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Uncover Colombia’s hidden gems and secret paradises. Learn the fascinating history of this lush land as you discover the lesser-known side to some of the more popular regions.
Experience them like a local. Eat like a local, live like a local, feel like a local. Head off beat to be swept up in the country’s natural beauty. Weave through mangroves with local fisherman, before trying your hand at bartering in the buzzing market towns. Forget about notorious drug cartels, this is new Colombia. Still growing some of the worlds best coffee, but now with more to offer than ever before.
Welcome to Colombia! Upon arrival you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel in the vibrant and diverse Bogotá. This bustling metropolis is a mix of old and new, trendy and traditional, stately and charming. The country’s capital and commercial back-bone, it is home to an array of museums, churches, colonial mansions and stately buildings, offering a fine balance between its historical past and its movement into the future. Located in central Colombia, the city sits at an elevation of 2,650m on a mountain rimmed plateau high in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes Mountains. The city lies only 4°36? north of the equator.
Bogotá was founded on the 6th of August 1538 by the Spanish conqueror Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and became the vice-regal capital of New Granada in 1717. It was captured by Simón Bolívar in 1819 and was the capital of the independent nation of Great Colombia (which included modern day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela). It became the capital of New Granada (later renamed Colombia) in 1830 when Great Colombia was dissolved.
The city initially grew slowly as the Bogotanos (cachacos) wished to preserve their old culture, priding themselves on speaking the purest Spanish in the New World. They also cherished their churches, convents, homes (built in the ornate Spanish colonial style) and the National University, founded in 1573. With large numbers of rural Colombians migrating here in search of greater economic opportunities the city expanded rapidly during the 1940’s.
3 nights Hotel De la Opera or similar
This morning after breakfast you will set out to explore the Paloquemao Markets. This buzzing market has over 700 vendors and is a labyrinth of stalls heaving with a vast array of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and one of Colombia’s biggest exports, flowers. Here you will witness the locals grabbing a bargain, and also have the chance to taste some exotic Colombian fruits.
Continue on to La Candelaria, the oldest and considered the heart and soul of Bogota. Its main square, Plaza Bolivar is the focal point of the city. Surrounding the square are several Colonial and Republican style buildings including the Palace of Justice, Colombian Congress, the Mayor’s office and the Primary Cathedral of Bogota. A statue of Simon Bolivar (the founder of Colombian independence) stands proudly in the plazas centre, and was the first public monument erected in the city. As well as the main sites, your guide will lead you along the streets and lanes away from the main square, explaining the history of Bogota but also the intricacies of current Colombian culture and daily life. You will have the opportunity to enjoy a coffee or cold drink in one of the many cafes.
Visit the Gold Museum in the north east corner of the Parque Santander, within the premises of the Bancodela Republica (the state-run central bank). It is home to one of the finest collections of pre-Hispanic gold in the world, with more than 35,000 pieces in the collection. Enjoy lunch at the museum in a private salon specially prepared for you.
Colombia is throwing off its negative reputation with a cultural and artistic renaissance to match any of its South American neighbours. Nowhere is this more evident than in the street art which adorns Bogotá’s walls. With incredibly relaxed laws involving graffitti, the city is becoming a hot bed of global talent with home-grown and world renowned artists congregating here to practice their art. Not only will you be able to admire the creativity of the capital’s graffiti artists, you will be able to roll up your sleeves and create your very own masterpiece!
After a short coffee break, you will make your way to Ricardo Corazon de Papel, a book binding workshop. It was given its name by the beloved Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, after its owner and passionate, dedicated book maker – Ricardo. All the books are made entirely by hand combining time honoured techniques and modern materials including funky fabrics and unconventional textiles for the book covers. During your visit you learn how books are bound by hand and get to try sewing a binding. (B,L)
Hosting three art fairs, about 30 specialised art galleries, three auction houses, five museums and a number of critics, curators, art dealers and countless professional artists who are recognised on national and international levels, Bogota’s art scene is one of the most diverse in Latin America.
Today you will visit three artists who will enthusiastically open the doors of their workshops, not only to display their works, but to offer you an understanding of their individual creative worlds. The types of artists you will visit include photographers, painters and sculptors. (B,L)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to San Agustin. With rolling green hills, sub tropical flowers and freshwater streams the town is full of rural charm and offers some of Colombia’s finest rural landscapes.
