The Secret Heart of Colombia


The Secret Heart of Colombia

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 17 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers

Dossier

Colombia is emerging from its reputation as the bad boy of Latin America to show its true colours as one of the most exciting corners of the continent. Put aside what you’ve read about Colombia’s murky past – for those willing to step beyond the stereotypes the country offers a breathtaking array of world class attractions that are sure to leave an imprint on the souls of all who visit. On this two and half week overland journey of discovery we take a trip back into the past, exploring the magnificent colonial heritage atmospheric towns such as Villa de Leyva and Popayan, and spend time in the famed coffee zone, experiencing rural life set amidst spectacular scenery. For lovers of history and archaeology, marvel at the little-known mysteries of San Agustin. Finally we immerse ourselves in the vibrant melting pot of Medellin. In addition, there is also the opportunity to extend Colombian odyssey to the tropical and remote Pacific Coast or perhaps head to the azure Caribbean to explore the mazy cobbled streets of colourful and historic Cartagena and stroll on the palm fringed beaches of Tayrona National Park. Join us to explore Colombia and become a convert to the joys of this welcoming and enigmatic nation.


Tour Rating

Fitness ●●| Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●●○○

Tour Highlights                                                                                                           

  • Visit vibrant Bogota and the Candelaria neighbourhood
  • Discover the subterranean Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
  • Explore atmospheric and picturesque villages that embody the Colombia spirit and culture
  • Stroll the amazingly preserved colonial relics of Popayan’s historic streets
  • Learn about coffee cultivation at Armenia, the core of the Arabica-growing region
  • Take in the breathtaking landscapes of the Cocora Valley
  • Marvel at the little-known archaeological mysteries of San Agustin
  • Experience the melting pot of cultures in vibrant Medellin
  • Optional extensions: the tropical Pacific Coast or north to Cartagena, Santa Marta & Tayrona NP

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Comfortable hotel accommodation with private bathroom
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Bogota
End Point: Medellin for the main tour and Pacific extension or Cartagena if taking the Caribbean extension
Transport: Minibus or similar vehicle although this will be determined by the group size
Country Visited:Colombia
Extensions: Pacific Coast or Santa Marta/Cartagena

Itinerary

Day 1 – Bogota

Arrive in Bogota and transfer to the hotel, located in the historic heart of the city. The rest of the day is at leisure to either explore or relax. If you have arrived early you may wish to visit the interesting Gold Museum which is very close to the hotel, housing one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic metallurgy in the world, offering an insight into this lucrative but controversial activity which has brought wealth, war and fortune-seekers to Colombia’s shores for many centuries. Overnight Hotel Casa Deco, or similar. No meals.

Bogota

Colombia’s capital was established as a Spanish settlement by conquistadors in the 16th century, displacing the indigenous Muisca population that for 2,000 years had farmed the plateau on which the city now stands. Following independence from Spain in the 19th century it became capital of a federation of states that included Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela, eventually settling for being capital of just Colombia. As with many cities in Latin America, Bogota has a rich architectural heritage and nowhere is this more apparent than in the historic quarter of La Candelaria, with its cobbled streets winding between brightly coloured colonial buildings and its contrastingly wide boulevards. Once renowned as one of the most violent cities in the world, in recent years Bogota has undergone a tremendous and most welcome transformation as social policies have made the city a far safer place – forget what you have heard and come to experience the reality of a bustling, modern metropolis, imbued with vestiges of a rich cultural past.

Day 2 – Bogota sightseeing

Spend the first full day on tour in Bogota exploring this vibrant city on foot and by vehicle. Firstly take a guided walk around La Candelaria – the historical centre of Bogota with colonial and baroque style buildings and cobblestone streets and plazas, and visit the Emerald Museum which catalogues the country’s rise to being the world’s largest emerald producer (make sure you bring ID) and then the San Francisco Church, a sixteenth century delight which still draws pilgrims as the oldest Christian site in the city. Continue to the Paloquemao for a visit to the bustling and colourful public market, essentially an authentic farmer’s market on an epic scale: a genuine cornucopia of foods and eating places, wander through the myriad of stalls and perhaps sample an arepa or pan de bono. Continue for spectacular views of Bogota City from one of its mountainous peaks at the Monserrate monastery, a seventeenth century shrine to ‘The Fallen Lord’. Overnight Hotel Casa Deco, or similar (BL)

Day 3 – Bogota - Zipaquirá – Raquira - Villa de Leyva (Overall approximate driving time today - 4 hours)

