Colombia Highlights

From Mexico City we flew to Colombia’s capital – Bogota.

We travelled across most of Colombia by bus, stopping off at the following places:

  • Bogota
  • Villa de Leyva
  • San Gil
  • Palomino
  • Tayrona Park
  • Cartagena
  • Medellin
  • Manizales
  • Salento

We then flew to the Amazon and stayed in:

  • Leticia
  • Puerto Narino

On our return from the Amazon we stayed in:

  • Tatacoa Desert (Desierto de la Tatacoa)
  • San Agustin
  • Popayan
  • Ipiales

Scroll down to see my highlights for each of these areas!


 Bogota


Colombia’s capital, Bogota is a little bit of a let down unfortunately. Homelessness and drug addiction is rife and safety – especially at night, is an issue. We stayed in La Candelaria (the old town), and this is where we spent most of our time as it was quite pretty. However, walking the streets after dark is not advisable. On our first night we left our hostel at about 9.00 pm in search of a convenience store, only to be followed and threatened by a crackhead – luckily the local military guards were on patrol and so we made a lucky escape.

On the plus side the city’s main square Plaza de Bolivar is quite pretty and there are a couple of okay places to eat out. The city even has its own brewery. There are enough activities you can do that will keep you occupied for 3 days or so.

The best thing Bogota has going for it is its hidden art scene. It’s up there with the best – London, New York, Paris, LA…

I wasn’t expecting it and I’m so glad I stayed a few days in Bogota to get to know it. A must do whilst in Bogota is the Bogota Graffiti Walking Tour (see below).


Places to Stay


Alegrias Hostel
Carrera 2 # 09 – 46, Bogotà, Colombia
in La Candelaria (neighbourhood)
24 Hour Reception
t: (57 1) 286 8047
http://alegriashostel.com/

OK – so here’s the deal with this place (and most accommodation in Colombia):

It’s a far cry from the pictures showcased on the website and it’s in serious need of some maintenance.

The people who run the hostel are very friendly but are amongst some of the most stupid people I have ever met. They do not keep a system of bookings and so I guess over 90% of people who arrive who have a booking will not be on the system. For our first stay we booked via Hostelbookers. We arrived – no record of our booking but luckily they had a room. For our second stay (when we had to stop en route to the Amazon) we booked in person with 2 members of staff. Again – we arrived and we were not on the system – but luckily a room was available. Returning from the Amazon (4 days later) we had a room reservation. We checked with 3 members of staff who confirmed our stay for that night. We arrived back from the Amazon – guess what – no room and we had to find somewhere else. If you check the reviews on Trip Advisor you’ll see this happens frequently. Not just at this hostel though, in most hostels in Colombia. It’s a pain in the arse.

However, after staying in another hostel in the area Alegria felt the safest and cleanest and the communal area was very cosy – like a home away from home. The beds in the private rooms were terrible but the cosy atmosphere, the kitchen facilities, communal areas, and hot shower more than made up for it.


Things to See and Do


Graffiti Walking Tour

t. 321-297-4075
e. info@bogotagraffiti.com
w. www.bogotagraffiti.com
twitter: @bogotagraffiti
facebook: facebook.com/bogotagraffiti

Register online via their website so they know to expect you (you get a little freebie at the end) or you can just turn up.

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This is A MUST DO in Bogota. This tour offers a fantastic insight into how Graffiti in Colombia has evolved into a form of social commentary and cultural expression, so not only do you see some of the best street art in the world, you also learn about the politics and socio-economic history of the country. What’s better still is that the tour is run by one of the graffiti artists, Christian.

Read more about the tour and the artists in my blog: World-Class Art in Bogota, Colombia


Museo Botero (Botero museum)

La Candelaria District
Calle 11 # 4-41
Bogotá

The Botero Museum houses one of Latin America’s most important international art collections. The museum contains 123 works of Fernando Botero and 85 of other artists. Highlights of the permanent collection include works by Georges Braque, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet among many others.