San Agustin is home to a UNESCO listed Archaeological Park, made up of three properties covering over 100ha. It is the largest complex of pre-Columbian megalithic monuments, burial mounds, terraces, funerary structures, stone statuary and the Fuente de Lavapatas site, a religious monument carved into the stone bed of a stream.
Dating from 3300BC, almost nothing is known about the exact history of the site or its primary uses, though it is believed that the stone carvings could be in memory of the dead, probably the elders or chiefs of the region. Why the culture that made these sculptures disappeared again is unknown, even more amazing is that all the statues have remained in such perfect condition.
Enjoy lunch today in a local restaurant, the remainder of the day is yours at leisure. (B,L)
3 nights Akawana Lodge or similar
This morning after breakfast you will visit the Ceremonial Spring of Lavapatas, its sculpture the biggest of Augustinian cultures and a monument of magical and religious character. A complex maze of canals and pools carved into the stone bed of the creek show depictions of snakes, lizards, salamanders, iguanas, chameleons, frogs and turtles mixed with faces and human forms. It is believed that this was a sacred site dedicated to religious ceremonies and ritual baths. The area is also home to many native and endemic species of flora and fauna.
Continue on to the Forest of Sculptures. Surrounded by mountains this area is a quiet sanctuary where you can wander along the jungle path past dozens of statues, look out for the unusual beings with jaguar like features.
You will also visit the small village of Obando where you will explore carefully restored ancient underground tombs, and the Archaeological Museum where you can learn about Augustinian culture, and houses significant samples of stone tools, pieces of ancient pottery, funeral urns and gold objects that are related to the different societies that inhabited the region.
Your final visit today will be the Magdalena River Strait. Originating in the Andes, the Magdalena river flows for over 1500km, almost entirely crossing the length of Colombia. It is here that the river is at its narrowest, at less than two metres wide, the water is a beautiful light green colour and clear enough to see the sandy river bed only a few feet below the surface. (B,L)
Today you will have a full day to explore the rugged beauty, mountains and valleys of San Agustin. Alto de los Ídolos & Alto de las Piedras are two important archaeological parks located in Isnos, a 30 mins drive from the main town San Agustín. There are nearly 40 statues in these two places. In Altos de los Ídolos you will be able to see the biggest figure found in the area, with an approximate height of 6m. In Alto de las Piedras some tombs, some of which were specially designed for children and which are only seen here.
After lunch you will head out to a local trapiche. This is where a Colombian staple food, Panela, is produced. This sugarcane-based natural product is key to understanding Colombians sweet tooth and forms the backbone of many dishes and drinks. You will see the process of how this natural sweetener is made passing from the pressing machines that squeeze out every drop of liquid from the raw cane, to the huge steaming vats of thick dark toffee coloured goo that becomes solid in each vat until it’s formed into blocks to be sold in the local markets. It’s a raw and unique experience to see Colombian manufacturing as it has been for generations. You will of course have a chance to sample the sweet results of the afternoon’s activity! (B,L)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for a flight to Armenia via Bogota.
The coffee region for many people is the heart and soul of Colombia, its cultural epicentre. With every turn, a spectacular panorama changes your perspective, from the rolling hillsides of fertile coffee plantations to plunging valleys and bold elevations. Campesino or rural life continues as it has done for centuries harvesting coffee, plantains (a type of Banana) and many other fruits in this lush and fertile land. A visit to the Coffee region permits you to experience the tranquillity of the region. It also offers the opportunity for adventure or for friendly encounters with locals going about their daily lives. Staying in one of the many fincas or haciendas provides an opportunity to get a feel for the areas ambience and harmony and a great place to rest after a day exploring.
