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COLOMBIA:

 

  

 

Colombia has been successful of late in shedding its image as an unruly South American wild west.  Its past reputation has been less than stellar.  Pessimists once quipped that “at one point, guerillas controlled 40 percent of the country and narcotic drug lords controlled 70 percent.”  Like many nations, there is a wide disparity between the rich and the poor.  Crackdown and apprehension of menacing 1990’s drug lords and their cartels and warring insurgent guerilla-paramilitary organizations, have enabled the nation to once again entice tourists to its shores as an attractive vacation destination.  Gone are the days of crater-sized holes in roads leading into Cartagena and guards armed with machine guns stationed atop port warehouses and onboard tour buses to protect arriving cruise passengers.  Nowadays, you’re more likely to encounter drug lords in any major American city rather than in Colombia. 

 

Geographically, Colombia is approximately twice the size of California.  It is the only South American nation to have coasts both on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

 

Its vibrant economy is second only to Brazil’s.  It is situated on the northwestern corner of South America.  It represents one of the world’s most biologically diverse nations with 17,000-foot mountain ranges and coastlines on two oceans.  Practically ten percent of the land mass is dedicated and preserved as national parks.  The revitalized Colombia has come a long way and is indeed well deserving of a new look-see. 

 

Colombia is a mere 2.5-hour flight from Miami. 

 

DOCUMENTATION: Valid, in-force U.S. Passport.  A visa is not required.

 

(CHECK LATEST STATE DEPT TRAVEL WARNINGS)

 

 

 

LANGUAGE: Spanish

 

CURRENCY: peso  Ch$

 

COLOMBIAN CUISINE:

Colombian cuisine consists of:

Arepas montadas: stuffed cornmeal cakes served hot

Aroz con coco: coconut rice

Bananas en tentacion: bananas with red cola

Repas de huevo: fried corncake pouches stuffed with egg

Lengua: (tongue) soup

Carimanolas: fried yucca fritters

Cerveza

Arepas: a flatbread often stuffed

Bollos de coco: coconut buns

Cilantro-marinated shrimp

Langoustines

Meat sticks, sausages, tamales, pork rinds, ceviche and shrimp paella with coconut rice. 

Changua: egg and cilantro soup - perfect for a hangover! 

Sweets like Tamarind balls, coconut shavings, sticky fruit desserts. 

 

TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP:

Service is relaxed in Colombia - “manana’ is the buzz word, get used to it.  Promptness is not a virtue in Colombia.

 

Most restaurants automatically add on bill an additional 8% - 10%.  If not, leave 15% - 18% as is customary in the U.S. gratuity for good service; excellent service should average 18% - 20%.

 

  

 

Hotel staff are accustomed to sharing gratuities in Colombia.  Reward at end of stay: $5.00 - $10.00 per person daily; exception are the baggage handlers: tip them $1.00 per bag.

 

Taxis: Optional

Expert Local Tour Guides: $5.00 - $10.00 per person daily.

 

THE BEST TIME TO VACATION IN COLOMBIA:

The best time to visit Colombia is during December through March.

 

AVOID: Late March, April, May, July, October, and December.

 

MAJOR HOLIDAYS IN COLOMBIA:

January 1: New Years Day - Ano Nuevo

January 1: La Circunsicion

January 6: Epiphany

March 19: San Jose

March or April (the days leading up to Ash Wednesday): Carnival-observed in Barranquilla.  This is Colombia’s most famous Carnival with street parades.  Barranquilla is a two-hour bus ride from Cartagena.