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Fernando Botero Angulo (born 1932) is a figurative artist and sculptor from Medellin, Colombia. His signature style, also known as “Boterismo” depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume. Everything is basically fat and chubby!

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There’s even a chubby Mona Lisa!

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He is considered the most recognised and quoted living artist from Latin America, and his art can be found in highly visible places around the world -Park Avenue in New York and the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

We loved Botero, and unlike in Botero’s home town of Medellin, entrance to the museum is FREE!


Museo Historico Policia

I wish we had done this but we ran out of time. A young kid (18) doing his years service with the police force approached us in the square and told us about the tour. He was a really nice guy and the tour sounded really fun and it was FREE. Here’s the Lonely Planet low down:

“This surprisingly worthwhile museum not only gets you inside the lovely HQ (built in 1923) of Bogota’s police force, but gives you a 45 minutes or so of contact time with 18-year-old English speaking local guides who are serving a one-year compulsory servoce with the police (interesting tales to be heard). The best parts otherwise follow cocaine-kingpin Pablo Escobar’s demise in 1993 – with a model dummy of his bullet-ridden corpse, his Harley Davidson and his personal Bernadelli pocket pistol, otherwise know as his ‘second wife.'”


Plaza Bolivar

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A pretty-ish place to pass through. Head up the streets of La Candelaria behind the square for quaint, albeit expensive cafes and restaurants.


Go to the top of Cerro de Monserrate

Even Bogota has some breath-taking views. Take a cable car to the top of Mount Monserrate (Cerro de Monserrate) and admire the views. Don’t walk – it can be dangerous.

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The Gold Museum – Museo del Oro

We did go and we regretted it. It was really boring – even the audio guide didn’t help make it more interesting. A gold plate…some gold jewellery. Great. Other people seemed to enjoy it though. Couldn’t figure out why.


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Patisserie Francaise a Peche Mignon
CALLE 9 No. 2-18
Bogotá, Colombia

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Great white chocolate cake and slightly pricey wine but hey – a few blocks up from the Botero Museum, is this cute little cafe offering all sorts of pastries and cakes and some main dishes too.


Crepes and Waffles
Ac 13 No 4 55, Bogota

This is a great chain run entirely by single mothers and women in need.

Read more about it here: http://www.trust.org/item/20140513102727-it76s/

There are lots of locations, including one in Bogota. It’s cheap and there is an endless selection of savoury and sweet crepes and waffles to choose from. Really loved it here.


Villa de Leyva


This has to be my favourite town in the whole of Colombia. Sitting pretty  3.5 hours north of Bogota this little colonial village packs a punch – lovely lovely people, great food, stunning scenery, mountain biking, hiking, and a huge square surrounded by little cafes, restaurants and bars.

There are some really impressive sights to be seen around Villa de Leyva – I would stay there for a minimum of 3 days.

Sit in the square and take in the sky. It is incredible!

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Places to Stay


There are a load of options in town.

We stayed at Hotel El Solar

CALL 10a # 10-60, Villa de Leyva

El Solar is one of the top rated places to stay on Trip Advisor, and just as cheap as local hostels in the area.

The owner, Marta, is just about the loveliest lady you’ll meet in Colombia. You’re greeted with love and affection ‘mi amore! mi amore! We had a good sized private double room and it was cheap, clean, comfortable, and the water was hot! The service is great as well – we had to make a series of complex reservations for the north and needed to use the phone. They just did everything for us – called, spoke to the owners and made the reservations for us. Great place!


Things to See and Do


Explore the countryside surrounding Villa de Leyva by bike

CICLOTRIP

Carrera 8 # 11-32
ciclotrip.vdl@gmail.com

Just 3 blocks up from Plaza Mayor is a super friendly artist from Venezuela (Francisco) who runs an eco-friendly mountain bike business – Ciclotrip with his wife Angela. You can rent bikes or Francisco will take you on any number of bespoke cycling trips around the Villa de Leyva countryside. Trips vary from easy – to hard and you can also ask for hiking tours. Click here for a list of tours I really wish I had been fit enough for The Witches Patio!

