Hello fellow travelers, my name is Hugo, 26 years old, born on earth, inside French borders. After a degree in tourism hotel management, I spent a lot of time working in medium-high category restaurants/hotels around Europe like Crete, Corsica, and France. This time in these fast-paced environments did not suit me well and is the main reason I started traveling as a backpacker.
At the end of 2016, I took my first steps in South Africa as a solo traveler and never looked back. After two months and for multiple reasons, I switched continents and moved to Southeast Asia for about 7 months. After Asia, I spent the next four months traveling from Sri Lanka through Nepal and India before heading home to Europe. This time heading home was only for a connecting flight to eventually lead to South America, Bolivia, to be exact. I enjoyed all these places throughout my travels and spent a lot of time volunteering along the way. Unfortunately, on this trip to South America, I messed up my ankle and was forced home for some proper medical treatment. Lucky for me, my dad is a pilot for Air France, so all these flights across the world came at a little cost to me.
Those were the good ole days of traveling cheap, but like most things, these benefits had to come to an end with my 26th birthday. With that birthday fast approaching, I decided to use the benefits one last time and relocated continents to South America again bad ankle and all. From Bolivia to Colombia, I just couldn’t get enough of the great South American vibes (especially these two countries). In Colombia, I found another chance to volunteer at Casa Kayam hostel. It didn’t take long for this place to grow on me, so much so that I ended up staying two months. Every day waking up happy, surrounded by charming nature, people, animals. I finally found a place like “home” in Guatape, Colombia.
After my 3-month visa ran out, I chose to take a 2-month break from this tough work and headed to Ecuador for a bit of travel. It just didn’t feel right, like something was calling my name. I started listening and realized it was those Kayam Vibes calling me back home!
After 5 months of healing up that bad ankle and not even entirely, Maracuya land was calling my name, so I packed my bag and hit the road again. It wasn’t easy at less than 100%, but life is always bringing you where you need to be. I knew it was the best choice. This time around, I wasn’t looking to travel as much, but more chill and rest. I couldn’t have asked for any more than Casa Kayam, it really is everything I needed and wanted. My travel road leads me here, and now, moving doesn’t really feel like an option anymore. Life just feels good here, it feels right.
Just like anywhere else in the world, Colombia is a big country with its good and bad points. The Nature here is incredible, the Pacific Coast, Caribbean, Andes Mountains, Volcanoes, Canyons, all the way to the Amazonian rain forest. You can really find any type of environment or climate to fit your needs. Of course, with all this nature comes the fantastic wildlife with it.
With a developing country just like any others, it comes at a price. A lot of the country doesn’t have enough trash clean up or disposal, combined with the disregard of nature my a lot of Colombians and tourists alike. Combined with all this is the boom in development. Hotels are popping up left and right, and places become more touristic. And of course with this comes all the venders, treating white people as a “walking Wallet” and trying to squeeze us for every peso we have! Sure the government plays a little part in trying to protect this, but they’re making money here too. Stupid human development is ruining everything! Isn’t it sad to see people willing to pay to enjoy a clean nature around the world? Nature is nature and it belongs to everyone!
Still with all this growth, its years away from making any really significant impact, so enjoy it while you can. There are many different regions and cultures to explore, from the volcanic Cauca region, dancing salsa in Cali, Jungle life in Putumayo close to Mocoa, all the mountain sports in Antioquia, surf in El Choco and the hot northern coast, plus more! You can easily spend 6 months here and leave feeling it wasn’t enough. Different foods customary to different regions and different locals, but all extraordinary people. There really is something special here for me.
Even with different food traditions throughout the county, its all way too similar. This is the biggest problem for me, I mean I am French, we love our food! No worries, there’s an easy fix to this, just stay at Casa Kayam where there’s a full kitchen (oven included) and problem solved! Colombia had a vast range of local fruits and veggies, and all are very cheap. The one good thing I will say about the local food is how affordable it is to eat out at times. Any traditional Colombian restaurant will offer a “Menu del Dia” that can cost as low as 7,000 pesos, that’s a cheap trade-off for a lazy day without cooking. In my opinion, all the exotic fruits make up for the lack of selection in the restaurants.