March or April: Semana Sante

May 1: Labor Day - Dia de los Trabajadores

May or June: Corpus Christi

June: Sagrado Corazon de Jesus

June 29: San Pedro y San Pablo

 

  

 

July 20: Independence Day - Dia de la Independencia

August 7: Simon Bolivar wins - the Batalla de Boyaca

August 15: La Asuncion de Nuestra Senora

Last week of August: Feria del Orinoco - celebrated in Ciudad Bolivar

November 11: Independencia de Cartagena

December 8: Immaculada Conception

December 25: Christmas

 

 

 

ARMENIA:

 

  

 

Yes, there is also an Armenia, Colombia.  The landscape consists of a lush green valley with high, bluish mountain ranges; it is home to coffee plantations and sports several volcanoes. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN ARMENIA:

Armenia is the center of Colombia’s coffee production.  Visit a working coffee plantation in the rolling hills.  UNESCO recognizes the area as part of the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. 

 

Sample the coffee blends and roasts in a testing laboratory. 

 

 

 

Visit the highly scenic Valley of Cocora - part of Los Nevados National Park. 

 

 

 

BOGOTA D.C.:

 

  

 

Bogota D.C. is the capital of Colombia.  It is located in the center of the country.  The metro area’s population hovers at 8.5 million.  Bogota is the administrative, governmental, commercial, financial, educational, and cultural center of Colombia.  Whereas Bogota once was considered a risky tourist destination and a surefire invite for a potential kidnapping, tourists are now pleasantly surprised with the transformation - the local tourism slogan is “The only risk is wanting to stay.”  Yes, there’s a noticeable presence of armed security personnel on the streets, but have you noticed New York City lately and other American cities?  The city is surrounded by green mountain ridges. 

 

MAJOR EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN BOGOTA: 

2014: Mid-March - early April: Ibero-American Theater Festival: 80 worldwide theatrical companies perform 320 works at open-air stages and the Corferias Center in Bogota.  There are 800 shows, 1,200 artists, and 250 theater companies from 45 countries.  In addition, there are 150 street theater presentations. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN BOGOTA:

First time visitors are amazed to discover that at 8,500 feet in altitude, Bogotá is the third highest city in the world.  Pace yourself due to the altitude. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: Avoid hailing taxis in the street.  Use taxis recommended by your hotel or restaurant. 

 

 

 

If so inclined, you can rent a bicycle and explore the Ciclovia, one of the world’s largest bicycle networks. 

 

Be leery of pick-pockets and beggars. 

 

La Candelaria is the city’s oldest district and favored target for most visitors (allow a minimum of four hours to see).  Its residential area is famous for its Spanish Colonial architecture, painted vibrant shades of blue, green and red and terra cotta roofs, some homes dating back to the sixteenth century.  Once seedy, the area is undergoing a remarkable renaissance and renovation.  Several prominent museums dot the landscape cultural scene including Museo de Oro (see below), Museo de Arte Colonial (see below), Museo del Orate includes Teatro Colon and Centro Cultural Gabriel Marquez.  La Plaza de Bolivar, with its enormous statue of Simon Bolivar is the city’s center; it is surrounded on three sides by massive government buildings, the Capitol, City Hall, Presidential Palace, Law Courts, and the Museum “20 de Julio.”  The Cathedral de la Immaculate Conception (1785) flanks the Plaza’s fourth side.  The Plaza tends to be crowded with locals on weekends.  Vendors hawk llama and pony rides; other sidewalk vendors sell a variety of unfamiliar food. 

 

Iclovia, a weekly event, takes place every Sunday - several major streets are closed to automobile traffic. 

 

Bogota has become known for its colorful and opinionated graffiti street art. 

 

  

 

Nearby is the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), housing the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold jewelry and figurines - over 55,000 gold pieces - only 6,000 are on exhibit at any one time, at Calle16 No. 5-41, and the International Center (financial hub).  The Gold Museum sells gold-plated replicas of pre-Colombian items. 

 

Famed Colombian artist Gregario Vasquez has several paintings displayed at the Museum of Colonial Art.

 

In addition to the museums already listed, Bogotá is blessed with a wealth of other worthy museums: 

 

First and foremost of Bogota’s art museums is the Botero Museum (Fernando Botera), housing 123 of the famed Colombian artist’s art and sculpture works, along with works by Picasso, Chagall, Renoir, Dali, Matisse, Sisley, Henry Moore, Monet and other nineteenth - early twentieth century masters.  The museum and its contents were a gift from Botero.  The museum is located at Calle 11, No. 4-41 and can be reached by calling 57-1-343-1331.  This is an absolute must for art lovers. 

