect really good. Indulge yourself and order a warming cappucino and a pizza slice. Or for a hot day, a refreshing and creamy gelato.

Deacon’s House café

A really cute lite coffee place close to the castle. Treat youself with a nice cup of coffee and some delicious sweet pastry. A perfect place for reading a book, maybe Harry Potter?

What else is there to do?

Dean Village

Don’t forget to pay a visit to the charming area of Dean Village. Close to Stockbridge, which makes it ideal to combine the Sunday market with a stop at Dean Village. A 40 minute walk from The Royal Mile where you walk alongside with the river of Leith. Bring your camera and photograph the picturesque stone houses and lush gardens. Make several stops and make sure to treat yourself with some coffee and snacks. This serves as a great midmorning activity. Not convinced yet? For more reading about Dean Village, check out the awesome blog Earth Trekkers.

Free ghost tour

A unique and fun way to get to know Edinburgh better. Join the free ghost tour and learn something about Edinburgh’s spooky past. Don’t expect to be scared, because then it might disappoint you. Rather see it as an interesting an different kind of activity and take advantage of the fact that it’s free. Our guide Rory was an excellent and slightly eccentric guide with some pretty impressive theatrical skills. He made sure to give us plenty of laughs during the walk. He finished the tour by kindly asking us to rate him at TripAdvisor, but preferably not as a previous tourist, with the words “Rory ruined my holiday”.

Reading tips

A vaccation is a great time for catching up with some reading. I personally enjoy to read local authors and books set in the landscape or cityscape I’m in. Obviously the Harry Potter books serve some great reading when in Edinburgh. However the books might be to clumsy to bring. Another author I’d like to recommend is the Scottish writer Peter May. Read The Blackhouse and dive into the Scottish culture and soul, solving mysterious murders together with the main character. A pleasant read.

Tips when travelling with type 1- diabetes

2010 was the year, October the month and I was 21 years old. I had just returned from a three week trip to Ireland with its haunting and mesmerizing lanscapes. My thirst for travelling was replaced by another thirst, not nearly as pleasant. It wouldn’t go away despite how much water I drank. Besides, I was exhausted. I must have recognized the warning signs somehow, since I immediately asked my dad to bring his glucose meter to the kitchen table – my father who was diagnosed with diabetes type 1 at the age of 17.

Eire – the emerald island

An innocent blood drip carried an inconvenient truth as the number 22,7 appeared on the screen. That’s how I found out I had too diabetes type 1, and it hit me like a bullet. Dreams crushed right before my eyes and I thought to myself the most horrible thought, “What if I will never be able to travel like I’m used too again”. It was the lack of freedom that caused my greatest fears.

2019 and nine years later I think back at this moment and smile. As it turned out my life would not change as dramatically as I was anxious about then. During these nine years I’ve studied a semester in Mexico, travelled like a nomad i Colombia and kept exploring cities in Europe. Having that said I can now proudly confirm that it is in fact possible to experience the world as a diabetic. But just as unreliable as commuting timetables can be in Guatemala, my friend diabetes can come with some obstacles. However not invincible ones. I would therefor like to share some of my learnings with future travelers and diabetes buddies. Enjoy!

Tikal – Guatemala. No timetables needed here

Learning 1 – Always pack a manual glucose meter

Nowadays I have a sensor glued to my arm with which I measure my blood sugar. Although this is a life-changing invention one can never be too safe. After a sweaty day at the beach the sensors tend to fall off, and you might not have room for too many sensors in your luggage. Also my monitor that comes with the sensor mysteriously broke in the safety control at the airport on my way to Edinburgh last year. Unfortunately I couldn’t see this misfortune coming, which resulted in panic and an expensive story at a pharmacy. So, unless you want to make the same mistake as I did, always make sure to bring an extra glucose meter!

Edinburgh – amazing city, amazing time, despite the glucose meter incident

Learning 2 – Look up everything about vaccine before your trip

In 2016 I traveled to Colombia. I left for Colombia without vaccine against the yellow fever. Stupid me, since the virus existed in areas we aimed to travel to. Luckily they offered the vaccine freely at both the airport and the bus station in Bogotá. The luck however faded when I was denied the vaccine because of my diabetes with the vague explanation that “insulin and this vaccine don’t go together” (you had to fill in a blanket where one question specifically asked about diabetes). It later turned out to be false facts.

