Thanks for letting me share a few of my ramblings, suggestions, and information on my first trip to South America! Here is a recap of my recent visit to Bogota, Salento, Cartagena & Santa Marta in Colombia.
On our day of arrival we took a guided trip to Zipaquira Salt Cathedral. The traffic is awful in Bogota so it took a while to get out of the city. Zipaquira is located around 50km from the city. We stopped on route to sample meats cooked by “ternera a la llanera”. As I’m vegetarian I declined, however Jason was in his element, and ended up ordering a 2nd helping.
The next morning we met up with our guide for a city tour. Bogota is oozing with culture; palaces, museums, cathedrals, plazas, monuments, and beautiful architecture (including Tudor, Republican and Colonial styles). We crammed in visits to the Botero Museum; home to many works of art by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.
Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Sundays and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Located very close to the Botero Museum in La Candelaria is La Puerta Falso (1816). Great for a snack. It is apparently the oldest resataurant in Bogota and serves a great selection of traditional Colombian food. The Tamales, and Ajiaco (thick, hearty soup) are meant to be the best in the city ( according to our guide). They also serve the speciality “Cundinamarca” ( hot chocolate and cheese which you dunk in the hot drink to make it melt!).
We also visited the Gold Museum which houses a vast collection of articles belonging to Pre- Hispanic societies. The collection also includes pottery, shell, stone and wood items.
Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Sundays and holidays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Note – Closed Mondays, including holidays.
Somehow we also got involved in a visit to the Police Museum, a beautiful building which allowed great views over the city from the roof tops. Plenty of information and personal items belonging to the notorious and wealthy drug baron and, cocaine smuggler Pablo Escobar.
We squeezed in a quick visit on the cable car up to El Cerro Monserrate, managed a few photos of the city below before the rain started to come down.
Our guide Claudia recommended us to head to Zona Rosa, for shopping, eating, and drinks. This Zone is one of Bogotas most exclusive neighbourhoods. Claudia also recommended a visit to Andres Carne de Res for a lively night out for eating, drinking, dancing and Colombian fun.
Zona G (Gourmet) is home to many bohemian cafes, bars, and prestigious restaurants, offering a wide range of cuisines.
We were up early and off to the airport for our short hop to Armenia in coffee country. On arrival our driver was there to meet us and whisked us on our way. With the exception of passing through the city of Armenia the scenery was lovely, lush green hills and valley. The transfer to Salento took approximately 50 minutes. Salento is a colourful and bustling town located in the coffee triangle, the shops and houses are brightly decorated, and the people friendly. There is one main street full of shops and restaurants/cafes.
The beautiful well-preserved typical paisa architecture that is wonderfully painted in bright colors makes even gray days seem brighter. The colorful trimming of otherwise white buildings is the town’s hallmark feature. The doors are particularly colorful and we loved the many cool door knockers.
One of my highlights was visiting one of the coffee fincas in the area. For a couple of $’s you are given a guided tour, the opportunity to search and pick the ripe coffee, ending with a tasting. I found the tour informative, and insightful. I was amazed at how may processes coffee has to go through before arriving in our supermarkets!
Upon return to our hotel we had a wander up the main street, where there are some lovely boutiques selling colourful handicrafts; ponchos, hats, coffee, mochillas (artisan weaved bags) and souvenirs.
We dropped into a bar called Camino Real for a quick drink, we ended staying for longer than anticipated taking in the gorgeous view (picture below), watching hummingbirds coming in to feed on the flowers, unexpected but amazing!
Another early start for our visit to the Cocora Valley, home of the towering wax palm (national tree of Colombia). Our” willy” dropped us off at the base of the valley, Wow! What a spectacular view. No pictures taken seemed to do it justice but we were completely blown away at the beauty of this place. We took a 3 hour trek into the valley crossing rivers on rickety bridges, we came across plants never seen before, hummingbirds, locals on horseback heading down the valley to buy provisions, and retired horses left to roam and graze.