Drive to the famous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, carved into the tunnels of a salt mine, and experience the surreal journey into the heart of the mountain’s holy site. From here, continue as far as the charming village of Raquira, famous for its handicrafts and pottery. After a short break to admire local craftsmen’s skills, continue to the beautifully preserved and traditional town of Villa De Leyva, characterised by its clusters of white-washed colonial-style buildings and sweepingly elegant central square. Overnight Hotel Hospederia La Roca, or similar. (BL)

Zipaquira

The ‘Salt Cathedral’ of Zipaquira is both unique and extraordinary: it is carved into the walls of an ancient salt mine, once exploited by the Muisca Indians as early as the 5th century, 200 metres inside a mountain. Although not officially a cathedral, it attracts worshippers every Sunday, and its interior consists of winding passages and rooms, with fourteen small chapels representing the Stations of the Cross. Starting off life as a small chapel for the miners, the construction of the present-day cathedral involved the extraction of 250,000 tons of stone from the mine. Colombia’s most famous artists have contributed to the various side chapels which culminate in the soaring main church, with its 21 metre high roof and the focal point of an exquisitely carved ‘floating’ 15 metre-high illuminated cross.  Deep below the religious edifice, the mining still goes on and a combination of tourism and salt-extraction makes Zipaquira a relatively wealthy town. Nowadays the passageways throng with an eclectic mix of pilgrims and curious visitors, the former of which swell to number many thousand during Semana Santa, or the Christian Holy Week leading up to Easter.

Villa de Leyva

Nestling against the slopes of the high Andes which thrust colossally into the dramatic clouded slopes that loom it, Villa de Leyva is one of the most picturesque towns in Colombia, if not all Latin America, with gorgeously well-preserved colonial buildings, cobbled streets and a tradition of excellent handicrafts. Standing at over 2100m above sea-level, the town is an excellent place to while away a few hours exploring, watching the world go by from pavement cafes and getting lost in its circuitous backstreets. In particular, visitors are drawn to experience the huge central Plaza Major, reputedly the largest cobbled square in South America, where time seems to stand still: empty cobbled expanses, an idiosyncratic well and the surrounding terracotta-roofed buildings lend an air of the sixteenth century and a sense of abandonment. In fact, the town has maintained much of its original charm and tranquillity owing to a lack of mineral deposits nearby and the relative aridity of the surrounding desertified landscape.

Day 4 – Villa de Leyva sightseeing

Spend the morning exploring Villa de Leyva, visiting the central plaza with its churches, restaurants and handicraft shops. Take a guided walk through its atmospheric streets, many boasting huge cobblestone paving that boast colourful bougainvillea spilling from balconies, patios, courtyards and white-washed buildings with pan-tiled roofs. Continue to the “Santo Ecce Homo” Dominican convent, constructed in 1620 by the Spanish from local stone, studded with a profusion of fossils.  The site offers a real window on the colonial era and religious missions from Europe. Having passed through the delightful gardens, within you will find a dozen beautiful galleries adorned with religious art and impressively informative guide materials. Later, continue to the extraordinary Museo el Fósil, which houses the 7 metre long remains of a crocodile-like ancestor, the Kronosaurus, dated between 100 and 150 million years old, and beached here when the whole area lay on the shores of a tropical sea. Finish the tour at the Casa de Terra Cotta, claimed by architect Octavio Mendoza to be the largest piece of pottery in the world. Explore the whimsical rooms inside, fashioned entirely from clay, baked hard by the sun. The afternoon is at your leisure to further discover this charming town. Overnight Hotel Hospederia La Roca, or similar (BL)

Day 5 – Villa de Leyva – Tunja – Bogota – Girardot (Overall approximate driving time today - 6 hours)

Leaving Villa de Leyva behind, drive back towards Bogota taking an alternative scenic back-road via Tunja, capital city of the department of Boyacá. Stop at the most important monument in Colombian history: the Boyacá Bridge, a tiny, white-washed stone crossing which belies its national significance. On that site Simón Bolívar won his most decisive battle against Spanish settlers which directly paved the way for independence from the Spanish Empire and the establishment of ‘Gran Colombia’. On arrival back in Bogotá, pay a visit to the foundation of Hogar de Paz and learn about their vital work to shelter and support adolescents with family difficulties by supporting them via community projects.  Finally, continue south to Girardot. Overnight Hotel GHL Style Neiva, or similar. (BLD)

Girardot

Girardot is a city with over 100.000 inhabitants located on a plain beneath the Cordillera Oriental uplands, about 3 hours southwest of Bogotá. The modern city only dates from the nineteenth century; prior to that the region was rural, with goat farming the main agriculture. Despite its relative proximity to the capital city, Girardot enjoys a year-round tropical and hot climate which attracts tourists from Bogotá especially on the weekend, escaping the capital's often high precipitation. The Parque de la Locomotora, home to the antique tourist train, is a pleasant spot near the river and the main plaza and modern cathedral, ideal for an ice cream and photography of the Magdalena River.