Instead I had to visit a private clinic in Medellin to get the vaccine (not free anymore). I then had to lie to the doctor when he asked me the same question; “Do you have diabetes?” “No”, I answered, and tried to keep a steady voice. So in order to avoid any hassle, make sure to have all everything concerning vaccine covered before you travel!

Medellin – Colombia, finally I got the vaccine

Learning 3 – Always bring a medical certificate

As most diabetics might already know, you are sometimes obliged to show a medical certificate concerning your diabetes at airports. Even though diabetes is a world spread phenomenon, a ton of insulin shots in your bag may appear a bit fishy. So, always make sure to bring a certificate signed by your doctor in case of an emergency.

What I however didn’t know before was that it’s also a great idea to bring the same certificate when you’re about to enter a nightclub. Well, at least that was the case in Mexico City. When the guard searched through my bad and found the suspicious insulin shots she turned ambivalent. My explanation wasn’t worth anything and I had to leave the shots with the guard until I left the club. Thank God I still had my glucose meter available, and my blood sugar levels just happened to be stable. But still, it caused too much unnecessary stress. So, make sure to bring your certificate when you go clubbing! (Or whenever you fear someone might examine your bag).

Mexico City – fantastic city, even better with a medical certificate in the purse.

The absence of knowledge from other people

It can be a struggle in itself balancing your blood sugar levels when travelling. Dealing with other peoples prejudicies surrounding diabetes on top of that gets really tireing. One misconception is the equivalence between diabetes and obesity. Sure, it’s not entirely false, since diabetes type 2 can develop from overweight. However one cannot draw any parallels between obesity and diabetes typ 1. In fact scientists still don’t know the causes of diabetes type 1. And still you often get comments from random people saying things like:

“How can you have diabetes? You are not particularly big.”

Another peculiar bad habit is when people tell you diabetic horror stories. My Spanish teacher in Colombia felt it was a great thing to tell me about his uncle who tragically past away in diabetes. A colleague of mine came to think of a girl who “turned into a vegetable” after a night with too high blood sugar. A third person refused to serve me potatoes because she read somewhere that it’s “really dangerous for people with diabetes”. Well, I can’t say these narratives qualify as any feel-good-stories, and I’m not sure I need to hear them.

I do however realize that people in general mean well, so I decided to use my travels to spread knowledge about diabetes. As diabetics we serve the important purpose of educating confused souls about this diagnosis. And what better way of doing that than travelling? What do you say, are you with me?

The injustice of diabetes

Important to add is that diabetes still is an incurable disease. And without access to insulin it will eventually take your life. The world is an unjust place where many people (particularly in poorer countries) cannot afford insulin, and that is a truth sometimes impossible to understand. Undoubtedly this serves as one of the explanations for the misconceptions and lack of knowledge regarding diabetes.

Ten alternative things to do in Warsaw

In November 2015 my boyfriend and I paid a visit to the cool capital of Poland, and we fell completely in love with it. Especially since it kicked ass even during the greyest month of the year. Here follows my top ten best and slightly alternative tips for Warsaw, which work any time of the year!

1. Free walking tour

Start off your Warsaw trip with a free walking tour in the old town. This is a great way to get to know the city better. Why? Because the tour is led by local enthusiasts who love their city and who are thrilled to share their love with you. We joined the Jewish Warsaw tour which took us to places where the Oscar award-winning movie The Pianist was set. A big tip if you’re planning on joining this walk is to watch the movie before or after the tour to make the experience even more vivid. As the headline indicates the tour does not cost you a penny, although you are more than welcome to provide the guide with a symbolic amount of money after the tour is finished. Find out more about the tour here.

2. Scare yourself to death at Horror House

Ever wondered what it would be like to stand face to face with your creepiest horror characters? Well, you need no longer wonder, because Horror House serves that exact purpose. Prepare yourself for the scariest 20 minutes of your life and expect to ramble around in darkness, desperately searching for keys while you’re trying to escape your worst nightmare. It’s a somewhat life-changing experience. Ready to find out more about yourself? Well, visit Horror House and decide for yourself what you’ve learned.

