Colombia

Best of Colombia

This wonderfully varied, exciting family trip really does tick off all the highlights of Colombia into a manageable 18-day itinerary. Starting in the country’s bustling capital, Bogota, you will explore the historical district of Candelaria and witness the explosive game of Tejo. You will then head out to the stunning lake of Guatavita, home to the mythical El Dorado legend, as well as the incredible underground salt cathedral at Zipaquira and the gorgeous colonial town of Villa de Leyva.

From colourful Salento, you will experience the famous coffee zone with its towering palm trees. Then head to Medellin for a graffiti tour of the once infamous Comuna 13 and to climb the dramatic El Penol rock. End on the Caribbean Coast – first, the tropical coastline at Tayrona National Park, followed by the truly beguiling and beautiful city of Cartagena. Then, time at the beach where the hardest decision is which Caribbean island to choose?!

Highlights

  Walking tour of vibrant Bogota
  Zipaquira’s vast salt cathedral
  Villa de Leyva’s colonial history
  Hiking & biking in the Coffee Zone
  Insiders tour of Medellin
  Tayrona National Park
  Cartagena’s delights
  Caribbean beach paradise

18 days from £2,690 pp

Plus international flights from £1,200

 

As a guide, a two-week holiday in Colombia for a family of four usually costs from £9,000 to £14,000 plus flights, depending on style of accommodation.

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Best of Colombia day-by-day itinerary

Day 1 Bogota
Bienvenida to the gorgeous country of Colombia! Colombia’s capital is a lively city with numerous lovely cobbled streets that are full of slightly crumbling colonial houses, hidden churches, and brightly coloured piazzas.  Spend the rest of the day recovering from the flight – and the altitude (Bogota sits at 2,640m).

This evening you will kick your Colombian adventure off by witnessing the traditional game of Tejo involving dynamite and beer. A truly explosive start to your trip!


Day 2 Bogota
Explore the city on a walking tour (we find this is the ideal way for children to really engage with sightseeing in cities). Visit Paloquemao market where you can enjoy tasting such exotic items as dragonfruits, lolas (tree tomatoes) and even the ice-cream bean!

You will then explore the beautiful La Candelaria historical district with its impressive churches and Gold Museum, home to 55,000 golden artifacts (closed on Mondays).  You will also visit the Botero Museum, dedicated to the Colombian artist renowned for his oversized depictions of people and animals – although children may not want to linger too long, they are often amused by the paintings, especially the infamous ‘Fat Mona Lisa’.

End the day with a cable car ride to the summit of Monserrate Hill, a mountain that dominates the city and which attracts pilgrims to the small church at the top. There are wonderful views from here – at 3,150m, it quite literally takes you to dizzying heights!


Day 3 Guatavita and Zipaquira
Head out of the city to explore the mystical lagoon of Guatavita, home to the mythical legend of El Dorado (yet to be found…). Continue to the small colonial town of Zipaquira well known for its incredible salt cathedral, lying 180m underground where everything is made out of salt including walls, floors, and stairs.

You will then continue to Villa de Leyva, one of Colombia’s most popular tourist sites and home to its best-preserved colonial architecture.


Day 4 Villa de Leyva
Take a trip back in time to explore the cobbled streets and white-washed buildings. Visit the historical Convent of San Francisco, and witness the traditional handicrafts of Raquira and the impressive collection at El Fosil Museum. Other activities on offer are horse-riding, quad-biking, ecological walks in the Paso del Angel Park or rappelling down through the beautiful subterranean world of Cueva de la Fabrica.


Day 5 Salento
Fly to Armenia and transfer to Salento, one of the most beautiful villages in the Zona Cafetera, the coffee zone. In the past, this was the last stop for muleteers before they headed high into the mountains and it still has a frontier feel to it. There are narrow streets lined with brightly painted buildings and a multitude of excellent cafes, artisan craft shops and souvenir stalls. An absolute must during your stay has to be Salento’s famous garlic river trout!

