MARCH 7-26, 2019





Our Colombian adventure begins this afternoon as we depart Miami on American Airlines bound for Bogota, arriving late this evening and transferring to our hotel in the Candelaria district.


Hotel de la Opera




What better way to start the day than with a visit to Paloquemao, Bogota’s largest food and flower market, to witness a slice of life within alleys filled with an array of colors, tastes, and smells. At the nearby Central Cemetery, where prominent political, cultural, and business figures have been laid to rest since 1830, women sell cut flowers outside the gates and graffiti provides bursts of color. Then it’s to the top of Cerro de Monserrate, a 10,000-foot peak commanding a view of the city below. The summit is home to a 17th-century Catholic church that’s a popular site for pilgrims. We return to La Candelaria for lunch in a local restaurant, then enjoy an orientation walking tour through the oldest part of the city, a living museum dating to the 16th century. With the Plaza de Bolivar at its heart, it’s a neighborhood full of historic buildings and interesting museums. We’ll see the Cathedral, Capilla Sagrario, National Capitol, two old churches, and finish up at Pasaje Rivas, a bazaar that dates to the late 19th century, where you can bargain for handicrafts and curios. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore La Candelaria on your own.


Hotel de la Opera (BL)




This morning we visit the renowned Museo del Oro, home to the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts. More than 6,000 pieces are on display from a 55,000-piece collection, which began with a first acquisition in 1939. Afterward, we enjoy another orientation walking tour to point out historic buildings in this area before lunch on your own. One of the city’s more popular tours is the Graffiti Tour, so this afternoon we walk through La Candelaria’s gritty downtown streets to photograph some of the most creative, compelling, and colorful street art you may ever see.


Hotel de la Opera (BD)




Seventy miles of Bogota’s roads (including Carrrera 7 in La Candelaria) are closed to vehicular traffic every Sunday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. for the ritual Ciclovia, so that cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, skaters, and people-watchers can claim the streets. Orientation walks during our previous two days have given you an idea of what there is to see and do in this area. Today is entirely at leisure to explore and photograph on own, spend time inside historic buildings and museums that look interesting, shop, and partake of the local food. Perhaps in mid-afternoon you’ll want to photograph the Changing of the Guard at Casa de Nariño, home to Colombia’s presidents.


Hotel de la Opera (B)




The Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, an impressive feat of engineering, is built into the tunnels of a salt mine stretching more than 600 feet underground, with statues and ornaments carved out of the mine’s rock walls. The sleepy pueblo of Nemocon, just 9 miles from Zipaquira, is a cute, compact colonial-era town that’s also home to salt mines, though the beautifully renovated section open to visitors is no longer used for salt extraction. In the depths of the mines, stalactites and stalagmites are visible; the pools where salt and water were mixed to pump out the salt are a highlight. On the plaza, a church is set against a backdrop of eucalyptus-covered hills. Free time in Nemocon, and lunch on your own in a local restaurant, before we continue to Villa de Leyva, an enchanting 16th-century pueblo of whitewashed houses on cobblestone streets high in the Andes.


Hotel Posada de San Antonio (BD)




Set on a hilltop overlooking town, Dominican monks founded Convento del Santo Ecce Homo in 1620. The monastery site is delightful to visit, with beautifully preserved baroque chapels, a monk’s cell, library and dining hall, stone columns, and a courtyard awash in flowers. During the Cetaceous period, the area around Villa de Leyva was submerged in an inland sea and the Andes were created when the earth shifted, embedding the bones of now-extinct species in the rock. We see some of these species at the Fossil Museum, then explore the ancient sacred ceremonial site called El Infiernito. After visiting Casa Terracotta, a whimsical creation made entirely from locally sourced mud baked into surreal shapes, and Raquira, the capital of Colombian ceramics, we return to Villa de Leyva, where the remainder of the day is at leisure.


Hotel Posada de San Antonio (B)




The morning is at leisure before we return to Bogota to catch a mid-afternoon flight to Pasto, a city set in a rich agricultural region in the south of the country. Dinner this evening in a local restaurant.


