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Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guidebook Misses the Mark Again - Medellin Guru
Lonely Planet Colombia is a new Colombia travel guide published in August. But like previous editions, it's out-of-date and missing many of the best places.

Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guidebook Misses the Mark Again

Lonely Planet Colombia 2018 is a new Colombia travel guide in English published in August, 2018. But like previous editions, much is out-of-date and this guidebook has many inaccuracies. Also, it’s missing many of the best places in Colombia.

I have four of the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebooks. The first one I bought in 2006 for my first trip to Colombia. And the latest is the recently published 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia travel guidebook.

I have no idea what went into the research of the new 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide), which is the 8th edition of this guidebook. But in my opinion it looks like the 8th edition is a minor update of the previous edition published in 2015.

In fact in the early section of this new guidebook is an exchange rate table. It has the exchange rate of 1 USD = 1,838 COP and 1 EUR = 2,330 COP. These are the same exchange rates that are found in the previous 2015 edition of this guidebook.

Lonely Planet copied the exchange rate table from the 2015 edition, instead of updating it. And the last time the exchange rate was as low as 1,838 COP to the USD was way back in May 2013. So, it’s completely out-of-date information. This is just one example of the out-of-date information in this travel guidebook.

Note the above photo is my 2006 and 2012 editions of the Lonely Planet Colombia travel guide.

Cover of my 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guidebook

Cover of my 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guidebook

The Challenges of Travel Guidebooks

Travel guidebooks have many challenges to overcome. First is the timeliness of information. The publication cycle for travel guidebooks means that the moment a new guidebook is published, the information is probably at least a year out-of-date.

Also, the publishers don’t pay travel guidebook authors enough. I have talked to several travel guidebook authors and the pay is completely insufficient for the amount of work required. So, corners must be cut to get guidebooks out the door.

In addition, the authors of travel guidebooks I have talked to do not actually visit the vast majority of restaurants, hotels, hostels, and attractions they write about. So, they can’t really tell you if a place is good, just that it exists and contact information. And if you want reviews, you have to look on the Internet.

Also, the quality of Lonely Planet guidebooks seems to have been going down over the past few years. Some updates to Lonely Planet travel guides are reportedly being done remotely, not from research at the destination. Nomadic Matt even looked at what’s the matter with Lonely Planet last year in an interesting post. Nomadic Matt said:

I’ve long heard rumors and whispers about LP’s recycled content and desk updates (i.e., information written in the office, not from research at the destination), and that seemed to be corroborated by current employees. Often, I’ve heard, Lonely Planet contributors are told to use Google and TripAdvisor to create content.

The Authors of Lonely Planet Colombia

Alex Egerton is the only author of the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook who actually lives in Colombia. But Alex lives in Popayán, which is not one of the major cities in Colombia.

The other two authors live in other countries: Tom Master lives in Berlin, Germany and Keven Raub lives in Portugal. And listed contributor Jade Bremner lives in New York. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if many of the updates to the latest edition of the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook were done remotely.

Lonely Planet Colombia Inaccuracies and Missing Things to Do

There is so much out-of-date information and many inaccuracies in the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook. Also, it’s missing many of the best places in Colombia.

To comprehensively identify all the problems in the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook would probably require a week of work and also well over 10,000 words.

So, instead, I decided to just look at the Medellín section of this guidebook to show examples of the problems.

First, here are some inaccuracies and out of date information in the Medellín section of the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook:

  • Christmas Lights – the Lonely Planet guidebook says the Christmas lights in Medellín are along the river. But the Medellín Christmas lights weren’t along the river for four years and only returned to the river in 2019 along a small section of the river.
  • Taxi fares – the guidebook says the minimum taxi fare in Medellín is 5,000 pesos and the taxi fare from the airport is 65,000 pesos, but this changed in November 2017. The minimum fare in November was 5,400 pesos and the taxi fare from the airport to Medellín was 70,000 pesos. But this changed again in December 2018 with a new minimum fare is 5,500 pesos and the fare to the airport is 75,000 pesos. And this changed again in December 2019 with a new minimum fare of 5,600 pesos and the fare to the airport of 80,000 pesos.
  • Metro fare – the guidebook says the metro fare is 2,300 pesos. But this changed in January 2018, January 2019 and January 2020 with new Medellín Metro fares and the standard metro fare is now 2,650 pesos. Also, the guidebook doesn’t even mention the Civica card, which is easy to get and offers cheaper fares of only 2,255 pesos per ride.
  • Manila Food Market – the guidebook includes the Los Patios hostel and says that “while on the ground floor the hip food market means you won’t have to go far to get something to eat.” But the food market that was named Manila Food Market at this hostel, which had about eight small restaurants, closed a long time ago and no longer exists.