There are other tour agencies offering bikes in the area but this guy seriously knows his stuff. Cycling is his passion and he knows the terrain like the back of his hand. If it all gets too much he also has a driver on standby who can come and collect you. He also volunteers with the red cross as part of the mountain rescue team so you know you’re in safe hands!

Besides the bikes he’s also an excellent guide, pointing out for example the little town nearby where every year the locals stage a crucifixion…with nails! He’ll only stop at the points that really interest you, making the tour entirely bespoke and tailored to your needs/interests.

Probably the BEST outdoors tour I’ve done in Colombia – by far!

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Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


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Plaza Mayor (The main square)

Decent selection of beers and a super nice spot to sit and take in the views at sunset.


There’s a whole heap of restaurants and cafes in town – this one stood out for its Gelato – they also do good pizzas and the owner is just lovely:

Santa Lucia Pizzeria Gelateria Cafe

Carrera 10 # 10-27 | Frente Al Hotel El Eden, Villa de Leyva 154001270 , Colombia


Panaderia Tropical de la Villa
Calle 10 # 9-16.

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Eat breakfast here! This one was recommended by the locals.

It’s ridiculously cheap, fresh and delicious and the service is EXCELLENT! The coffee is also delicious.


San Gil


We travelled north from Villa de Leyva and stopped off at San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia. San Gil is actually quite small as far as towns go and was a little bit over crowded with the number of tourists. We didn’t go out too much in town as it’s not so welcoming and a bit hectic. Not to any sort of extreme but eyes have a tendency of following you. I got the impression the locals were a little bit pissed off by the volume of tourists – not surprising really – there were a lot of loud Americans. Hey ho!

The availability to take part in sports was everywhere. We arranged white water rafting and paragliding via our hostel. Amazing experiences!

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Places to Stay


Sams VIP Hostel

Probably the most popular hostel for gringos in the whole of Colombia. There’s nothing particularly VIP about it though – there was no hot water when we were there and the staff were a bit dumb. You also had to buy (over priced) alcohol at the hostel and couldn’t bring in your own. That really sucked but we just bought our own wine at the supermarket and hid it in our room anyway. It is a big hostel though and the communal areas are spread out everywhere. Besides the billions of ants and insects crawling around the sink, work surfaces and cupboards, the kitchen facilities were also pretty good.

I really liked their business card that read something along the lines of: “Your opinions are important to us. Please share your experiences on Trip Advisor, unless of course you had a bad experience, in which case please keep it to yourself.” GOOD ONE!

However, they do offer a full service and you can book everything, including onward bus tickets with them. Shop around for prices first if you’re on a budget. Bus tickets worked out cheaper through them, although – going back to the point of the dumb staff, when we arrived at the bus station at 6.00 am, there was no record of our booking and they had to call the hostel to re-confirm. Luckily there were JUST 2 seats left on the bus.


Things to See and Do


Paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon (Only $170,000 COP – about £40  for 40 minutes). The company I recommend are called ‘Parapente Chicamocha.’

TIP: you can take a camera up there with you as long as it’s secured to you. You can also rent a selfie stick with camera attached for about 30,000 – you take the memory card with you after you’ve finished. They also take pictures of you before you set off which you can download later from their Facebook page.

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White Water Rafting

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Other activities we didn’t do because we couldn’t afford to:

  • Hydrospeed or Riverboarding – 40,000
  • Rappelling or Abseiling in Juan Curi Waterfalls – 45,000 (we just went there independently by bus for a small hike and swim).
  • Caving – around 25,000 – 35,000
  • Bungee Jumping – 35,000 (although I think there’s a reason it’s so cheap. It’s fairly small and looks completely dangerous. I would not trust it!)

