Colombia is one of Latin America's most distinctive and until recently misrepresented countries, and possibly the most beautiful. In this fascinating private journey you will explore a few of Colombia's highlights, including the rolling hills of coffee country, outside the energetic capital Bogota, and the white coral Rosario Islands off the Caribbean coast, visited from the seductive port of Cartagena. Come and enjoy Colombia's heady mixture of Hispanic, colonial, indigenous and African influences, that has left a mark on its food, music, architecture and culture.
You will stay at small, mid-range friendly hotels, colonial or modern in style, with well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating or air-conditioning. You will also stay on a traditional coffee farm (finca).
In harmony with the ambience of colonial Villa de Leyva, Posada San Antonio is a beautifully atmospheric place to stay. Made up of three adjoining mansion houses, this family-owned guesthouse is sumptuously furnished and decorated; featuring heavy polished wooden bedsteads, stone-tiled floors warmed by ornate rugs, and cozy, upholstered sofas. By night, candles create a romantic ambience. All rooms have large comfortable beds, while the gorgeous suites, with beamed ceilings, feature a sitting area and open log fire. The restaurant serves Colombian and international fare, prepared using produce from the own farms of the proprietors.
Housed in one of the beautiful balconied colonial properties for which Cartagena is famed, the charming Hotel Casa India Catalina has an ideal location, right in the heart of the walled city. Guestrooms are individually and simply decorated (some come with balconies that offer a wonderful vantage point over Cartagenas atmospheric street scenes), the hotel's inner courtyard is overlooked by wooden galleries (dripping with ivy and other plants), and there is a small pool backed by a lovely exposed stonewall that is similarly adorned with greenery.
Journey Latin America will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel in the capital. Bogota is a city of sparkling prosperity, oppressive poverty, and everything in between. Its center is awash with splendid colonial churches, fascinating museums, futuristic architecture, and lively universities. Its population is diverse and engaging, and its cultural life both vibrant and seductive.
On your first full day in Bogota, there will be a guided exploration of the city with a walking tour of the historic core, the colonial Candelaria colonial district. Starting at the Plaza de Bolivar, where the cathedral and congress buildings are located, you will continue on foot through the steep colonial streets towards the Gold Museum, for a visit to this extraordinary, well-displayed collection of pre-Columbian artefacts (housing more than 34,000 gold pieces). It is arguably the most impressive museum of its kind in the world.
In the evening, there will be an ascent of the steep hill towering over Bogota, with a white church at its peak. The path up is quiet throughout the week, but on Sundays, city dwellers depart to climb or take the funicular railway (cable car) to visit this place of pilgrimage. From here, at 3,152 meters, you will have splendid views. You will be driven to the funicular railway station at the base of the mountain. You can visit the church, the 14 stations of the cross, the handicraft and souvenir stands, and pause to enjoy the sunset. You will have the opportunity to dine, at an additional cost, in one of the two traditional restaurants. Take the funicular railway to return to the city.
At a three to four hours drive from Bogota, Villa de Leyva is a well-preserved colonial highland town steeped in history; popular among Colombian and foreign visitors and busy on the weekends. You will make an en route call in at Zipaquira; home to a still functioning, centuries-old salt mine. Nearly 200 meters beneath the earth you will see an extraordinary, mysterious salt cathedral, with its vast pillars and walls made from glistening salt. There are 14 stations of the cross sculpted by different Colombian artists.
During the week, you can wander alone through Villa de Leyvas vast, cobbled main square, winding narrow streets lined with picturesque whitewashed houses bedecked with flowers. This little town sits in a hilly landscape, peppered with the sites of pre-historic remains, some of which you can visit.
Head into the surrounding countryside and visit El Fosil, a 7-meter fossil of a marine dinosaur found in the area. Continue to the Dominican convent of Ecce Homo and the archaeological site of El Infiernito. An optional horse-riding trip to a beautiful waterfall in the surrounding hills is also available.
Drive back to Bogota for the flight to Pereira. Continue by road to stay on a coffee farm, located in the heart of the coffee growing region. You will spend some time at a coffee ranch, where you will learn about fruit production and tropical flower cultivation, as well as the intricacies of the coffee production process, including the picking, de-pulping, washing, drying and bean roasting.
The coffee producing area on the western slopes of the Cordillera Central has a pleasant warm climate, and lovely bucolic scenery; with a mountainous, lush, green landscape of shiny coffee bushes interspersed with enormous bamboo jungles and banana plants. You spend 3 days in this beautiful, relaxing region, with walking trails, horse riding opportunities, zip-line canopies and a colorful flora and fauna, as well as a fresh coffee omnipresent throughout.
An excursion is included to Parque del Cafe, a huge open-air museum and botanical garden that exhibits the history of coffee production in Colombia. Learn about the many different varieties of coffee grown in Colombia, and walk along the nature trails in the bamboo forest. Optional visits to the coffee show (traditional Colombian dances from the different regions), as well as the indoor coffee museum are also available.
Drive to Salento, which is a charming, traditional and picturesque village set in high in the Andes. The village is full of houses with balconies adorned with flowers, and wonderful views of the Cordillera Central, emerging behind elegant colonial buildings. You will hike through the forest of clouds to explore Valle de Cocora, a valley of hundreds of wax palms, which is the only palm found at this altitude in the Andes and also the national tree of Colombia. Follow a well-marked path down the valley and continue to Filandia, one of the quintessential villages of the coffee region.
You will transfer to Pereira airport and fly via Bogota to Cartagena de Indias on the Caribbean coast. Founded in 1533, the city quickly blossomed to become the main Spanish port in the Caribbean, and a gateway to the north of the continent. Today, the walled city center has changed very little, allowing a glimpse of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture and town planning. You can enjoy the shade provided by the buildings in these labyrinthine, cobbled streets, and explore the monasteries, palaces, churches, plazas and imposing mansions whose balconies are heavy with flowers.
Beyond this, the city opens up: an eclectic and seductive mix of Caribbean and African influences produces a vibrant street life, with fruit stalls lining the roads and pulsating rhythms emerging from cars and houses. A guided tour will help you soak up the atmosphere of this unique city.
A full-day excursion takes you to the Rosario Islands, a group of around 30 offshore islets, with white, coral sand and dense mangrove vegetation. You will make your way independently (by foot or taxi) to the colonial hotel Santa Clara on Plaza San Diego in the old town. At the dock, you will continue by boat to the archipelago of El Rosario, situated 35 kilometers south of the Bay of Cartagena. The entire area surrounding the reefs was declared a national park. You can spend your time wallowing in the warm, turquoise waters, or sipping coconut milk from the husk beneath the shade of a palm tree.
Transfer to the airport to catch your flight home.
During this tour, you will travel in and around some of Colombias highlights. You will spend 2 nights in Bogota, 2 in Villa de Leyva, 3 in a coffee farm and 3 in Cartagena.
Colombia's idyllic coffee-growing region is a landscape of undulating deep-green hills adorned with towering wax palms. Within this rustic setting, dozens of coffee farms use traditional methods to produce one of the country's most celebrated exports.
Please arrive at El Dorado International Airport (BOG). Journey Latin America will escort you to your hotel in the capital.