Day 6 - Girardot – Tatacoa Desert – San Agustin (Overall approximate driving time today – 6½ hours)

After breakfast start the journey to Neiva along the reliable tarmac of Route 45 which gradually gives way to narrower roads alongside which are villages with clusters of houses amidst scattered woodland approaching Villavieja and enter the unanticipated transformation of topography that is the Tatacoa Desert. A trip through the arid scrub will pass the labyrinthine profusion of eroded dry gullies in ochres and greys which make for some stunning photographic opportunities. Afterwards, drive through a vivid landscape, rising through dramatic mountain-scenery with the Rio Cabrera and then the Rio Ambica as constant companions. As the route winds around the edges of hills and wooded ridges, near the archaeologic hotspot of Colombia – San Agustin. Spend the next 3 nights imbibing the splendour of the area and its archaeological wonders. Overnight Akawanka Lodge, or similar. (BL)

The Tatacoa Desert

The Tatacoa Desert is located very close to Neiva in the department of Huila. It is a striking landscape of eroded cliffs and gullies, sculpted by the infrequent, but sometimes substantial rain. Once you are amidst the surreal pinnacles of sand and soil and the copious canyons that wind where water once flowed chaotically, the dry, clear air becomes a real feature. Incidentally, this combination of air quality, lack of light pollution and location in close proximity to the equator, makes Tatacoa a great spot for stargazing – the skies above both the Northern and Southern hemispheres are spread out for all to see. Despite its appellation, Tatacoa isn't a true desert, although the thermometer states otherwise – it can hit 50°C at times! It's technically a semi-arid dry tropical forest, whose vegetation comprises of succulents and thorny bushes. The name Tatacoa is taken from an now extinct snake-like reptile which the Spanish discovered here; in its place there is still an impressive range of flora and fauna to watch out for: scorpions, snakes, cacti, and up to 72 different species of birds in the area, such as Great caracara, American kestrels, Blue ground-doves and Shining-green hummingbirds and the wonderfully-named and ubiquitous Pearly-vented tody-tyrants.

Day 7 – San Agustin archaeology

Spend today exploring the village of San Agustin and its surrounds. Visits on offer will include the Archaeological Park, which comprises three main sites within San Agustin: Las Mesitas, the Fuente de Lavapatas, and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, all of which will astound and bemuse you in equal part. The day ends with a fascinating visit to the Archaeological Museum which will provide fascinating context to what was seen throughout the day. Overnight Akawanka Lodge (BL) 

San Agustin

San Agustín is an isolated village in the upland southern department of Huila, about 230km from the nearest population centre at Neiva. Originally founded in 1752 by Alejo Astudillo, the village has seen some dramatic moments of violence during the colonial era: successful attacks by indigenous people destroyed it entirely and it wasn’t until 1790 that Lucas de Herazo y Mendigaña managed to re-establish a permanent village. The climate here is gentle, averaging around 18 °C year-round which has clearly made it highly attractive to a series of different races and tribes through the ages. Amazingly, the extraordinary and unique abundance of archaeological sites that have survived beyond the pre-Columbian peoples’ demise remain largely uncelebrated and the incredible culture which produced these religious relics in such profusion is as yet unnamed and still demands a huge amount of research. The larger area, known as San Agustín Archaeological Park, has several areas worthy of a lengthy visit: Las Mesitas is an amazing conglomeration of burial mounds, terraces, funerary structures and idiosyncratic squat stone statues; the Fuente de Lavapatas is a ritualistic site, unusually carved into stone bed of a stream where acred washing seems to have taken place; the wooded Bosque de Las Estatuas site is again a collection of a rich array of examples of stone statues from the area, with huge heads, hunched shoulders and unmistakably Mayan-Aztec-Inca-styled carved features. In recent years, the number of visitors has grown and the sites generate significant revenue to the economy. In 1995, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

