In all our 7 months of life and travel in Colombia so far, we’ve been pretty much always in the presence of just adults. However, the arrival of my (Lozzy’s) auntie and 13-year-old cousin, Luca, in August 2019 forced us to rethink how we saw Colombia travel with a teen by our side. We suddenly had to rack our brains to find safe, fun things to do in the country that we thought we knew so well. To add a few more elements to the works, neither my auntie nor cousin had been to South America before, neither spoke Spanish, and we were still trying not to spend over our normal budget for accommodation and sustenance (which usually means being outside of city centres and in less luxury establishments). Although apparently a bit tired out by the backpacker lifestyle, our little teenager seemed to have had a great 2-week holiday adventuring with us in Colombia.
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Safety of Colombia travel with a teen
Honestly, we never really felt unsafe when travelling with a teen in Colombia. That’s probably because we deliberately didn’t take him to any places we hadn’t been to and sussed out before, and we know the usual tips and tricks to survive living in Colombia. My auntie was definitely a little uneasy at first at the thought of Colombia travel with a teen (and probably just at the thought of herself!) because let’s face it, Colombia has a TERRIBLE reputation with pre-Millennial generations in the West due to the news headlines they grew up seeing. It’s a fair reputation to have had, but the country has moved on now, and the world’s view of Colombia hasn’t yet caught up. It’s only because my parents (who were equally worried) visited us in Colombia and went back to the UK raving about it that my auntie was convinced to give the idea of Colombia travel with a teen a shot.
We gave them a safety briefing on the first morning – normal precautions such as not waving expensive belongings around, not being lost in your phone while walking down the street, asking us for help if anyone random tried to grab their attention. Probably the hardest part about our Colombia travel with a teen was to get him to put his phone away in public places, but something tells me that’s not something that’s exclusive to Colombia!
The first day or two, we could feel how on edge my auntie and cousin were in certain places, so we made sure that our initial time was spent in some of the swankier areas of Bogotá to make them relax when they realised how like Europe it can be. We moved onto more challenging barrios after that!
On the third day (please tell me you read that in your head like the hillbilly sketch in Mean Girls) I asked my auntie if she now felt safe during our Colombia travel with a teen, and she said absolutely.
All in all, staying safe whilst travelling in Colombia with a teenager was just a case of being sensible. As adults, we’re happier to take more risks in the name of good old-fashioned exploration, but with a 13-year-old you have to think a little harder about the situations you want to find yourself in. Not going to old-man bars or staying out too late definitely brought our risk assessment back into the green.
Our itinerary for 2 weeks in Colombia with a teenager
So to make our guests feel more at ease, to reduce difficult travel time and decrease safety risks of leaving things up to chance, we had a solid plan in place with everything booked well in advance of my auntie and cousin’s stay. We gave them a list of destinations to choose from, and asked that they picked just 3 in order to keep the trip slow-moving and unpressured. This is our 2 week itinerary for Colombia travel with a teen:
We did face some roadblocks when travelling with a teen in Colombia. Seeing kids in Colombia up late and allowed to roam around on their own all the time, we sort of assumed that bar laws may be a little more lax for patrons that were only interested in buying a can of Sprite or a meal. However, drinking laws in Colombia and the threat of the police (let’s be real, bribes still happen a lot here) are strong deterrents for restaurant and bar owners. In Cartagena, we found that Luca was allowed in restaurants and bars during the afternoon until 9pm or 10pm on weekdays, but Friday and Saturdays were a no-go. We were ushered out of a convenience store that turns into a bar in the evening in San Gil, and we were refused service at 4 tejo clubs in Bogotá (a real bummer as this was a highly anticipated highlight of Colombia travel with a teen! Being naïve, childless adults, we kinda forgot that tejo is first and foremost a drinking game).
On top of this, there were some age restrictions on some of the more physically difficult activities in San Gil – namely the level 4 and 5 white water rafting on the river Suarez – but he was fine to do level 3 rafting on Rio Fonce. There was a weight restriction of 50kg for the paragliding (wind dependent), which he passed by 1kg. In terms of hikes, there were no issues in bringing a teenager along. He led the pack on our Choachí hike to La Chorrera with no whinging.
The restrictions we ran into served to remind us that we perhaps should have given more thought to the implications of Colombia travel with a teen. While we still found other places to go and other things to do, we had assumed a little too much that there would be green lights and work-arounds for a teenager as opposed to a child. We’ve never even had to think about going to a shopping centre with a teen in the UK before, so travelling in Colombia with a teenager was an eye-opener to how much more we had to plan ahead.
Accommodation during our Colombia travel with a teen
We stayed in hostels for most of our time travelling in Colombia with a teenager, but we were very selective about the type of hostels we brought him to. Nothing would make me groan more than finding out the person in the hostel bunk below me was a 13-year-old boy, and I’d imagine nothing would anger me more as a mother than knowing my kid was in the same room when some drunken Aussie came back at 4am and tried to loudly bed his latest conquest (this had happened more often than I’d like to count). We therefore always made sure that Luca and my auntie had a private, en-suite room to share. We either stuck to hostels that had a more bed & breakfast feel, like Hostel Bacaregua in San Gil, or boutique hostels like Selina Parque 93 in Bogotá. The most rough and ready hostel we stayed in during our Colombia travel with a teen was Hostel Ichtus on Isla Barú. Luca loved the vibe as it felt like ‘real’ backpacking, but the heat was a lot to take on an island that only gets electricity for 6 hours from 6pm to 12am! My auntie did treat us to a luxury room in Hotel Allure Canela in Cartagena, which was a stunning place with direct views of the castle from the pool, and served as a much-needed break from backpacker life!
Transport modes when travelling in Colombia with a teenager
We used everything from taxis to Ubers to minivans, night buses and flights during our Colombia travel with a teenager. We felt safe in all of them, but especially when using buses we did explain to Luca beforehand the tips for staying safe and comfortable on night buses, and that as a teenager loaded with tech he would be the vulnerable weaker link that opportunists would most likely target. He’s a sensible kid, so he stuck close to the group and put his valuables away when we told him to.
Things to bring for Colombia travel with a teen
Travel first aid kit: they may be fast becoming adults, but they’re still clumsy! My auntie’s first aid kit was I-M-P-R-E-S-S-I-V-E and would make a small pharmacy jealous. It made us realise how much you need to be prepared for every possibility when travelling with a young’un.
Portable phone charger: avoid dragging your teen from their hotel room as they whine that their phone still needs to charge and bring the charger with you 😉 These babies can charge a few phones to full in one go so you can also make sure your bus journeys are always well-Netflixed.
Theft-proof day bag: Unfortunately, travelling with a smaller teen in Colombia does make them more vulnerable to pick-pocketing. A theft-proof bag will help decrease the risk of this on your travel days, but they also need to be aware of their surroundings at all times, so make sure you hammer the point home!
Netflix subscription: while we don’t want travelling in Colombia with a teenager to be spent with their eyes glued to their phone, some of the travel within the country is a lot longer and duller than we’re used to in Europe. Having something to keep their minds off the 14 hour night bus can never hurt.
Spanish book for teens: even if your teenager isn’t taking Spanish at school, getting a Spanish book to help them feel involved in some of the goings on can really make a difference. Lozzy began teaching herself (aged 24!) with the help of the AQA GCSE Spanish workbook, meant for 14-16 year-olds. Unlike a regular Spanish phrasebook, these books are pretty entertaining with lots of helpful tricks to remember what you’re learning. You can also sign them up to Duolingo to practice what they’ve picked up.