You will be staying at a traditional working farm surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. Take a hike to explore this gorgeous scenery or help with the milking of the cows – try a glass of freshly produced warm milk…

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Days 6-7 The Coffee Zone – Bikes and Beans

This area is famous for its mighty wax palms. However, instead of the very touristic Cocora Valley, you will head to La Carbonera to take a walk among these giants, the tallest palm trees in the world, and Colombia’s national tree. These trees grow up to 60m in height so will make the kids feel absolutely minuscule in comparison.

You will be picked up in a traditional Willy Jeep and follow an old road offering one of the best views of the Cordillera Central and the snow-capped live volcanoes of Los Nevados National Park. Climb to a lofty 3,340 metres then descend to the Palma de Cera forest where you will spend an hour walking through the palm groves and spotting the numerous colourful hummingbirds. Enjoy a traditional lunch at a local finca then either drive back to Salento or continue your walk along the eastern side of the mountain and learn about the heritage and fascinating flora and fauna of the area.

Salento is in the heart of Colombia’s world-famous coffee growing zone, so what better way to experience this than on a wonderful mountain biking/coffee farm combo trip on your second full day here? The cycling follows an impressive 15-mile route with beautiful views over coffee and banana plantations. This is then followed by a visit to an authentic coffee farm where you will learn the magic of this product by being immersed in the real life of a coffee plantation. Getting to know the owners of the farm will be the best icebreaker before going to the coffee field. Even though coffee can be an acquired taste for children, we do find they are fascinated by learning crop-to-cup methods. You’ll walk through the coffee bushes, and then experience the whole process from picking and peeling to washing and drying. Have lunch on the coffee farm before finishing up with the chance to sample some of the produce.


Day 8 Chocolate and zip-wires
Do you know where your chocolate bar comes from? Most people know what a coffee bean looks like, but ever stopped to think what cacao looks like when growing on a plant? This experience will take you to a finca where you will learn about the fermentation and drying process, all done by hand, before starting the journey of transformation into the mouth-watering chocolate products we all know and love. Sampling is compulsory!

After a delicious typical lunch at a local fonda, you will travel to Bosque del Samán for an exciting zipline adventure. The ziplining route has seven flights and Tibetan bridges so you can continue to enjoy Colombia’s natural scenery up close and from on high.

Transfer to Pereira for your flight to Medellin, a culturally dynamic and diverse city – known as ‘the City of Eternal Spring’.

This evening head to the popular El Poblado district and take on Medellin’s most famous traditional dish, the bandeja paisa. This waistline-challenging plate consists of rice, eggs, beans, meat, chorizo, and avocado and brings a new meaning to the phrase ‘a healthy portion’….


Day 9 Medellin
La Minorista is a large traditional market where you can taste up to 15 different fruits, most of which you have probably never heard of. You will then take a graffiti tour of the infamous Comuna 13, once considered the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world under the rule of the ‘narco’ Pablo Escobar.

The city of Medellín offers a great variety of urban art due to the city’s transformation over the last 20 years. Nowadays, the city is so full of countless street art expressions, that the local authorities declared urban art a cultural landmark of Medellín. Graffiti is not only about strong artistic and cultural elements; it is a way of political expression. This tour is led by the local artists themselves and gives you an insight into the history and daily life in this area and the importance of street art for social communication and identity. This superb tour can be enjoyed on many different levels – older teens will appreciate the drug history and political expression the street art displays, younger ones will love the explosions of colour and artistry enveloping them.

If time this afternoon you could take a cable car to Arvi Park. One moment you will have a spectacular view of the city’s skyline and the next, once you have reached the crest of the mountain ridge, you will be gliding over the vast and beautiful forest of Parque Arvi.


Day 10 Guatape and La Piedra del Peñol
Today you will enjoy a wonderful full-day excursion to El Peñol and the picturesque town of Guatapé.

The Peñol Boulder is one of the most spectacular destinations in the surrounding area of Medellín. A huge ten-million-ton rock that rears 200 metres up out of a lush landscape. There is a crack up the side in which has been wedged a switchback staircase that you can climb (740 steps!) for views of vividly-coloured rivers and lakes with a mountain backdrop – known locally as the ‘best view in the world’.

Back on the ground, continue to Guatapé, a vibrantly coloured town preserved in time, where every building is a work of art. Local residents paint their houses in gorgeous bright colours and decorate the bottom of every building with fresco-like panels called ‘zocalos’. Some call it the most colourful town in the world.


