An active cultural adventure holiday through the heart of Colombia
Tour type: Discovery
* Discover the mysterious tombs and carved stone figures of UNESCO San Agustin
* Explore Villa de Leyva & enjoy a day walk into the Iguaque Nature Reserve
* The beaches of Park Tayrona & bird watching in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
* Colonial meets Caribbean in colourful Cartagena
This brand new discovery holiday takes us on a whirlwind journey through the heart of Colombia, the country at the northern most tip of South America, with a chance to explore some of its many highlights on foot. During the course of our two weeks we'll experience ancient archaeological wonders, high Andean plains, charming colonial squares, a melting pot of cultures, delicious food, Caribbean sunshine, prolific birdlife, delicious coffee, fascinating history and one of the friendliest welcomes in South America - welcome to Colombia!
Beginning in the capital, Bogota, we'll visit the main sights, including the unmissable gold museum. Journeying south we'll discover the secrets of the mysterious carved stone figures at San Agustin and walk to the Alto de Los Idolos, Colombia's premier archaeological sites, before heading on to the 'White City' of Popayan. Here, we will have the chance to meet an indigenous Guambiano community, who are traditionally clad in blue skirts and colourful ponchos. Working our way North we stop off at Lake Guatavita, where the Muisca legend of El Dorado ('The Golden One') was born, on our way to the immaculately preserved colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Those wishing to stretch their legs will here have the option to join a day walk up into the wild Iguaque Nature Reserve. The second part of our holiday sees us flying north to the sea and sun of the Caribbean coast, where we will visit the beaches of the Tayrona national park and stay in a lodge in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Sierra Nevada can boast some of the most prolific birdlife in the world, and we'll hope to spot some on a forest walk before enjoying a tour and coffee tasting at a traditional coffee hacienda. We'll end our journey in the 'Jewel of Colombia', Cartagena; once the most important Spanish port in the world. The colourful cobbled streets of the fortified Old Town have many tales to tell, featuring plundering pirates and stolen Incan gold! There can surely be no better way to end our holiday than by enjoying a memorable Caribbean sunset viewed from atop the city walls.
Is this holiday for you?
This is a cultural adventure holiday and during our two weeks we will be touring, sightseeing and walking around the best of Colombia! We will enjoy several half day walks, which will range from 2hrs to 5hrs in length, as well as some shorter walking city tours or forest walks when bird spotting. The walks will be for the most part on good trails. To reach the Alto de Los Idolos on foot on day 3 will require some reasonable ascent and decent as we will drop down into the canyon of the Magdalena River and up the other side to the archaeological site. During our circular walk into the Igyaque nature reserve we will be walking at an altitude of up to 3000m, so we will want to take that one at a nice pace. To enjoy these walks you should have a reasonable level of fitness. All walks are optional. During our time in Bogota we will also be invited to join in the weekly 'Ciclovia', bikes and helmets will be provided. You do not have to be an experienced cyclist to join in the fun, but you must know how to ride a bike and be reasonably comfortable on two wheels. In order to cover the best of such a large country in just two weeks, we have some large distances to cover and there will be a reasonable amount of driving and 3 short internal flights. The longest day's drive is 6hrs, but the majority of the others are around 3-4hrs. We've tried to balance the driving/flying with sights activities and, where ever possible, relaxation time to ensure you can get the most out of your holiday. Tourism is still in its infancy in some parts of Colombia and you need to be prepared for different levels of services. Participants should be reasonably fit and active and most importantly have a good spirit of adventure!
➕ Day 1 Meet at the group hotel in Bogota. A single timed transfer from Bogota airport is provided.
We arrive into Bogota, the capital of Colombia. KE Land Only package services begin with a single timed transfer from the airport to our overnight accommodation. Sprawling across a highland plateau, and overlooked by Andean peaks, Bogota, at 2600m, is the third highest capital in South America. Arriving at the hotel we will arrange for an early check in so that we can freshen up, drop our bags and take some breakfast before heading out to explore the city. We'll visit all the modern and historical highlights of Bogota, including the 'old town' of La Candalaria with its collection of colonial houses, churches and buildings, and the government district around Plaza Bolivar with its Cathedral, Palace of Justice and Town Hall. We will also visit the Museo Botero home to the work of Colombia's most famous artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero. Botero's work is easily recognised because of its famously rotund figures. A highlight of the day will be a visit to the Museo del Oro or Gold Museum, with its superb and unique collection of pre-Columbian gold jewellery. Finally we will make our way to Monserrate Peak (3152m) where we will take the funicular railway up to the top for a lovely view back down over the city. With its white church perched on the top, Monserrate Peak dominates the skyline of the city. We'll take lunch here before heading back to the hotel to relax and enjoy an early night to recover from our journey.