3. Go to a concert

Why not combine your weekend in Warsaw with a concert? I did it, and I can honestly say that it was that Jose Gonzales concert that made the trip go from great to awesome. Not only because a concert in itself is an amazing activity at any time, but more so because a concert gives you the best chance to really be part of the local community. The tourist label that automatically pops up on your forehead when you travel abroad disappears, and instead you become “one of them”, united in a passion for the music you are now sharing as audience. The concert creates a sense of togetherness and presence. Check out available concerts in Warsaw here.

4. Have dinner at a Communist-themed restaurant

Yeap, you got it right. In Warsaw you have the rare opportunity to eat hearty Polish food accompanied by portraits of famous communist figures, such as Lenin and Mao. The story goes that Lenin himself was a frequent guest at this quirky restaurant called Oberza pod Czerwonym wieprzem. You’ll get a menu that is divided into two sections – namely, dignitaries and bourgeoisie. Which one will you choose? Whatever you go for the food won’t disappoint you. Book ahead, it’s a popular place among both tourists and locals.

5. Polish homecooked with a pianist

Hopefully you’re not tired of Polish cuisine just yet, because here’s a restaurant you should really try out when in Warsaw. At U Kucharzy you dine fantastic Polish food in front of an open kitchen to delicate tones of Chopin performed by a pianist – if you are lucky. The restaurant is spacious with an elegant interior, and the staff is there to keep you satisfied. Finish off the meal with an ice-cold and excellent Polish vodka, and if you’re in for a treat, a tasty Polish apple pie.

6. Eat the cheapest lunch ever at a Polish Milk bar

Are you travelling on a strict budget and need a cheap place to have lunch at? Don’t worry, at the traditional Polish Milk bar Mleczny Familijny you can eat plenty for less than four bucks. Maybe it won’t be the most inviting atmosphere, but the low price definitely makes up for that. Also, you will really feel like a local, since it’s a popular place especially among students and seniors. A heads up though is that the menu is only written in Polish. Could be a great chance for an adventure!

7. Schnitzel, beer and entertainment

After a long night out there are few things better than a nice before-bedtime-snack. Forget McDonald’s and Kebab, grab a schnitzel and a nightcap beer at Podwale 25 – Piwna Kompania instead. Here you can even have a lullaby to put you to sleep, since some traditional Polish folk musicians come with the meal. This is also a go-to-place for the beer nerd, especially for those who are into the typical Czech pils.

8. Become James Bond for a night

If you’re up for an untraditional pub alternative Podwale Bar and Books could be something for you. Even though it might appear a bit snobbish at first because of its evident gentleman’s corner attribute, there is still a sense of coziness and funkiness to it. In fact the ambience is rather intriguing with a great collection of single malt scotch and a James Bond-film constantly rolling in the background. It’s also a pleasant hide out for the book worm, since the shelves are loaded with plenty of literature of various genres. An interesting detail is the choice of one might say psychedelic art in the bar, which mainly consists of chimpanzees wearing weird outfits.

9. Some chocolate please

Are you a devoted chocolate lover like me? Then the chocolate café Batida is a must for you. Here you can indulge yourself in chocolate in all forms and shapes. I highly recommend their hot chocolate of high-quality cocoa which literally melts on your tongue. Other options include chocolate tartes and different kinds of chocolate pastries. This place is a haven on a chilly day, few things compete with a hot cup of chocolate when it’s freezing outside. At least if you ask me.

10. Coffee with love

Do you also feel like many people treat their coffee with disrespect and indifference? Do you get slightly upset when you find an open package of coffee on a counter loosing its aromas in vain? Well, luckily there are some folks who take these flavorful beans way more seriously. The mysterious café Sklep z kawą Pożegnanie z Afryką is definitely one of those places. Each coffee bean and country of origin is humbly described in the menu and once you’ve picked your bean it’s time to choose which brewing method you fancy. This is simply put a heaven for coffee lovers.