A Colombian Adventure
COLOMBIA! I have spent many years travelling around Latin America and in November 2018, I made my first visit to Colombia and what an amazing experience and trip I experienced. It lived up to all my expectations and more.
I visited Bogota, The Coffee Region, Medellin, Cartagena and The Rosario Islands. Had I more time, I would have ventured into the wetlands and stayed at Cococora Camp and also into Tayrona National Park.
My first stop, the bustling city of Bogota. At an altitude of around 2600 metres above sea level, located in the Andes Mountains, I suggest taking it slowly on your first day.
I stayed at the wonderful and beautifully restored Colonial Mansion, Casa Medina. High wooden beams, huge rooms, exquisite service and a beautiful restaurant with local Colombian floor tiles to die for.
I explored the city on foot and bike, got lost amongst the fruit and flower stalls at Paloquemao Market with a local chef and tried more exotic fruits that I thought even existed. If time permits, cooking classes can be arranged and intimate lunches with locals to enjoy the produce purchased at the market.
The Art Scene was booming with galleries opening up on all corners of the lesser known San Felipe district and then there was La Cometa Art Gallery, the Botero Museum and the Gold Museum showcasing some of Colombia’s greatest art collections and the largest Gold Collection in Latin America.
My guides were very knowledgeable and engaging and I learnt masses about the country’s history and art scene.
I recommend 2 or 3 nights in Bogota. Lunch spots could be Juana La Loca or Maria and dinner at Criterion or El Chato.
For something a bit different, try Molecular Coffee Tasting at San Alberto. It adds a fun experiential touch to a trip. As a coffee lover myself, I had no idea there was such an art to making good coffee!
Next stop, The Coffee Region.
Whether you stay at the charming Hacienda Bambusa on their Cacao Farm, or the more stylish Buenavista on the Scottish owner’s fruit estate or even the colourful and buzzing Hacienda Sazagua, you are going to enjoy this region through exploring its lush coffee plantations, meandering through the little villages of Salento and Filandia, trekking in Cocora Valley and the fantastic birding.
The personalised and special experiences which enhance your trip here include private access to a bull breeding farm where the owner sets up a luxurious all-singing-and-dancing picnic overlooking his wax palm plantations. Riding in World War II Willy Jeeps, lunch with Santiago on his huge coffee estate, jumping on horseback on private estates, mountain biking or trekking through the valleys and forests with your own guide.
My Coffee Region guide, Pedro, made the trip for me; a victim of the narco wars having been sent to America in the 90s to seek safety from threats of kidnapping and murder. He returned to his home country years later and his family now run THE best bar and restaurant in Salento as well as running his own outdoor adventure company. The restaurant has a football pitch and the local game Tejo to entertain their guests while drinking Colombian beer and many shots of the local liquor, Aguadiente. It was enriching to learn about his life and how bright the future is now for him and his family.
A new Cycling Boutique Hotel, Casa Du Velo, recently opened this year in the Coffee Region and is a great place to stay if you are a biking nut. The lovely owners are cyclists themselves so have all the biking kit and back-up equipment you may need for a first class biking experience. The views from the property are stunning.
Next stop, Medellin. Former home and birth place to the notorious Pablo Escobar.
My first impression? Big scary sprawling city. My lasting impression on departure? A city of hope and progression, where locals express themselves through music and street art.
Gourmet restaurants are opening all over the city and walking along the tree lined streets of the Provenza district, you see lots of lovely boutique shops and cafes so I suggest leaving some time to explore this neighbourhood. I dropped into see Patio del Mundo, a boutique hotel in the Provenza zone. It was beautiful, romantic and a peaceful haven set amongst tropical vegetation. Definitely my favourite hotel in Medellin. If you like interiors, then you’ll love the furniture and colourful bathroom tiles.
A good night out would include dinner at Carmen followed by cocktails at Little Bitch.
The chef, Carmen herself, has now opened 6 successful restaurants in both Medellin and Cartagena and I was lucky enough to meet and have drinks with her thanks to my host and friend Cristina, who opened doors EVERYWHERE we went.
And onto Medellin’s Comuna 13, in recent years, the most dangerous neighbourhood in Colombia. A poor shanty district on the edge of the city, that saw years of gruelling murders, fighting, drug crimes and political and criminal warfare.
My guide, Doc, a budding graffiti artist, showed me around this neighbourhood while regaling the history and devastating stories of his childhood. Yet there is light and hope in Comuna 13 as the local community join hands and forces to create a new home where the children can grow in a safe environment. Doc has been leading tours through Comuna 13 for the past few years in memory of a special friend who was killed in the shootings. Doc has self taught himself English and is an inspiration to us all.
And my final stop in Colombia, Cartagena. Wow, what a wonderful city!
You can spend from 3 up to 7 or more nights here. I fell in love with this place immediately. It was hot, colourful, Spanish colonial, beautiful and musical, exciting and sexy and I couldn’t get enough of it.
I stayed at The romantic Casa San Agustin, possibly one of my most favourite hotels, with rooms and interiors to die for. If my husband and children were with me, I would stay at the Sofitel Santa Clara for its lovely big swimming pool which many of the smaller hotels didn’t have.
We spent a day on a boat exploring the Rosario Islands which I loved….Snorkelling, lunch at a private beach club and made some hotel inspections at the very nice Las Islas Hotel and a handful of private island villas. Depending on your budget, there are options for most travellers wanting sea, sun and relaxation after exploring Colombia’s hinterland.
Best Villa would be “Pierino”. If you are celebrating something special, with a healthy budget, look no further. It’s utterly incredible. I have direct access to making bookings with the owners.
What other excitements in Colombia?
Other excitements and touches to your Colombian holiday could be private pop-up dinners at Colombian Homes, Cooking Classes with chef Alejandro Ramirez (used to cook with Gorgon Ramsey), Salsa Lessons and Rum tasting sessions. I tried them all!
And so my journey came to an end but I’m excited to say there are more adventures beyond what I saw…
Nature and jungle experiences staying at Casa Galavanta in Sierra Nevada.
Meeting hidden Indian tribes.
Wilderness and Savannah adventures staying on the Luxury Safari Camp, “Corocora“.
Heli-tours to unexplored terrains such as Carbonara’s Valley and the untouched wax palm plantations.
Visiting more remote Colonial Villages such as Mompox and Bucamaranga.
Island Paradise holidays to Providencia Island for scuba diving, snorkelling and barefoot luxury staying at Monasterio del Viento.
I loved Colombia and much of the amazing experience I had was thanks to my Colombian friends and local contacts.