Loft Hotel (BD)




Today’s excursion takes us still farther south along the Pan-American Highway, through awe-inspiring scenery of mountains, valleys, and rivers on both sides, to Ipiales, a town just across the border from Ecuador. Ipiales is home to the stunning neo-gothic Santuario Nuestra Señora de las Lajas, a major pilgrimage site. The bridge leading to the cathedral is a favorite spot for photos as the location of the cathedral is striking, sandwiched in the middle of the Guaitara river gorge. The stone path leading to the church is lined with souvenir shops, cafes, and thousands of plaques of prayers and thanksgiving. We return to Pasto this afternoon, with the remainder of the day at leisure.


Loft Hotel (B)




An hour or so from Pasto is Laguna La Cocha, the smallest of Colombia’s national parks. The fishing village of Encano, on the shore of the lake, is home to about 200 families who mostly make their living as trout farmers. A short boat ride from Encano lies tiny Isla de la Corota, where we stroll in virgin rainforest on a wooden walkway through tropical vegetation that includes ferns, bromeliads, orchids, lichen, and siete cueros trees. Although the vegetation is tropical, the weather is quite cool as we’re about 9,200 feet above sea level. We continue to Popayan, known as the White City, proud of its place in history as the home of presidents, poets, and priests. Dinner this evening in a local restaurant.


Hotel Dann Monasterio (BD)




This morning we head for San Augustin, stopping en route at two lovely waterfalls near the town of Isnos — Salto de Borodones (1,300 feet) and Salto de Mortiño (650 feet). We also visit Alto de Las Piedras archaeological park, featuring statues and tombs with original pigments, including the Doble Yo, a statue that’s half man, half animal. Alto de los Idolos offers sarcophagi and an anthropomorphic statue measuring 14 feet.


Terazas de San Agustin Hotel (BD)




At an elevation of 5,900 feet, the small colonial town of San Agustin is nestled within the folds of the southern Colombian Andes and west of the Rio Magdalena. Its fame comes from its location near the largest pre-Columbian archaeological site south of Central America and north of Peru. For 700 years this region was home to an indigenous culture that produced spectacular monumental funeral statues hewn from volcanic rock. This morning we visit Parque Arqueologico de San Agustin, established in 1937 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The park contains over 130 statues with striking human and animal-like features, as well as carved tombs and monumental stone tables. We return to Popayan this afternoon.


Hotel Dann Monasterio (BD)




We follow the Pan-American Highway north into Colombia’s coffee region, blessed with lush tropical vegetation, meticulously manicured countryside, beautiful haciendas, spring-like weather, and a backdrop of massive snow-capped mountains. Well-preserved towns and villages offer colorful balcony-clad buildings. We will use the city of Armenia as our base for exploring the surrounding area the next two days.


Allure Aroma Mocawa (BD)




The main attraction near Salento is the palmas de cera (wax palms) that shoot up toward the sky in the Valle de Cocora. These are some of the tallest palms in the world, reaching 200 feet high, and they can live over 100 years. In 1985, the species was declared the national tree of Colombia. The Valle de Cocora is a 9-mile section of the lower Rio Quindio valley. While much of it has been turned into pastureland, the palms have been preserved, looking particularly stunning in the denuded landscape. We make an excursion by Jeep and take a guided walk in the area before stopping for lunch at a local restaurant. This afternoon we return to Salento to enjoy a coffee tour at Finca Don Eduardo, which has been a working coffee farm for over 80 years. Salento itself, an enchanting pueblo that’s home to coffee growers and cowboys, is adorned with the trademark colorful balconies and facades of Paisa architecture. Free time to stroll from Alta de la Cruz Mirador and down the Calle Real pedestrian street to Plaza Principal before we drive back to Armenia.