Juan Curi Waterfalls

A day trip to the nearby 180m waterfalls of Juan Curi, 20km from San Gil on the road to Charalá is a must, as is a swim in the pool at the bottom. Buses leave San Gil frequently and take 40 minutes. (You do get charged about 5,000 entrance fee).

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Barichara

Take a bus to the local town of Barichara (40 minutes journey every 30 minutes until 6.30pm) and admire its sweeping views over orange terrain and lush green landscape, set against bright blue skies! The town itself is a little bit boring to be honest but there’s a trek you can do from it (the 2 hour walk to Guane), and all the scenery pictured below is set behind the church at the top of the hill by the plaza where the bus drops you off.

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Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


We mostly went to the supermarket and cooked at our hostel.

Sam’s Pub (under the same ownership of Sam’s VIP hostel) is meant to serve delicious steak but whenever the staff at the hostel told us it was open it was closed. We just gave up in the end. The burgers at Gringo Mike’s were pretty tasty and there’s a pizzeria opposite Gringo Mike’s that’s supposed to be good.


Palomino


We took a 13 hour bus from San Gil up to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast where we stayed for just one night (Santa Marta is just full of traffic and resorts – not your typical Caribbean dream). We then took a local bus to the small beach town of Palomino, just under 2 hours drive (70km) away. We stayed in Palomino for 5 nights.

Palomino is very beautiful but the sea is not so swimmable because of a strong undercurrent, and the food and drink at the beach-side restaurants and bars was over priced. I’ve been to much nicer beaches in my time so was a little underwhelmed but it was a great place to kick back – a much better option than Santa Marta.

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Getting Around

Once the bus arrives in the town you can take a mototaxi for about COP 5,000  down the path towards the beach where all hostels are located, or just walk. The path leading down to the beach takes 15-20 minutes to walk. Just ask for the way to La Playa.


Places to Stay


We stayed in a great place called Palomino Breeze located on the end of the main path a few minutes walk from the beach.

Owner, Juan is very friendly, speaks some English, and organised everything for us – Mototaxis, the tubing excursion, and he gave us information on how to get to Tayrona Park. Unlike other hostel owners in the area Juan is not capitalising on tours and trips. When he organised our tubing he just called a local guy who he knew from a company in town. We were charged 20,000 COP with a guide. People in the Finca hostel located on the beach were charged 70,000 COP.


BIG TIP:

Avoid staying at the popular Dreamer Hostel and Tiki Hut. They charge shockingly over the norm. The private double room I booked at Palomino Breeze (poolside), cost the same as a dormitary bed at both of these hostels.

I heard one guy was looking for a place to pitch a tent and The Dreamer said that he could sleep on the sofa IN THE BAR for 30,000 COP (about £10). Considering in most places you are charged 10,000 COP to sling a hammock and you have your own locker, are you kidding me! Yeah, i’ll take that vomit stained gross sofa once the last man standing decides to leave the bar at 3am…

All of the hostels are located on the path connecting the town to the beach. Most of them will have great views of the mountains of Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Finca Escondida

If you’re desperate for beach-side living, then Finca Escondida would be my first option, or there are one or two more places next door and a little further down the beach to the right.

In these places you can pitch tents and sling hammocks for a fraction of the price at The Dreamer. They also have cabanas. I didn’t check the cost though and I wasn’t altogether fussed. Nothing beat my pad with pool and mountain views.

Finca also has a great bar and restaurant, although the food is quite expensive. Mains average 20,000 COP and the portion sizes are average.


Things to See and Do


Aside from beach time here are the main activities not to be missed:

Tubing the Palomino River

palomino tubing

An AMAZING ‘Avatar’ like experience. The setting is beautiful – stunning!
Oh – we saw one small caiman as we were approaching the bridge towards the end. Watch your bums!