Day 8 – San Agustin - Rio Magdalena – (Overall approximate driving time today is 1.5 hours)

After breakfast, depart to the famous Rio Magdalena Strait. Here, the longest river in Colombia narrows to a raging torrent just 2 metres wide which will have you reaching for your cameras. En route back to San Agustin, visit a "trapiche", a traditional factory which produces typical panela (unrefined sugar) from sugar cane where the cane juice is pressed by a simple old-school press. Once back at the hotel, the rest of the day will be at leisure to relax or familiarise yourself with the local area. Overnight Akawanka Lodge or similar (BL)

Day 9 – San Agustin - Popayan (Overall approximate driving time today - 4½ hours)

After breakfast, continue to Popayan stopping at Village Isnos where nearby we will observe some impressive tombs and statues at Alto de Los Idolos, dating from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. In all, 16 tombs and 17 sculptures were built on an ambitious man-made platform between two hills. The region’s largest funerary statue, at 7m tall is also to be found there. Continue traversing the beautiful Puracé National Natural Park, named after the active volcano in this stunning mountainous region. Experience the unforgettable landscape of the Andean cloud forest where the road winds and climbs through lush vegetation which tumbles thick and steaming down the hillsides. On its fringes, pass through the little-known landscape of the Paramo: residing between exposed mountain-sides and forest, this wetland offers incredible biodiversity from over 200 orchid species, rare trees such as the Colombian Pine, Andean Oak and Wax Palm, and animals worth keeping a beady eye out for – like spectacled bears, cougars, howler monkeys, mountain tapir and the world’s smallest deer, the pudu. The sharp eyed visitor may also spot circling Condor in the skies above. We expect to arrive in Popayan – known as The White City – around midday. This afternoon, take a walking tour to discover what the city has to offer. Overnight Hotel La Plazuela or similar (BL)

Popayan

Popayan is the capital of the Cauca department. Founded by the Spanish conquistador Sebastian de Belalcazar in 1537, the city is located in the Valley of Pubenza between the Western and Central Cordillera in the southwest of the country. In the early Spanish era, its central location and mines meant that it produced gold and silver coinage for the country. The old and historic centre of Popayan is considered one of the most beautiful and best preserved in Colombia as well as in all of Latin America. After suffering badly in the earthquake of 1983, the city has rebuilt substantially and boasts many cultural attractions. The oldest of these, El Morro del Tulcán, is an ancient pyramid of uncertain origins; elsewhere, European settlers have dominated the landscape: the bell-tower and Catedral Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción lie in the central area, but the city is dotted by exquisite churches, dating back as far as 1546. The city was also awarded the status of UNESCO City of Gastronomy owing to its slavish dedication to local cuisine; a visit to one of the many eateries here is a must. The miniscule ‘La Fresa’ is a renowned example, selling scrumptious handmade potato and peanut empaňadas.

Day 10 – Popayan – Silvia – Buga - Armenia (Coffee Region) - (Overall approximate driving time today is 6 – 7 hours)

After breakfast, depart Popayan, continuing towards the Coffee Region, stopping en-route in Silvia, where on Tuesdays, the indigenous Guambiano people come together dressed in their royal blue and fuschia native costumes to offer and buy their products at the market and to converse with one another. This takes place at the famous market in Silvia, which creates a special opportunity to see and meet these ancestral groups that are so fiercely proud of their culture.  After the visit, continue towards the Coffee Region with another short stop in Buga, where the famous Basilica del Señor de los Milagros is located – founded to celebrate the miracle of the gift of a crucifix from the local river to a generous and pious old woman. Later this afternoon arrive in Armenia, located at the heart of the Coffee Region, our base for the next three nights. Overnight Hacienda Combia or similar (BL)

Armenia

Armenia is the capital of the Departamento Quindío, located in the Coffee Triangle, roughly 290 km west of Bogotá. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes, nature and ancient cultures, the region is a key player in Colombia's rich coffee culture. For anyone interested in nature and culture, Armenia and the Quindío department will surely be a highlight of their trip.