 

The seventeenth century Church of Santa Clara’s exterior belies the stunning interior of gold - worth a look-see. 

 

 

 

Museo Nacional de Colombia displays art and Colombian history in a former colonial prison located at Carrera 7, NO. 28-66. 

 

The Archaeological Museum houses an impressive collection of pre-Colombian ceramics. 

 

Teatro Colon is Bogota’s cultural district. 

 

Ascend (via foot, funicular, or tramway) Monserrate, a mountain peak overlooking Bogota for panoramic views of the city.

 

On Sundays, large groups of pilgrims congregate at Monserrate, a huge church overlooking the city. 

 

Check out Monserrate Hill (at 10,000 feet in altitude) for its panoramic views.  A church sits atop the hill overlooking the city.  Take the funicular up to the top in the morning and the cable car back later in the day. 

 

The International Center is home to high-rises and the local bullring that seats 25,000 spectators. 

 

Engage with locals in a round of Tejo, a popular pastime very similar to horseshoe-style hurling, except in this instance, Tejo involves hurling iron discs called tejos down a narrow alleyway into a clay pit. 

 

  

 

A great day side trip via private guide automobile to the nearby colonial city of Zipaquira (35 miles north of Bogota) to visit to tour the Catedral de Sal (the Salt Cathedral), a unique and enormous church seating thousands (8,400 capacity) built in a 25-acre, 590 feet underground salt mine.  There are intricate salt carvings of the Stations of the Cross.  This “First Wonder of Colombia” opened in 1995. 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST IN BOGOTA:

It is pricey, but worth it is the upscale Casa Medina Hotel - the city’s finest.

 

The 55-room tower high-rise B.O.C. is another good choice for upscale lodging.

 

Others include the 148-room Courtyard by Marriott and the 168-room W Bogota, both opening in 2014.

 

The 297-room Grand Hyatt Bogota is scheduled for a 2015 opening. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN BOGOTA:

Usaquien, a stylish area for affluent Colombians, is the scene for several new restaurants and of the Sunday flea market.  Search for antiques, fine leather goods, and woodcarvings.

 

   

 

The best shopping is Andino Mall and the surrounding stores of top fashion designers.  Zone T is a prime shopping district. 

 

25 new shopping malls were built in the past decade. 

 

Emerald bargains?  Street dealers, ala “Trench Coat Louie” sell emeralds - both real and fake, at the corner of Jiminez and Carrera Septima in downtown Bogota weekday mornings.  Better know your stuff when dealing here! 

 

The Warehouse Art Gallery exhibits street and contemporary art. 

 

The Macarena district is the center of the city’s art scene with numerous studios and galleries. 

 

TASTY DINING IN BOGOTA:

Bogota is known for its ajiaco, a soup made with several varieties of potato, herbs, corn, and fresh chicken. 

 

The primary dining areas are Zone Z and the La Candelaria, Carrera, and La Macarena neighborhoods. 

 

  

 

The place to be and be seen is Andres Carne de Res, a steakhouse, in suburban Chia.  It attracts the so-called beautiful people for fine dining and dancing.  The décor is like an interior decorator on acid and totally gone berserk: hanging mobiles, religious artworks and sculptures literally everywhere.  What began as a meager ten table restaurant now seats 2,000 diners at any one time in a structure the size of four football fields!!!  The restaurant staff totals 700.  Talk about an evening of non-stop fun: dancing, entertainers, jesters, and a marching band!  It is a 40-minute drive outside of Bogota.  The menu?  Grilled sausages, steaks, lamb chops, and marble-sized criollo potatoes.  The restaurant is located at Calle 3#11A56, Chia, and can be reached by calling +57 7 8612233. 