Next, I’ll look at the restaurants, hostels and hotels, museums, pueblos, malls and churches recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook.

Unfortunately, the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook misses many of the best things to do and best restaurants in the Medellín area, which is the biggest problem with the guidebook. Throughout this guidebook there are so many of the best things missing in the cities and pueblos in Colombia covered in the guidebook.

Steaks from four of the best steakhouses in Medellín

Steaks from four of the best steakhouses in Medellín

Restaurants in Medellín in Lonely Planet Colombia

The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook only includes 19 restaurants in Medellín. And I am not very impressed with their selection of restaurants. Also, nine of the 19 recommended restaurants are unchanged from the 2015 edition of the guidebook.

For 2018, Lonely Planet included some of the good restaurants in Medellín like Carmen, Café Zorba, Malevo, Pizzeria Centro and Versalles. However, they missed many of the best restaurants in the city. And several restaurants they chose I have never even heard of in over eight years living in Medellín

In addition, several restaurants they chose don’t have very good reviews on TripAdvisor. For example, they included Tal Cual, which is a Peruvian restaurant currently ranked #303 out of the restaurants in Medellín on TripAdvisor.

Also, Lonely Planet didn’t include any restaurants in other municipalities like Envigado and Sabaneta, which also have some good restaurants.

I personally am not the biggest fan of TripAdvisor due to problems with some fake reviews. But in my opinion, it’s a better place to look for restaurants than the Lonely Planet guidebook. TripAdvisor has over 1,500 restaurants in Medellín listed plus over 200 restaurants in Envigado and 59 restaurants in Sabaneta.

In comparison, the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook only includes 19 restaurants in Medellín and they missed many of the best.

Also, the Medellin Guru website is a better way to find restaurants in the metro area. We have reviewed over 100 restaurants in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley. In addition, we have curated lists of the best restaurants, including:

Medellín Hostels and Hotels in Lonely Planet Colombia

The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook includes only eight hostels, two hotels and one guesthouse in Medellín as recommend places to stay. And of these 11 recommended places to stay in the 2018 guidebook, seven are unchanged from the 2015 edition – only four new hostels were added.

In addition, only three of the hostels in Medellín in the 2018 Lonely Planet guidebook – Lost Patios, Rango and Black Sheep – are listed in the top 10 hostels in Medellín based on ratings on HostelWorld (top hostels with over 200 ratings).

On HostelWorld you can find many more highly rated hostels in Medellín, with recent ratings by guests that have actually stayed at the hostels.

Also, only two hotels in Medellín are including in the Lonely Planet guidebook: Hotel Dann Carlton and In House Hotel. There are many higher rated hotels in Medellín than these two hotels. In addition, there are many budget hotels in Medellín. For example, there are over 600 hotels in Medellín listed on TripAdvisor with a big price range.

To me, HostelWord offers more value than the hostel list provided by Lonely Planet, as it has recent guest reviews. Also, TripAdvisor provides more value for hotels with a huge selection to choose from.

Four of the best Medellín Museums

Four of the best Medellín Museums

Medellín Museums in Lonely Planet Colombia

The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook only includes seven of the museums in Medellín. But there are several more museums in Medellín that are worth visiting.

On the Medellin Guru website, we looked at the top 12 Medellín museums. So, if you only use the 2018 Lonely Planet guidebook you would miss several of the top museums in the Medellín metro area including:

  1. Parque Explora – Medellín’s popular interactive science museum with over 300 activities and the largest freshwater aquarium in South America.
  2. Museo El Castillo – Medellín’s beautiful Gothic-style castle that is a museum.
  3. MUUA – Museo Universidad Antioquia – a museum located on the University of Antioquia’s campus with a huge collection of nearly 40,000 archaeological and natural history piece
  4. Museo Cementerio San Pedro – a cemetery that is also a popular museum in Medellín worth visiting. It also has a church with many beautiful stained-glass windows
  5. Casa Museo Otraparte – a hidden gem in Envigado consisting of a museum, cultural space and café dedicated to the life and works of Colombian philosopher Fernando González.
  6. Planetario de Medellín – Medellín’s Planetarium and space museum that is very popular and worth seeing, particularly with kids.
  7. Museo del Agua – the popular Medellín water museum.
Four of the best pueblos near Medellín worth a visit

Four of the best pueblos near Medellín worth a visit

Pueblos Near Medellín in Lonely Planet Colombia

The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook only includes three pueblos located near Medellín: Guatapé, Santa Fe de Antioquia and Jardín.

