Private Journeys

Self-drive Colombia: Exploring the coffee region and beyond

12 days from £1,920pp

Colombia

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive Bogotá airport. Transfer to hotel in the colonial centre.

You’ll be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the capital. Bogotá is a city of sparkling prosperity, oppressive poverty, and everything in between. Its centre is awash with splendid colonial churches, fascinating museums, futuristic architecture and lively universities. Its population is diverse and engaging and its cultural life vibrant and seductive.

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Day 2

Walking tour of the capital with the Gold Museum.

Today you’ll have a guided exploration of the city with a walking tour of the historic core, the colonial Candelaria district.

Set off from the Plaza de Bolívar, where the Cathedral and Congress buildings are located, continue on foot through the steep colonial streets towards the Gold Museum for a visit to this extraordinary, well-displayed collection of pre-Columbian artefacts housing more than 34,000 gold pieces. It’s arguably the most impressive museum of its kind in the world.

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Day 3

Fly to Pereira and pick up your car. Drive to Salento hotel.

Fly to Pereira in the heart of the coffee country. You’ll be met by our local representative who will be on hand to help you as you pick up your car (a Renault Duster or similar). You’ll be given a good briefing on driving in the area, shown how the GPS works, and provided with a Colombian mobile phone so you can stay in contact.

Pereira is a pleasant city in the shadow of the ice-mantled peaks of the Andean cordillera. It has some fine buildings, sculptures and a museum featuring gold and ceramics.

Set off on your drive to Salento: it’s a good road, and introduces you to the rugged yet softly green mountains of the coffee region. Sunlit slopes are blanketed in coffee bushes, sprinkled with lofty palms and speckled with farms, or fincas, some dating back to colonial Spanish times.

The drive takes about an hour but, as with all the driving you do, this will depend on whether or not you take a detour, stop to look around a village or have a snack or drink. There’s always something to see, if you are curious you’ll have to be disciplined or you’ll never arrive…

Mary Anne Nelson ©

Day 4

Full day guided hike in the Cocora valley.

Salento (1,985m) is a delightful little town of paint-box-bright colonial houses with wooden balconies overhanging narrow lanes. A popular weekend spot, it has a bunch of craft shops and restaurants for visitors. You can climb 250 steps lined by the Stations of the Cross for sweeping river valley views. 

The Cocora valley is undeniably one of the most picturesque landscapes in a country endowed with so much beautiful countryside. You go 12km up a rough track from the centre of Salento.

If you wish to have a guided tour, an English-speaking guide will meet you at your hotel at a pre-arranged time and accompany you on the short drive. There is a range of hikes to choose from in the valley. Hike through mist-shrouded forest packed with hundreds of wax palms - the national tree of Colombia - whose spindly trunks tower as high as 60m. If you prefer, you can set off on your own without a guide, but he/she is on call.

Tom Parrott ©

Day 5

Drive to your hacienda close to Manizales.

Once again, if you wish for a guide’s experience and assistance, he/she will accompany you on the 90-minute drive to the Santuario de Fauna y Flora Otún Quimbaya, a compact reserve with bubbly rivers, waterfalls and cliffs groaning with tightly packed foliage.

There, you can hike along one (or more) of the three short trails in this protected forest and spot numerous species of orchids, birds, and maybe even monkeys.

There is a restaurant on site and you may decide to have lunch there before setting off (without a guide) driving to your next overnight stop, Hacienda Venecia, in the bottle green coffee fields close to the city of Manizales, about 2 hours away if you drive direct.

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Day 6

Guided tour of the coffee production process.

This morning you may choose to stroll along any of the six marked paths in the large gardens or take in the sunshine around the outdoor pool. It’s a great spot for bird watching, and there is a field guide at your disposal.

In the afternoon, there’s a guided tour of the coffee production process. You'll learn about the intricacies of the coffee production process, including the picking, de-pulping, washing, drying and roasting of the beans.

Finish off, of course, by tasting some of the local brew.

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Day 7

Drive to your hotel in Salamina.

It's about a 3-hour drive to Salamina. Passing through Manizales the road begins to wind its way north, via the towns of Neira and Aranzazu, before reaching Salamina. This narrow road is full of twists and turns but it’s a particularly scenic drive with dense foliage giving way to stunning vistas.

Clambering up a thickly wooded hill, Salamina is a dainty whitewashed village where Spanish-style one storey houses have uniform red-tiled roofs and flowery Juliet balconies. Wander the steep streets of the village independently or accompanied by your English-speaking guide to discover the lanes and hidden corners. Range after range of chunky mountains decorates the horizon. 

Day 8

Guided visit to La Samaria wax palm forest.

For this adventure it might be better to ride with your English-speaking guide in a four-wheel drive vehicle, as the road to San Felix is lumpy and bumpy. This little town with its rather grand baroque church sits at the foot of a range of steep hills, and it’s a popular place for paragliding.

Have a look round the town and maybe stop for a coffee before driving on up to La Samaría Wax Palm Forest at the cool altitude of 3,000m. There you are presented with a surreal sight: hundreds of tall, skinny wax palm trees stand like pins in a cushion on the golden-green hillsides.

Once again there is a range of hikes to choose from, wending your way through the silent standing army of trees.

If you prefer a longer hike you can walk for around three hours from the hotel, without taking the jeep tour. Once again, the choice is yours.

Return to Salamina for lunch, or if you wish, you can arrange a picnic (with a view).

Mary Anne Nelson ©

Day 9

Drive to your hotel in Honda on the Magdalena River.

It's a long but beautiful drive from Salamina to Honda (5-6 hours), with a choice of two recommended routes, one of which involves negotiating an unpaved road where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views. 

Either way, you’ll be on the road which leads to the Páramo de Letras, a mountain pass at 3,690m, with horizon-bending vistas. This altitude presents a very different landscape: the harsher conditions, exposure to the elements and rarified air means that the surrounding landscape is of rough, wind-strafed grasslands, not dissimilar to familiar moorland.

From there you descend to more tropical climes, passing through a couple of towns to Honda.

Nicknamed the 'City of Bridges' Honda, squatting sweltering on the banks of the Magdalena River, was formerly an important port on the trade route between the Caribbean coast and Bogotá. Honda is a hot and steamy place, surrounded by forest-stifled hills. Although parts of the town's outskirts are less than attractive, as you approach the historic core the prosperous past is reflected in the grandeur of the architecture, and in the colonial houses which line the cobbled streets.

Mary Anne Nelson ©

Day 10

Guided walking tour of Honda.

Today you have a guided walking tour of the town which visits the market, the impressive Navarro Bridge and the Museo del Rio, where you'll learn about the river's importance in forming the region's history and culture.

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Day 11

Drive to Bogotá airport, drop off car, transfer to hotel.

It will take about 4 hours to reach the Colombian capital Bogotá from Honda. Our local representative will liaise with you throughout the day and will be waiting you at the car hire office at Bogota's El Dorado Airport to help you drop off your car.

Transfer to your hotel in the city.

Day 12

Transfer to airport for international flight.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

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Real Latin America Experts

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    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

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    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.

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    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

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    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

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    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.

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