Undiscovered Colombia: Bogota, Medellín Pride, tours, treats and more

  • by Rick Karlin
  • Tuesday September 5, 2023
Share this Post:
Will Salazar and Jorge Rios from Out in Colombia at Donde Aquellos nightclub in Medellín. (photo: Out in Colombia)
Will Salazar and Jorge Rios from Out in Colombia at Donde Aquellos nightclub in Medellín. (photo: Out in Colombia)

LGBT travelers are visiting Colombia more often, and it's no wonder. Colombia is a country that embraces diversity. Same-sex marriage is legal, adoption for same-sex couples is permitted, people can also change their gender in all their identity documents as well as get a sex reassignment surgery through the public universal health system, and nationwide anti-discrimination laws protect the LGBT population.

Moreover, the Colombian national police have been certified as an LGBT-friendly organization. As a result, Colombia was considered the Leading LGBTQ Destination in South America in 2018, by the World Travel Awards.

Hikers in Ciudad Perdida, Santa Marta (photo: Colombia Travel)  

Gone are the days when the cartels ruled Colombia. The country is now one of the safest on earth. Foreign visitors are drawn by the unchanging nature of its climate all year round. This is because Colombia is located on the equator, which means the sun rises and sets at the same time all year round and the season stays the same.

However, this doesn't mean that the whole country gets the same weather. In fact, the topographical diversity of Colombia provides a huge variety of landscapes, biodiversity, and thermal floors. The mountains of Bogota and the surrounding region remain in the upper 50s to lower 60s all year, with glacier regions in the upper Andes getting as low as the mid-40s. The beach areas are in the upper 70s to lower 80s and midland regions are in the mid-70s year-round.

When LGBT travelers think of traveling to Colombia, two main destinations come to mind; Bogota, the country's largest city in the mountains, which has a wide gastronomic and cultural vibe to offer and is home to the largest gay bar in Latin America.

Cartegena, on the Caribbean Coast, with its summer chock-full of LGBT festivals, is also very popular. Savvy travelers are now exploring some emerging locations that offer a lot to enjoy, and a new organization, Out in Colombia, is arranging terrific vacation adventures for LGBT travelers in both established and emerging destinations.

Pride in Colombia is a big affair.  

Santa Marta and Tayrona
One of those emerging destinations is Santa Marta, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. It is a small city (a half-million population) on the Caribbean in northern Colombia. A busy port, it was also the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.

The recently opened Hilton Santa Marta is located right off the public beach and offers its own private beach and has two pools; a family-friendly one located on the mezzanine level, overlooking the beach, and a rooftop pool and hot tub for adults only that also hosts a wonderful bar. It's a great place to sit and sip a cocktail while you chill in a cabana, in the infinity pool overlooking the sea, or watch the sun set behind the mountains.

Santa Marta is the gateway for a trip to Tayrona National Park. Out in Colombia, working with Magic Tours, arranged a trip via a cabin cruiser complete with a fully stocked cooler, although the ride was so choppy that most of us were hanging on to our seats rather than our cocktails. Our captain assured us the ride back would be smoother as we would be sailing into the waves.

Although bumpy, it was a fun ride as we sang along to disco hits and seat-danced to Colombian pop songs.

When we arrived at the park, the boat pulled close to shore, and we hopped into the warm blue waters of the Caribbean and waded to shore. I was content to stand in the water and watch the colorful fish swim around my feet. I think I saw Nemo! Others went snorkeling, then we all gathered under beach umbrellas and sipped cocktails and chatted, getting to know each other.

Ours was a day trip, but for those who want to explore the area more, there are multi-day guided treks to the Lost City of Teyuna archaeological site. For those staying overnight, Ecohabs comfortable cabins with a design inspired by the landscape of the park, are available to rent.

There is also a camping area in Arrecifes sector, signed paths, a parking area, and restaurants. For us, after a quick stop at another beach down the coast, it was time to head back to the hotel for a wonderful dinner and drinks on the rooftop deck.

Cacao treats
Chocoholics and those that love them owe yourself a tour of the El Paraiso de Tuki B&B Coffee and Cacao Farm in nearby Minca.

The next day, we broke into small groups in all-wheel drive vehicles that took us beyond the paved roads of the city up into the mountains along little more than dirt paths.

The stunning vistas almost eliminated the fears that at the edge of the road, it was a hundred-foot drop. At the chocolate farm, we got a tour of plants, saw the nearby beehives (to help pollinate the plants), and got to taste a bit of the product.

Back in Santa Marta we lunched at Guasimo Restaurant, which provides work and job training for the city's indigenous people and features art and performance by locals. A brief swim and a nap at the hotel preceded our night with dinner at Pescao and dancing at one of Santa Marta's gay clubs, Bar Elles Disco Social.

