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Chachalaca: Colombia’s Colonial and Coffee Culture

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On this new tour, Colombia offers you an experience of riches galore in a range of sumptuous landscapes and vibrant towns and cities. Having emerged from a period of social and political unrest, the country is resurging with a new optimism which permeates the very fibre of society both in rural villages and the vividly contrasting major cities. The welcome from its youthful, friendly people has always been warm, but now that is imbued with a tangible confidence in the future.

The dynamic capital Bogotá and romantic, Caribbean Cartagena have long been on the radar for visitors, and the gorgeous coffee region has been welcoming guests for some time to its historic fincas. Here we also take you to Villa de Leyva, a beautifully preserved Spanish colonial town; arty villages Salento, Filandia and Guatape, and a wholly transformed Medellín, now one of the most exciting cities on the continent for the arts, entertainment and gastronomy.

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart, arriving Bogotá, Colombia, the following morning.

Days 1-2

City tour, including a visit to the Gold Museum.

Day 3

Drive to Villa de Leyva via Zipaquirá salt cathedral.

Day 4

Guided visit to the varied highlights of the surrounding area.

Day 5

Fly to Armenia in the coffee region.

Day 6

Guided visit to a coffee farm.

Day 7

Guided day trip to Valle de Cocora, Salento and Filandia.

Day 8

Travel from Armenia to Medellín by road.

Day 9

Guided city tour of Medellín.

Day 10

Guided visit to El Peñol and Guatapé.

Day 11

Fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.

Day 12

Guided city tour of Cartagena.

Day 13

Day at leisure in Cartagena.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

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What our experts say

This tour of Colombia focuses on the fertile hills of the coffee region and the colonial delights of contrasting cities, trendy and intellectual Bogota and tropical Caribbean Cartagena. We've added to this mix a couple of days in the country's upcoming star, Medellin, which has shed its history of cocaine and violence to become a peaceful and  prosperous city bursting with art, gastronomy and innovation.    

Nicola Goldie

Nicola Goldie

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Chachalaca: Colombia’s Colonial and Coffee Culture

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Colonial houses

Colombia’s edgy capital is a microcosm of the country’s complex society. Huge, anarchic, choked with undisciplined traffic, it also has a lovely colonial core, La Candelaria, and modern suburbs cluttered with upmarket boutiques, nightclubs, glamorous restaurants and plush apartments. Further away, the hills are pitted with the self-built, ramshackle homes built by people arriving in the city looking for work.

A centre for the intellect, Bogotá has many excellent museums, cinemas, theatres, music venues and universities, along with a vigorous café society. The urban sprawl is overshadowed by Andean peaks glowering over the city which, at 2,640m, enjoys a climate of perpetual spring.
When's the best time to go to Bogota?

The city is an all-year destination. Set in a highland bowl it has a permanent spring-like climate with an average temperature of 14°C and a mixture of sunshine, cloud and showers during the day. There’s a dry season from Dec-Mar and it is also drier Jul-Aug. Many museums are closed on Mondays.

What's the official language in Bogota?

Spanish

How do I get local currency in Bogota?

Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card, though you may have to advise your bank first and amounts that can be withdrawn may be lower than in the UK. Be aware that some ATMs are often out of service but there should be a working one nearby. Banks will offer advances on a credit card, but with a lot of paperwork. Money exchanges (casas de cambio) change US dollars cash (very few accept euros or sterling and the rate will be poor).

What's the time difference between Bogota and UK?

GMT - 5 hrs

What places combine well with Bogota?

An excursion to the lovely rural colonial town of Villa de Leyva, 129km; a few days in Colombia’s most graceful and atmospheric cities, Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, 1.5hrs by air; a wind-down in the country’s tranquil coffee country, glorious bucolic scenery and friendly people, 167km or 1 hr by air

How do I get to Bogota?

Average flight time to Bogotá is 14 hrs. There is a direct flight from London Heathrow to Bogotá (11.5 hrs) and popular non-direct routes involve a change of plane in Europe or the USA.

What are the festivals, cultural and sport events in Bogota?
Carnival de Bogotá, Aug 5 -6, annually. celebrating the anniversary of its Spanish foundation. Most of the cultural events take place in the heart of Parque Metropolitano Simón Bolívar. The festivities include pre-carnival celebrations during Jul.
Ibero-American Theatre Festival of Bogotá, Mar-Apr, biannually. One of the most comprehensive and best respected celebrations of the performing arts in Latin America. 2 million spectators attend 450 performances in theatres and around 150 street performances.
International Jazz Festival, Bogotá, Sep, annually. World renowned artists performing to thousands of jazz enthusiasts.