 

There’s a scaled down version in Bogota, which seats 800, called Andre’s DC (Cale 82, No 11-57, 863-7880), with a 60-page menu and atmosphere overload, but the original is the place to visit and really experience Colombia at its festive best.  The restaurant is closed Monday through Wednesday but open Thursday through Sunday 12:00 p.m. - 3:00 a.m., except only until midnight on Sunday.  Better yet, try both and compare. 

 

Another good steakhouse is Harry’s Restaurant, located at Calle 70 No 5-57, which can be reached by calling 57-1-321-3940. 

 

Zona G, or the “Gourmet Zone” in the Northern sector of the city, is home to the city’s other top restaurants.

 

The outdoor cafes surrounding Parque de la 93 are also popular with the money crowd. 

 

If paying by credit card be sure to specify that you want the full billing to appear, not spread out over several months. 

 

Leo Cocina y Cava is another winner, serving native ingredients with Spanish, Indian, and African influences.  Think lobster, whitefish, and tropical fruits. 

 

   

 

La Puerta Falsa is the city’s oldest restaurant. 

 

Unromantic: Avoid dining at Casa San Isidro with a loved one that you plan to marry.  Legend has it that you will never make it to the altar!  The restaurant is located at Paseo Bolivar Estacion Furnicular. 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST IN BOGOTA:

While in Bogota, stay at the Bogota Hilton. 

 

The Old World Inn (1946) is the city’s grand hotel, displaying elegant colonial décor.  It provides excellent service.  The inn is located at Carrera NO 69A-22. 

 

A NIGHT ON THE TOWN IN BOGOTA: 

Colombians love live performance from street theater to Broadway-type productions. 

 

Bogota has developed an energetic nightlife scene. 

 

Andres Carnes de Res is the place if you are searching for a nightspot literally dripping with atmosphere.  Trinkets are hung from the ceiling.  Dancing abounds.  The club is located at Calle 82 No 12-21. 

 

 

 

Visit El Sitio for reggae, cumbia and salsa, located at 11A No 938-12 (Parque de la 93).

 

The northern barrios (districts), particularly Zona T, house some of the nicest hotels, sidewalk cafés, restaurants and youthful nightclubs.

 

El Coq is a nightclub built around a tree. 

 

 

 

CALI:

 

  

 

Cali is the third largest city in Colombia.  It is best known for its salsa bars. 

 

 

 

CARTAGENA (aka Cartagena de Indias):

 

  

 

This popular and picturesque cruise port and centuries-old coastal walled city (six miles of walls) of 2 million-plus in population and UNESCO World Heritage Site city exudes colonial atmosphere with its colonial architecture and narrow cobblestone streets and small plazas.  The city enjoys a rich heritage, having been founded in 1533. 

 

Cartagena thankfully is no longer the exclusive haven of pirates and more recently the ruthless drug cartels - they have moved on to greener pastures in Central America and Mexico. 

 

A non-stop Miami to Cartagena flight time is approximately three hours.  Most New York City flights connect in Bogota before flying onto Cartagena. 

 

MAJOR EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN CARTAGENA: 

January: Cartagena International Music Festival

Early November: Miss Colombia y Fiesta de la Independencia – 4-day event

Late January through early February: Fiestas de Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria - major equine annual event. 

 

BEST TIME TO VACATION IN CARTAGENA:

The best time to visit Cartagena is during December, January, February, March, and April.

 

The weather in Cartagena is extremely humid, averaging 90% year-round.  It is also very windy year-round.  Luckily, Colombia and Cartagena avoid most hurricanes.

 

PEAK SEASON RATES: Christmas through New Years and Easter week. 

 

AVOID: April, May, October, and November are during the rainy seasons. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN CARTAGENA:

 

 

 

Don’t miss visiting the massive seventeenth century Spanish colonial era fortress Castillo San Felipe de Baraja on San Lazaro Hill.  It dominates the Cartagena skyline.  The castle/fort is indeed impressive.  You will likely encounter beggars with grotesque animals seeking a handout for a photo.