There is a longer, and tougher hike which takes you to Acaime, for a small fee you get a hot chocolate and cheese whilst taking in many species of hummingbird, you can also climb higher to get an incredible view of the palms and valley below, recommended but I hear pretty tough to climb!
After our mini hike we headed back to Salento. We were hungry so headed straight for some food at Café Benabe Gourmet. We were made to feel very welcome, the owner / chef took so much pride in his creations. So well priced too!
Jason had a filet mignon in a blackberry and coffee sauce for the equivalent of $15 (compared with living in the UK, this was ridiculously cheap for such good quality meat). I had a vegetarian pita which was really tasty too. We checked out the restaurant on Tripadvisor to leave a review as we were so impressed and noted it was No1 on there already!
Later we took another stroll down to the town square. It was the weekend and there were a few market, and food stalls set up for the locals who descend upon Salento for the weekend. The population seemed to swell and the whole town felt full of atmosphere.
There are multiple ways to travel to Cartagena, and I would recommend taking a flight from Pereira, only slightly further away than Armenia, as it’s a direct flight to Cartagena.
It was a short ride from the airport to our accommodations, located just a few minutes walk from the walled city of Cartagena.
We walked both day and night and never felt uncomfortable. I had heard some bad stuff with regards to Cartagena however I have to say we were again stunned at how lovely the walled city was, again full of atmosphere, shops, restaurants, beautiful churches, horses and carts, plazas, music, street food vendors and souvenir sellers. We stumbled across many beautiful looking boutique properties in the maze of streets. We were given some local advice to throw away the map and just get lost within the walled city – Good advice too!
We were told by our guide in Bogota that we must visit Crepes and Waffles on our travels. The restaurants offer good value, and good quality food. The restaurant chain employs only single mothers! We came across it by accident so ventured in, what a beautiful building inside! The food although mainly crepe and waffle based (hence the name!) was really good, and the salad bar delicious! There were some impressive ice cream dishes being delivered to the tables surrounding us, unfortunately we were to full to manage one!
We walked to the city wall to watch the sunset over the sea, and slowly made our way back to our hotel.
Today we chose to take in the sights outside of the city walls. By the beach you could be in any high rise resort, however the old walled city is what makes Cartagena very special. This evening we headed back to the old wall city, taking in the ambience, sipping cocktails in the town squares, and shopping for some emerald earrings.
Our next stop was Santa Marta, Gateway to Tayrona National Park – Our plan was to take a day visit, however we loved our roof top pool so much we decided to relax, and enjoy our last couple of days before our flight back to the UK. Santa Marta has some great restaurants, which although quiet in the day became alive at night with restaurants buzzing, a great atmosphere. The main street is busy and full of shops, and market stalls. We stayed at the lovely Casa de Isabella, in one of the rooftop pool suites. The location was great for the beach, the main shopping street, and town square. A perfect choice to end our fantastic visit to Colombia.
I can’t wait to re-visit Colombia to discover more of what this amazing country has to offer!
Yampu co-founder, Monica, recommends the short trip from Santa Marta, to Tayrona where you can walk through a jungle for about an hour to a secluded surreal white sand beach with blue water, hammocks and wild horses. And for those looking for a more challenging hike in Tayrona, Yampu can arrange a hike to El Pueblito. There are incredible birds and wildlife of Tayrona and it’s highly suggested to anyone with an adventurous spirit!
Try and learn a little Spanish before you go! They really seem to appreciate the effort.
For day excursions take a packet of tissues, often you will find the ladies loos absent of any paper.
Earplugs – The walls can be thin, cockerels, dogs, traffic, and humans can often be heard!
Hawkers – Smile politely and say no thank you they soon walk away.
Take a good camera! We did regret not taking our better camera, there are amazing photo opportunities
Book your trip to Colombia with Yampu Tours! I’m happy to connect with travelers planning or thinking of a trip to Colombia! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at +1 802-760-6546 or on our UK Tollfree line 0800 0112424 to find out more.