➕ Day 2 Join in Bogota's 'Ciclovia'. Fly to Pitalito. Drive to San Agustin.
This morning we can choose to relax at the hotel or we can head out to join in Bogota's weekly 'Ciclovia'. Since the 1970's, every week, Bogota has one city-wide, car-free day. Over 76 miles of road, including the cities commercial centre become off limits to motorised vehicles. We'll see cyclists, skaters, joggers and dog walkers from all walks of life taking advantage of the car free streets. We will have the option of heading out by bicycle to join in the fun, which will certainly give us a very unique insight into life in Bogota! Around lunchtime we will transfer to the airport, with a packed lunch, in time to check in for the 1hr flight to Pitalito, where we will meet our transport before driving on the San Agustin, home to the most important archaeological site in Colombia and also a UNESCO world heritage site. We'll check in at our accommodation before walking the short distance to the site for our guided tour. It was only in the 18th century that Spanish missionaries reported the unusual statues hidden in the forests around San Agustin. Much mystery remains around the origin of these statues, the mountainous terrain and lack of written records leaves modern archaeologists still searching for answers. The archaeological park covers a relatively small space, the most famous sites are the 'Ceremonial Fountain' and the 'Forest of Statues'. At each stone statue you can spend time pondering their origins. Are the figures human or animal? Are they smiling guardians offering friendly reassurance to the villagers, or grimacing menaces designed to frighten off would-be invaders? We have some time to explore the site before heading back to our accommodation in time for dinner. Drive time: 1 hr.
➕ Day 3 Optional hike to Alto de Los Idolos. Visit Alto de Los Idolos.
Today we will enjoy a walk through the canyon of the Magdalena River to reach the Alto de los adolos archaeological site. From the village the trail rises gently and crosses a hill to the rim of the canyon. Next, a series of switchbacks take us down to the canyon floor where cross the bridge over the Rio Magdalena, before facing the inevitable uphill switchbacks on the other side of the canyon! Reaching the top of the canyon we finally find ourselves in the Alto de los adolos. This is the sister site to San Agustin, and its setting on the rim of the canyon makes it almost more spectacular. Here we will find the region's tallest statue, a 7 metre high figure of a woman. We'll have some time to explore the tombs, before being met by our vehicle and driving back to San Agustin. Drive time: 2hrs.
Time 3-4hrs walking
➕ Day 4 Drive from San Agustin to 'The White City' of Popayan.
Today we drive west through the Colombian countryside from San Agustin to the small colonial town of Popayan. Popayan is known as 'The White City' due to the chalk white facades of its houses. This scenic drive will take us across the central mountain range of the Andes and through the areas archetypal high moor landscape, known as the 'Paramo'. We'll be sure to take the opportunity to stop and look at the Frailejones plants, which can grow up to 3 meters high, and which can only be found in the highlands of Ecuador and Colombia. The sources of four of the largest rivers of Colombia are also located in this water-rich area. If we are lucky enough to have clear weather we will also have some good views of the volcano Purace. We will reach Popay'n, in the early afternoon allowing some time to relax, or look around the city at our own leisure. Drive time: 6hrs
➕ Day 5 A day to explore in and around Popayan, including a visit to a traditional Guambiano Community.
After breakfast we head out to visit a traditional village, home to the Guambiano community. This is one of the the last remaining indigenous communities in Colombia's highlands that still live according to their traditions. They all, women and men, wear bright blue skirts and colourful ponchos. The colour blue is a symbol for the cosmos, black symbolizes the earth. We'll enjoy a traditional lunch with the village elder and we'll have the opportunity to learn about their lives and the difference between traditional and modern Colombia. Drive time: 5hrs
➕ Day 6 Fly back to Bogota and drive to the beautifully preserved colonial town of Villa de Leyva.