I booked at my hostel – Palomino Breeze. The owner, Juan just called some guys in town who run a tubing business to come and pick us up. At the time I think it cost about 20,000 COP. They take you on the motorbike as far as they can go and you hike for about 20 minutes up the steep hill, carrying the tube with you.

You’ll see about three tubing stands in town – I think they all offer pretty much the same service.

TIPS:

1. Bear in mind that everything will get wet when you go tubing but you will need fairly decent shoes to climb the hill. I had sandals and Seamus had some heavy duty flip flops. We had a waterproof bag with us that we put things in. I just wore my t-shirt (with bikini underneath) and put my shorts in the bag. If you don’t have a waterproof bag just take a plastic bag.

2. You’ll be carrying your large heavy tube yourself all the way up the hill – be prepared for that

3. Take some beers with you!


Tayrona Park

Tayrona Park was Ok – it was a lot less wild than I thought it would be, in that it was very accessible and easily paved. The beaches were beautiful but it was hard to find a spot away from the crowds, even though we were there on a weekday and out of season. It made for a nice day trip though.

How to get there and things to know:

  • From Palomino it’s about an hour by bus to park entrance ‘El Zaino.’ Leave at 7.00 am.
  • The park opens at 8.00 am. Some sort of park ranger shows you a video and then you buy your tickets. It takes a while to buy the tickets so my tip is to buy the tickets while everyone is watching the video.
  • Tickets cost about 38,000 COP.
  • No one searched my bag for booze at this entrance – I could easily have taken a few beers in. However, you get to a restaurant after about 20 minutes of walking in the park and the beers aren’t really that much more expensive. About 4,000 COP a can?

Things to take:

  • Ticket buyers need to take some form of ID: passport or drivers license.
  • Food and water. All available inside the park but it’s cheaper if you take your own.
  • Definitely take a cooler bag if you’re taking or buying beers.

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We went as far as Playa La Piscina (2-3 hours walking)

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Venture off the beaten track a little:

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Go in search of Titi Monkeys – that’s right – Titi Monkeys!

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Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Finca Escondida – located on the beach

Happy hour ever day – 2×1 on different drinks. One day it could be Gin and Tonic, another day Cuba Libre.
Don’t leave without having tried the Pina Coladas. They’re legendary.

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Steven Cafe

Ask around for directions. There are no named roads. I know he is based somewhere just off the path which connects the beach to the main road and he’s well known in the area so it shouldn’t be too much trouble finding him.

We didn’t go as we didn’t have time but some other people we met said it was brilliant – not so much for the food – which was very good – but the show. Chef, Steven is Italian and apparently goes wild in the kitchen. An experience not to be missed!

Steven also offers camping, lockers and cheap rooms.


Cartagena


Sorry but my main recommendation is to get out as quickly as possible. Horrible place. Avoid the street ‘Media Luna’ like the plague. People only stay there if they’re out to get completely shit faced. People are vomiting and pissing in the street as you walk past. Totally grim – every night of the week.

The old town is lovely and very pretty but budget travellers beware – heck, even mid-range travellers – it’s the most expensive city in Colombia. A beer costs 10,000 COP! That’s my budget for a bloody meal!

You’ll also notice that nothing is priced in shops – they’ll make up prices as they go. In the hotel we stayed at they charged everyone different prices.

Complete thieves, I’m afraid.

Apparently the nearby Isla Baru is meant to be very chilled out and beautiful, and much much cheaper than Cartagena. Go there instead!


Medellin


We took the night bus to the city of Medellin, the second largest and most modern city in Colombia. It is located in the Aburra Valley, a central region of the Andes Mountains in South America.

The city’s average annual temperature is 22 °C, and because of its proximity to the equator, its temperature is constant year round, so it’s like Springtime every day, hence its name “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera” or “City of the Eternal Spring.”

There’s definitely something a lot more fuzzy and springlike about this city in comparison to other cities in Colombia but having been to cities in Mexico and even Cuba, I think it still has some catching up to do.