One concern for many people coming to Colombia, they feel as if it is not safe. I found the opposite to be true. Most of the locals you meet are very welcoming and happy to meet foreigners and backpackers traveling their country. The only danger comes in the big cities, the same as anywhere else in the world, including the westernized world. Before traveling I lived in the south of France close to Marseille, and I can tell you Marseille can be dangerous. So no matter Asia, South America, or Westernized countries, more people in the same place brings more problems and danger. Just stay away from the cities and “todo bien,” life is good. Furthermore, the police activity in Colombia is impressive, they are everywhere. I prefer to avoid them, I have my reasons, but they’re always around if you need them. As you can probably tell, I’m not a fan of big cities. I avoid them most of the time and avoid the problems that come with them.
Another great thing about South America is the visas. For most people and countries, 3 months are free and have the option to extend to 6 months every calendar year. This means if you want to stay up to a year in Colombia legally, it’s possible. You just have to leave for a day to a different country in South America and come back once the calendar hits January 1st.
The Caribbean Coast is the most touristic part of Colombia, so I decided to start my trip there, but kept hearing about this touristy place called Guatapé and Casa Kayam hostel. I had to check it out for myself. Touristic, yes, but most of the tourists only come on a day trip from Medellin. Medellin, Bus, Plaza, Piedra, Bus, Medellin, all in one day. Nowhere near enough time for me and not something I would recommend for anyone. Who am I to judge, it’s only a 2-hour bus trip from Medellin so if you want to spend 4 hours on a bus in a day, I’m not going to stop you. In my opinion, Medellin is the most exciting city in Colombia, so if you want to stay there all good with me, it just means fewer people in Guatapé!
After hearing so much about this place and a streak of bad luck with my plans, I decided I wanted to stay at Casa Kayam for a bit and really experience the place. So I reached out to Loren, one of the owners, and asked about volunteering, and obviously, this plan actually worked out. I took a day bus to get to Guatapé from Cartagena, but as soon as I arrived, I had a good feeling about this place, it’s backpacker-friendly. The weather at 2000m is perfect for people and plants alike, sunny during the day and rainy at night. Leading to Warm days and cool night combined with waterfalls rivers and beautiful vegetation, there really is something for everyone here.
With the hostel being a 20-minute walk from town, it’s outside of the light and sound pollution of Guatapé, making it a peaceful place to kick back and relax. The location really is perfect. With nature walks starting right from the hostel, there are waterfalls, and viewpoints all within an hour and a half. There’s even a small “mirador” at the hostel overlooking Guatapé if your feeling lazy! If your not up for walking, no worries, the hostel has a bunch of games or instruments to play and a book swap. There’s really something for everyone here. That even includes sleeping options. If you love nature, come pitch a tent or sleep in a hammock inside a traditional Colombian bus “Chiva.” If you need some more comfort, there are different types of dorms and a private room.
Even with everything I just mention, I left out the main reasons tourists come here. At least the ones from Medellin with a bit more money on hand. For the “big spenders,” there’s a lot of ways for you to burn through your cash. For a breathtaking view, take a walk up the 740 stairs of the Piedra for 18,000 COP or take flight with some paragliding. Not interested, all good, check out the various water activities. Wakeboarding, jet skiing, or boat tours/parties. Still, haven’t found it yet? Maybe renting a Bicycle or a Moto for the day is more your thing. Take a trip to San Rafael and spent the day in a different climate with lots of swimming and waterfalls. Here, what you think it, you can make it happen. Even with so many things to do, that’s not the reason I chose to come back here. After 2 months at Casa Kayam, then 2 more travelings, it wasn’t all these activities that brought me back. What I missed most in Guatapé was Casa Kayam, it’s staff and the backpackers. So I came back to Volunteer again and spend more time in this great place with these great people.
Being a backpacker for so long, it had become my routine, and I was ready for something more, somewhere to drop my bags and just kick it. Truth be told, Casa Kayam became much more than that. I have plans to come back at the start of next year when my visa can reset. This place has everything I want! I get to practice my English and Spanish every day while still maintaining my French. All this while enjoying numerous different games and cooking up delicious dinners with great friends. What more do we need?