The Coffee Zone

For most people, the area where coffee is produced forms the beating heart of Colombia, its cultural epicentre. Indeed Columbia, the third largest coffee producer in the world, grows more Arabica beans than any other nation on earth. To the first time explorer, the landscape itself seems magical: the sinewy roads through the rolling hillsides are laden with coffee plantations and each new turn offers you a fresh and spectacular panorama. The landscape produces crops teetering on the edge of plunging valleys which give way to broad terraces with dizzying views across this incredible scenery. Campasino (‘rural life’) continues unabated as it has done for generations: the locals harvesting coffee, plantains and many other fruits in this verdant and luxuriant land. Three departments make up the Triangulo Del Café: they run in a North-South line, following the Central Andean Cordillera. Caldas is the most northerly of the departments, followed by Risaralda and, most southerly, Quindío. The pristine snow-capped peaks of the Parque Natural Los Nevados gaze solemnly down from the east and the climate is accordingly one of extremes: cold air from the lofty ridges meets the warm humidity of the Rio Cauca, the region’s largest river. The watercourse has its source in the high mountains of Cauca, thence to its merging with the Rio Brazo and then the Rio Magdalena further north.

Day 11 – Coffee zone culture

Spend the morning learning about the fascinating life and culture of those who inhabit the coffee region. Visit the coffee farm and hacienda ‘Combia’, visit plantations and learn about the complex process that transforms the humble coffee bean into one of Colombia’s most renowned exports as well as enjoying tastings of the farm’s product. This afternoon will be at leisure for you to relax or explore further. Overnight Hacienda Combia or similar (BL)

Day 12 – Valle de Cocora – Salento – Filandia – Armenia (Overall approximate driving time 3 hours)

With breathtaking landscapes, the Cocora Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in Colombia. Here, one can observe the impressive Palma de Cera – the ‘wax palm’, the official Colombian national tree and one of the tallest species of palm in the world. The valley is scattered liberally with these towering, skinny telegraph pole-like trunks, topped by small spherical explosions of palm leaves. We will take a leisurely 2 hour walk to immerse ourselves in the splendid scenery.  On the way back to Armenia, stop in Salento, a picturesque village in the coffee zone, which, owing to its relative isolation, retains much of its traditional buildings and charm: colourful streets and a fascinating Aldea de los Artisanos where village craftsmen astound with the skills of their trade. There may be time to wander up the coloured stairs to the mirador to enjoy a spectacular view or try out the explosive local game of Tejo. The final stop of the day before Armenia, will be the charming town of Filandia with its colourful examples of colonial architecture, atmospheric Bolivar square and numerous coffee shops. Overnight Hacienda Combia or similar (BL)

Valle de Cocora

The valley sits amidst the Central Cordillera of the Andes and is named after a Quimbayan princess, and means "star of water". Visitors come from afar to view the prolific Palma de Cera which scatters across the emerald dairy pastures on the floor of the valley. The presence of the tree is, at least in part, what led to the foundation of the Los Nevados National Natural Park: felling of palms is strictly illegal and a nursery for saplings has been established. Trekking, birdwatching and rafting on the Rio Quindío also attract visitors and local delicacies such as plantain fritters and trout have become a speciality of the valley.  The climate is temperate and most days you can expect the mercury to hit the high teens centigrade. One key feature of the area is the excellent wildlife viewing: puma, mountain tapir, sloth and spectacled bear are amongst the mammals and the birdlife includes Yellow-eared parrots, Slaty brush-finch, Black-billed mountain-toucan, Condor, Quindio jay and over 15 species of hummingbirds can be seen. Locally, the latter species are encouraged with sugar-feeders and you will be entranced by their proximity if you pause for a coffee.

Day 13 – Armenia - Tamesis (Overall approximate driving time today - 5 hours)  

Journey this morning to Tamesis, a town in the southwestern region of Antioquia. The route follows well-cultivated rolling hills and offers constant photo opportunities. Pass through bustling towns like Pereira with the Rio Cauca a constant feature dominating the valley floor. Latterly, from La Pintada, the road climbs steadily and becomes more shaded by trees until you reach Tamesis at just over 1600m. On arrival, the rest of the day is at leisure to relax after the drive. Overnight Hospedaje Rural La Boira or similar (BL)

Day 14 - Tamesis – Jardin – Antioquia – Tamesis

Today it is possible to choose from two excellent excursions depending on your preferences. Please let us know your preference at the time of booking: 

Option 1: Full day tour – Gold and Archaeology

Travel through beautiful scenery down the valley of the Cauca River to the Puente Iglesias Bridge. On the banks of the Cauca River meet traditional gold washers and learn more about their daily work. Try to wash gold on your own and interact directly with the artisanal miners. This afternoon, enjoy spectacular views over the vastness of the Cauca River Valley and return to explore the idyllic mountain village of Tamesis, known as the Green Coffee Balcony, and renowned for its history, birdlife and waterfalls. Accompanied by a local guide, visit the archaeological sites. Támesis is celebrated as one of the places with the greatest density of indigenous pre-Hispanic petroglyphs (rock art) in Colombia. Your expert guide will help you to observe different types of petroglyphs and to learn some of their significances. As a location which sees few foreign tourists, the locals are particularly welcoming and helpful.