As we were on such a tight schedule we had only one day in which to see everything. We managed it and didn’t feel like we needed longer – however, if you want to base yourself in a city for any length of time in Colombia – Medellin, by far, is your best bet!


Places to Stay


Stay in the North or South – stay clear of Central Medellin. To be honest they need to work on it. It’s a bit scabby and run down and again – full of homeless people begging and drug addicts running wild. Definitely not a safe place to walk around at night. We heard a few horror stories.

We stayed in Poblado.

Lovely area with cafes, bars, restaurants and the lovely hostel – The Black Sheep.

The Black Sheep Hostel

Transversal 5A # 45-45, Medellín, Antioquia

First thing – figure out via a map or GPS on your phone where this hostel is. Taxi drivers cannot find it! They’ll get there in the end but it’s painful.

We arrived on a Sunday and signed up for the BBQ that evening. Holy God, it was the best food I’d had in ages! Tons of fresh salad, potato salad with mayonnaise, chicken, steak, sausages. YUM!

Showers are hot, rooms are very spacious and reasonably priced, decent wifi, lockers. Sort of everything you need. Not the most atmospheric hostel I’ve stayed in – lacked the cosiness factor, but it ticked boxes everywhere else.


Things to See and Do


A ride in the cable cars over the city is obligatory, followed by a trip to the Botero Plaza.

Buy metro tickets and take a train to Acevedo. Change here for the cable car. To go right to the top you will need to pay extra and change again at Santa Domingo. Lovely views and the cable car takes you over the national park but my big tip is to just stay on and let it take you back. That way you don’t have to pay the return fare, which is expensive (9,000 COP?). If you want to go for a walk through the park, think again – only guided tours available at certain times and they last 3 hours. I just didn’t think it was worth it and it was a bit of a let down not to be able to walk around alone, even for a stroll. We just gave up and got back in the cable car, wishing we’d just stayed on.

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Wiki: “Metrocable is a gondola lift system implemented by the City Council of Medellín, Colombia, with the purpose of providing a complementary transportation service to that of Medellín’s Metro. It was designed to reach some of the least developed suburban areas of Medellín. and is largely considered to be the first Cable Propelled Transit system in South America.”

Don’t forget to visit the Botero Plaza and admire the chubby sculptures!

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There’s also the Botero museum but you have to pay to go in. We didn’t bother as we went for free in Bogota. The square is cool though but the area surrounding the square is run-down and there’s nothing else worth hanging around for. The museum cafe overlooking the square was nice for beers and food.


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Unfortunately I can’t suggest much as we ate BBQ at our hostel on the night we stayed. However, we did go to this SUPERB place for breakfast:

Al Alma Cafe Restaurante
Cra 45 # 5 15, Poblado, Medellin

Amazing coffee and the best bagels I’ve had in years!


Manizales


From Medellin we travelled further south to the city of Manizales. We stopped here to break up the journey to Salento. The city itself is a bit rough and there’s not much to do, but the countryside surrounding it is super impressive! It’s also a good place from which to explore Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados.


Places to Stay


Hostal Kaleidoscopio

Calle 20 # 21-15
T. +57 8901702
hostalkaleidoscopio@gmail.com

Guaranteed best place to stay in town. Huge central homely communal area with enormous skylight, hot showers and a kitchen. Rooms are large, spacious and clean, and beds are very comfortable. Breakfast is also included and is basic but very nice. The owner, Martha, is an absolute treasure and her dog, Gizmo, is very entertaining.

Martha will organise your excursions for you. She’s so lovely she makes the place feel like home instantly.


Things to See and Do


The natural thermal pools of Termales Tierra Viva are very nice to relax in during a week day. Get there for sunset. The pools are very small though but it’s worth it, just to give those muscles a good soak. According to the locals these are the best pools in the area. Get a hot dog while you’re there. They’re delicious!