Three departments make up the “Triángulo Del Café”. They run in a North to South line following the Central Andean Cordillera. Caldas is the most northerly of the departments, then heading south to Risaralda and in turn Quindío. All three are flanked by the snow capped peaks of the Parque Natural los Nevados to the east. The climate is reflected by the extremes in altitude, from the harsh temperatures and savage beauty of the surrounding mountains at 5000 m.a.s.l, to the sultriness of the Rio Cauca. The Rio Cauca is the largest watercourse in the region and the second most important in Colombia. The river begins from its source in the department of Cauca to its mergence with the Rio Brazo and then onto its connection with the Rio Magdalena further north. As the name suggests the coffee region is the home to the famous Colombian coffee but there is far more on offer in this amazing part of the country. (B)
3 nights Hotel Reserva el Cairo or similar
Time to get your culinary head on starting with a sensory trip around Manizales or Pereira (depending on the day) focusing on the local markets, this is a very local experience and will have you joining in with the hustle and bustle of the market vibe, as you compete with locals to purchase the best and freshest ingredients. Your guide will be on hand to explain what some of the less common fruits are and how they fit in to the culinary context of Colombian cuisine. From the down town markets you head to the serenity of the Sazagua hotel where a local chef will help take the basic ingredients you have bought and transform them in to local delicacy’s that you will of course enjoy at the end of this hands-on and interactive cooking experience.
This afternoon, explore the coffee region further. Coffee makes this region tick; it’s the heart and soul of the region and its culture. This journey will take you through some stunning scenery, carpeted rolling hills of lush green coffee, plantain and yucca. Before you even arrive you will have been part of the tapestry of this enchanting region. As campesinos (local rural workers) pass by on their way to work in the fields, and children walk to school or wait for the morning bus, you can start to imagine how life is for these rural Colombian populations. Today is time to see the plant that keeps the world energised up close and personal. With a tour of one of the regions coffee plantations we see the whole process from seedling to coffee cup and every part in between. We learn about the trials and tribulations that face the regions coffee growers and how their whole way of life is affected by this simple bean. From the planting to the picking to the toasting and the tasting your life as a coffee drinker will never be the same, once you have tasted the elixir of life from Colombia. (B,L)
Today you will take in the culture of the region along with the stunning natural beauty of the Cocora Valley.
Hike from the far northeast of Quindío to the beautiful Valle Cocora where the magnificent Wax palm grows, in one of its few natural habitats, then onto the first settlement in Quindío of the modern era. As you enter into Filandia, the first stop, you know you are in the Coffee region of Colombia. The main square has not changed in appearance or in character in decades. Filandia does not have an attraction to visit; Filandia is the attraction. A coffee break in one of the many small coffee shops will allow you to take in the quaintness of uninterrupted lines of brightly painted houses in this traditional Pueblo of the region. The guide will explain about the culture and people of the region and how small pueblos (Villages) like this form the back bone of rural agricultural life, if you want to feel like you are seeing Colombia then look no further. Participate in a basketry activity with the local people to learn their local handicraft skill.
From Filandia you will drive to the Valle Cocora (Cocora Valley). Part of the wider Parque Nacional Los Nevados, the valley is located on the eastern limits of Quindío along the central Andean range. The valley has a unique landscape like a lush version of a Swiss valley. It has been regarded by Colombia as a sanctuary for its national symbol; the Wax Palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense). The Palms cover the Mountain range, which is now protected and declared monument to protect the tree itself and the endemic species that depend on it. The valley is spectacular and great for walking or horseback rides, either way this stunning mountain scenery will not fail to impress. Salento is a municipality in the north eastern part of the department of Quindío. It was the first settlement in Quindío of modern times dating back to 1850, and the first municipality founded in the department. This picturesque town boasts a number of fine houses of traditional architectural style. Rimmed by distant snow capped mountains Salento has a real rural traditional feel. (B,L)
Forget everything you have heard about Medellin as it is probably old news. It was the headquarters of one of the country’s most notorious drug cartels, but what the international media forgot to report was the cities remarkable turnaround. Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and regarded as one of the most important, in business, politics, and fashion and of course nightlife! For years Medellin had a tarnished reputation, but has now risen above this “Mala Fama” (bad reputation) and is now one of most exciting cities in South America. Its growth has been impressive over the past ten years, and the advance in the security situation has been such that Medellin is now regarded as one of the safest cities in South America. Medellin is famous for its “Feria de las Flores” which happens every August for a week. The Feria is a carnival atmosphere with processions of flower growers, music, dance and the arts.
