Solo Travel Escapades in Colombia and Panama

Guest Post By: flavia COrnejo Vargas

A note from Avagail: A couple of months ago, Flavia aka @LatinaTraveler and I connected on Instagram over similar missions that we are doing with our social media presence. As you know by now, I’m an advocate for promoting diversity in the travel industry by amplifying BIPOC voices through sharing their travel tales. Flavia, on her own page and as part of the Latino World Travelers team, is working to inspire Latinos and Latinas to travel all around the world.

Wanderlusting since one month old (on her first trip to Peru) and traveling to Europe and China instead of having the ever popular quinceañera to celebrate her 15th birthday, Flavia has traveled far and often. With her travel experiences as a Peruvian with Indigenous roots combined with the current US political climate this year, she became interested in writing her Master’s thesis on Diversity and Representation in the Travel Industry.

As two BIPOC from different backgrounds, we’ve been able to discuss our different experiences with each other and in turn develop a friendship (over IG for now!). Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet in Europe soon as she continues her studies in Spain and I make my move to Germany, but for now, I am thrilled to have Flavia share some of her favorite solo traveling experiences!

Hitchhiking While Solo Traveling in Latin America

There have been times over the years where I’ve been impulsive and act out somewhat spontaneously, but never have I done something as last minute and completely nonchalant as this solo trip.

In 2017, I made a quick decision and booked a $180 one way ticket from New Jersey down to Medellin, Colombia. I had never been to either Colombia or Panama when I made the choice to travel solo through these two countries for 7 weeks. My biggest advantages were speaking Spanish and looking a bit like a local, so I knew I could fit in until I spoke due to my different accent.

Prior to this, I had never done a solo trip this long or to a completely new place before. I was nervous, excited, curious, and slightly worried. That worry mainly came from family members and some friends asking me questions like, “Are you going by yourself? Aren’t you scared something could happen? Do you know anybody there? Etc.” For the most part, I did my best to not let it phase me but worry can always find a way to creep in.

Latina Traveler and her 50L backpack ready to go!

I also had no real set itinerary or anything booked aside from my first three nights in Medellin. I left with a list of cities/places I wanted to visit and my new backpack as my only companions. Somehow I just knew that I’d be fine.

This trip showed me that sometimes I have to trust complete strangers either because I have no other choice or to facilitate my journey. This made me realize that I don’t need to know people in a destination I’m heading to, that I know I’ll meet people along the way. I had some experiences I know it would have been impossible to have if I had gone with a friend.

One of these was in Ipiales, Colombia. On my list of places to visit was the beautiful Santuario de las Lajas, which is near the border with Ecuador. I had made it there after visiting la Laguna Verde in the morning, but still had to make it back to Pasto to sleep. I walked around for a bit and met some Chilean travelers who I explored with a bit before parting ways. The sun was setting and I had to take the cable car up to be able to get to the main road.

Once I was there, I realized I only had a certain amount of time before the last bus of the night was departing to Pasto and I’d be stuck there for the night. It was about a 20 minute walk and I couldn’t find a taxi. So I threw my thumb up to hitchhike. This would be my first experience ever with hitchhiking. A motorcycle pulled over and it was a guy who asked where I was going and that he’d take me.

So, you know that feeling in your gut when somethings wrong? Well, I didn’t get that feeling at all. Of course, I was a bit nervous but for some reason I trusted him. And he took me exactly where I needed to go. When I asked him how much, he replied “You’ll pay me another time.” I was shocked he still said no after I insisted.

Santuario de las Lajas, Colombia
Boquete, Veraguas, Panama

About a week later I was in Minca, located in northern Colombia by Santa Marta. I had taken semi-local transportation from the town up the mountain. While I was waiting for it to depart, this Argentinian woman also joined so we started talking and decided to find a tour once we got there. Upon arrival we were approached by local guides on motorbikes. They first took us to a waterfall then to the highest outlook point.

Once we made it there, that’s when it all started going downhill. The rain started coming hard and we were on a mountain riding on motorbikes. We stopped at a house to have lunch hoping it would pass while we ate. It didn’t, but we had to continue before the sun went down.

The downpour caused lots of mudslides and since the road was dirt, the trees were coming down also. It got so bad we couldn’t actually continue without stopping so the guys could carry the motorbikes over fallen trees.

This was definitely not part of their job description and honestly thinking back they probably could have left us and dipped. I’m SO glad they didn’t though cause I would have no idea where to go and I didn’t have any of my things. I just had to trust they would help us get down that mountain safely so we could get back to town.

Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia

Twelve mudslides later, we finally made it down. By this time it was dark and there were no cars or buses heading to Santa Marta. I quickly started thinking “What can I do?” “What should I do?” The guys offered to bring us back down thankfully since they were also heading that way. I was more than grateful we were safe and that my only mishap was a broken sandal.

I don’t regret going on this trip solo and if I have another opportunity for a similar experience, I will not let it go by. I’ve learned that although the world is big and largely out of my comfort zone, those aren’t reasons to not explore it whether alone or with a group.

We learn and take from this world what we’re willing to put in and I am not scared to put in my all. Both of these situations could have ended really badly but I trusted others and myself to get through them.

La Chaquira, San Agustín, Colombia

P.S. In no way am I encouraging anyone to do any of the actions I’ve done mentioned above to try and have a similar experience. There were risks involved and like I said, could have ended completely differently than they actually did. No one should put themselves in any situation that they may be uncomfortable in.

About Flavia

Flavia is a Peruvian-American Latina on a mission to visit all 50 states in the USA (32 down, 18 to go!) and every continent. She thinks she caught the travel bug too early on since her first flight ever was at one month old. She is looking to inspire Latinas to travel often and farther, even if it means sometimes having to go solo. Having visited 25 countries so far, Flavia plans to visit 30 countries by 30 (but hopefully more!).

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