Contrasts of Colombia

Resort:Contrasts of Colombia
Operator: Explore
Destination: Colombia, Latin America
Price From: £2460.00

Over View

Colombia is the country where ‘magical realism’ comes to life. Rich in culture, with an enormous biodiversity and a notoriously friendly and welcoming population, a journey through this eclectic country is packed with standout moments. Not only do we visit the Caribbean coast and the lush, green coffee region, but we contrast the modern city of Medellin with the more traditional Andean culture found in Bogota.

Bogota – Visit its superb pre-Colombian Gold Museum and the historic streets of La Candelaria

Salento – The cobbled streets of this quaint town are found in the beautiful Andean foothills, where hummingbirds fly between giant wax palms

Medellin – Discover how this diverse modern city has transformed its reputation through innovative design and development


Day 1 Join trip in Bogota

Arrive in Bogota, the capital of Colombia set at an altitude of over 2,600m. The city sprawls out from the high ranges of the Cordillera Mountains, blanketing the Andean peaks with an eclectic mix of historic buildings and modern, urban architecture. Its name comes from the Muisca indigenous people who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1538, and the remnants of not only the Muisca empire but of Colombia’s many other indigenous cultures can be found in the city’s impressive Gold Museum.

For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Bogota at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport (airport code: BOG), approximately a 45 minute drive from our hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.

If your flight arrives earlier in the day, La Candelaria is a good place to orientate yourself in the city, where a wealth of museums, bars and restaurants are dotted in between colonial convents and churches.

Day 2 Taste the fruits at Paloquemao farmers market; explore the city on foot

This morning we spend time exploring the city, first delving into local life with a visit to the farmers market at Paloquemao, with its overwhelming array of smells and colours. Our Tour Leader will introduce us to some of the tropical fruits on offer here, as we speak to some of the different sellers.

In the afternoon, we head to the colourful colonial streets of La Candelaria for a tour of the city. Walking under the balconied houses from where local residents often observe the comings and goings below, we’ll cross the vast Plaza de Bolivar encountering some excellent examples of colonial architecture, such as the Catedral Primada de Colombia. The visit continues with the Museo Botero, a colonial house filled with works of art by the Colombian artist and sculptor Fernando Botero, famous for his abstract portrayal of people with large, exaggerated proportions. Finally, we will visit the Gold Museum, which is regarded as housing the finest collection of gold from Pre-Hispanic times.

Day 3 Ascend Mount Monserrate by cable car; fly to Armenia in Colombia’s coffee country

To round off our exploration of Bogota, we take a birds eye view of the city as we ascend the pilgrimage site of Mount Monserrate by cable car. After our descent we fly to Armenia on a one hour flight from Bogota. We aim to book an afternoon flight, with departure to the airport in the late morning, although schedules are, of course, subject to change.

Armenia is the capital of the Quindo department, an important coffee growing centre in the foothills of the Andes range. Immediately on leaving the airport, we’ll drive to our hotel located about 30 minutes away. This old, characterful hacienda has views out to the Quindo valley, which we will be exploring over the next 2 days. On arrival, the rest of the day is free to relax and explore the surrounding area.

Day 4 Full day exploring the wax palms of the Cocora Valley; traditional lunch in colonial Salento

After breakfast we take a drive to Salento, where we climb aboard an immaculately restored vintage Willys jeep and drive into the Cocora Valley. We’re in the foothills of the Andes here, hiking amongst a multitude of towering wax palms that pepper the mountainside like pins in a cushion. These countryside walks are on undulating terrain with well-trodden paths and the leisurely pace gives us plenty of time to enjoy the mountain views.

On our return to Salento, we’ll have a typical lunch in this charming town, its colourful architecture so characteristic of this coffee growing region. Trout is particular to the area, usually served with plantain and rice, but you may also find yuca and arepas too.

Our final stop of the day is at the Acaime Nature Reserve, just 5km from Cocora. This paradise for hummingbird watching takes us through leafy rainforest and wooded trails, a contrast to the open mountain scenery of this morning. The walks are leisurely, concentrating more on exploring the cloud forest landscape than strenuous hiking.

Day 5 Cooking class with a Colombian chef; visit a coffee plantation and taste the local brew

Colombia is renowned for its excellent food, with regional specialties in almost every different town, from Bandeja Paisa (basically the Colombian equivalent of a full English breakfast, but with plantain, avocado, cornbread, delicious frijoles and heaps of different meats) to pandebono, a traditional bread made with cheese, frequently served with guava paste. Today we’ll be getting stuck into the gastronomy with a cooking class at one of the area’s traditional haciendas. First of all, we will visit the local market at Santa Rosa, where we will be buying the ingredients for ‘sancocho’, a typical Colombian soup that is stuffed full of vegetables, yuca, corn, plantain and either chicken, fish or beef. It is frequently eaten with avocado and white rice on the side. We’ll take our ingredients back to the hacienda where a local chef will assist us in the making of the dish, alongside some other tasty appetizers and drinks, which we eat together for lunch.

In the afternoon we drive back to our hotel, which happens to be situated in the midst of its own coffee farm. We’ll spend the afternoon visiting the farm, learning about the whole process from the planting of the beans all the way through the picking and roasting process, finishing off with trying the fresh coffee. The physical work undertaken by the pickers in hauling their loads across the mountainside is quite amazing.

If, for any reason, the hotel changes, we will visit one of the other many coffee farms in this area.

