Group - Classic

Chachalaca: Colombia’s Colonial and Coffee Culture

14 days from £3,586pp

Colombia

Itinerary

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Day 1

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

Days 1-2

City tour, including a visit to the Gold Museum.

Those of you arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by the tour leader or a local representative and escorted to your hotel in a commercial and residential quarter in the popular north of the city. Bogotá is a city of sparkling prosperity and creative innovation, but also home to people living on the margins of society, and everything in between. It’s awash with splendid colonial churches, fascinating museums, futuristic architecture and lively universities. Its population is diverse and engaging and its cultural life vibrant.

You have time to relax, get accustomed to the altitude, get to know your fellow travellers and familiarise yourself with your surroundings. A short hop from the hotel is the up and coming quarter Usaquén, once a town in its own right but now absorbed into the capital with a vivacious flea market on Sundays.

We take you on a guided exploration of the city with a walking tour of the historic core, the colonial Candelaria district, crammed with baroque churches, museums and graceful Spanish-style buildings with intricate balconies, shuttered windows and huge wooden doors. You head to the historic centre and the vast central Plaza de Bolivar, framed by the imposing Cathedral and Congress building. Explore the steep colonial streets ultimately reaching the Gold Museum. This is an extraordinary, well-displayed collection of pre-Columbian artefacts housing more than 34,000 gold pieces.

Later there's an ascent of the mountain towering over Bogotá, with a white church at its peak. From there, at a heady 3,152m above sea level, there are splendid views. There’s a steep path up to the top but you won’t have to climb: a cable-car and funicular railway station whizz you to the top.

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Day 3

Drive to Villa de Leyva via Zipaquirá salt cathedral.

3-4 hours’ drive from Bogotá, Villa de Leyva is a well-preserved colonial highland town steeped in history, popular among Colombian and foreign visitors alike and busy at weekends. En route you make a stop at Zipaquirá, home to a centuries-old salt mine, which is still functioning. Nearly 200m beneath the earth are two extraordinary salt cathedrals, their vast pillars and walls made from glistening salt. There are also 14 stations of the cross sculpted by various Colombian artists.

Villa de Leyva is a small Spanish-style town founded in 1572 which has been home to many important politicians, artists and wealthy families of the colonial period. The town is extremely well preserved. The enormous plaza mayor (the largest in Colombia) is flanked on all sides by red-tiled, whitewashed houses and most of the streets are cobbled. You can wander around a leisurely place absorbing the atmosphere, browsing in the handicraft shops and popping in to any of the small museums.

This region of Boyacá was once submerged under the sea and a large number of marine fossils can be seen in the area. The scenery of the immediate surrounding countryside is somewhat Mediterranean in appearance and olives, oranges and other citrus fruits are cultivated there. However, nearby are both near-desert, arid landscapes and chilly high altitude puna blanketed in rough grassland.

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Day 4

Guided visit to the varied highlights of the surrounding area.

Today you visit El Infiernito, a pre-Columbian Muisca indian site at the outskirts of Villa de Leyva. It is composed of several earthworks surrounding a setting of upright standing stones. The site was a centre of religious ceremonies and spiritual purification rites, and also served as a rudimentary astronomical observatory.

You also visit the ‘Ecce Homo’ Dominican convent, constructed in the XVII century, which has experienced a chequered history of military occupation, abandonment and restoration. You also get to view the fossil of a reptile revealed just outside the town which is reckoned to be more than 150 million years old. Contrasting with the colonial baroque style is the Gaudiesque Casa Terracota which looks a bit like the cosy, rustic home of a hobbit. As its name suggests it is virtually completely constructed and furnished with locally made terracotta ceramic tiles, including mosaics and an ingenious use of light.

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Day 5

Fly to Armenia in the coffee region.

You are driven back to Bogotá via the Boyacá Bridge, where Simon Bolívar and his troops won the most important battle against the Spanish, sealing Colombia’s independence. There’s also a stop at Laguna Guatavita, an emerald green lake filling a crater hidden below steep cliffs in a tightly forested nature reserve. This lake pinpoints the origin of the legend of El Dorado, triggering many subsequent ill-fated quests for gold.

From Bogotá airport you fly to Armenia in the famous coffee region, centred on the western slopes of the Cordillera Central. This green and fertile area has a pleasant climate, and lovely bucolic scenery with a mountainous, lush, green landscape of shiny coffee bushes interspersed with enormous bamboo jungles and banana plants. You’ll be staying at traditionally styled countryside accommodation in this photogenic region.

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Day 6

Guided visit to a coffee farm.

Many working fincas (coffee farms) have embraced tourism and welcome visitors onto their plantations to learn all about the coffee-growing process. It is particularly interesting to visit during the harvests (April to May, October to December) when the farms are a hive of activity. You visit one of the region’s estates and learn about the intricacies of coffee production, from the picking of the coffee cherries to the various stages of processing, sorting, grading, roasting and the final brewing of the beans.