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Colombia's heartland
Colombia
Dissected by voluminous rivers carving valleys through rugged Andean ranges to marshy outlets to the Caribbean Sea, Colombia’s interior has always presented challenges to the traveller. River craft routes have now in many places been superseded by road and air networks, but both along the banks of the River Magdalena and along the mountain roads towards the Venezuelan border are a string of long forgotten colonial towns of great architectural beauty and a lazy lifestyle. Some of these, such as Villa de Leyva, Honda, Barichara and the river port of Mompós have become popular weekend spots.
When's the best time to visit Colombia heartland?

The sleepy colonial towns are less sleepy at weekends, when citizens of Colombia’s major traffic-choked cities descend on them for a rural weekend. Villa de Leiva and Barichara have a uniform temperature in the 20s°C all year with most rain falling in Apr-May and Oct-Nov. The best time to visit Mompós is Apr-Jun. Floods are common Oct-Nov and it can feel hot and humid all year round. Medellín’s temperature is also stable in the high 20s°C, and most rain here falls Apr-Nov.

What's the official language of Colombia heartland?

Spanish

How do I get local currency in Colombia heartland?

Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in major cities using a UK credit or debit card, though you may have to advise your bank first and amounts that can be withdrawn may be lower than in the UK. Be aware that some ATMs are often out of service but there should be a working one nearby.  Banks will offer advances on a credit card, but with a lot of paperwork.  Money exchanges (casas de cambio) change US dollars cash (very few accept euros or sterling and the rate will be poor). There’s an ATM in the plaza in Villa de Leiva but you are advised to acquire pesos in larger towns before heading into the heartland.

What's the time difference between Colombia heartland and UK?

GMT - 5 hrs

How do I get to Colombia heartland?

To Villa de Leiva it’s a 4 hour scenic road journey from Bogotá (127km); to Barichara is a 2hr 40min drive from Bucaramanga; Mompós is a 6-7hr journey from Cartagena by road and launch/ferry.

What are the festivals and cultural events in Colombia heartland?
Desfile de Silliteros, Flower Festival; Medellín, 10 days in August. Flowers of all shapes and colours flood over the city, with 140 cultural events, parades, music and competitions. 
Virgen de Carmen, Villa de Leiva, 13-17 Jul.
Semana Santa, Holy Week, Mompós. A serious religious festival where images of saints and the Holy Family are taken from the churches and paraded through the streets.

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Coffee Region (Zona Cafetera)
Coffee country
Colombian coffee is enjoyed all over the world. Couched in rolling, emerald green hills between the cities of Pereira, Armenia and Manizales in the western Andes is the triangular region which produces the distinctive bean. Agriculture here is diversifying but the terraced coffee fincas, interspersed with bamboo jungles and giant banana plants, still dominate the attractive landscape. Recently, several of these historic properties have opened their doors to visitors. Alongside them are new purpose-built countryside hotels. At this altitude (1,400m - 2,200m) the climate is delightful and conducive to a restful wind down, with thermal pools, adventure sports, theme parks and walking trails to enjoy.
When's the best time to visit Colombian coffee region?

The region is an all-year destination. It enjoys a pleasant, temperate climate with plenty of sun and enough rain to keep the landscape verdant.

What's the official language of Colombian coffee region?

Spanish

How can I get local currency in Colombian coffee region?

Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in all major towns and cities, including Pereira, using a UK credit or debit card, though you may have to advise your bank first and amounts that can be withdrawn may be lower than in the UK. Be aware that some ATMs are often out of service but there should be a working one nearby. Banks will offer advances on a credit card, but with a lot of paperwork. Money exchanges (casas de cambio) change US dollars cash (very few accept euros or sterling and the rate will be poor). You are advised to acquire local currency before heading into the coffee region.

What's the time difference between Colombian coffee region and UK?

GMT - 5 hrs

What places combine well with Colombian coffee region?

An excursion to the lovely rural colonial town of Villa de Leyva, 129km from Bogotá; a few days in Colombia’s most graceful and atmospheric cities, Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, 1.5hrs by air from Bogotá.

How do I get to Colombian coffee region?

There are frequent flights from Bogotá to Armenia and Pereira (both 1 hr).

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Medellin Centre

Medellín, long considered an edgy city to say the least - synonymous with the activities of its most famous resident, Pablo Escobar - has undergone a miraculous transformation.  

Now considered the engine of Colombia, it is bursting with enterprise, both commercial and artistic, with top quality gastronomy, music and enthusiastic partying also high on the agenda. There isn’t much to see here of the Spanish colonial heritage, as the drive towards modernisation has resulted in its replacement by glittering and innovative modern buildings and parks featuring sculptures and street art, free for all to observe and admire.

Medellín hosts many festivals and other social events, the most famous being the flower festival which takes place in August every year  (in 2018 it starts on 3 August) and features a parade of floral floats which must be the most colourful in Colombia.

