Colombia has a, perhaps, colourful history – cocaine trafficking, drug cartels, kidnappings, guerrilla armies to name a few, however I didn’t ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the towns/cities we visited (Bogota, Salento, the coffee estansia, Medellin, Cartagena).
We left Sydney on LAN via Auckland, Santiago and Lima and arriving in the capital of Colombia, Bogota 28 hours later. Bogota has almost 8 million people living on the plateau at more than 2,600 metres above sea level. We met our Intrepid leader, Linda, the following afternoon for a welcome meeting then an orientation walking tour of downtown Bogota – La Candelaria area. This included catching some local transport. The tour took in Plaza de Bolivar, Mueseo Botero and walking down Carrera 7 which is closed off to traffic and full of people walking, riding, busking etc. Quite entertaining. Our day ended at a little restaurant in the Plazoleta del choro de Quevedo area where we ate the local soup – Ajiaco.
Did you know that bull fighting still occurs in some Colombian cities?
The following day we flew from Bogota to Armenia (on Avicana which were surprising very good), and from Armenia a transfer to Salento. Salento is a small town with very colourful architecture and located within easy reach of the Cocora Valley – home of the wax palm, Colombia’s National Tree. We drove to the Cocora Valley in old Willy Jeeps which are formerly from WW2 days. A local guide took us on a short hike through the valley and into the rain forest pointing out different flora and fauna.
From Salento we drove to Colombia’s coffee region and stayed in a traditional coffee estansia for 2 nights. A unique experience where we learned the ins and outs of the coffee industry included smelling, tasting, walking through the plantation and through the processing centre.
The next day was quite a long (5 hours) and very, very windy bus trip to Medellin. The bus was extremely comfortable – more recline and room and an aircraft seat, wifi and personal movie screens, however the road was probably the windiest I have ever been on and the continuous corners made me feel quite ill. Finally arriving into Medellin, once having an international reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous cities thanks to Pablo Escobar’s infamous drug cartel. Medellin has turned itself round since the mid 1990’s to become one of the most exciting cities in South America. Medellin lies in a narrow valley with a population of approximately 3 million. The area of Medellin that we stayed in – Poblado, has many bars and restaurants and is generally safe, even late at night. Our leader took us on the local train to Acaeavado, where a cable car which took us right up the side of the valley where the locals are very poor, where drugs deals were plentiful and it was extremely unsafe.
We were collected from our hotel for a Pablo Escobar tour, whereby we toured the city visiting locations such as the house he used to live in that was bombed, the area that he used to “hang out” in, some of the schools and soccer pitches that he gave money for, his grave site and final the house and roof top where he was killed. I found it very interesting and I guess no one knows exactly what went on in his final moments.
Just over an hour flight had us arriving in the colonial city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, and much warmer temperatures (32 degrees). Cartagena is an Unesco World Heritage Site, a former fortress and walled city. It’s old town and maze of cobbled stone alleys within the walled city give it a romantic feel – balconies covered in bougainvillea, massive churches and open plaza’s filled with tables and chairs to be filled with hungry patrons into the night. In some area’s the sounds of salsa coming from bars with people moving to the rhythm of the beat. My favourite place on the trip.
The beach at Cartagena itself isn’t what you picture a Caribbean beach to be, so we boarded a boat to Playa Blanca – approximately 45 minutes by boat. There is also the option to go on further, which we did to a small island to go snorkelling and also very small another island that has an aquarium. Playa Blanca, white sand beach, has many traders pounding the beach selling their wares – drinks, sarongs, food etc. The ocean is divine. Lovely and warm and the beautiful blues that you see in all the photos and brochures.
One thing that struck me about all of the places we visited in Colombia was that the streets are clean of rubbish. Even in the very poor area’s, the streets are clean.
Flying back via Lima to Santiago we arrived late at night and were taken to our hotel in Bella Vista – a bohemian area. The following morning we were taken to Marquez de Casa Concha – Concha y Toro winery and shown around the beautiful gardens and vineyards and then to the cellars while tasting a couple of the wines.
A few hours to lunch and walk the street of Bella Vista for some shopping before we headed to the airport for our long flight home.