An early start today as we head to the airport and take the early 1.5hr flight back to Bogota, which takes around 1hr. Arriving into Bogota we are met by our vehicle are begin the drive to Villa de Leyva. We will stop en route at Guatavita, where we can enjoy a short hike to the perfectly circular Laguna Guatavita (3000m), where the legend of Eldorado may have originated. According to the myths, on their coronation day, the heir to the Musica throne would be covered in gold dust and floated out onto the lake aboard a raft. Once out in middle of the lake they would cast numerous golden offerings into the water, before jumping in themselves. These stories have lured many a treasure hunter to this place, and over the centuries there have been numerous attempts to drain the lake in a hope of revealing its fabled fortune; the remnants of these efforts are still visible today. Leaving the lake behind us we continue our drive, stopping for some lunch at the Sisga Dam where we can enjoy some fresh trout. For those interested in history, we can also quickly stop at the Puente de Boyac', that is the place where in 1819 Venezuelan general Simon Bolivar ('La Libertador'), won his last and decisive battle against the Spanish colonial rulers. From there it's only a short ride on to Villa de Leyva, a village which in colonial times used to serve as a summer residence to the bishops from Tunja, making it the home to some very impressive and beautifully preserved churches. This evening we can enjoy a walk through the cobbled streets and end our day at the Plaza Mayor, one of the largest main squares in the whole of South America.
Time 2hrs walking
➕ Day 7 Exploring Villa de Leyva and around.
Today will be spent exploring the surroundings of Villa de Leyva. For those keen to do a bit more walking, we can begin the day with an easy two-hour hike through the adjacent hills, from where we can enjoy a beautiful view back over the town and countryside. Returning, we will next drive out to the Monasterio de la Candalaria founded in the 17th century by Augustine monks. A special highlight of the monastery has to be its beautiful garden. Leaving the monastery we will next stop off in R'quira, a small town famed for its pottery. There are numerous colourful craft stalls and workshops here and we can spend a little time hunting for souvenirs. We should also have the opportunity to learn more about the ceramics and handcrafted pottery made here. On our way back to Villa de Leyva we'll have to opportunity to visit a fossil museum in which, amongst other things, an 8-meter-long ichthyosaur found in the region is displayed. The valley in which Villa de Leyva is located is rich in fossils from Mesozoic and Cretaceous period and as we journey around we will notice how the abundant supply of fossils have been integrated into the architecture of many of the buildings. Arriving back at the hotel, the rest of the afternoon is free to spend strolling through the cobbled streets of this atmospheric town. Dinner tonight is not included so that you can choose where you want to eat and at what time.
➕ Day 8 Enjoy a day's trek above Villa de Leyva and into the Iguaque Nature Reserve.
A real taste of the Colombia countryside today as we will head out on a day hike to explore above Villa de Leyva and into the Iguaque Nature Reserve. We begin by driving up to an old colonial road or "camino real" to around 2140m. From here the path takes us up hill to around 2900m from where we will enjoy a fantastic view back down over Villa de Leyva. Continuing our walk our route winds through farmland and fields of potato, cassava and maize, which form the basis of most local dishes. Finally we enter the densely vegetated valley of the river Chaina. We are now in the Iguaque Nature Reserve; the reserve is brimming with different plant species such as orchids and ferns and we can also hope to see lots of birdlife. Our circular route takes us back town to our vehicles, and we head back to our accommodation.
Time 4-5hrs walking
➕ Day 9 Browse the local market. Drive to Zipaquira. Visit Salt Cathedral. Return to Bogota.
This morning we will head to the local market to browse the colourful stalls and maybe hunt out some bargains. Afterwards, we begin our drive back to Bogota, stopping en route at the old colonial town of Zipaquir'. Ziparquira is famous for its salt mines, known locally as 'salinas', and for its Salt Cathedral, a church built within the tunnels of a salt mine nearly 200m under the earth! The cathedral has long been a popular place of pilgrimage for Colombia Roman Catholics. We'll join a tour of this imposing underground structure where we can marvel at the architecture and also learn more about the religious significance and the importance of salt mining in this region and its impact on the area's history. Afterwards we head back to Bogota and after checking into our hotel, we head out to enjoy a late lunch at Andres Carne de Res Restaurant in Chia. This is the top spot for Bogotanos to enjoy a unique mix of eating, drinking and dancing - the kind that is only possible in Colombia! The rest of the afternoon/evening is free. Drive time: 3hrs.
➕ Day 10 Fly from Bogota to Santa Marta. Visit Tayrona National Park. Transfer to lodge in the foothill of the Sierra Nevada.