To get there take the Enea-Gallinazo bound bus (1500 COP) from town. When you get on the bus say that you want to go to the Thermales Tierra Viva.


A Spectacled bear called Chucho lives in the Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco. Chucho’s kind is sadly endangered, so he’s in an enclosure but he is well cared for by the park rangers and has a massive, wild space to wander around. Lots of birds, butterflies and a nice hike.

You need to book a guide one day in advance. Hostel owners should be able to do this on your behalf.

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Had we stayed for longer and had more money we may have gone to Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados – lots of hiking and snow-covered volcanic peaks.


Salento


Beautiful and stunning – coffee farms and spectacular scenery make Salento a Colombia must!


Places to Stay


El zorzal if you want it chilled, with peace and great scenery or Hostal Tralala if you want it sociable and busy. We wanted a bit of peace. Zorzal was perfect and the breakfast was lovely, overlooking the hills and bird garden!

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The owner also welcomes you with a free cocktail. good start!


There are lots of decently priced places to eat and drink in town, and lots of vegetarian and even vegan options too.


Things to See and Do


Finca Don Elios – small coffee farm

The walk from town to the coffee farm was beautiful. Ask at your hostel for directions although it’s a fairly straightforward walk – approx. 1 hour.

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Climb to the Mirador

From the end of Calle Real in town the path leads up to Alto e la Cruz, El Mirador, the viewpoint of Salento. You have to climb the 200 stairs to the big cross at the top of the hill. Great sunsets.

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TIP: Go to the supermarket first and grab some water and a few beers. Once you reach the top you’ll be gagging for a pint!


A highlight of our stay in Salento was visiting the nearby Valle de Cocora with its Wax Palm reserve. The Wax Palm is Colombia’s national tree and is also the tallest palm in the world reaching up to 60 meters in height.

To get there take a Willys Jeep from the main square in town. Check at your hostel for times. When we were there jeeps were departing at:

Monday – Friday: 6:10, 7:30, 9:30, 10,30, 11:30, 13:00, 14:00, 16:00 (weekends I’m not sure but the times won’t vary greatly).

COP 3,600

Go early – the shortest hike takes about 5-6 hours.

It costs nothing to enter the park, making this one cheap day trip! You do not need a guide. Try and get a map from your hostel. Ours gave us this one:

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You start walking from the area marked PUNTO DE ENCUENTRO. Follow the lower route down to point number 6 – ACAIME. Here you can pay COP 5,000 to enter a beautiful garden filled with humming birds and these strange creatures:

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You then follow the loop back to La Montana and around to El Planchon – it’s along this part that you will find open fields filled with the palms. This loop in total takes 5-6 hours. If you want to go up to the waterfall I’ve heard you may need a guide as the trail is quite difficult and you should allow for an extra 2 hours.

On our hike through the valley we enjoyed:

Seeing hundreds of Humming Birds. 

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A ride in the back of an old WWII Willys Jeep, and a stunning, adventurous hike:

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Finally…hundreds upon hundreds of sky-high Wax Palms in beautiful cloud forest surroundings:

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Amazon, Colombia


Check out my Amazon Special Blog Post!

Includes how I did it, how much it all cost me roughly and everywhere I stayed, and links to other resources I found helpful when planning my trip.

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Desierto Tatacoa (Tatacoa Desert)


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The landscape of this arid desert is spectacular. The clay surfaces have all been eroded by a lake that once existed, creating a labyrinth effect. This is unlike any other desert landscape in the world.

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The Tatacoa Desert is best known for having two distinctive colors: ocher in the area of Cusco

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And grey in the Los Hoyos area.

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How to get to the desert

Take a bus to Neiva. From Neiva jump in a colectivo going to Villavieja. You can ask the colectivo driver to take you straight to the desert. This should cost around COP 15,000.