 

Also be sure to enter the convent “La Popa,” a very photogenic flower and plant-filled patio. 

 

The Convento de San Pedro Claver, former home of seventeenth century Spanish monk Pedro Claver, is worth a look-see.  It was built on a hilltop overlooking the city. 

 

Visit El Centro, the beautiful 500 year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, well-preserved thick stone walled Old Town for the marvelous views of the city and ocean plus historic plazas, museums, and churches.  The wall, which stretches nearly seven miles, was built by the Spanish to ward off pirates seeking to plunder the city’s gold and mineral riches.  The wall nowadays separates the old from the new Cartagena.

 

Be prepared to do lots of walking.  Navigating the narrow, crooked cobblestone streets is confounding - they may have been originally designed to confuse pirates, but nowadays it is tourists who become disoriented.  Building balconies are covered with colorful bougainvillea.  Former convents are now chic boutique hotels.  Check out the souvenir shops in Las Bovedas, a former dungeon (see WINDOW SHOPPING IN CARTAGENA).  Allow at least three hours for a guided tour of historic Cartagena Old City walking tour.  Prefer not walking?  Take a carriage tour and let the horses and guide entertain you. 

 

  

 

Plaza de los Coches is the site of the former largest slave market in the New World. 

 

An alternative is to allow horses to hoof it ala horse drawn carriage rides around the historic walled city center.

 

Chivas (converted open-air trucks with benches), ply the city streets with tourists and musicians aboard for festive outings. 

 

Drive to the top of 500-foot high Cerro de La Popa for a spectacular overview of the city.  Convento de La Popa, a 400 year-old white stone monastery, with an ornate, 22 carat gold-leaf altar, sits atop the hill - a welcome respite from Cartagena’s oppressive humidity. 

 

The Bocagrande section of the city is where most tourists congregate.  It is also where all of the new high-rise construction is taking place along with nice shops, restaurants and beaches. 

 

Plaza de Bolivar, is home to the misnamed, but palatial Palace of Inquisition (with its many gory torture devices and colonial artifacts) and the Gold Mine Museum (with its collection of pre-Colombian Zenu Indian gold artifacts - ornaments, jewelry, figurines and ancient ceramics), as well as many interesting outdoor metal sculptures.

 

A good advertisement for Weight Watchers: Suspected heretics were weighed and measured at the Palace of Inquisition against an “appropriate acceptable weight.”  Too fat and overweight or too lean and grossly underweight?  To the guillotine you go!  Others were burned at the stake.  But wait, let’s exchange shoes: my shoes must weigh at least ten pounds - any chance of a second re-weighing?

 

 

 

The former Royal Customs House is now the Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art), with a small collection of Colombia’s foremost contemporary artists. 

 

Drive by the home of Cartagena’s most famous resident, Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The home is located at the corner of Calle Zerrezuela and Calle del Curato in the San Diego district.

 

Visit the Joyeria Caribe Emerald Museum and Factory. 

 

City Sightseeing Cartagena offers a “hop on, hop off” double-decker bus tour that stops at the major sightseeing locations. 

 

Special: Take a city bus tour after sunset aboard an open-air Chiva bus - a festive, memorable experience. 

 

Visit the Botanica Gardens of Cartagena with its impressive displays of Caribbean flora, located near the village of Turbaco. 

 

Aches and pains?  Visit the El Volcan de Lado Totumo, whose mud is said to have curative healing powers.  If nothing else, you can always say that “they got the dirt on you.” 

 

  

 

In search of a beach?  Take a day tour boat to the Isla de Baru: sun on the beach or snorkel. 

 

Deep sea fishing out of Cartagena is a popular pastime.  Private boats accommodating up to six fishermen are available for a full days outing for $1,500.  The seasons run September through March and April through September, the rainy season.  Barracuda and black-fin tuna are most prevalent during both periods with kingfish caught April through September.  Sailfish and Marlin are more likely to be caught September through March.