Option 2: Full day tour – Chocolate and Archaeology

This morning, visit an organic cacao plantation and learn more about the process of chocolate production, the harvesting and processing – from the tree to the cup. The family-run cacao farm produces organic chocolate and the owners passionately observe the traditional sustainable way of cacao farming. Take the opportunity to try your hand at making your own chocolate. This afternoon, enjoy spectacular views over the vastness of the Cauca River Valley and return to explore the idyllic mountain village of Tamesis, known as the Green Coffee Balcony, and renowned for its history, birdlife and waterfalls. Accompanied by a local guide, visit the archaeological sites. Támesis is celebrated as one of the places with the greatest density of indigenous pre-Hispanic petroglyphs (rock art) in Colombia. Your expert guide will help you to observe different types of petroglyphs and to learn some of their significances. As a location which sees few foreign tourists, the locals are particularly welcoming and helpful.

At the end of your tour, you return to Tamesis for the night. Overnight Hospedaje Rural La Boira, or similar (BL)

Day 15 – Tamesis - Jerico - Medellin (Overall approximate driving time today - 5 hours)

After breakfast, drive to Jerico and take a walk in the town centre. Explore the historic centre of Jerico with its traditional facades and visit the village museum, which explains the pre-Columbian culture through a comprehensive exhibition of archaeological findings in the region. Visit a workshop of carriel, the typical leather bags used by local people. Continue to the Botanical Gardens and the Cristo Rey monument, a 27m high statue of Christ, erected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Colombian civil War of a Thousand Days. From this lofty perch, enjoy the amazing views of the town and the surrounding mountains, valleys and rivers. Continue to the vibrant city of Medellin, our base until the end of the tour. Overnight La Campana Boutique Hotel, or similar (BL)

Jerico

Displaying a total of 16 chapels, Jerico is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Antioquia. The Paisa people are famously the most hospitable in Colombia and a stay here is truly a delight. Everywhere, the pueblo smacks of tradition: religious devotion is to the fore, no more so than in the dominant statue of Cristo Rey, whilst the Catedral Virgen de las Mercedes (in the main town square), Capilla San Francisco and Santurario del Inmaculado Corazón de Maria Jerico are especially splendid Catholic churches. Jerico is is also famous for its love of the arts and crafts and for the manufacture of small leather goods: museums, and indeed art and pottery classes are all free here and there is a robust local school of artists. This sense of civic pride abounds – the houses are stunning (a local bylaw demands that all residents use at least three colours to decorate their facades!) and free history lessons are offered, such is the eagerness of the twon to tell its tale. The surrounding area is heavily agricultural, farming coffee, avocados, oranges, cardamons, cattle – the list seems endless, whilst cowboys on horseback are a common sight in the streets. The main square, Parque Reyes, is the perfect spot to decamp to and watch the locals go about their lives. Equally, the food scene here is excellent, with scores of small, friendly cafés serving local dishes. Be sure to try out the 7 layered Postre Jericano, a delicious dessert-cake which alternates fruit and sponge soaked in rum.

Medellin

Medellin, the capital of the department of Antioquia, is located in north western Colombia and lies cradled in the Aburra Valley, bisected by the Medellín River which runs north to south. With its year-round warm temperatures, it is also known as the “City of Eternal Spring”. With about 3 million inhabitants, Medellin is the second largest city of the country. Once in the grip of drug cartels, the transformation of the city and its inhabitants is nothing short of incredible: investment in education, health and a superb infrastructure has led to an explosion of positive cultural outcomes: voted in 2013 as the most innovative city in the world by The Wall Street Journal, and beating off Tel Aviv and New York, Medellin attracts a huge variety of international festivals: the Flower Fair, Food Festival, Poetry Festival, The Festival of Christmas Lights,  The Medellín Film Festival and the International Poetry Festival, to name but a few. The city is also the hometown of the internationally acclaimed artist Fernando Botero, whose works adorn the cityscape, from the 23 statues in Botero Plaza to the exhibition of his paintings in Museo de Antioquia.