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Day 7

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

You take a guided day trip out to Valle de Cocora, a beautiful nature reserve which is home to the wax palm, Colombia's national tree and the only palm which grows above 3,000m. There’s a well-marked path up the valley to look out over the mountains’ verdant foothills, and the cultivated patchwork of fields made up of a dozen shades of green.

On the way back to Armenia we visit the to traditional Colombian village Salento, its houses adorned with balconies bursting with flowers, and with wonderful views of the Cordillera Central emerging from behind elegant colonial and bahareque (traditional mud and wood intertwined) buildings. It still has a villagey ambiance but is a popular weekend destination for Colombians these days and here you can browse a number of artisan craft shops.

You also make a stop in Filandia, one of the most quintessential villages of the coffee region where the window frames, doors and balconies are painted in bold paint-box bright primary colours.

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Day 8

Travel from Armenia to Medellín by road.

Medellín, the capital of Antioquia department, has a year-round temperate climate, which explains why it is also known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’. Its population is about 3 million, which makes it the second-largest city in the country. We are delighted to be able to include a visit on our itinerary as we are sure you’ll be captivated.

Medellín has left behind its somewhat dodgy reputation for newfound celebrity as a dynamic cultural and gastronomical centre. This exciting city exudes youthful innovation and enthusiasm hosting numerous internationally recognised events such as the August Flower Fair and the International Poetry Festival. You’ll find well-managed parks and plazas dotted with sculptures, while the whole city is serenaded by music.

Day 9

Guided city tour of Medellín.

Explore downtown Medellín and the historical centre with its soundtrack of traditional Guasca music, performed by musicians in Parque Berrio. Stroll through the hustle and bustle of downtown to Plaza de las Esculpturas which hosts an exhibition of the work of Colombian artist Fernando Botero, whose voluptuous sculptures have become a landmark of the city.

Take the Metrocable service up to Santo Domingo, in the past a notorious area ruled by gangs but where now the focal point is the library, Parque Biblioteca, featuring thousands of books, which was opened by the King and Queen of Spain in 2007. The cable-car system was constructed to make the inner city more accessible to people from the outskirts. While enjoying bird’s-eye views over the sprawling residential and commercial quarters you learn more about the transformation of Medellin into a fascinating melting pot of cultures with some of the friendliest and warmest people in Latin America.

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Day 10

Guided visit to El Peñol and Guatapé.

You’ll travel by road through the eastern highlands of Antioquia. The Peñol Boulder is one of the most spectacular natural features in the landscapes surrounding Medellín. This striking 200m high sugar-loaf shaped granite monolith can be climbed via a 740-step pathway. If you choose to ascend this way your efforts will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the picturesque countryside where bright green, crinkly mountains are studded by spidery blue lakes.

You also make a stop at the tranquil village Guatapé, a lakeside town with a pleasantly warm climate. It is famous for its Greco-Roman church and the vivid paintings, called zócalos, featuring local families and historical events which adorn the base of the Technicolor, paint-box-bright houses. Here you have time to explore independently, perhaps savouring a traditional Colombian lunch on the lake shore, taking a boat ride on the placid waters or just strolling through the streets, which are quiet except at weekends when they are thronged by families from Medellín.

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Day 11

Fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.

The country’s most exotic and atmospheric colonial city, Cartagena, was founded in 1533. It quickly blossomed to become the main Spanish port in the Caribbean. Treasure plundered from native indians was stored there until galleons could ship it back to Spain, and the city became a tempting target for pirates. In order to protect their booty, the Spanish colonists constructed an elaborate system of ramparts which still encircle the town.

Today, while Cartagena has expanded dramatically, the walled centre has changed very little, preserving an uninterrupted display of 16th and 17th-century Spanish architecture. Here you can enjoy the shade provided by the buildings in the labyrinthine cobbled streets, and explore the many monasteries, palaces, churches, plazas and imposing mansions where the overhanging balconies are heavy with flowers.

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Day 12

Guided city tour of Cartagena.

The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an eclectic and seductive mix of Caribbean and African influences producing a vibrant street life, with fruit stalls lining the roads and pulsating rhythms emerging from cars and houses. Your guided tour of the historic walled city, the forts and battlements will help you soak up the atmosphere of this seductive city, possibly the most evocative and romantic on the continent.

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Day 13

Day at leisure in Cartagena.

Now you enjoy a day at leisure, free further to explore the streets, visit the famous fort, have a meal in one of the many fantastic al fresco restaurants or even travel further afield and take a speedboat to spend the day on the coral, palm-kissed beaches of the nearby Rosario Islands.

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Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Real Latin America Experts

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

  • Jamie Swan
    Jamie Swan - Travel Consultant

    Jamie backpacked across Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil before joining us; he has a degree in politics and is also a keen sportsman..

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • JimAshworth
    Jim Ashworth - Travel Consultant

    Jim first caught the Latin American travel bug in 2001 when he decided at the last minute to join a friend travelling around Central America – he hasn't looked back since.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

Meet the team