Day 6 Fly to Medellin; explore on foot and by cable car

This morning we fly to Medellin – flight times are subject to change, but we aim to arrive in the early afternoon. Medellin has had a colourful history, yet since the death of its most infamous resident, Pablo Escobar, in 1993, the city has gone through comprehensive urban and cultural development. After many years in which the city was considered to be the most dangerous in the world, it now has a reputation for innovation and creativity and is representative of the country’s social transformation. Part of this innovation lies in the building of a cable car system that allows the residents of the poorer neighbourhoods on the steep mountainsides surrounding Medellin to easily commute into the city to work and trade. This has undoubtedly had a huge social impact on the city, and our stay in Medellin is an opportunity to learn more about Colombia’s recent, and fascinating, history.

This afternoon we’ll discover Medellin’s past and present during our city tour, travelling on foot and by cable car.

Day 7 Day at leisure in Medellin

Today is completely free to explore the city. We have the opportunity to learn about graffiti’s artistic, cultural and political context in Medellin and interact with some of the local artists in a street art tour, or visit an organic flower farm in the town of Santa Elena, just outside the city. Alternatively choose to remain in the city, perhaps discovering the eccentric Barefoot Park, a zen-inspired public park where children and adults alike are encouraged to wander and play barefoot.

Day 8 Visit colourful Guatape town; boat trip on the lake with dinner

We drive out of the city to the picturesque lakeside town of Guatape, where the houses are painted in glorious pastel shades, and where we will visit the enormous rock of El Penol. This monolith is Guatape’s most visited site, and the 700 step climb to the top is well worth it for the astounding views over the town, the lake and the mountains before us. After taking a breather on the top, we descend to the town of Guatape, known as ‘Pueblo de Zocalos’ for the intricate paintings of animals, musical instruments, flowers and birds found on the lower half of almost every building in the centre. The cobblestoned streets are alive with colourful architecture and locals going about their daily business.

In the evening we will climb aboard the Majestic Yacht (‘yacht’ is a slight misnomer – this high-tech looking boat is a dome of glass, with open air decks to admire the views), for a cruise around the lake with dinner.

Day 9 Fly to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast

Driving to Medellin airport this morning, we take our flight to Santa Marta. There are limited direct flights daily, but we do aim to get one of these. In case of low availability or schedule changes, the flights will go via Bogota.

Located on the Caribbean coast, Santa Marta is a hub for people seeking Colombia’s northern beaches, and it is a jumping off point for the myriad trekking routes around the Lost City and in Tayrona National Park. From our arrival this afternoon we’ll be free to explore the charming colonial city, and the waterfront is located just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Time permitting, you may be able to take a taxi to Rodadero, one of the larger beaches actually in the city itself, or visit the gold museum which has a series of jewels from the Tayrona civilisation. Alternatively, go people-watching on the Paseo el Camellon – the city’s sea front.

Day 10 Full day visit to Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is home to some of the most outstanding beaches on Colombia’s northern coast, their pristine golden sands being protected by a large swathe of hilly rainforest. Today we will have a leisurely hike to explore some of these gems, walking for approximately two hours through rainforest paths and past rugged beaches including Arrecife and La Piscina. The coast up here is wild, with reefs and rocks creating strong waves and currents along some of the shoreline. Cabo San Juan, however, is the best swimming beach in the national park – a haven of luxurious emerald water and outstanding views of the tropical rainforest behind us.

We walk back the way we came. There is no vehicle access into the national park, so the only way to arrive and depart is on foot.

Please note that on our 25th January, 08th February, 10th October and 24th October departures, the Tayrona National Park will be closed. During these dates, we will instead be visiting Seviaka, a Kogi indigenous community hidden in the jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This trip involves approximately four hours of trekking (moderately paced, but with some steep slopes and muddy paths), as the community is not accessible by vehicle – it’s a real experience for people who want to learn more about the culture and traditions of ancient Colombia. Your visit also includes a contribution to the community, by way of agricultural items like tools and seeds.

Day 11 Drive to colonial Cartagena

There is an approximately five hour journey between Santa Marta and Cartagena, as we travel hugging the coastline for much of the journey. We skirt around Barranquilla, the city that hosts Colombia’s annual Carnival – the second biggest in the world after Rio de Janeiro – before continuing along the Caribbean to Cartagena.

This afternoon we are at our leisure – Cartagena has a fantastic nightlife, and the cobbled streets are perfect for exploring in the evening.

Day 12 Explore Cartagena on foot; free afternoon

Cartagena’s beauty is well documented throughout history. In recent times the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez put it at the fore of Colombian culture by using it as the setting for many of his novels, including the famous ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’. The massive fortified walls around the old city, dating back several hundred years, helped with the designation of the city as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today we will visit the ancient plazas and churches of the city with our Tour Leader, exploring the narrow cobblestone streets and colonial convents that seem to be straight out of a filmset. As well as the popular walled city, we also visit the charming Getsemani district and the seafront.

We have a free afternoon with plenty of options, including a canoe trip to the fisherman’s village La Boquilla, or a visit to Colombia’s National Aviary. Here we have a chance to explore the different ecosystems of Colombia, and discover the varied birdlife in each one, such as the harpy eagle, the Caribbean toucan, the pink flamingo and many other species.

Day 13 Trip ends in Cartagena

The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Cartagena.

There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Cartagena at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Cartagena’s Rafael Nunez International Airport (airport code: CTG), approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.