Day 16 – Medellin sightseeing

After breakfast, take in the important sights of the “City of Eternal Spring” (the city tour is approximately 4 hours). Explore downtown Medellin and the historic centre and listen to local musicians and the traditional Guasca music while visiting the Parque Berrio. Continue through the hustle and bustle of downtown Medellin to the famous Botero Plaza with an exhibition by Botero, whose inimical sculptures have become a landmark of the city. We then take the Metro Cable up to Santo Domingo, which had once been a notorious area of gang violence in Medellin. The cable car was constructed to make the inner city more accessible to people from the outskirts, and allows visitors a glimpse into the lives of the marginalised population. While enjoying the spectacular views, learn more about the transformation of Medellin from one of the most dangerous cities in the world into a fascinating melting pot of cultures with possibly the friendliest and warmest people in the world. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight La Campana Boutique Hotel, or similar (BL)

Day 17 – Depart Medellin

Transfer to the airport for your onward journey. (B)

Optional post tour extension - Pacific Coast

Day 17 – Medellin – Nuqui

Take an internal flight from Medellin to Nuqui and on arrival transfer by way of a simple motor boat for around 45 minutes to your idyllic but rustic eco-hotel accommodation for the next 3 nights. Overnight Hotel La Kuka (BLD)

Note – This is very much a retreat to nature and you will have limited or no Wi-Fi at all and phone signal is patchy in this remote part of Colombia.  

Nuqui

Nuquí is located in the department of Chocó, in the Western part of Colombia between the mountainous area of Baudó and the Pacific Ocean. Nuquí has great ethnic and cultural diversity as well as a huge variety of flora and fauna. It is a good starting point for expeditions to the rainforest, perhaps to look for the 147 species of birds on offer here, with lodges offering a range of guided tours. Furthermore it is ideally situated for scuba diving: at certain times Humpback whales are your companions in the water, whilst turtles, dolphins and a plethora of fish species are very easy to encounter, despite there being no reefs. With an annual rainfall above 10,000 cm³, the 1,300 km long Pacific Coast of Colombia is one of the most humid regions on the planet. To the north, where the Baudó Range falls into the ocean forming exquisite coves and stunning headlands, the Colombian Pacific rainforest contains a truly impressive biodiversity. The southern part is less undulating and is characterised by a network of rivers, though some eye-catching cliffs punctuate the coastline. Mangroves border the beaches in the Colombian Pacific rainforest and lend the visitor enviable proximity to one of nature’s most fascinating and prolific landscapes. This is the ideal destination for “eco-tourists” and those that simply enjoy a tranquil escape, immersed in the incredible array of natural wonders.

Internal flights to the Pacific Coast

Please note that the luggage allowance for the internal flights is 10kg, plus hand luggage. You can arrange for luggage to be left at the hotel in Medellin.

Days 18 and 19 – Pacific Coast at leisure

Spend these days at leisure or take a relaxing walk to the Waterfall of Love or the local village (included with a bilingual guide). Alternatively there are a host of other excursions to suit all interests and energy levels, all bookable from the lodge at extra cost.  These include hiking in the rainforest, visiting the indigenous Chori tribe, canoeing the mangroves or Rio Terco, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or whale watching (seasonal: usually end of June – early November). Overnight Hotel La Kuka (BLD)

Day 20 – Nuqui – Medellin

Transfer back to Nuqui by boat; then take the internal flight back to Medellin before the connection to your onward flight. If you wish, you can add extra nights in Medellin on request.

Optional Post Tour Extension – Santa Marta/Cartagena and Tayrona National Park

Day 17 – Medellin – Santa Marta

Transfer to the airport for the internal flight to Santa Marta. On arrival transfer to the hotel and the rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight Casa Tayrona Los Naranjos or similar. No meals.

Santa Marta

Founded in Colombia on July 29, 1525 by the Spanish conqueror Rodrígo de Bastidas, Santa Marta is located between the Sierra Nevada, which contains the highest summits of the country and the Caribbean Sea. Therefore visiting this city is a great way to discover the variety of fauna and flora of the area, as well as the cultural and historical sites the city offers. Simón Bolívar died here on an estate called Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino on 17 December 1830 on the outskirts of the city. Santa Marta not only boasts excellent tourism infrastructure, but also acts as a great starting point to explore the untouched beaches of Tayrona National Park and the “Ciudad Perdida”, or Lost City, which lies at around 1300 meters above the sea in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Day 18 – Full Day Excursion - Tayrona National Park