After breakfast we head back to the airport in Bogota and check in for our flight up to Santa Marta, the flight take just over an hour. Arriving we are met by our vehicles and head off on the next exciting section of our journey! Here, on the Caribbean coast, we can expect some dramatically different scenery and a likewise dramatic hike in temperature! Our first stop will be a secluded bay in the Tayrona National Park, where we will have our first chance to dip our toes (or more!) and test the temperatures of the Caribbean water - Bliss. We'll want to think about having our swimwear easily accessible. We will have a couple of hours to relax and enjoy the views and the water, before we drive on to our lovely lodge accommodation, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Drive time: 2-3hrs.
➕ Day 11 Morning Coffee hacienda visit. Afternoon bird spotting walk.
Keen birders may want an early wake up call to head out in the dawn, which can be a great time to spot rare birdlife! After breakfast we then head out to learn about Colombia's number one export. If you ask most people what Colombia is famous for, they will most likely answer "coffee", you simply cannot come to Colombia and not visit a coffee farm. What better way to start the day than by learning about the cultivation and processing of the world's go-to wake-up drink. We'll spend some time on a local working coffee farm learning all about the coffee process, and hopefully get to sample some of the wares! Returning to the lodge for lunch, in the afternoon we will head out on a hike through the forest on the lookout for brightly colourful endemic bird life, which is abundant in the forested slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Colombia can boast the largest number of bird species of any country on earth and nowhere is this more evident than in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where 635 different bird species have been recorded. Our expert guides will be on hand to help us spot even the most well camouflaged birds! We return to our lodge for a second night.
➕ Day 12 Drive along the Caribbean coast to Cartagena.
Today you will drive from Santa Marta to Cartagena. On the way we will cross the Rio Magdalena in Barranquilla, were the famous Colombian singer Shakira was born. The Rio Magdalena, flowing 1528km, is the longest river in the country. We'll also enjoy some lovely sea views during this ride along the coast. We can stop off to stretch our legs in one of the quaint little fishing villages, which are dotted along the coast line. We arrive into Cartagena in the mid afternoon and head to our hotel, located in the old town, to check in. Cartagena is known as the Jewel of Colombia, you simply cannot visit the country without spending some time here. As you wander around its atmospheric cobbled streets it is not hard to see why, the city simply radiates colonial charm and history. Drive time: 4.5hrs.
➕ Day 13 Sightseeing around Cartagena.
We begin the day with a drive up to La Convento de La Popa. This is a certainly a church with a view, having been built on the hill overlooking the city, gifting us a fantastic outlook over all the sites we'll visit today. Augustinian monks built a simple wooden monastery here back in 1607, this has long since been replaced by a white brick structure which is visible from everywhere in town. We will have a great view of the bay of Cartagena, which was once the most important Spanish port in the whole of South America. It was here that the Spanish brought all the golden treasures, pillaged from the Incas, to await transport back to Spain along with the gold and silver plundered from the mines of Peru and Bolivia. News of the city's prosperity soon brought some very unwanted attention, and it soon became an irresistible target for pirates and buccaneers, including notorious pirate Henry Morgan and also Sir Francis Drake. During the 15th Century alone the city was under siege from pirates on 5 separate occasions. Numerous forts were constructed in order to defend the city from these frequent attacks, the entire old town is essentially one large fort, with various other fortified structures built in strategic positions around it. We will visit one of the largest of these forts next - the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which is quite possibly the greatest fortress ever built by the Spanish. Wandering around the fortresses labyrinthine corridors and tunnels, we'll feel transported back to the time of the pirates. After some time to walk around the fort we will set off on foot to the Old Town, we may want to stop off in an open air cafe in one of the many beautiful plazas en route to cool off and enjoy a fresh fruit juice. Next, we'll enjoy a walking tour through the well-preserved old town, a UNESCO world heritage site. We'll be sure to visit all the important historic buildings, squares and churches in this part of the city, such as the Iglesia San Pedro and Plaza Bolivar. Our tour finishes at lunch time and the rest of the afternoon is free to wander about the city at your own pace and perhaps revisit any points of interest, go shopping for souvenirs, or just sit with a cocktail and admire the sunset from the Cafe del Mar up on the city walls.
➕ Day 14 Departure day. Morning free for independent sightseeing.
KE Land Only package services end after breakfast. Depending on the time of your departure flight time, this morning is free for further independent sightseeing. A single timed transfer back to the international airport in Cartagena will be provided.