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Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City

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There's some of the best-preserved colonial architecture in Latin America in the cities of Bogotá and Cartagena, and remarkable pre-Columbian artefacts in the San Agustín Archaeological Park.This holiday takes you to all of these, plus a few days on one of the Caribbean’s laid-back and quirkiest islands, English-speaking Providencia, which flies the Colombian flag. Finish your unique holiday in cosmopolitan Panama City, exploring rainforest-fringed Lake Gatun on the magnificent engineering achievement which is the Panama Canal.

With improved security, the (until now) hidden treasures of Colombia are being discovered by a growing number of in-the-know visitors. This enchanting country has stunning natural scenery, including volcanic Andean landscapes, sun-drenched coffee plantations, and near perfect Caribbean beaches.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Bogotá. Transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Walking city tour with Gold Museum.

Day 3

Fly to Neiva and drive to San Agustín National Park.

Day 4

Explore the pre-Columbian archaeological park.

Day 5

Guided excursion to Magdalena Gorge.

Day 6

Fly to Armenia in the coffee region

Day 7

Excursion to coffee farm.

Day 8

Guided visit to Salento, Filandia and Valle de Cocora.

Day 9

By road to Medellín.

Day 10

Guided excursion to Santa Fé de Antioquia.

Day 11

Fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.

Day 12

Walking tour of Cartagena.

Day 13

Fly to San Andrés Island.

Day 14

Fly to Providencia by light aircraft.

Day 15

At leisure in Providencia

Day 16

Fly to Panama City.

Day 17

Panama Canal jungle boat expedition.

Day 18

Transfer to the airport for flight home.

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Places visited on this holiday

Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City

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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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San Agustin, Popayan and Cali
Popayan

The area of southern Colombia leading off from the Cauca valley south of Cali and embracing the cultured city of Popayán and pre-Colombian archaeological sites was lamentably off limits for visitors during the recent era of guerrilla activity. Fortunately nowadays the security situation has improved and many of the highlights of this region of quiescent volcanoes, steep emerald green valleys, pastures, sugar plantations and attractive villages can be safely explored.

The Spanish colonial university town Popayán is a delightful stop, its lanes resonating with both salsa and classical music, while the mountain village of Silvia is famous for the striking costumes worn by the friendly Guambiano Indians. The UNESCO-listed archaeological site at San Agustín is the must see of the region, with its remarkable ‘Bosque de las Estatuas’ consisting of a number of enigmatic statues dating from 3,300BC.

Prosperous Cali is the second largest city in Colombia after Bogotá and is famed for being the country’s party capital: salsa really rules the roost here.  It’s a tropical city with a tropical vibe, surrounded by a fertile agricultural land with plantations and cattle.

When's the best time to visit San Agustin, Popayan and Cali?

Sitauated in the sweltering Cauca valley, Cali is hot and humid all the year round though it can rain at any time. Popayán, Silvia and San Agustin are at a higher elevation and so substantially cooler, with a drier feel to the air: all in all the climate is sunny, warm and pleasant. Most rain falls Apr-Jun but it can rain here at any time too, which explains the verdant landscape.This region can be busy with visitors at holiday times: Christmas, Carnival and Easter, and there are other festivities throughout the year when the towns and cities are very crowded..

What's the official language of San Agustin, Popayan and Cali?

Spanish

How do I get local currency in San Agustin, Popayan and Cali?

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). 

What's the time difference between San Agustin, Popayan and Cali and UK?

GMT - 5 hrs

How do I get to San Agustin, Popayan and Cali?
There are daily flights from Bogotá to and from Popayán.
Cali receives flights from Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and other cities.A road journey between Cali and Popayán takes 2-3hrs; from Cali to San Agustin 9hrs; from Popayán to San Agustin 7-8hrs, from Popayán to Silvia 90mins. 
What are the cultural events in San Agustin, Popayan and Cali?

Cali: 

25Dec - 3Jan - Cali International fair.
Variable Feb-Mar - Carnival.
Holy week - Easter, variable.
June - artisan fair.
Aug - Festival of Music from the Pacific.
Sep - International Art festival.

Popayán:
5-6 Jan - Dia de los |negros y Dia de los Blancos.
Variable Feb-Mar - Carnival.
Holy week - Easter, variable; spectacular processions throughout the week.
International Sacred Music Festival.
Sep - Gastronomic fair.
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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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Caribbean coast and islands
The Caribbean coast is not all about Cartagena, the colonial jewel which is such a magnet for visitors. There, the city beaches are fun but not exceptionally beautiful. East along the coast, the road passes the seaport Barranquilla and the bird-filled marshes and lagoons of La Ciénaga, reaching the pleasant seaside resort of Santa Marta. Just beyond is hilly, jungle-covered Tayrona National Park, embracing one of the most beautiful wild stretches of Caribbean coast. Golden beaches shaded by coconut palms are backed by rugged hills full of monkeys and iguanas. Offshore the Rosario islands are blissful coral atolls, while further afield is the quirky English-speaking volcanic island of Providencia.
When's the best time to visit Caribbean Colombia?