Day 11 – The Foundation Children of Medellin
A truly unique and intriguing day where you get to know one of the poorest barrios/areas in Medellin on an insider’s visit to the Foundation Children of Medellin. The foundation provides extracurricular activities such as football, music and English lessons to the children to help them create a better future. You will travel there by public transport – bus and cable car. The journey to get there is part of the experience and shows how many Colombians live and commute on a daily basis. You will take lunch at the foundation before transferring to the airport for your flight to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast.  Transfer to your beautiful tropical hotel on the outskirts of the world-famous Tayrona National Park.


Day 12 – Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is where the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta plunge into the sea like the fingers of a gigantic hand, forming beautiful bays and coves. Sandy white beaches surrounded by mangrove swamps, bushes and forests and bathed in the crystal-clear water of the Caribbean Sea, are all part of the park’s many attractions. It is also a protected marine reserve and Colombia’s best-known conservation area.

Hike to Cabo San Juan in the heart of the park, a place famous for the hill that stands in the middle of the sea. You will walk through beaches and tropical forest with plenty of time to stop for tropical fruit breaks and quick dips in the sea (in the safe swim spots only). There will be plenty of free time to have lunch and enjoy the beautiful sandy beach at Cabo San Juan before reversing your route back to the entrance (horseback optional).


Days 13-14 – Cartagena – Volcanic mud bath and cookery class
Drive along the Caribbean coast to Cartagena stopping at Totumo Volcano en route. This is the smallest volcano in the world that you can climb and at the top take a real mud bath. Immerse yourself in the volcanic mud and feel the health benefits for your skin from the millions of minerals. Some people say you will look 10 years younger.

Cartagena is known as the jewel of the Caribbean and definitely a highlight of any trip to Latin America.

The main centre is encircled by huge stone walls more than 13km in length and contains a wonderful maze of ancient alleyways, colonial churches, colourful piazzas and brightly painted houses. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very family-friendly place to explore.

Take a walking tour through the streets and squares of this colonial city. Kids will love weaving their way through the underground passages of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress located on the Hill of San Lázaro. You will also get to know the Palace of the Inquisition and the Sanctuary of San Pedro Claver, who devoted his life to caring for the Africans who were brought as slaves to the Spanish colonies.

You will also enjoy getting ‘stuck in’ on an immersive culinary experience. Cartageneros are proud of their Caribbean cuisine. Apart from tasting it, what would be better than learning how to cook seafood, coconut rice and other specialities of Cartagena’s gastronomy by yourself? Head to the local Bazurto market to buy all the ingredients. You will walk through the labyrinth of alleys and stalls where the guide will show you all kinds of fruits, herbs, vegetables, fish and seafood. There is also a section with spices and medicinal herbs. You will then head to the cooking school, based in a historic building in the lively area of Getsemani where a chef will give you a presentation about the ingredients before teaching you how to prepare the typical dishes.

Optional activities include rum and chocolate tasting or, for the Strictly Come Dancing fans out there, a salsa tour. You can also take a canoe trip through the mangroves or visit San Basilio de Palenque, the first freed slave settlement in the Americas, where you can learn more about Cartagena’s iconic ‘Palenqueras’ (Afro-Colombian women who wear brightly coloured dresses and who make balancing heavy bowls of tropical fruit on their heads look easy). Don’t forget to visit Las Bovedas to pick up some last-minute souvenirs.

In the evening you can enjoy strolling through the charming, romantic alleys. Watch the sunset from Café del Mar, have a bite to eat in the famous La Cevicheria, one of the best ceviche and fish restaurants in the city and (for older families) absorb the nightlife from Café Havana.


Days 15-17 Caribbean Beach
The best thing to do when you’re in the Caribbean? Head to the beach! You have a choice of  Baru Island, home to the famous Playa Blanca, which certainly lives up to its name as one of Colombia’s most beautiful beaches, or Mucura Island, an idyllic coral island and part of the San Bernardo archipelago.

Enjoy days relaxing in Caribbean beach paradise.


Day 18 Cartagena

Transfer back to Cartagena for your flight home. Farewell to the Caribbean coast, Andes and coffee lands of Colombia!

 

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