But there are several more pueblos near Medellín that are worth visiting. For example, on the Medellin Guru website, we looked at the 8 best pueblos near Medellín worth a visit including hidden gems.

So, if you only use the 2018 Lonely Planet guidebook you would miss several of the top pueblos near Medellín worth visiting including:

  1. Jericó – picturesque pueblo and a good weekend getaway location
  2. Barbosa – a hidden gem pueblo near Medellín that is worth visiting
  3. San Carlos – a hidden gem and amazing undiscovered pueblo
  4. Abejorral – a hidden gem pueblo with dazzling landscapes
  5. El Carmen de Viboral – the heart of Colombia’s ceramics industry
Four of the best malls in Medellín

Four of the best malls in Medellín

Shopping in Medellín in Lonely Planet Colombia

The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook only includes three malls located in Medellín: Santafé, Oviedo and El Tesoro, all which are in El Poblado. This is a slight improvement over the 2015 edition of the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook, which only included the Monterrey mall in El Poblado and Palacio Nacional in El Centro.

But there are many more malls in the Medellín metro area that are worth visiting. And several of these malls tend to have lower prices than in the malls in El Poblado. In addition, on the Medellin Guru website, we looked at the 14 best malls in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.

So, if you only used the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook you would miss several of the top malls in the Medellín metro area including:

  1. Viva Envigado – one of the newest malls in the Aburrá Valley located in Envigado, which is reportedly the largest mall in Colombia
  2. Mayorca Mega Plaza – a popular mall in Sabaneta with several outlet shops
  3. Premium Plaza – one of Medellín’s largest shopping malls with entertainment on the third floor
  4. Puerta del Norte – the largest and most popular mall in Bello
  5. Arkadia – the newest mall in Medellín and the nicest mall in Belén
  6. Los Molinos – the oldest Western-style mall in Belén
  7. San Diego – the oldest mall in Medellín.
  8. Unicentro – the largest and most popular mall in Laureles-Estadio
  9. Monterrey – Medellín’s technology mall in El Poblado
  10. Forida Parque – the only Western-style mall in the Robledo comuna in Medellín
  11. La Central – the only Western-style mall in the Buenos Aires comuna in Medellín
Four of the top churches in Medellín

Four of the top churches in Medellín

Churches in Medellín in Lonely Planet Colombia

The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook inexplicably doesn’t include any of the beautiful churches in Medellín. The previous 2015 edition of this guidebook included three churches located in El Centro: Catedral Basílica Metropolitana, Iglesia de la Veracruz and Iglesisa de la Candelaria.

So in 2018, Lonely Planet for some reason dropped churches completely from the Medellín section. But it still included churches in several other cities in Colombia in the guidebook.

Medellín and the Aburrá Valley area have many beautiful Catholic churches. We previously looked at the top 14 churches in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley, which are worth seeing.

These top 14 churches in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley use several architectural styles including Byzantine, Colonial, Eclectic, Gothic, Greek-Roman, Neo-Byzantine, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanesque, Renaissance and Romanesque.

But if you use the 2018 edition of the Lonely Planet Guidebook, you won’t have information about any of the beautiful churches in Medellín that are worth seeing.

The Other Cities in Colombia in the Lonely Planet Colombia Guidebook

I looked at several other cities in the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook and found similar things to Medellín. Many of the best restaurants, best museums, best hostels and best things to do are missing for each city.

Barranquilla is completely missing in the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook, photo by JDVillaLobos

Barranquilla is completely missing in the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook, photo by JDVillaLobos

Also, surprisingly the city of Barranquilla, the fourth largest city in Colombia, is completely missing from the guidebook. Barranquilla was also missing in the 2015 edition of the guidebook. But the older 2012 edition had three pages about Barranquilla.

The only mention of Barranquilla in the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook is short section about carnival in Barranquilla. The guidebook says that Barranquilla’s carnival is “held in February” but that isn’t always accurate. For example, in 2019, Carnaval de Barranquilla is on March 2 to 5.

The Bottom Line: The 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guidebook

The bottom line is that the 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook is full of out-of-date information and it has many inaccuracies. Also, it’s missing many of the best places in each city and pueblo. This is a similar problem with prior editions of the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook.

