Leave your preconceived ideas and misconceptions behind and Colombia will exceed all expectations. Colombia is strikingly diverse – cosmopolitan cities juxtapose with savannah wetlands, and lush green coffee plantations sit up against snow-capped mountains.
Sarah Parker visited this South American jewel for the first time and discovered a country bursting with energy, full of soul and lacking in stereotypes borne from a chequered past.
Capital city Bogota is fast becoming South America’s ‘Next Capital of Cool’ as dubbed by Forbes magazine, and with its burgeoning restaurant and art scene it’s easy to see why. I stepped out on to the streets with engaging local art specialist Angelina for a day exploring the city, meeting with collectors and artists. Lunch was at the not-to-be-missed ‘Prudencia’ in colonial La Candelaria for white bean hummus, followed by lomo de res (beef tenderloin) and an oyster-mushroom aioli.
Medellin On The Up
I found Medellin, known as The City of Eternal Spring due to its idyllic climate and vivid green landscape, a delight. This city has left its drug-related violence ﬁrmly in the past and transformed itself with quirky cafes, designer boutiques and trendy neighbourhoods. Medellin is the birthplace of Colombia’s iconic artist Fernando Botero and it was a pleasure to wander around Plaza Botero gazing at his voluptuous sculptures. A highlight was a walking tour of Communa 13 with local rapper Ciro who engaged us about the barrio’s complicated past while showing us the progression of the community. I found it moving to see the strength of a new generation channelling their energies for positive change.
The walled old city of Cartagena, on Colombia’s north coast with views of the Caribbean Sea, is one of the best-preserved colonial towns in Latin America. I spent a day walking the cobbled streets of the historical centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, admiring the iconic plazas, cathedrals and colourful houses, learning about Spanish colonisation and pirate sieges. As night fell, I put on my dancing shoes and learnt to salsa with the locals. I also experienced a rum tasting with the fascinating Noah, a chemist and historian, and highly recommend dinner at stylish Lobo de Mar to savour squid ink croquettes and pork belly risotto.
I revelled in my time in the coﬀee region with Pedro, hiking the Valle del Cocora with its striking wax palm trees and unique paramo ecosystem. I then explored the quaint colonial towns of Salento and Filandia with their picturesque streets, opportunities for numerous Colombian coﬀee stops, and encircling Andean life and culture. Participating in the traditional game of Tejo which includes iron balls and gunpowder targets was surprisingly competitive.
High in the cloud forest of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s second highest coastal mountain range, is Casa Galavanta, a lodge that allows a rare disconnect from the modern world. Sunrise yoga surrounded by nature at 1,500 metres above sea level and daily treks lasting for six to eight hours left me with a sense of calm and rejuvenation. Bird lovers are in for a treat here with 628 bird species to be found in this biodiverse region.
Three days on safari, deep in the Los Llanos region of Orinoquia was a highlight with its savannahs covered with ﬂooded grasslands, lush forests and wild rivers. Corocora is a luxury tented wildlife camp in a private 9,000-hectare reserve which is home to capybaras, puma, jaguar, giant anteater and more than 200 bird species. It is also a natural habitat for the infamous anaconda. The best way to experience Corocora is on horseback. The Llaneros ponies may be slight in stature but they certainly punch above their weight. Lasting memories include riding with the wonderful Don Alvero and his incredible team of Llanero (Colombian cowboys) and herding cattle through the wetland savannah. Colombia is a country with a complicated past but a very bright future.
To find out more about this colourful country or to start planning your own trip, speak to the team.