Colombia’s bustling capital is in the very heart of Colombia. It is the third highest capital in South America, after La Paz and Quito, at an altitude of 2,650m. (8,660 ft.) located on a mountain-rimmed plateau in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes. Bogota is a mix of old and new, trendy and traditional, with a fine array of colonial mansions, museums, churches and stately public buildings. On Sunday mornings the historic Candelaria centre is closed to traffic, making it very popular with cyclists and joggers.
This walled city is a colonial gem in a fantastic setting. It became the richest city in the Americas as the principal transit point for shipping gold, silver and goods back to the Spanish mainland. At the fortress overlooking the city you can see a statue of Blas de Lezo, a one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged admiral in charge of the defence of Cartagena from attack by the British in the 1740s. A tour of the historic centre beings to life the history and legends of this wonderful city and is strongly recommended.
The Rosario Islands are made up of twenty-three coral islands with some of the most diverse and richest marine ecosystems in Colombia. The Rosario Islands are reached by motor boat, around an hour and a half from Cartagena. We suggest a stay of two or three nights if time allows on a tailor-made itinerary.
Santa Marta is one of the oldest cities in South America having been continually inhabited since 1525. Santa Marta is the gateway to Tayrona National Park, to the Sierra Nevada and to Ciudad Perdido. It is also remembered as the place where Simon Bolivar died. Pico Colon is the highest point in the Sierra Nevada at 5700m. (18700ft).
Ciudad Perdida was only discovered in the 1970s but its origins date back to the 7th century AD (some suggest earlier). Ciudad Perdida consists of 169 terraces carved into the mountainside with small circular plazas, reached by a network of paved paths. Getting here involves an intrepid 6 day round trip trek with porters and guides though dense tropical rainforest, sleeping in hammocks so it is not for the faint-hearted. Entering the site involves a climb up 12,000 stone steps.
Tayrona National Park is where the jungle meets the Caribbean Sea and the beaches are wild and natural. The majority of the park is covered by virgin tropical forest and is home to over a hundred species of mammals, 200 species of birds and 50 kinds of reptiles. There are numerous jungle trails for wildlife spotting and paths that link the various palm-fringed beaches and bays. Important: We do not recommend swimming here as the tides are notoriously dangerous and the surf strong.
The enormous main square in Villa de Leyva is the largest in South America and, at 14,000m2, is only superceded in the whole of Latin America by the Zocalo in Mexico City. Our walking tour includes some of the principal highlights of the city such as the house of Antonio Marino and the Carmelite nunnery. The Marquesa de Villa de Leyva is Colombia’s premier wine producer and we recommend this opportunity to visit the vineyard.
The cathedral made out of natural salt rock in the mine at Zipaquira is rightly regarded as one of the marvels of Colombia, the culmination of years of hard work by miners. The salt cathedral can accommodate over 8,000 people and is a fully-functioning place of worship, with regular services, christenings and weddings. Zipaquira is 49km from Bogota and many itineraries stop here on the way to Villa de Leyva.
The coffee region for many people is the heart and soul of Colombia, its cultural and agricultural epicentre. The scenery varies from rolling hillsides of fertile coffee plantations to plunging valleys and bold elevations. Campasino or rural life continues as it has done for centuries harvesting coffee, plantains and many other fruit in this lush and fertile land.
The Rio Blanco cloudforest nature reserve covers an area of over 10,000 acres (approximately 16 square miles) and is home to some 335 species of birds including 350 kinds of butterfly and 33 types of hummingbird.
The Rio Blanco Nature Reserve is widely regarded as the best place in Colombia for bird-watching.
Bucaramanga is known as the ‘city of parks’ because of its public green areas. Nearby are some attractive villages and unspoiled colonial towns, such as Giron and Floridablanca. Piedcuesta is well known for cigar making and furniture carving. Chicamocha National Park has a number of well-marked trails, with spectacular views and the longest cable car in South America.
San Gil has become a byword for adventure sports and adrenalin activities such as white-water rafting on the class III rapids of the Rio Fonce, kayaking, abseiling and paragliding. You can also go riding and mountain biking and there are some great trails for hiking. San Gil is two hours by road from Bucaramanga and is a friendly, appealing town with colonial charm.
Mompox (also called Mompos) is a World Heritage Site founded in 1537, named after the last indigenous chief of the Kimbay tribe that inhabited the region prior to the Spanish conquest. Mompox has a reputation for the quality of hand-crafted silver jewellery. The traditional Easter processions attract many visitors.
Barranquilla is located on the Caribbean coast between Cartagena and Santa Marta.
The annual carnival, which takes place in the run up to Lent, is second only to Rio de Janeiro’s and has even been recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Please book early.
Cali was founded in 1536 but has expanded considerably to a city of nearly three million people. It is regarded as the salsa capital of the world with a vibrant nightlife of bars and clubs with lively dancing couples. Nature trails along the Rio Pance and the scenery and waterfalls of San Cirpiano Nature Reserve provide a new insight into the lives of villagers and an indication of where locals go to escape the city at weekends.
Medellin has completely reinvented itself since the dark days of violence and narco-trafficking to become a progressive, dynamic city with a thriving cultural life.
There are 23 bronze sculptures by Fernando Botero in the plaza named after the artist and nearby Parque de Berrio is also worth a visit. The Zona Rosa has lots of bars, restaurants and clubs.
Isla Gorgona – a Pacific island with venomous snakes surrounded by shark-infested waters – was discovered by Francisco Pizarro in 1527 and went from being a hideaway for pirates to become a penal colony for some of Colombia’s most dangerous criminals. In the 1980s the prison closed and the island was declared a National Park.
Leticia is the gateway to the Colombian Amazon and is an ideal base for excursions to Reserva Nacional Isla de los Monos (Monkey Island), the Amacayacu National Park or to Puerto Nariño where pink and grey river dolphins are often seen. You can also easily visit Tabatinga in Brazil or Santa Rosa in Peru. July and August are the best months for visiting.
Popayan has been completely restored since an earthquake in 1983 and is a fine example of Spanish colonial heritage. There is a colourful market on Tuesdays about an hour from here at Silvia.
Popayan is also the gateway for reaching the pre-Colombian burial caves at Tierradentro, a World Heritage Site.
There are some 130 remarkable carved statues and mysterious pre-Colombian stone monuments in the Parque Arqueological, about 2 miles from San Agustin. Their precise origins are unknown but they are thought to date from the 2nd century BC to the 10th century. When they were discovered in 1758, the statues were lying flat.
The coral island of San Andres is about seven miles long and one mile wide and has a population of around 80,000, swelled by visitors from the mainland who wish to take advantage of tax-free shopping. According to legend the Welsh privateer Captain Henry Morgan buried his treasure here in a place known as Morgan’s Cave. The best beaches are on the eastern side.
Providencia is about as good as it gets if you want to get away from it all in a tiny Caribbean island with crystalline water, powder-white sand and practically deserted beaches, laid-back charm and lush vegetation. A hike to the top of El Pico is rewarded with stunning panoramic views. It should come as no surprise that this was once the lair of pirates.