This morning depart Santa Marta for Tayrona National Park and take the interesting coastal road eastwards until we reach the eastern entrance of the Park after about a 1 hour drive. From the Cañaveral area where the entrance is located, we start a hike through the tropical forest past idyllic palm fringed beaches until we reach Arrecifes (1h. approx). Here we take a short break to enjoy a refreshing natural juice. We continue our hike for a further 1 more passing by beautiful beaches like Arenillas, La Piscina and Cabo San Juan Beach, where we have time for some swimming and just relaxing to enjoy this stunning place. Late this afternoon return to the hotel. Overnight Casa Tayrona Los Naranjos or similar (BL) 

Note – The walking is an easy grade with a height gain of around 150 metres in total but trails can be more challenging especially after rain so good footwear is recommended. Also please be aware that this section of coastline is subject to strong currents and tides. Therefore, swimming is limited to certain beaches and on occasions can close without warning if conditions dictate. Please note the park can be hot and humid and so we recommend that you take adequate water for the walk and also be well protected from the sun, ideally wearing a hat. It is also advisable to be wearing insect repellent for a visit to the park.

 

 

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona has some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in South America, with palm fringed beaches and rocky headlands making it a superb place to explore. Traditionally home to the Kogui Indians, it is one of the most biologically diverse stretches of coastline in Latin America and contains several species of monkeys, wild pigs, and various species of reptiles and many birds. 

This national park is visited on the Cartagena extension.  The park is closed during the month of February so an alternative excursion will be offered if you are taking the extension in the month of February. This does not impact on any sightseeing in Cartagena. 

 

Day 19 – Santa Marta – Cartagena – (Overall approximate driving time is 4 – 5 hours)

After breakfast journey along the Caribbean coast to Cartagena where colonial chic meets Caribbean flair, old city walls and fortresses bear witness to gold treasures and pirates, and pebbled alleys, green plazas and colourfully painted facades carry us away and right into the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The perfectly restored historic town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is best explored slowly on foot, by horse carriage or by bicycle. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure to start to enjoy the maze of cobbled streets. Later, perhaps enjoy a sundowner on the historic city walls and allow your gaze to wander over the terracotta roofs towards the shimmering expanse of the Caribbean Sea. Overnight Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Cartagena

Cartagena, founded in 1533, is named after the Spanish home town of many of the sailors who settled here. It soon became a major trading port, not least in the commerce of slavery, and became the target of attacks from numerous pirates and privateers prowling the Caribbean Sea in the 16th and 17th centuries, and then later from the British navy. Cartagena is absolutely packed full of exquisite architectural gems and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With horse-drawn carriages plying its streets and fantastic views out to the ocean, Cartagena is incredibly atmospheric and is rightly considered to be one of the highlights of a trip to Colombia.

Day 20 – Cartagena sightseeing

After breakfast, take a half-day guided tour to see the most important monuments in Cartagena. Start at the Convent of La Popa (the highest point of the city) and continue to the Castillo de San Felipe, an immense fort filled with history and mysteries hidden in its stonewalled tunnels. Leaving the castle, visit the monument of Zapatos Viejos, the “Old Shoes”. Certainly the most impressive monument is the gigantic defensive wall that surrounds the old city, and overlooks the sea and its well-preserved colonial architecture. During the rest of the visit you will see the city’s churches, museums, plazas, restaurants, shops and jewellery stores. This combination of treasures makes Cartagena deserving of the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site: You will never forget this wonderful destination. The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the city further or relax at the hotel. Note: During this tour, the visit to La Popa can be replaced by the visit to San Pedro Claver Convent. Overnight Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Day 21 – Cartagena at leisure or optional activities

Your last full day in Colombia can either be spent at leisure or alternatively you may wish to take a further excursion (not included) perhaps to Isla San Pedro de Majagua for swimming and snorkelling and to enjoy the fine beaches or perhaps take a cooking class in Cartagena preceded by a visit to the local market. There is also the option to visit the small active Totumo Volcano and bathe in its therapeutic mud pools. Overnight Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Day 22 - Depart Cartagena

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)

Inclusions/Exclusions

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure airport transfers
Transportation throughout the tour
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide/tour leader from Day 2 to Day 16 on the main tour
Local guides on Pacific and Cartagena extension
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Internal flights on the Pacific Coast or Cartagena extension

Excluded:
International flights to Colombia
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Visa if applicable
Drinks
Tips (Discretionary)