I have said it before and I’m certain I will again: If you live in California, you already have access to the best cannabis on planet Earth — stop traveling elsewhere in search of something better. It’s not even a question of not chasing waterfalls, because you already live at the bottom of one.
That said, if you love cannabis (and what’s not to love?), then you should at least make an effort to sample some of the local flavor when you travel abroad, if only for the fun and novelty of stamping your pot passport and connecting with other cannabis enthusiasts across the globe.
But if you’re used to the ease and immediacy of purchasing cannabis in California, get ready for something different. There’s so much to explore in Colombia — from the rich cultural and artistic history to the wealth of natural wonders that call it home. Additionally, you can party until dawn and beyond, meaning cannabis is just the frosting on top.
Then again, who doesn’t love frosting?
Bienvenidos a Colombia
Like many things and people I love, Colombia has a nasty reputation — the American public largely associates the country with the infamous Pablo Escobar and the both villainized and romanticized cocaine trade that propped up his political dominance. But the truth is that, while cocaine is certainly abundant and readily available in many parts of the country, thanks to the natural presence of the coca plant, it’s mostly tourists and foreigners who use it, with a statistically negligible percentage of natives partaking in the drug.
Cannabis is another story. While the numbers aren’t nearly as high as those for California, there is an undeniable cannabis culture that permeates many pars of Colombia. And while the cannabis isn’t of the quality enjoyed in the U.S., it’s grown by a dedicated community of growers who openly celebrate the healing and recreational benefits of it .
My trip took me to three different cities, all of them miles away far from the dangerous, violent world of cartels and kidnappings that exists in much of the American public’s imagination. Colombia has been through so much, but it’s still a country dominated by welcoming, optimistic people who live as if each day is a celebration and regard the setting of the sun as an invitation to do so.
I arrive by way of Panama — the gateway to Latin America — in the misty, mountainous city of Bogota. The weather here is reminiscent of San Francisco on a slightly overcast day, with fog and mist lingering long past the noon curfew generally observed by San Francisco’s infamous Karl. Early afternoon sprinklings of are said to keep the streets clean. As the rain starts I duck into a small restaurant and eat my first Colombian empanada — a transcendent thing of deep fried beauty that bears only a physical resemblance to any kind I’d tried previously.
Purchasing cannabis in Bogota is very similar to finding it in many cities across the United States — just go hang out at a park by one of the universities. You could do much worse than Parque de los Hippies, right across from La Salle University. You won’t find any hippies there anymore, but if you follow your nose, you’ll definitely find many opportunities to purchase cripa, the local term for loose buds.
Alternately, you could ask for la blasta, which will get you a blunt wrap rolled fat with ground up flowers, but I wouldn’t recommend this route in Bogota.
As in most foreign countries with favorable exchange rates, combining U.S. and local currency when paying for goods and services is a fairly reliable method for cutting costs and reducing friction, which can be invaluable if you don’t enjoy haggling. That said, as with any negotiation, the most powerful weapon of any purchaser is walking away.
Don’t be a jerk— you are a guest after all — but don’t be a sucker either, because that translates to any language. Just figure out your target price and your top price and don’t go a dime over the latter: If you don’t want to pay more than $20 for an ounce (and you shouldn’t) then when the guy you’re talking to demands $30, just walk away — even money says he follows you and offers the same bag for $25; just keep walking until he gets down to $20. The nice thing is that if you walk far enough you’ll find another dealer anyway.
I turned down a few high offers until I came to a lanky, relaxed-looking guy with an easy smile.
“¿Yo, quieres la cripa?”
“¿Cuanto cuesta por la onza? — How much for an ounce?”
“Sesenta mil dolares,” he says, which is $60,000 Colombian Pesos — about $20 U.S.
“Si, pero solo tengo cincuenta mil — lo siento,” I tell him “Yeah, but I only have $50,000, sorry.”
“Ok, cincuenta mil por la onza,” he walks me over to an old chiclets vendor — the guys with rolling minutos carts — where we handle the transaction: He hands me a bag, which I quickly inspect and hand him a Colombian $50,000 note. Then I buy a pack of papers from the chiclet vendor and it’s adios amigos.
The weed I bought in Bogota was smooth, earthy and reminiscent of the better specimens of crappy Mexican weed I smoked as a teenager in Albuquerque. Smoking a quarter ounce made me mildly euphoric and, with the assistance of some local beer, inspired me to eat a dozen or so empanadas before passing out.
