Reflections on Colombia and Ecuador

Tonight I fly back to the UK after a month of travels around Colombia and Ecuador. An enormous privilege that I do not take for granted. As I sit here drinking the last of the holiday wine, I thought I should reflect on some of the highlights of my time in this part of the world. Apologies in advance if this turns soppy – I’m two glasses in.

GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS – I’ve touched on this before but I was genuinely surprised by the sheer joy I felt from being surrounded by such an abundance of wildlife. Everyday felt as though I was living my own BBC documentary.

The Galápagos Islands have been an unexpected highlight of my vacation. I wasn’t really sure if I would go but ultimately decided that whilst I’m in Ecuador I probably should. Absolutely the right decision. The abundance of wildlife here is overwhelming. You can’t walk five meters without almost falling over an iguana or a sea lion or an endemic species of bird. In five days I know I have barely scratched the surface but it has been an incredible experience all the same.

When I travel, I tend to focus most on culture and human history. Coming here has really made me consider taking more nature-oriented holidays. I’m not particularly knowledgable about wildlife so I had not anticipated the sheer joy of being surrounded by such a variety of creatures and landscapes. Even sitting here at the airport lounge I have been visited by numerous birds and lizards.

The common perception is that visiting the Galápagos Islands needs to cost thousands. And, of course, if you want to visit the far flung islands then it does. But it is also possible to experience some of the nearer islands and wildlife for much cheaper. Happy to share my experience and tips with anyone considering a visit.

MEDELLÍN – I fell in love with the tranquility of this city. Of all the places I visited, I really felt that I could live here. I was fortunate to meet a wonderful person here who showed me a very personal perspective of the city, as well as its many stunning viewpoints. I explored the barrios, learnt about the Colombian political, economic and social system, and saw some of the changes underway. I learnt about the atrocities of the past and some of the challenges that remain.

TAYRONA – If paradise exists on earth, I think I have found it here. We couldn’t actually enter the park as it was closed so that indigenous communities could conduct rituals but we explored the perimeters. Finca Barlovento is a beautiful spot on the edge of the park that captures the coastal and forest beauty in one glance. I have not felt so relaxed in a long time.

PEOPLE – I set out on this journey alone but you’re never really travelling alone. In every location I have met some wonderful, engaging people that have made the trip incredibly fun but also helped me to understand both countries much better. Some will be passing encounters. Others I hope to keep for much, much longer.

COTOPAXI – Climbing to the highest point I’ve ever stood on earth would have to be a highlight. I am not sure when I will next top 4,800m. A good challenge.

BOLIVAR – Throughout this trip I was reading Marie Arana’s biography of Simon Bolivar. I have thoroughly enjoying learning about his extraordinary past and legacy whilst retracing his steps across the region – from Guayaquil and Bogota to Cartagena and his deathbed in Santa Marta.

CARTAGENA – Few cities on earth offer the intense beauty and vibrancy of Cartagena. An explosion of colour and history.

MUSIC – This continent has such an abundance of wonderful music. I have been fairly immersed in Reggaeton the last month and I bloody love it. Go listen.

SPANISH – I am getting excited about learning a new language again. I have also been inspired by other people’s tenacity of learning foreign languages, which has put me to shame. With Duolingo and Google Translate I have bumbled through the last month but I need to put more effort into learning Spanish. My objective on return is to start classes… and come back here soon.

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