So, I cannot recommend the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook. However, if you need a Colombia guidebook, the Moon Colombia (Travel Guide) in my opinion is a better travel guidebook, as it’s more comprehensive with 500 pages in paperback.

We included both the Lonely Planet Colombia and Moon Colombia guidebooks in our  article about 20 top Colombia books by expats that can help travelers visiting Colombia.

But the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook is still the top selling Colombia travel guidebook. And I sometimes see foreign tourists in Medellín with a Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook.

When Lonely Planet was founded in the 1970s, travel guidebooks may have made sense. But travel guidebooks are becoming a vestigial reminder of a pre-Internet era and are becoming obsolete. The Internet now provides better and more up-to-date information about Colombia than the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook.

For example, blogs like Medellin Guru have many more details about the best things to do, visas, restaurants, experiences of expats with much more up-to-date information. Also, there are several other Colombia blogs, which provide information about many of the cities in Colombia.

In addition, you can find more complete lists of things to do on a blog like Medellin Guru or on TripAdvisor, better lists of top-rated hostels on HostelWorld and better maps on Google Maps.

In my opinion, getting free information online is better, cheaper, more up-to-date and more convenient than what you will find in the Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook.

However, beware that the Internet is full of out-of-date information about Colombia. Also, the foreign retirement publications get Medellín and Colombia wrong. In addition, TripAdvisor can’t really be trusted for Medellín and Colombia.

Readers, do you still use Lonely Planet?

Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.

Editors note: updated on December 14, 2018, with new Medellin taxi fares.

Editors note: updated on January 24, 2020 with new Medellín taxi fares and new metro fares.

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16 thoughts on “Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guidebook Misses the Mark Again”

    1. My issue with Lonely Planet is the authors are almost always white, and usually male, and generally seem to assume you are the same. I am neither of the above and often travel solo, and I find LP’s assessments of safety and atmosphere is often not applicable to people who look like me (goes in both directions). Unfortunately, most other guidebooks have the same issues, so I kind of just deal with it.

    2. Blake Evans-Pritchard January 23, 2019

      Good blog post, tallies with my experience of Lonely Planet. We actually set up our own guidebook publishing company – City Trail Publishing – ten years ago precisely because other guidebooks were so poor. All of our authors have lived for years in the destination that they write about, and leave no stone unturned in exploring the place. They visit everywhere they include – restaurants, hotels, bars, attractions – and often several times.

      I probably would disagree, however, that the quality of information you can find online is better than that which is in a carefully-edited guidebook. Many sites do feature fake reviews and I personally get very frustrated trawling through endless rubbish to find a gem. As someone who travels a lot, and doesn’t usually have a lot of spare time, I would much rather pay for a good guidebook that selected the relevant information and discarded the rest, rather than waste time trying to work out what to read.

      The problem is to find that guidebook you can trust.

    3. Travis Bickle December 14, 2018

      I’m glad for this debunking of the usual deference to Lonely Planet, and how they have dropped the ball with Colombia (again).

      HOWEVER , paper has a place and LP has produced some useful coverages, like the 2015 Ecuador, which was also just revised. I’m looking forward to a critical review of that revision, to see if these compromises are endemic to LP these days.

      The 2015 Ecuador was a concise, reliable orientation for hitting new towns, if nothing else, and could serve for anyone from backpackers to those who have since Made It and are on a no-expense spared victory tour. This is about Colombia, I know, but it is possible to put out something useful.

      Paper is easier to refer to enroute, when a smartphone leaves you overly focused and vulnerable. It’s a lot easier to dog-ear, markup and flip around in. It weighs a bit as well. Still, this old 2015 Ecuador was still useful through this past summer. The editorial contribution is where the value stands to be added, and Trip Advisor, etc, entail sifting through entirely too much dreck.

    4. I bought the new Lonely Planet Colombia guide for my recent trip to Medellin and Bogota. And I found so much out of date information for both cities. I found it pretty useless.

      I also have the old 2015 edition and it looks like about 75% of the restaurants, hotels and hostels recommended in the new 2018 edition are the same as the 2015 edition. So, I wasted money buying the update. And I have found so much more accurate information is available for free on blogs like this site and TripAdvisor.

      I will never buy a Lonely Planet guide again.