Medellin is also the home town of Fernando Botero, probably Colombia’s most recognised artist to date. His oversized depictions of Colombian life, people and world issues are exhibited throughout the country most notably in the Botero Museum in Bogota and Medellin’s own Museo de Antioquia and his sculptures in the neighbouring Parque Berrio. Medellin is also famous for its metro and “Metro Cable” or cable car a remarkable piece of engineering, a great tourist attraction and a remarkable way the local government opened up and regenerated a previously underdeveloped part of the city.
Medellin is vibrant, contemporary and well worth a visit for its vast selection fine restaurants, bars and if nothing else its people. The Paisa, a person from this region, is well known for his or her sense of pride and also the way they look. To sit at a coffee shop or bar and watch the people of Medellin walk by can easily take up a morning! Medellin is rapidly becoming a must on any Colombian itinerary. (B)
2 nights Park Ten or similar
Medellin is certainly a city with a colourful history; from the cities valiant founding fathers trekking across the Andes, through to the dark days of drug cartels and the city’s more recent rebirth as one of South Americas most vibrant & progressive cities. A tour of the central part of Medellin can really help to bring the city to life and to help you understand why Medellin is so important to Colombia in terms of both commerce and culture.
Your city tour will take in all principal sites and locations of this fascinating location. These sites will include Alpujarra administrative centre and “Parque de las Luces” (Park of Lights). The square, decorated with concrete cylinders of “light”, is located next to the old and beautifully renovated train station and to local and departmental government buildings. The tour will continue to “Salón Malaga” where you will take a break while you enjoy a cup of coffee. This place combines the secrets of yesteryear with the ambience of the modern bars. After this refreshment, you will board the tram and ride to the final station, “Miraflores”, and then you walk back down beside the tram line, fully pedestrianised, to the “Placita de Flores” where you we will have the opportunity to taste the exotic fruits of the region. From here, you will visit different places located in the center of the city: San Ignacio square, La Playa avenue, Junin until arrive to Bolivar square where is located the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was declared a National Monument of Colombia on 12 March 1982 for being one of the major architectural works of the country.
After lunch in one of the traditional restaurants of Medellín, your guide will take you to the cable car to San Javier. Based in one of the poorest districts of Colombia’s second largest city, the enormous 384 metres (1,260ft) long escalator has made the lives of its residents a whole lot easier. This giant outdoor escalator has cut the journey time for people living in Medellin’s tough Comuna 13 from 35 minutes to just six.
Your tour will finish in Pueblito Paisa (if time allows), located on the top of Nutibarra Hill and is an icon to the locals since its inception, this attraction is a fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the city and surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as get away from the busting city below”. Your half day city centre walking tour includes tram ride, visit to Placita de las Flore local market and House of Memory Museum. (B,L)
Experience the city from a different perspective. Whether you are an experienced cyclist or just enjoy going for a leisurely ride once in a while, this bike tour is suitable for all levels of fitness.
Beginning in Carlos E. Restrepo, a residential neighbourhood named after the former President and located just across the river from the city centre. After a brief induction, you will start the tour, passing by one of the city’s main universities, the Botanical Garden, Planetarium and Parque Explora interactive museum until you reach Moravia. This quaint, authentic neighbourhood, once used as the city’s garbage dump, has been undergoing a significant transformation, thanks to a range of urban development projects. One example is the Moravia Cultural Development Centre, a space for music, art and cultural activity meant to improve the quality of life of the local inhabitants. As you ride through Moravia’s maze-like streets, you will have the chance to experience the bustling atmosphere of daily life in Medellin’s most densely populated neighbourhood.
From here, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Cartagena. Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was formerly the Caribbean gateway port used by the Spanish. Here they would store the riches plundered form the interior before they were transported back to the old world. It is not surprising therefore that the city was a draw for buccaneers and pirates who attempted on many occasions to take the city, most notably by Sir Francis drake in 1586 who “mercifully” agreed not to level the city in return for 10 million pesos that he carted back to England. It was after the attack by Drake that plans were made to fortify the city and work on the defensive walls began. These walls still stand today and mark the boundary between the old and new parts of the city. The walls and fort took a total of 200 years to build and complete and the Spanish finished them just 25 years before Colombia gained Independence. Cartagena eventually won its Independence in 1821; a full 3 years after Bogota had been liberated.