Places to Stay


Go with Lonely Planet’s recommendations – there aren’t many options in the desert but there are enough and the observatory rents out camping gear or hammocks. All accommodation options are within a few 100 metres of the observatory.

Avoid the weekends if you haven’t booked ahead as people from Bogota travel to the desert to escape the cold. We stayed in a place called Noches de Saturno. It was OK, it had a pool but the owners were pretty useless.

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Things to See and Do


You can explore both the red desert and the grey desert in just one day.

Getting Around

We took a tour from our hostel so it worked out to be a little more expensive COP 40,000 p/p. It included a tour of the red desert (El Cusco), a stop at a look out point in a place called Ventanas, a tour of the grey desert (Los Hoyos), time at the natural pool and motorbike transportation.

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A mototaxi would have cost us COP 20,000 each any way + extra for waiting time, and the tour was actually really interesting.

  • Leave early
  • Take plenty of sun protection
  • Take at least 2 litres of water
  • Wear a hat

It gets very very hot! When we were there temperatures reached 47 degrees.

Look out for cactus in the red desert bearing pink fruit. It’s edible and delicious!

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Make sure you stop off at the natural pool in the grey desert.


Star Gazing

Because of the dry, clear conditions, lack of light pollution and location near the equator, Tatacoa is a great spot for stargazing the skies above the northern and southern hemispheres. Beautiful!

Every evening at 7pm, a local astrologer takes you to the top of the observatory for a full-on night show.

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The Milky Way was totally visible and we saw Venus and Mars and a whole heap of constellations that the astrologer pointed out excitedly using a green laser. It was awesome!

Only COP 10,000 for 2 hours (£3!)

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Beware of desert scorpions

Unfortunately, an encounter with a desert scorpion (measuring aprox. 15cm) led to a visit to the hospital on the last day. Luckily it wasn’t of the deadly kind. I don’t think there are deadly species in the desert but if anything like this does happen you can’t risk it.

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San Agustin


Rolling hills of pastures green, brilliant blue skies, humming birds, hammocks and red wine…YES PLEASE! Our last long stop and a firm favourite, San Agustin is a very special place indeed.

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Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, San Agustin holds the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America in a wild, spectacular landscape. Somewhere between the 1st and 8th century indigenous people in the area carved thousands of abstract sculptures – of gods crossed with humans and mythical creatures. Many of the statues were recovered near ancient burial sites so it is possible that they were used as a symbol of protection when passing through to the afterlife.

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A beautiful place to pass the time and I highly recommend staying at Casa de Francois, a hostel located slightly outside of town at the top of a hill. Only a 10 minute walk from the town centre. Beautiful scenery, incredible food and great wine!

San Agustin was a sacred land, a place of pilgrimage where ancestors worshiped together.

I could see why.

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A perfect place to end our Colombian adventure.


En Route to Ecuador – Popayan, Ipiales


The bus journeys to Popayan and Ipiales were fairly easy but two days of solid bus journeys can take it out of you. The road from San Agustin to Popayan is VERY bumpy!

Both accommodations we stayed at were GREAT value and very clean and comfortable. Ipiales was more a hotel. The bed was amazing and the room had cable tv and great wifi.

Popayan

HostelTrail
Carrera 11 #4-16
Popayan
Popayan@hosteltrail.com


Ipiales

Gran hotel
Cra. 5. No. 21-100 barrio san vicente
Granhotel_ipiales@hotmail.com

Definitely your best option. 70,000 a night.
Great wifi, hot shower, food to order, plasma tv and cable, large comfortable double beds.

Whilst in Ipiales make sure you visit the Las Lajas Sanctuary – a completely epic looking cathedral, set right in the heart of the landscape.

It’s a 20 minute taxi ride outside of town.

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 Related blog posts:

World-Class Art in Bogota Colombia

Colombia – The Great Outdoors

The Amazon Colombia


Next stop: Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands


Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere else I travelled to: CubaMexico, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.

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