    5. Thanks Jeff, only wish you’d produced this article before we went on our 3 week trip to Colombia at the beginning of November armed with what we thought would be the latest information available in the new Lonely Planet edition. The information is threadbare in many places and bafflingly out of date in others – there’s no mention of the extensive road building programme between Zona Cafetaria and Medellin that we were told has now been ongoing for 8 years and means a journey listed as 5 hours took us nearly 8 due to the traffic being held up for long periods throughout a large section of the route; no warning that at this time of year the path/ road into Corcora is literally a swamp and you need to arrive equipped with wellingtons or be prepared to hire a horse to actually get to see anything; no mention that it can take well over an hour to queue for entrance to Tayrona, that there’s no information in English there and once inside you really need to take a minibus to the actual park entrance otherwise it’s a largely uphill walk of nearly an hour before the Tayrona hike even begins, or that it’s a wet slippery, partially unsafe trek outside of the dry season. I could go on but suffice to say that as a mature couple we found it worse than useless for our needs and interests.

      • Hi Jean, thanks. No surprise about the poor Tayrona coverage in Lonely Planet. I wonder if one of the authors even went there as they use a stock photo of Tayrona in the early part of the book.

        Also, they have out-of-date and inaccurate entrance fees for Tayrona and don’t even mention that it’s possible to take a boat to Tayrona that is a better option, as you avoid the need for the hike. Current entrance fees and more up-to-date information about Tayrona is found on the Medellin Guru site – https://medellinguru.com/parque-tayrona/

    6. Jeffrey Kaphan November 25, 2018

      Lonely Planet has been hit or miss for a while. There might be viable intel on locations like Valle de Cocora but any time sensitive information on hotels, restaurants , currency exchange is useless. As per your and other readers advice, you will find the information you seek and so much more on the internet.
      Thanks for the link to the 12 best museums! I have visited half of them but am stoked to check out Cementario San Pedro and El Castillo.

    7. Nice detective work, Jeff. I think most seasoned travelers know travelbooks are notoriously out of date, but for the novice, some can give a rough idea of how to get around while they learn the ropes.
      I am pleased to have found Medellin Guru, not sure how I stumbled upon it, but pleased as punch to have done.

      Keep up the great work, it really matters that the real Colombia is brought forward as you do with MGuru. If the books can get people to Medellin to begin with, I am sure they will widen their search and find this gem.

      I have to admit that I have travel books such as LPlanet, DK, etc, but after the visits, sought out the deeper source of real insider information such as MGuru.

      MGuru’s information has always been up to date, and updated when needed, so this is a top choice for those interested in more than just cursory over view…

      Keep up the great work, Jeff

    8. Lonely Planet will never get Colombia right. An author of an older edition named Thomas Kohnstamm even admitted he never even visited Colombia, as Lonely Planet didn’t pay him enough.

      The new 2018 edition has 2 authors that don’t live in Colombia and I would be surprised they even visited Colombia for the update.

      Don’t waste your money on Lonely Planet. Use blogs like MedellinGuru and also TripAdvisor, Wikitravel and Hostelworld that are all free and have more up to date information.

    9. David Williams November 24, 2018

      Thanks, nice article. I stopped using Lonely Planet Colombia several years ago as I found their restaurant recommendations weren’t very good and I found lots of inaccuracies and places missing. So, looks like they haven’t improved.

      • Hi David, thanks. Yes, I wonder how they get their restaurant recommendations. Why can’t they just check out TripAdvisor and select several of the highest rated restaurants?

    10. I bought the new Lonely Planet Colombia ebook for my Kindle as I am planning to go to carnival in Barranquilla next year and also to Santa Marta. So I was surprised to find out they didn’t even include Barranquilla in their guidebook. What a worthless guidebook and from what you wrote it looks like missing many of the best places in each city. Do you have recommendations for Santa Marta?

    11. Lonely Planet travel guides are a joke – everything is out of date and they are missing so many of the best things.

      How can travel guides compete with the free and very up to date content on the Internet?

      I stopped buying Lonely Planet years ago and now use TripAdvisor and local blogs when planning a trip.

      • Yes, you don’t need a guidebook to travel, and getting information on the Internet can be more accurate, cheaper, and more convenient.

        The bottom line about travel guidebooks – if the information is out-of-date, it’s pretty worthless.

    12. Thanks this article explains why Lonely Planet’s Colombia’s travel guide sucks. I bought the new guide and found it to be full of inaccuracies and missing so many places. So it just sits on a shelf now. To me, the Lonely Planet Colombia guide is worthless and with online resources galore, there is really no need for a guidebook anymore.

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