 

Take a catamaran cruise of Cartagena’s inner harbor and view both new and old Cartagena’s skylines. 

 

 

 

A great day trip is to take a short one hour boat ride through the Bay of Cartagena to the nearby Rosario Islands.  The Rosario Islands (43 islands) are a designated Colombia National Park, a one hour boat ride from Cartegena.  You’ll discover beautiful white-sand beaches to relax, swim and sun; you may wish to stay overnight and relax.  The large open air aquarium on Rosario Island is a must see: dolphin shows, turtles, sharks - all quite worthwhile.  With its colorful tropical coral reefs, the island offers excellent snorkeling and scuba diving.  Water sports abound.

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST ON CARTAGENA:

9,700 new hotel rooms are scheduled to come online by 2016.  Most of the hotel growth is planned for the Bocagrande and Morros districts.  Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Sheraton, Intercontinental, and Iberostar announced building intentions.

 

Aside from the luxury Hotel El Agua Hotel (a former mansion turned bed and breakfast), Quadrifolio, Santa Clara and Hotel Charleston, former convents turned boutique hotels.  Your best bet for a full-service hotel is the Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara.

 

Others include the 278-room Cartagena Marriott opening in 2014 and the Hyatt Regency Cartagena expected to open in 2015. 

 

TASTY DINING IN CARTAGENA:

The city’s dining scene has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance, transforming it into what constitutes an emerging gourmet destination.  Seafood and mango or coconut infused ceviche reign supreme. 

 

The fashionable dinner hour is late in Cartagena: between 9:00 p.m. and midnight.

 

  

 

Sip coconut lemonade at the rooftop terrace of the seventeenth century Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa.

 

Many of Cartagena’s top restaurants are clustered around the Plaza Santo Domingo. 

 

Two of the best are La Cevicheria for seafood and La Vitrola for Cuban décor and cuisine.

 

Other primo dining choices: Restaurante Donjuan owned by Spain’s Michelin three-star award-winning Arzak, and its chef, Juan Felipe Camancho.  Menu of grilled grouper, prawns, and modern Caribbean fare: La Perla for Peruvian classic dished and Juan del Mar for seafood. 

 

Other good restaurants are clustered in the Old Town area, the best being El Reflectorio. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN CARTAGENA:

Check out the many boutiques and souvenir shops in Las Bovedas, former dungeon with thick-walled vaults, section off the walled Old City.  Street artists and craftspeople sell their wares.  Local art is a good buy. 

 

Do your homework before deciding to purchase emeralds - Cartagena’s famous green gemstone.  The family-owned Emerald Center, Joyeria Caribe, and Museo de la Esmeralda, are all reliable places to acquire emeralds. 

 

 

 

Plaza Santo Domingo street vendors hawk beaded necklaces made from small chirilla seeds.  Others sell mochilas - handbags woven from natural and brown-dyed wool.  Hand-stitched molas, cotto hammocks, clothing, woven baskets, seafood, fruits and gourmet coffees are other products worthy of purchase.

 

A NIGHT ON THE TOWN IN CARTAGENA: 

Getsemani, a former slave quarter, is now the center of Old Town’s nightlife. 

 

Dancing the salsa, meringue, bachata, or vallento?  Check out the music and dance floor at Café Havana. 

 

Cartagena is Colombia’s capital of salsa dancing.  If you are the gutsy type, take a taxi over to Tin Tindeco, another slightly less intimidating salsa club. 

 

Poliactivo (located behind the bus station) is for the geriatric crowd on Sunday afternoons.  The club attracts all age groups. 

 

  

 

Board a rumba chiva, a party bus for an evening of rumba music and booze.  Some of the colorful buses are open-sided.  Some offer live musicians versus recorded music.  They depart from the major hotels around 8:00 p.m. and cruise the city.  A festive time with music and unlimited rum!  Whether you find this a pleasurable evening depends on your expectations and inhibitions - mixed reviews. 

