This once-notorious country now has a reputation for having some of the friendliest locals in South America, a status that is well-deserved. This trip gives first-time visitors a taste of Colombia's diversity, from the towering Andes to the warm seas of the Caribbean. Explore the country's indigenous history at the fascinating gold museum in Bogota; hike amid the beautiful wax palms of the Cocora Valley and eat a typical lunch in colourful Salento; discover Medellin's regeneration and relax on the lovely cobbled streets of colonial Cartagena.

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Why We Love It

Meander through the valleys of the coffee zone

Explore the beautiful colonial centre of Cartagena

Discover the picturesque lakeside town of Guatape, where the houses are painted in glorious pastel shades

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Day by day Itinerary

Highlights of Colombia

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Day 1

Bogota

Bogota is set at an altitude of over 2,600m with the high ranges of the Cordillera Mountains lying to the east. The city's name comes from the Muisca indigenous people who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1538, and the remnants of not only the Muisca empire but of Colombia's many other indigenous cultures can be found in the city's impressive Gold Museum. Bogota boasts grand colonial churches alongside futuristic architecture and a lively cultural scene. Arriving today we check-in to our hotel.

Day 2

Bogota

This morning we take the cable car up Mount Monserrate for magnificent views of the city. On our return we will spend time exploring the colourful colonial streets of La Candelaria and the city's lively central area. Walking under the balconied houses from where local residents often observe the comings and goings below, we'll cross the vast Plaza de Bolivar encountering some excellent examples of colonial architecture, such as the Catedral Primada de Colombia and San Bartolome College. The visit continues with the Museo Botero, a colonial house filled with works of art by the Colombian artist and sculptor Fernando Botero, famous for his abstract portrayal of people with large, exaggerated proportions. Finally, we will visit the Gold Museum, which is regarded as housing the finest collection of gold from Pre-Hispanic times. (B)

Day 3

Bogota - Armenia

We'll head north out of the city this morning towards the small town of Zipaquira, a town that may normally go unnoticed if not for its extraordinary Salt Cathedral. This immense structure, carved out of solid salt, can accommodate over 8000 people and was part of the salt mines - a house of worship created as an easy way for miners to practice their religion while not disrupting their work. Curving and twisting tunnels descend into the Roman Catholic Church, passing 14 small chapels representing the Stations of the Cross, illustrating the events of Jesus' last journey. The immense cross in the central nave, lit from head to toe, has to be seen to be believed.

After our visit we'll go directly to the airport, where we catch our flight to Armenia, the capital of the Quindio department and an important coffee growing centre, where we will spend the next two nights. (B)

Day 4

Armenia

After breakfast, we spend time exploring the beautiful rainforest and creeks of the valley with the opportunity to see the multitudes of towering wax palms peppering the mountainsides. We will also visit the small and colourful town of Salento to see the very characteristic colonial architecture of this coffee growing region, enjoying a typical lunch in charming Salento. Smoked trout is particular to the area, usually served with plantain and rice, but you may also find yucca and arepas, a type of cornbread eaten by locals throughout the country. (B, L)

Day 5

Armenia - Medellin

This is one of the most attractive parts of the country and today we will take a day out to a local coffee farm. During the visit you will learn about the whole process from the planting of the beans all the way through the picking and roasting process, finishing off with trying the fresh coffee. The coffee in this region tends to be planted in rows extending up the mountainside, and we will be amazed by the physical work undertaken by the pickers in hauling their loads along, sometimes even strapped or tied onto the steep mountainside. In the late afternoon we set off for our six hour drive to Medellin, stopping for dinner en route (not included). (B)

Day 6

Medellin

Today we drive out of the city to the picturesque lakeside town of Guatape, where the houses are painted in glorious pastel shades. The town is known as'Pueblo de Zocalos' for the intricate paintings of animals, musical instruments, flowers and birdsfound on the lower half of almost every building in the centre. After discovering the cobblestoned streets and lakeside cafes, we visit the enormousrock of El Penol. This monolith is Guatape's most visited site, and the 650 step climb to the top is well worth it for the astounding views over the town, the lake and the mountains. After taking a breather on the top, we descend and return to Medellin. (B)

Day 7

Medellin - Cartagena

Medellin has had a colourful history, yetsince the death of its most infamousresident, Pablo Escobar, in 1993, the city has gone through comprehensive urban and cultural development. It now has a reputation for innovation and creativity and isrepresentative of the country'ssocial transformation, with growing industry and projects of social integration. Part of thisinnovation liesin the building of a cable car system allowing the residents of the poorer neighbourhoods on the steep mountainsidessurrounding Medellin to easily commute into the city to work and trade. There is art all over the city - murals providing a flash of colour high up on building walls, or the bronze statues on Botero Plaza, donated by the famous artist himself. Our stay in Medellin is an opportunity to learn more about Colombia'srecent, and fascinating, history. In the afternoon we fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast. Our hotel is in the heart of the old-town,surrounded by the city walls and the perfectspot from which to wander to one of the city's many fine restaurants and bars. Music and nightlife is at the heart of Cartagena, and our Explore Leader can point ustowards one of the many popular salsa bars, where bands are often found playing their lively music to localsshowing off their moves on the dancefloor. (B)

Day 8

Cartagena

Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Spanish conquerors as a main port to transport people and their goodsinto South America, and export gold,silver and all sorts of plants, animals, minerals and handicraftsfrom all over the continent acrossthe Caribbean and on to Europe. It was also a slave port, a business which necessitated the construction of defences and massive fortified walls around the old city, now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today wewill take a half day tour with our guide visiting, among other things, the San Felipe Fort, Convent de la Popa and the Convent de San Pedro Claver. There are plenty of thingsto do this afternoon, including a canoeing trip through in the mangrovesto the fishermen's village La Boquilla, or a visit to theNational Aviary where you can explore the different ecosystems of Colombia, and discover varied birdlife such asthe harpy eagle, the Caribbean toucan, the pink flamingo and many other species. Alternatively, there are full day options(which would involve missing thewalking tour), to enjoy the golden Caribbean sands at the beautiful Rosario Islands or to head to the fascinating African-influenced town of San Basilio de Palenques, home to descendants of communities of fugitive and escaped slavesfrom the colonial period of the 17th Century, and discover their rich culture. In the evening we can take a yachting trip to enjoy cocktails by sunset, a salsa class or a chocolate and rum tasting that will give you the chance to taste some of Colombia's finest produce. (B)

Day 9

Cartagena

Our trip endstoday in Cartagena. If your flight leavesin the evening, therewill be a final opportunity to soak up the atmosphere in Cartagena's cobbled streets before departing. If anyone took a full day trip on the previous day, thisis a good chance to explore the city. Alternatively, if you would like to extend your time in Colombia we also have an extension to Tayrona National Park, further along the Caribbean Coast, which is a park dense in green forest with excellent hiking trails as well as hidden beachesto explore. (B)

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