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Positive press is relatively new to Colombia, but weve long traveled here and been enchanted - by its diverse landscapes exquisitely rich culture, and friendly people. Explore pulsing, progressive cities, as well as colonial villages, where time seems to have stopped. Discuss Colombias changing political and economic climate with local experts. Learn the subtleties of coffee tasting with the Andes Mountains as your backdrop. We invite you to join us to discover this beguiling nation while it is still blessedly un touristed.
GeoEx always seeks out accommodations that offer the best experience for our guests in terms of quality, character, location, and preference, and while Colombias accommodations and service have improved, things (especially in the coffee region) may not run the way you would expect at home. English is not widely spoken here, even in hotels. Your guide is there to help you navigate the language and cultural differences.
Our journey begins in Bogot, the modern and cosmopolitan capital, with explorations of the colonial old city and the impressive, underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquir. We relish views from 10,341-foot Monserrate and savor some of the countrys most beloved dishes before flying to the Zona Cafetera (coffee region).
Amid its stunning tableau of lush green hillsides and plantations, we spend a couple days tasting coffee right from the farm, and hiking among towering wax palms in the spectacular Valle del Cocora.
Relaxed and refreshed, we fly to Cartagena, a magnificent Caribbean city that pulsates with energy. Here we wander its cobbled streets, stroll the local market, savor traditional platos in a cooking demonstration, and watch the sun set aboard a sailboat as we cruise around the bay.
Arrive in Bogota
Upon landing at Bogots international airport, youre met and taken to your hotel.
As many flights to Bogot arrive late, the remainder of the day is yours to relax and a welcome dinner will be provided at the hotel.
Explore Bogot, tour and taste experience
Bogot Meeting up today, we get to know Colombias capital, the countrys largest and most populous city.
We begin with a visit to Bogots famous Paloquemao Market, where the locals shop for flowers, meat, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This is a wonderful introduction to the cuisine of Colombia and offers an opportunity to taste and discover the products unique to the region.
The market visit is followed by a walking tour in La Candelaria, Bogots historic quarter, and the citys political, religious, and administrative center since the 16th century. This neighborhood is a labyrinth of small, cobblestoned streets framed by colorful, Spanish-colonial and baroque-style faades with elaborate entrances. The neighborhood also is home to the Fernando Botero Museum, which houses a vast collection of works by celebrated Colombian and European artists, and the Museo de Oro, home to the most important collection of pre-Columbian gold in the world.
Later this afternoon we ride the gondola to the cathedral atop Cerro de Monserrate, 2000 feet above the city center. From this vantage point, the entirety of modern Bogot sprawls out below us. Now with a population exceeding eight million people, its hard to imagine that it was composed only of twelve huts and one chapel at the time of its founding in 1538.
After taking a good look around, we decent the mountain and dine at Andre Carne de Res - in the northern section of the city not far from our hotel.
Bogota and environs
After breakfast we travel about an hour north to Zipaquir, a town tucked into hills and famous for salt mines. Archaeologists believe that the mineral has been pulled from the earth here since as long ago as 5500 BCE, but large-scale salt mining began with the Muisca culture in the 1500s, just prior to the Spanish arrival.
We gain insight into this industry and feast our eyes on the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral), an inspiring work of engineering and art hewn 650 feet into a mountain. Twisting tunnels lead us past fourteen small chapels, each representing one of the Stations of the Cross, before taking us to the main temple, dominated by a huge salt-carved cross thats cleverly lit from behind.
Later we make our way to Encenillo, a small nature reserve named for one of its native trees. A guide who grew up in the area leads us on a walk through the beautiful cloud forest, introducing us to the wide variety of thriving flora and fauna. As you move past the encenillo trees, bromeliads, and ferns, youre likely to see many types of orchid and hummingbirds. This evening we return to the hotel and you have time to relax or explore the neighborhood.
Fly to Periera, coffee making and tasting tour
Our morning flight (about 35 minutes long) carries us southwest over the Andes to the small city Periera, our gateway to the Triangulo del Caf.
The Coffee Triangle, a Unesco World Heritage site since 2011, is comprised of the departments Quindo, Caldas, and Risaralda. The area yields more than half of Colombias coffee. Estimates suggest that the livelihood of more than four million Colombians (roughly 15 percent of the nation) is directly connected with the coffee industry (down significantly from the peak year of 1940, when coffee accounted for over 80 percent of Colombias export income). Due to its economic importance, the Coffee Triangle has always been one of the countrys safest and most stable regions, a fact reflected in the welcoming and laidback attitudes of its residents.