The coast and islands are 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 beaches can be very busy – and noisy – during holidays and festivals.

What's the official language of Caribbean Colombia?

Spanish, English.

How do I get local currency in Caribbean Colombia?
Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta 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. Acquire local currency before travelling to Providencia.
What's the time difference between Caribbean Colombia and UK?

GMT - 5 hours

What places combine with Caribbean Colombia?

Colombia’s most graceful and atmospheric cities, 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).

How do I get to Caribbean Colombia?

There are frequent flights from Bogotá to Cartagena, Santa Marta  and Barranquilla (each 1.5hrs). The three main cities on the coast are a couple of hours apart by road.  Santa Marta is the closest city to Tayrona, the beach and national park which is a 4hr drive from Cartagena. Combines with:  Colombia’s most graceful and atmospheric cities, 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). 

What are the festivals, cultural and sporting events in Caribbean Colombia?

Carnival: Barranquilla, 5 days in Feb/Mar, variable: 28 Feb–4 Mar 2014. A riotous mélange of Afro-Caribbean-Latin exuberance, with vivid-costumed parades, live music, dancing and competitions.

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Panama City
Panama City

Panama City is more cosmopolitan than Latin, and enjoys a strategic position which has led to an eventful history, with immigrants arriving from all over the world. On the Pacific coast Panama la Vieja, the first Spanish colonial site of the city and a conduit for plundered gold and oriental silks and spices was sacked by pirates and abandoned. The city moved to what is now known as Casco Viejo where vestiges of colonial streets and buildings have been restored, cocktail bars and trendy restaurants have opened and a lively cultural hub has been established. The sky-scraper filled modern city, hub of commerce and international trade linked to the Panama Canal is an energetic quarter buzzing with shopping malls, sophisticated restaurants and entertainment. Away from the bustle along the Pacific coast, you’ll find relaxed resort hotels with a multitude of activities.

When to go

Situated well within the tropics, Panama City has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (over 30°C) all year round. May-Nov is rainy season. The city lies outside the main hurricane belt.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Balboa. The national currency is at parity with the US dollar, and only US banknotes are used. (There are some local coins equivalent to US cents). There are a few ATMs in the city where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, amounts may be limited, and vary from bank to bank. Notes can be obtained from exchange houses and also from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. Panamanians are sometimes reluctant to accept US dollar notes of higher denominations. 

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

 A couple of days staying in Soberanía National Park, where residents include a large variety of mammals, amphibians and reptiles, as well as a profusion of bird species.

Getting there

There are flights via US and European hubs, the journey from London takes around taking around 13 hours.

Key events
Carnival, Feb-Mar. is celebrated with much gusto in Panama City: costumed revelry, music and dancing culminate in a big Shrove Tuesday parade.
Semana Santa, Easter. Celebrated with religious processions. 
Independence Day, 4 Nov. A huge parade through the old city. 

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Panama Canal and Soberania National Park
Panama Canal

Panama is a fascinating country but the main draw for visitors is undoubtedly the 77 km Panama Canal linking the Pacific with the Caribbean. This colossal project was completed in 1914 and since then has transformed shipping routes world-wide. In addition to being crucial to international trade it is now a worthwhile tourist attraction. Soberanía National Park fringes the eastern banks of the immense artificial Lake Gatún alongside the canal and is blanketed with a dripping rainforest which explodes with vivacious wildlife, especially tropical birds. The Canal Zone also hosts hiking trails and a railway – the trails were built to transport looted gold - between Panama City and Colón on the Caribbean on mules; the railway was built to aid construction of the canal.

When to go

Panama’s Canal Zone and the rainforest have a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (over 30°C) all year round. May-Nov is rainy season and the flowering months are Apr-May. The region lies outside the main hurricane belt.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Balboa. The national currency is at parity with the US dollar, and only US banknotes are used. (There are some local coins equivalent to US cents). There are a few ATMs in Panama City where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, amounts may be limited, and vary from bank to bank. Notes can be obtained from exchange houses and also from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. Panamanians are sometimes reluctant to accept US dollar notes of higher denominations.

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

A few days in multi-cultured Panama City, with its history of plundered gold, pirates, and international trade;  Portobelo, east of the Canal at the Caribbean end, a town built on a beautiful bay which much impressed Christopher Columbus who landed there. Its history of pirates and pillage is manifested in its ruined forts and the sunken galleons in the bay, a popular spot for divers.

Getting there

The southern, Pacific end of the Panama Canal is 15 km (20 mins by road) west of Panama City. Soberanía National Park is 28 km from the capital, a drive of 30 mins.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City

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