 

 

 

EL COCUY NATIONAL PARK:

 

  

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN EL COCUY NATIONAL PARK: 

This stretch of 17,000-foot Colombian Andes is a favorite of mountaineers and rock climbers. 

 

 

 

IPIALES:

 

  

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN IPIALES:

The Las Lajas Cathedral, also known as “Las Lajas Sanctuary” (Roman Catholic), is located near the border of Ecuador.  Both Colombia and Ecuador tout the Cathedral’s undeniable uniqueness and beauty.

 

 

 

The European castle-appearing Las Lajas Cathedral was built (it took 33 years to build, finally being completed in 1949) precariously inside and atop of a canyon of the Guitara River.  The location was chosen for the Cathedral’s construction as the result of an alleged sighting of the Virgin Mary on one of the canyon’s walls by a little girl and her deft-mute mother.  The mother was said to be miraculously cured from the sighting.  A blind man later followed suit after the cathedral was built and claimed to have recovered his sight. 

 

 

 

ISLA GORGONA:

 

   

 

Isla Gorgona is a 6.5-square-mile former penal island housing 2,500 inmates (1960 - 1984).  The island is located 30 miles off Colombia’s Pacific Coast. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS ON ISLA GORGONA:

This is a place to “escape” not from, but to.  It’s no longer occupied by incarnated bad guys, nowadays one voluntarily visits via boat from the Colombian mainland for a pleasurable stay - not in shackles. 

 

A maximum of 130 guests are allowed at any one time. 

 

 

 

Aside from visiting the former stone penitentiary, one must be resourceful: hiking the jungle and avoiding the snakes and lizards, kayaking, and especially diving.  Hump-back whale viewing is in season July through September. 

 

 

 

MANIZALES:

 

 

 

The year-round moderate climate and 4,500-foot altitude is ideal for coffee plantations.

 

Visiting the area’s coffee plantations is a highlight of many a Colombian vacation.  You can tour the coffee plantations, learn the history and types of coffee and tour coffee processing plants. 

 

  

 

The Coffee Triangle: (Also see separate alphabetical listing for Pereira and Salento). 

 

 

 

MEDELLIN:

 

  

 

Medellin is Colombia’s second largest city, known as “The City of Eternal Spring.”  Medellin has an average annual temperature of 74 degrees.  This former lawless drug cartel center is now known for the signature bronze sculptures and paintings of international artist Fernando Botero and the hits of Grammy Award Winning singer Juanes.  It has become an impressive center of Colombia culture and its culinary offerings.

 

Once a scary, intimidating place to avoid, Medellin is now a hospitable, inviting tourist destination.  Its effective tagline/slogan, “The Only Danger is Not Wanting to Leave,” aptly expresses the sentiment of both visitors and locals alike.  The new tagline is “Magical Realism.” 

 

MAJOR EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN MEDELLIN:

Early August through first or second week: Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair) - spectacular and largest annual event in Medellin - trucks are decorated with flowers - street parade.  Reserved seating is highly recommended.  The weeklong event includes an antique automobile parade and several music performances. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN MEDELLIN:

Medellin has blossomed into a prime tourist friendly destination.  Medellin attracts over 1.5 million visitors annually and is averaging a ten percent increase yearly. 

 

Begin by visiting Nutibara Hill and Pueblo-Paisa-Cerrro Nutibara, a reconstructed “fake” living history townsquare.  The panoramic views of Medellin from the hill are a bonus. 

 

 

 

The Museo de Antioquia houses an impressive collection of 108 works of Fernando Botero’s sculptures and paintings (he makes all of his subjects fat) and other prominent Colombian artist works.  Plaza Botero, outside and in front of the museum, houses 23 of Botero’s monumental sculptures. 

 

Plaza Mayor is considered the most modern exhibit and convention center in Latin America. 

 

The world-class Modern Art Museum of Medellin (MAMM) is housed in a former iron and steel metallurgy factory.  It is the pride of Colombia.  233 works by famous Colombian artist Debora Arrango and sculpture and paintings by Hernando Tijada are displayed.  