On any walking tour, riding the cable cars, or en route to any one of many internationally renowned restaurants, you can feel the vibe of youthful optimism and pride which permeates the city.  It’s also a good base for visits to other attractions with good road and air links to many parts of the country, including the nearby coffee region, the Pacific beaches at Nuqui, and hikes in the surrounding hills.

When's the best time to visit Medellin?

The region in which Medellin is situated is an all-year destination. It enjoys a pleasant, temperate climate with plenty of sun and enough rain to keep the landscape verdant, and Medellin is known as the city of Eternal Spring for good reason. 

What's the official language of Medellin?

Spanish

How do I get local currency in Medellin?

Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in all major towns and cities, including Medellín, using a UK credit or debit card, though you may have to advise your bank first and amounts that can be withdrawn may be lower than in the UK. Be aware that some ATMs are often out of service but there should be a working one nearby. Banks will offer advances on a credit card, but with a lot of paperwork. Money exchanges (casas de cambio) change US dollars cash (very few accept euros or sterling and the rate will be poor).

What's the time difference between Medellin and UK?

GMT - 5 hrs

What places combine well with Medellin?

Medellín has air links with major Colombian cites such as Bogotá, a contrasting city with a large colonial centre and the famous gold museum;. and Cartagena Colombia’s most graceful and atmospheric cities, on the Caribbean coast. You can easily drive from Medellin to the beautiful Zona Cafetera coffee country - self-drive or escorted; visit the upcoming resort Honda on the Magdalena river, or travel to Nuqui on the Pacific coast in the steamy tropical  Chocó region.   

How do I get to Medellin?
You can fly direct to Medellín from New York, Miami, Lima, Mexico City, Panama City among other important cities. There are frequent domestic flights from Bogotá to Medellín, 1hr; several daily from Cartagena, also 1hr approx, adn from about 10 other Colombian cities. Colombia also has a good road network, though the mountianous terrain means journeys can be long.  
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Cartagena
Romantic and evocative Cartagena de Indias is without doubt one of the most captivating cities on the continent. The colonial heart of this Caribbean treasure, embraced by 17m. thick walls, oozes a swashbuckling history. Since its founding at the time of the Spanish Empire the city was subsequently attacked by waves of pirates and national fleets; the forts and cannons erected to protect it are still in place. Nowadays it is a cultured city, where gentle harmonies filter through the walls of music academies, language schools attract international students, artists flock to capture the sensual delights of flower-decked balconies and boutique hotels, salsa bars and literary cafés spill out onto the streets.
When's the best time to visit Cartagena?
The city is an all-year destination, with plenty of sun throughout. The rainy season is Aug-Nov when showers can be torrential. Dec-Apr should be pretty rain-free. The city can be very busy – and noisy – during holidays and festivals.
What's the official language in Cartagena?

Spanish

How do I get local currency in Cartagena?

Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in the old and new quarters of the city using a UK credit or debit card, though you may have to advise your bank first and amounts that can be withdrawn may be lower than in the UK. Be aware that some ATMs are often out of service but there should be a working one nearby. Banks will offer advances on a credit card, but with a lot of paperwork. Money exchanges (casas de cambio) change US dollars cash (very few accept euros or sterling and the rate will be poor). Don’t change money on the street.

What's the time difference between Cartagena and UK?

GMT - 5 hours  

What combines well with Cartagena?

Bogotá, Colombia’s vigorous capital, where the dynamic of this mountain city contrasts with the laid back attitudes of the Caribbean (1.5hrs by air); exquisite coastal Tayrona National Park, which hosts wild, undeveloped, remote-feeling Caribbean beaches and rocky bays mantled with densely packed rainforest vegetation (5hrs by road via Santa Marta); Mompox, tiny colonial town preserved in aspic, literally and figuratively becoming a backwater when the Rio Magdalena changed its course 150 yrs ago (6 hrs by road and launch)

How do I get to Cartagena?

There are frequent flights from Bogotá to Cartagena (1.5hrs).

What are the festivals, cultural and sport events in Cartagena?
Hay Festival: Jan, annually. An offshoot of the famous literary festival in Hay-on- Wye, it attracts Latin American and international writers and intellectuals of international renown.
Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, late Jan-early Feb, annually. Horse riders from nearby towns and villages descend on Cartagena and trot through the streets from Bocagrande to the centre and up to the Convento de la Popa, bearing candles.
Caribbean Music Festival, Mar; most years. Bands from all over the Caribbean perform reggae, salsa, and other local musical genres.
International Film Festival, Mar, annually. Every possible venue opens to screen films from all over the continent and the festival is attended by many Latin stars.

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