Colombia’s Southwest & Pacific: Students, thumbs up, salsa, brujitas & bruselas

The main keywords that will stay in our memory when thinking about this part of the country, let us explain why!



We heard so many good things about Colombia from other travelers that we were really looking forward to it. The start was somehow disappointing as we entered the country in pouring rain, and although the scenery & sights looked promising, rain really knows how to put things in a sad perspective.


It was only in Popayan, where we first saw the sun & the nice vibe that comes with Colombian people. We went to a bar that was packed with people at 5pm, and soon had to drink shots & beers with some of Popayan’s many students. It got “late”: 11pm! Which is quite late for us and apparently also for campers as the gate to our campground was already closed when we arrived. We had to camp outside (which was not a problem as there was a nice flat grass area at the entrance). We immediately felt like students again: getting drunk & not being able to enter our house anymore :-) .



Thumbs up?

The military is omnipresent in Colombia, but it doesn’t feel intimidating at all as they are very friendly and the way of greeting them is doing thumbs up when you see them at the side of the road. This is the way of telling “thanks for keeping the country safe”. Basically, there are military every 50km or so lined up with their thumbs up to every person that passes. Strange gesture for us, but it always made us smile. Thumbs up Mr Soldier!



We went to Cali, known as the Salsa Capital of Colombia. Cali’s nightlife is very lively and it seems like a nice place to go out with friends. We were lucky to be here at the yearly Cali’s Festival Mundial de Salsa where we could witness amazing salsa shows & contests. We had fun nights watching the acrobatic salsa show in this open-air arena and later on, trying out our own moves between hundreds of other couples. As everywhere in South America, it seemed like everybody can shake their ass like crazy: girls from 8 to 88 yrs old. Quite intimidating! But after a beer or two, we did dare to enter the dance floor :-) .








“Witches?” you say. In order to reach the small town of San Cipriano we had to take ‘brujitas’, literally translated as “little witches”: the only transportation to the town. The proof of the ingenuity of the Afro-Colombian inhabitants: not much more than wooden platforms with benches on them, which they place on the train tracks and are powered by motorbikes. With lots of rattling, and at break-neck speeds you reach the village of San Cipriano, a tiny little Pacific jungle village which felt out of this world.




The main activity in San Cipriano is tubing down the river and just enjoying the local atmosphere of the village. The afro-culture in San Cipriano is very alive: loud music playing everywhere, people hanging around, children running into no matter who’s house, …

Our adventure in order to reach San Cipriano started a bit odd. We went to Cordoba, the last town before San Cipriano that is still reachable by car. This is where you have to take these “brujitas”. We were there on a Sunday and surprised by seeing the in- and outflow of people, in a jolly mood, armed with bottles of liquor, … all wanting to enjoy the river and escape the heat. San Cipriano is a weekend getaway for the Cali people.

While we were having lunch next to the train rails – already a bit excited about the brujita-ride we would have to take and wondering how the village would look like as we already felt so far away from the cities we had seen in Colombia, I suddenly saw a strange look on Benjamin’s face and him asking: “Was that a dead body?”. I looked at the brujita that returned from San Cipriano and saw a body in bikini lying on the wooden platform, with a tiny little towel that was covering the face. My first thoughts were: “Oh, she must have hurt herself!”, but because the face was covered we soon realised that it was worse than that…

We were quite shocked at that moment, but it seemed that life in this little village just went on… Nobody paid really much attention to it, and when we asked around what happened people said: “Yeah, you know, drinking too much and not being able to swim… She drowned…”. As nobody seemed as shocked as we felt, we were starting to wonder if things like that happened more over there.


Later on, we discovered that this is (luckily!) not really common and it was a very sad accident. The girl was tubing, but because of heavy rains the river started to raise and flowing really fast. The girl got stuck with her feet in a branch of a tree and flipped over, and the water flow was so strong that nobody could reach out to save her. This sad story really made me think how your life can change or be over in the blink of an eye.

So the next day we were going on the river ourselves. I’ve never been so happy to pay the extra dollars for a life jacket. We went early in the morning before the rain was coming and I made sure I stayed away as much as possible from the sides 😉 . When we were tubing down the river, it was really relaxing, easy-going & enjoyable that we could really not imagine that such a drama occurred the day before!


Luckily, this is not the main memory we take home from our visit to San Cipriano. We mainly look back on the good times we had with the kids in the village. When we entered the village, they were really begging for all kinds of things. We don’t want to support this (giving money to kids, taking them as a guide, etc. may lead to school drop-out as they can earn more money for the family) but it did break our heart to see that children of 6, 8 or 10 years old already had to worry about money, so we just spend a lot of time with them: played, arm-wrestled, did some reading and even danced with them. We all had a lot of fun!








Why would Brussels be one of our keywords? Well, at the other side of the world we met 3 Belgians, from Brussels more specifically, with whom we had a great time! We met them very briefly in San Cipriano and then met them again at La Barra, another very small town at the Pacific coast. We shared stories, sunsets, rum, … & took a tour together to explore the mangroves & some waterfalls.









Getting & leaving La Barra takes some planning, as you need to take a ferry and then a mototaxi to get there (which was quite fun on the way there, as it was low tide and the guys just used the beach to bring us to our destination: no rules, no helmets, … South America style!).

This planning didn’t really work out for our newly made friends on the way out, as they missed the boat (which they needed to take in order to catch a plane to Medellin that day), so we rebuild our bed again into a backseat and gave them a lift straight to the airport, just in time to catch their plane! In return we could stay in one of the guys’ apartment (as 1 of them actually lives in Cali) which allowed me to do our laundry and allowed Benjamin to recuperate from stomach illness for a day. Thanks guys!

Check out the video we made from our first adventures in Colombia.


Two more days left before our visitors arrival, which was perfect to drive the long stretch from Cali to Bogota, where we needed to pick up Benjamin’s mother & sister.

Next up: 2,5 week family trip through the Zona Cafetera, Medellin, Cartagena & the Carribean coast!

2 thoughts on “Colombia’s Southwest & Pacific: Students, thumbs up, salsa, brujitas & bruselas

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely a world apart from other places in Colombia. Such contrasts in 1 country! As you keep traveling at the same speed, you will probably need to start over again destination wise, so one day… 😉

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