Also, you will see lots of minutos — little stands selling everything from cigarettes to packaged pastries, like a micro bodega — but don’t try to score weed from every one you see. The ones rolling around the parks are a decent bet, but don’t hassle the ones near Calle 100 or the other more well-to-do areas.
Finally, Bogota has a Zona Rosa, an area more or less dedicated to catering to the tourism trade. It’s a great place to go party, meet other travelers, drink and gamble, but I wouldn’t recommend buying drugs in any of the spendier, tourist-heavy areas. It’s definitely doable, but you’re maximizing your potential for interaction with local law enforcement. Cannabis is decriminalized in Colombia, but that doesn’t always shield you from a rough night if a Colombian cop doesn’t like your face.
I arrive at Medellín’s airport exhausted and hungover from drinking aguardiente, the national spirit of Colombia, which is like a rum flavored with star anise. It’s served in most restaurants and there is no cocktail made with it — you just take shots using a plastic jigger that comes with the bottle.
If you want to see a more “authentic” side of Medellín you’ll need to get familiar and friendly with somebody local. At this point it’s worth mentioning that if you can’t speak any Spanish, you should seriously reconsider a trip to Colombia. The closer you get to the Zona Rosa or Zona T in Medellín, the more English will be spoken, but it’s still not extensive — more so in Cartagena, which carters the most aggressively to tourists.
But unlike Bogota, it’s really easy and relatively low-risk to buy weed in arguably the most touristy area of Medellín — Parque de Lleras. You won’t get the best price here, but compared to U.S. prices you’re always getting a bargain anyway. And besides, Lleras may be touristy, but if you like to see all the different people visiting Colombia from across the globe, this is like the United Nations with cheap booze.
This was good when I arrived, because I needed to handle my hangover, and nothing works quite as well as cannabis. A quick stroll through Lleras and a brief series of negotiations with some chiclet vendors got me what I needed to revive my senses.
But a much better bet for getting lit in Medellín is to feel out a cab driver and ask them if they can get la blasta — spoiler alert: they can. You shouldn’t be paying more than a few American dollars for a pack of four or five thickly rolled blunts that will get you much higher than anything I found in Bogota.
My cab driver didn’t have anything with him, but we swapped numbers when he dropped me off at my hotel and 15 minutes later I was in possession of four fat blunts, each of which served nicely in my pursuit of cheap thrills and empanadas.
It’s impossibly hot in Cartagena, but if you’re looking for tropical fun and sandy beaches this is the place. While I was down there it rained biblical buckets, totally flooding many of the streets, which the city’s unflappable taxi drivers just forded nonchalantly, giving it no more thought than signaling before making a turn.
The Caribbean influence is felt most strongly down here, so if you want to dance to Afro-Caribbean rhythms this is the place to be. You can smell weed in some of the the places where those rhythms get expressed, but it isn’t always the best place to buy it. Lots of people will try to sell it to you in the plaza just outside the walled “Old City,” but this is not advisable.
The best bet for getting weed in Cartagena is to find and feel out one of the “touts” for the many bars and clubs in this area. The key is to avoid the really pushy ones and find somebody working more casually. Once you’ve felt them out, offer to buy them a drink and start a conversation. Move the conversation to cannabis and find out if they smoke. If they don’t, no big deal. They’ll offer to get you some, but politely decline and pay for the drinks — you’re out like $2.
Once you find somebody chill who knows Old Town and smokes, ask them how much they pay for a bag. If they give you an honest answer (it should be an incredibly low number) offer to buy them one if they’ll pick one up for you as well. Using this method I was able to buy the best weed I smoked in Colombia at the best price — $5 American for an ounce of what was basically some mids.
Alternately you could buy it from one of the hippie wastrels who populate the hostels of Old Town, but ultimately you’ll probably end up paying more since you’re getting it from a foreigner.
The person I met was more than happy to get me a bag of weed, and ended up showing me the one cheap liquor store in Old Town.
As with all parts of Colombia, you want to minimize how much cannabis you keep on you in public. Police have been known to shake down tourists, particularly in Cartagena late at night, so don’t go overboard when party planning; bring what you need and leave the rest in the hotel safe.
TELL US, Have you been to Colombia? Would you consider a trip?