Highlights of Colombia

Because I’ve always wanted to…

Issue 31 / February 2018

Greetings!

February can be rather a bleak and gloomy month when thoughts often turn to exotic destinations far away.  One such is Colombia which is most definitely an up and coming place to go.  It is 4 degrees from the equator which means that the elements tend to be a bit more constant with pretty much the same agreeable weather year round.  It does rain in places but this is usually short lived.  Helen and I travelled to some of the hotspots of this wonderful country and below you will find some highlights which I hope will inspire you to want to go there yourself.  Go before it gets too busy. Click here to see our full itinerary for our recent trip to Colombia.

Laterally yours,

Colombia

Colombia offers an abundance of experiences from its invigorating, bustling cities to its relaxing Caribbean beaches and islands.  Bogota, Colombia’s high-altitude capital, is a mixture of Spanish colonial city and towering new buildings.  Medellin was formerly a no-go city with some rather edgy associations but today it is a prosperous place which is so lush and green it looks like it has emerged from a jungle.  In steamy contrast, Cartagena on the Caribbean coast is pure colonial and steeped in charm.  More about these and the quieter places like Villa de Leyva, the coffee region, Mompox and Providencia Island below.

Bogota

Bogota has a staggering mountainous backdrop frequently draped in cloud and mist.  At the heart of the Colombian capital is the historic La Candelaria district, a network of hilly streets with attractive, low level Spanish colonial buildings and quite a few gems worth visiting.  Top amongst these is the Gold Museum which has over 50,000 gold exhibits from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. Some of the pieces, like the models of rafts, made in pure gold, which priests in ancient times used to launch themselves on to ceremoniously distribute gold offerings into the water below.  Modern Bogota has plenty of great places to eat when you’re not wandering around its many attractions.  Stay at relaxed, hip Artisan DC Hotel,  its design inspired by local Colombian artists, in the ‘Zona G’, ‘G’ standing for gastronomy, the snazzy B.O.G. Hotel with views over the city from its rooftop pool, or the Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia  in the lively ‘Zona T’.

 Villa de Leyva

It is well worth the long but scenic drive from Bogota to this beautiful place. It’s a wonderfully well preserved colonial town with bags of history.  There is a thriving local population despite increasing visitor numbers and you will see plenty of local families going about their business.  Have dinner at Tierra Buena, where one of Colombia’s top chefs, Tina Alarcón, has set up recently.  Staying at gorgeous Casa Terra will make your stay in Villa de Leyva really special.

Coffee region

The coffee region is wonderful – even if you’re not a coffee lover!  The terrain takes your breath away; hot, hilly and lush with greenery all year round.  Visit old Filandia to see a colourful, authentic hilltop colonial town where you can taste the best coffee ever at Café Jesus Martin. One of the top places for families to stay in the coffee region is Hacienda Bambusa, set within a vast and varied farm and with plenty to do for all ages.  If you want your accommodation luxurious as well as your surroundings head to fabulous Hacienda Buenavista (sorry, over 18s only!).

Medellin

Medellin has been the subject of a major regeneration in the past few years.  Take a trip in the bracing cable car which runs up the hill to the previously no-go San Javier area where you will really be able to see the changes and enjoy the freshest fruit juices.  You can even take a detour to see where the notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar was finally tracked down and shot by police.  A tenth the size of Bogota, you can easily walk around the vibrant and jungly centre of Medellin in a day.  Make sure to eat at Crepes and Waffles for some really good food.  There are lots of sophisticated eating options here too.

Sleeping choices include the big, funky Charlee or the much smaller, very charming home-from-home Patio del Mundo.

Cartagena

Cartagena is an exquisite old port city on the Caribbean coast and could not be more different from Colombia’s inland cities. The 16th century walled Old Town has cobbled streets, squares, and colourful colonial buildings. The climate is tropical and you really feel the heat as soon as you get off the plane.
Take a few minutes to walk to nearby Gethsemani, the up and coming and much quieter part of town.  Eating choices include the brilliant and renowned Carmen.  Stay at the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa to enjoy spectacular views from its rooftop pool, or El Marques Hotel Boutique with its luxuriant courtyard including its contemporary Colombian cuisine restaurant.  Another great choice is the splendid Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, steeped in history.

Mompox

Mompox is a relaxed little town which in days of old was a major trading post.  These days it’s a secluded gem which is a long drive from Cartagena, but well worth it. You might wonder why you need to see another colonial town but Mompox, bordered by the wild Magdalena river, feels unique.  Take a tuk tuk to get around and enjoy the best pizza at El Fuerte.  The smartest place in town to stay is Dona Manuela, an old convent with an ancient and remarkable Ficus tree in the courtyard.

Providencia Island

Providencia is a small island with the full flavour of the Caribbean. While away your days driving around the island in a buggy and dropping on to the beach for a coco loco or some grilled lobster. The best beach is the south west beach which is the classic white sand, turquoise water and swaying palms type. The locals speak English-based creole with a Caribbean lilt.   Have lunch at Roland’s bar and dinner at Sea Star Gourmet on cute Santa Catalina Island reached on foot by bridge from Santa Isabela.  Stay at Hotel Deep Blue for great sea views.

Up Periscope: Monasterio del Viento

For a more exclusive option on Providencia Island, stay at gorgeous Monasterio del Viento for some top modern Colombian cuisine in a magical setting overlooking Crab Cay.

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