Cartagena’s rich history, diverse culture and energy absorbs every visitor allowing them a glimpse into the past and a chance to relax in superb surroundings. This passionate and vibrant city with some of the best preserved colonial architecture in all of South America exudes character, mix in African rhythms and indigenous influences with the Spanish colonial splendour and Cartagena is truly an amazing destination. This evening, enjoy a horse drawn carriage through the old town. (B)
3 nights in Bantu Hotel Boutique or similar
Experience a unique and fascinating insight into the culinary world of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Today is designed for adventurous souls who are captivated by indigenous cooking using locally sourced ingredients. Enjoy a half day Caribbean gastronomic experience with a visit to Bazurto local market and cooking class. After lunch they have a half day walking tour of historic centre including chocolate museum.
Mercado Bazurto is Cartagena’s labyrinthine central market, an enthralling yet dizzying experience, which will guarantee a full frontal assault on the senses. Guided and shepherded through this captivating world by an expert local guide the market seems to offer all variety of species known to man from the abundance of fish to the endlessly vivid rows of vegetables and fruits, their sweet smells purging the air of the pungent aromas emanating from the butchers’ blocks with their carcasses. A brief respite will be offered by the mountains of dill, cilantro and other purifying herbs but everywhere there are people; gesticulating, whistling, shouting and even singing as they buy and sell everything from pots to hammers and mangoes to rosary beads. Men with fish and boys pushing wooden carts, old men packing charcoal and women brewing pots of stew will welcome you into their world.
This market was featured by Anthony Bourdain in his TV program, No Reservations, and like him you will be accompanied by a local chef who will select ingredients with you for the typical local lunch to be cooked in a private colonial house in the walled city. The house is a short drive from the market and on arrival a Colombian soda will be served before the cooking class begins, under the tutelage of your local chef, using the fresh ingredients purchased in the market.
Continuing on, you will visit the ChocoMuseo, located in the historic centre of Cartagena – here you are offered the best chocolate in the country made with the finest cacao in the world. Open since December 2015, ChocoMuseo staff will proudly escort you in their beautiful chocolate museum where you can learn to make a delicious cup of chocolate or a tasty chocolate bar.
Upon entering the Museum, your sense of sight, taste, smell and touch will begin to take over. Between looking at photographs, handling the cacao seeds and making your own artisanal chocolate, it will seem as you have been absorbed into a historical chocolate fairytale. There is also a chocolate and gift shop where almost everything was designed by and for ChocoMuseo.
After a day of eating, it is time to burn off some of those calories! It’s time to get your body ready for rhythm. You will head to a dance academy in the historic centre where you will have the opportunity to practice some dance moves with a champeta lesson from the professionals! Everybody will get a chance to learn some of the basic steps in a relaxed atmosphere. Colombia has a great passion for this sultry dance and in many bars throughout the country you will find people expertly steeping through the rhythm with ease and pure sensuality. The African influence has helped champeta here develop a sound, as well as step, all of its own. The lessons are great fun and a chance to show fellow colleagues that there really you do have maybe a little bit of rhythm! (B,L)
Experience the life in a local fishing community and explore the Mangroves by canoe.
The fishing village of La Boquilla is located 30 minutes east of Cartagena in an area of mangrove swamps. Many of the villagers are of African descent and on arrival there will be a performance of dance and a refreshment of fresh green coconut milk will be served.
The Cueva Del Manglar is the Spanish name given to this protected eco system which is rich in birdlife and in keeping with Colombia’s reputation of being one of the most bio diverse countries on the planet you may well see Kingfisher, White Heron and Pelicans.
Weave through the mangroves by Canoe paddled by local fisherman, an ideal way to navigate the shallow waters through the “tunnels” naturally created by the Mangrove trees. As well as birdlife there is a wealth of flora and fauna to see in this rich ecosystem as you glide through the Mangroves.
This evening, enjoy dinner at El Santismo, an atmospheric, upscale restaurant, just a short stroll away. The ambience is great for group dinner. International gourmet meets Caribbean inspired seafood dishes paired with a bottle of wine from their impressive wine list. This afternoon is yours at leisure. (B,D)
This morning is yours at leisure until it is time to be transferred to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
Download this tour’s PDF brochure and start your planning offline!
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.