Bar Chiquita in Medellín  

Medellín marvels
The next day we packed our bags for a quick, hour and a half flight aboard Avianca to Medellín (pronounced Meda-gyeen.) It's a city of about 2.5 million people and is the capital of Colombia's mountainous Antioquia province. Nicknamed the "City of Eternal Spring" for its temperate weather, it hosts a famous annual Flower Festival. A modern metro makes getting around the city and surrounding barrios a breeze and offers views of the Aburrá Valley below. Sculptures by Fernando Botero decorate the city.

We checked into the ultra-trendy Click Clack boutique hotel, in the hip Provenza/ElPoblado area. After the spacious Hilton, I found the room to be cell-like which was not helped by the black-on-black décor and exposed shower. The sink, in the middle of the room, looked like it also belonged in a prison cell. The entire hotel suffered from a form over function esthetic, from the lack of storage and counter space to inconveniently placed outlets. The hallways, dimly lit and maze-like, gave me an '80s bath-house vibe, and not in a good way. The concrete-encased dining room off the lobby served a nice complimentary breakfast.

That evening we were treated to dinner at a pop-up dining experience at the Orozco Clothing company. As a very well-built shirtless bartender plied us with cocktails, we got to sample some dishes from one of the city's most popular chefs, Esteban. While some of our crew went out for a night on the town, I called it an early night and returned to my cell, I mean, room.

The region around Medellín is called Zona Cafetera, or the coffee zone, because this is where the country's famous coffee plantations are found.

Up bright and early the next day for our trip out of the city to the Café Capilla Del Rosario Coffee Farm, I got to see more of beautiful Medellín. Imagine San Francisco in a tropical climate and you'll get an idea of how beautiful the city is, even in its downtown area.

After a tour of the coffee farm and some lessons on preparing the coffee beans for drying and roasting (and some samples), we headed back to the city for lunch at Lavocadería, which as you might guess from the name, showcases the avocado. It's in everything, from avocado lemonade to salads, appetizers, and entrees.

For lunch, I had a cheeseburger served between two halves of an avocado. No bun, just the avocado with a small, tossed salad tucked in the bottom section of where the pit would be and pickles in the top section. It was delicious and came with an order of yucca fries that were just salty enough.

Tayrona National Park in Santa Marta (photo: Colombia Travel)  

Pride with Paisas
Out in Colombia offers visitors walking tours in Medellín including one focusing on its historic sites, including the importance of the LGBTQ community and how it played a role in transforming the face of modern-day Medellín. There is also the Medellín Graffiti Tour through the legendary Comuna 13, once a very dangerous neighborhood.

We enjoyed a visit to Centro Cultural Moravia. The Cultural Center provides classes for the youth in Comuna 13, guiding them to more productive paths. The area is known for its graffiti, much like Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. Leading the effort to beautify the area is La Jeffa (Boss Lady) and we got to work with her on painting the steps of a bridge in rainbow colors in honor of Pride.

Paisas (what Medellín residents are called) are very open, friendly, and welcoming which makes this city probably the friendliest of gay-friendly Colombia. You'll be able to find gay bars and clubs throughout Medellín, although some of the trendiest are in El Poblado, including Bar Chiquita and Club Oroculo. As the next day was the Pride Parade, we toured the clubs before calling it a night.

Medellín Pride Festival (photo: Out in Colombia)  

Nothing you've experienced in the States can prepare you for Pride in Medellín! It doesn't step off until at least 2 p.m., so we got to enjoy a chance to sleep in and a leisurely breakfast. As we headed to the parade lineup, it seemed the entire city was participating, and it wasn't far off from that. Organizers estimated nearly a million people.

And by participate, I mean dancing down the street and hanging on the floats. There are no barriers keeping onlookers away. Everybody's part of the fun. We had a couple of popular Colombian social influencers (including the very sexy Daiky Gamboa; look him up on Instagram) on the float and they had the crowd rushing our float all day. We took off at 2pm, and at 6pm, when we decided to get off the float, it was not even halfway through the parade route.

Medellín Pride (photo: Rick Karlin)  

I was just about Prided out, but our last dinner together was that night, so I slammed back a Red Bull, showered, and changed as we headed to Test Kitchen, an intimate dining space that features multi-course meals utilizing local fresh produce and a team of chefs and mixologists trained in molecular gastronomy.

The six-course meal, paired with complementary cocktails, delightful, each course a revelation. I enjoyed all but the dessert (it had coconut, one of the few things I detest), but it was beautifully prepared. I was surprised to discover that such an extravagant meal only costs $85 U.S. dollars.

A mural in Centro Cultural Moravia  

A perfect ending to a perfect trip. Well, not exactly, to make things even better, I got to Fly Jet Blue home (direct flights from Fort Lauderdale to Medellín) and I was bumped up to an aisle seat in the first row. And my luggage was also the first on the carousel at baggage pick up. Now that's how to end a trip on a high note.


Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.