Allure Aroma Mocawa (BL)




We begin the day with a visit to the Jardin Botanico del Quindio, home to hundreds of tree and plant species, many of which are threatened. In Colombia, where there is tropical forest, there are birds, and the gardens are no exception for they’re home to at least 119 species, most active early in the morning. Commonly seen species include tanagers, toucans, woodpeckers, red-headed barbets, and blue-crowned motmots. After a walk along Armenia’s pedestrian street from Plaza de Bolivar to Parque Sucre, we drive to Filandia for lunch at the wildly popular Helena Adentro. This afternoon, there’s free time to stroll in this charming town, photographing the Parque Central and its blue and white church, the Drogueria Bristol (oldest building in town), as well as two-story colonial houses adorned with colorful doors and windows.


Allure Aroma Mocawa (BL)




This morning we drive to the Criadero Providencia estancia in Pereira for a demonstration of the Colombian Criollo, a horse breed indigenous to Colombia. It’s commonly used for riding due to its smooth, lateral, four-beat gait and is known by other names such as Colombian Walking Horse and Colombian Paso Fino (which literally means “fine step”). Early this afternoon we fly to Medellin, then drive to Guatape, with dinner tonight at a local restaurant.


Hotel Portobello (BD)




The stone monolith La Piedra Peñol (or El Peñon) dominates the landscape around Guatape. It soars 650 feet into the sky from the scenic reservoir covering 25 square miles that’s an important source of hydroelectric energy for Colombia. The 360-degree views from the top of La Piedra over the reservoir and Antioquian countryside are worth the effort of climbing more than 600 steps stuck to the rock. After our climb, we take a relaxing boat tour that includes a stop above the submerged town of Viejo Peñol that was flooded during construction of the reservoir and nearby dam in 1978; the only visible remnant is a large cross on the church steeple rising out of the water. We also stop for a tour of the ruins of La Manuela, the former vacation estate of the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. We return to Guatape, where the remainder of the day is at leisure to enjoy this lovely little town known for its zocalos, the colorful friezes on the lower levels of the town’s houses. A particularly colorful street is the cobblestone Calle del Recuerdos near the Parque Principal.


Hotel Portobello (B)




The morning is at leisure before we drive back to Medellin for our flight to the Caribbean port of Cartagena, one of South America’s most photogenic cities, arriving mid-afternoon. Surrounded by extensive fortifications and brimming with lovely colonial architecture, this vibrant city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The remainder of the afternoon is free before dinner at a local restaurant.


Hotel Boutique la Artilleria (BD)




This morning we enjoy an orientation walking tour of the Ciudad Amurallada, encircled by 12-foot-high stone walls and considered to be one of the best-preserved walled cities in the world. Our route takes us from Plaza de los Coches with its iconic 19th-century clock tower, through narrow streets of colorful facades and balconies brimming with bougainvillea, past myriad colonial churches and palaces, and ends at Plaza de las Bovedas. Once the location of a military storehouse, now you can browse handicrafts under the golden arched walls of the Galeria de las Bovedas. The remainder of the day is at leisure to discover new sights, return to places where you’d like to spend a bit more time, visit museums, photograph Mapale dancers in the various plazas, and perhaps watch sunset from the ramparts. Food and drinks are available on practically every corner in the Old City, and seafood reigns supreme in Cartagenan cuisine.


Hotel Boutique la Artilleria (B)




The entire day is free to explore, shop, and photograph on your own before our farewell dinner this evening at a local restaurant. Perhaps you’ll want to return to the historic center, visit Castillo de San Felipe, or spend some time in Getsemani, an old colonial neighborhood that was once enclosed by its own wall and fortifications. Getsemani, like Bogota’s La Candelaria, is a great place to photograph colorful street art, from Plaza Trinidad to Calle 29. For high-quality handicrafts, pay a visit to Artesanias de Colombia, a government entity in Getsemani whose mission is to promote the nation’s handicrafts and craftspeople.


Hotel Boutique la Artilleria (BD)




The morning is at leisure before we transfer to the airport for an early-afternoon flight to Miami, arriving this evening.





Note: Included meals are indicated by B, L, and D for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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