 

Medellin is justifiably proud of its park system.  Medellin’s Explora Park is perfect for families with small children as there is much to see and do.  There’s an aquarium, museum exhibit halls, a television studio, and 3-D movie theater. 

 

  

 

The Jardin Botanico Joaquin Antonio Uribe, in the heart of downtown Megellin, displays the national flower, an orchid Cattleya trianae.

 

The architectural stunning and towering Orquideorama is shaped like honeycombs: it too displays beautiful plants and attracts colorful birds. 

 

Arvi Park is for active recreation: walking trails, biking, and horseback riding. 

 

Ride the Metrocable Santo Domingo Savio, an aerial tramway and local public transportation system, for stunning views of the city. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN MEDELLIN:

 

 

 

Parque is the center of Medellin’s stylish boutiques, restaurants and nightlife.  It becomes quite lively come evening.

 

 

 

PEREIRA:

 

  

 

Pereira lies in the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region - the world’s fifth largest grower of coffee.

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN PEREIRA:

Pereira’s town square is home to the famous “naked” Bolivar on Horseback statue. 

 

To view coffee production and how it is brewed, visit Hacienda Combia. 

 

Nearby Salento’s Café Jesus Martin offers an educational demonstration on the different types of coffee beans. 

 

The area is also known for its ranches that raise and train Colombian Creole horses that are adept at traditional Colombian trotting and galloping styles.  Several ranches offer fascinating demonstrations. 

 

The Coffee Triangle: (also see separate alphabetical listings for Manizales and Salento.) 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST IN PEREIRA:

Two nice properties - a choice of new or old: 

New: The Nisus Hotel Boutique and Spa - nice rooms and landscaped pool. 

 

  

 

Old: Hacienda San Jose (1888) - old world Spanish colonial architecture with considerable charm.  It provides excellent dining and service. 

 

 

 

SAN ANDRES:

 

  

 

San Andres is an island located 435 miles off the Colombian mainland.

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN SAN ANDRES:

Snorkel the coral reefs of Johnny Cay. 

 

Peruse the island’s craft shops. 

 

 

 

SALENTO:

 

   

 

Salento is a quaint nineteenth century village.

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN SALENTO: 

The local coffee houses are known for having mastered the art of decorating delicate coffee foam - they paint astrological signs and faces in the foam.  It’s unique, plus it tastes good! 

 

  

 

Tour Los Nevados National Nature Park in restored World War II Willy’s Jeeps.  Hike at an altitude of 7,800 feet. 

 

The Coffee Triangle: (also see separate alphabetical listings for Pereira and Manizales). 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN SALENTO:

Purchase locally made crafts. 

 

 

 

SAN GIL:

 

  

 

San Gil is Colombia’s adventure sports capital.

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN SAN GIL: 

Rafting (Class III - V), river-boating, kayaking, caving, mountain biking, parasailing, and the ultimate adventure, torrentismo (a long, wet rappelling down the middle of a high waterfall, are all popular local recreational pursuits. 

 

 

 

TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK:

 

  

 

Tayrona National Park is on the northeast coast, a four-hour drive from Cartagena.

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK: 

Tayrona National Park is Colombia’s most popular national park.

 

Diverse options: remote sandy beaches and coves, rainforests and tropical jungles with jaguars and spider monkeys, Pre-Colombian ruins. 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST AT TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK:

 

  

 

Ecohabs is a luxury resort consisting of two-level thatched bungalow huts of the Kogui Indians, complete with television and modern facilities.  For more information, please call 011-571-382-1616. 

 

 

 

ZIPAQUIRA:

 

  

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN ZIPAQUIRA: 

The famous Salt Cathedral was literally built into an abandoned area of a rock-salt mine.  The Stations of the Cross is illustrated by a maze of illuminated underground small chapels. 

 

 

 

El Abra is worth a look-see.  It is a cave system inhabited by the late Pleistocene Homo sapiens, and is believed to be one of the oldest human settlements in the Americas.