After touching down in Periera, were whisked to a coffee finca (farm) for a guided visit. Were shown the entire coffee-making process, from cultivation of the plant seedlings to harvesting, cleaning, drying, and roasting the beans. Just in time for a pick-me-up, we sit down to a coffee tasting.
Next is lunch at Bakko a deluxe Farm-to-Table restaurant.
We then settle in at our hotel for the next two nights, the beautiful country home, Hacienda Sazagua.
Valle de Cocora hiking, visit music project
After breakfast at the hacienda, we head straight for the Cocora Valley, which is part of Parque Nacional Los Nevados. Valle Cocora is located along the central Andean range and its vast green pastures are peppered with cattle and towering wax palms.
We amble through the palms - an endangered species and a national symbol - walking past gurgling streams and into thick cloud forest. Keep your eyes out for hummingbirds and blooming flowers.
After our hike and lunch at the local restaurant in the park, we venture to the sleepy town of Salento to visit the Salento Luz Foundation, a nonprofit which funds music training for underprivileged local children.
After a brief private performance, we take a coffee break and a local Caf - and then theres time to browse the towns main square, traditional houses, and handicraft shops.
En route back to our hotel if there is time, we may stop in the other charming town in the area, Filandia, to admire its well-preserved square and brightly painted homes.
Fly to Cartagena, guided walk
This morning we catch our flight to Cartagena, beloved native city of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garca Mrquez. Encircled by an impressive stone wall that is interspersed with 20 small forts, the romantic colonial city - a World Heritage Site - is a maze of narrow streets punctuated with ornate cathedrals, monuments, convents, palaces, and shady plazas.
We stroll through them on our guided walk, noting horse-drawn buggies on cobblestones, bougainvillea spilling from carved wooden balconies, and women under colonial arches donning billowing skirts and bowls of watermelon on their heads. The vibe of Cartagena manifests even in the movements of the locals, who stroll with a languid grace and exude an effortless sensuality.
Our day of touring ends with a sailboat cruise around the Cartagena Harbor. Outside of the fortifications surrounding the city, a breezy trip on the bay allows you to appreciate the geographical significance of why Cartagena, easily defensible, was built where it was.
From the vantage point on the water, you can admire both the historic city center and the glitzy, modern high-rises along the Bocagrande peninsula.
After the cruise, we return to the hotel and youre on your own for dinner tonight to try one of Cartagenas renowned restaurants.
Cartagena fort, culinary tour
This morning we embark on a special culinary tour led by a local chef. Together we stroll through the Bazurto Caribbean market, exploring the variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish, absorbing the jovial ambience and learning about typical regional dishes, such as ceviche, barbecued prawns, or cazuela de mariscos (shellfish stew).
With the purchases made at the market, well venture to a private home and have a cooking demonstration and then partake in the delicious end result for lunch.
The later afternoon is yours to relax, shop, or continue exploring.
We regroup this evening to celebrate our week together and enjoy the balmy Caribbean evening with a farewell dinner.
Fly home or onward: Today youre picked up from the hotel and taken to Cartagenas airport for your flight home or onward. GeoEx services end here.
"What I love about Colombia is the energy this place emanates as it emerges from its turbulent past, writes a GeoEx traveler, and it's a feeling that's contagious. One visit to South America's fourth-largest country is all it takes to put any preconceived notions behind you, for Colombia is a dazzling gem simply awaiting discovery. Not only is it home to some of Latin America's most progressive cities and passionate people, it's also one of world's most bio diverse countries, filled with tropical rain forests, rambling mountain ranges, multiple coasts, and nearly 2,000 bird species.
Some would say that its not possible to know Colombia until you have experienced Medelln. Tucked in the lush Abarra Valley in the heart of the country and Colombias second largest city, Medelln is nicknamed the city of eternal spring, as temperatures hover in the mid-1980s year-round. Its the epitome of progress in Colombia, with its troubled past in striking contrast with its pacific present. It is now one of the safest and most contemporary cities in South America. Its paisas (locals) are cultivated and well mannered, and as agreeable as the citys perfectly tempered climate.
Located in the north of Colombia, where the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, one of the tallest coastal mountain ranges in the world, plunges toward the Caribbean Sea, Tayrona National Park is bursting with jungle-fringed beaches and archaeological heritage. The park covers nearly 30,000 acres of land and more than 7,400 acres of sea, and its rain forest, with plentiful walking paths, is among the most biologically diverse in the world. Tayrona is the ancestral ground of the Kogi Indians, a pre-Columbian tribe that flourished at the time of the Spanish conquest and that has been living in relative isolation for generations since.