Colombia has recently emerged as one of the hottest travel destinations in the world – primarily driven by the colourful houses of the Carribean town of Cartagena. Colour has been a critical element of the re-juvenation of Colombia – from the works of artist Ferdinando Botero to street art to the amazing colours of the rainbow river in Cano Cristales.
However, many of the key images of colourful Colombia are those of houses. Colombia has two cities devoted to colourful homes and colour is also used extensively in houses across its other cities. Let’s Explore!
The small town of Guatape is about 2 hours by road from Medellin. Its streets are full of brightly coloured houses – many displaying images of village life on their bottom halves. The colours are used on the doors, the window frames, hanging pots really any and all spare spaces!
The best way to explore Guatape is on foot with a good camera! The houses are actually inhabited so you will see locals going about their business. The purpose of the building can often be identified by the colourful imagery on the outside – so musical instruments for a music shop etc.
Virtually every street in this small town features colourful houses – you probably need about 1-2 hours to explore. Don’t miss the main square and its insanely cute church!
Lovely Cartagena is located on the Carribean coast and a cruise ship favourite! Cartagena is a bigger town than Guatape and certainly deserves you staying at least one if not 2-3 nights. The city centre area features many colourful houses and quite a few significant coloured buildings such as churches. There are also extremely colourful street vendors selling everything from delicious fruits and fruit based drinks to gorgeous bright handbags.
In Cartagena residents are actively asked to paint their home in a colour which contrasts to that of their neighbour and to think of the colour scheme of the street. My favourite area for coloured houses was the neighbourhood of San Diego. Start at the intersection of Calle de Tumbamuertos and Calle de los Siete Infantes and walk from there.
The Getsemani neighbourhood is a bit more rustic but also has some colour including the best selection of street art in Cartagena around Calle 29.
Bogota is not as obviously colourful as Guatape and Cartagena but represents a nice contrast. The old town area is full of lovely architecture and magnificent doors and buildings. One of my favourites was the lilac coloured Orchids hotel (above) where I also stayed.
Cano Cristales is a large river in the east of Colombia that is known as the “Rainbow River”. The reason for this is that for several months each year the river turns into a stunning rainbow of colours driven by changes to the plant algae.
It is unlikely that you have heard of Cano Cristales as it was cut off to the rest of the world until 2014 as the area was controlled by Guerillas. It has now been opened up to tourists in limited numbers due to the fragility of its eco-system. The river in full rainbow flourish is absolutely breathtaking. The predominant colour is pink but at different parts of the river and different times of year you can see yellows, greens, purples and as promised most shades of the rainbow!
Colour pops everywhere in Medellin! The main tourist area of El Poblado has quite a few colourful houses and stores in the same style as Guatape and Cartagena. However, colour also manifests itself in other ways in this incredibly innovative city.
The first is the annual Feria de las Flores or the Festival of Flowers which is held every August. Colombia is the leading flower producer and exporter in South America and responsible for nearly 60% of all flowers brought into the United States. The heart of that industry is Medellin – the city of eternal spring. Due to Medellin’s unique and consistent climate flowers can be grown virtually all year round.
The festival is the biggest event in the Medellin calendar and takes over the town. The highlight for me was the amazing floral constructions displayed at the Botanical Gardens. Move over Chelsea Flower show! The week finishes with a grand parade through the streets of Medellin.
Flower producers come from all over Colombia with their Silettas. In the past slaves used to carry their owners on their backs up the many hills of Medellins on Silettas. Now the Silettas are used to produce extravagant floral displays. The winners are judged at the end of the day and then put on display in downtown Medellin.
The second super colourful element of Medellin is street art. Street art has been a critical element of the rejuvenation of Medellin from its drug soaked past. The most well-known neighbourhood for street art is Communa 13. This used to be literally the most dangerous neighbourhood in Medellin due to its location high on the hills of the valley and near the highway. The area is now an outdoor street art gallery and locals plus other organisations run street art tours for tourists. An area that once had a 6pm curfew for 4 years is now filled with art and children playing. The transformation is extraordinary. Art is everywhere in Medellin. Even rubbish bins are painted in a colourful manner. It is now law that every new building must feature some type of art.
Colombia has actually used colour as a tourist attraction! It is one of the things for which the country is becoming best known and in the world of Instagram it is getting some serious attention. Get there now whilst it is still in its early bloom!!