With peace arriving in this small country, Colombia finally has the opportunity to reveal its many charms to the rest of the world, and we could not have been more enchanted by it. After our short visit, we immediately booked a return trip – 3 months later!
Bogotà exceeded our expectations from the moment we arrived. This is a cosmopolitan city, with diverse neighborhoods, a historic core, and a lot to do. La Candelaria, the old city center, is lined with cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings, businesses and cool street art. It is just edgy enough that it doesn’t feel developed or made for tourism.
La Candelaria - great street art
Whimsical paint job
If you like gold, the Gold Museum is a sight – its many pieces and exhibits offer a window into Colombia’s pre-Conquistador history. Francisco Botero, the country’s most famous artist, has an entire museum devoted to the oddly-proportioned figures depicted in his paintings and sculptures.
On Sundays, the city closes some if its main arteries, and thousands of people, young and old, hop on their bikes for a car-free ride through the center – a must do! Also a must is a trip up the mountain by funicular for a stunning view of the city below, and certainly don’t miss the nightlife of the Zona Rosa (Pink Zone) which features an impressive array of restaurants, bars, salsa venues and clubs. These Colombians know how to have a good time!
Colombians like their sweets!
Probably our favorite Four Seasons city hotel in the world resides here – Casa Medina is small, intimate, full of character and close the “Zona G”, or the city’s Gastronomic Zone. Do not forget the food in Bogotà!
Four Seasons Casa Medina - Castanyoles Restaurant
Bogota's finest rooms at Casa Medina
Next it was on to the countryside – after a 2.5 hour drive, we arrived in charming Villa de Leyva, a colonial village that could have been transplanted from Spain. The impressive plaza is entirely cobble-lined, the buildings are whitewashed, there are a handful of good restaurants and sides streets of pretty flowers and cute shops. Accommodations are not overly special, but it’s a good place for an overnight stop.
Central Bogota's main square
Villa de Leyva - just like old world Spain
We were excited to arrive in Colombia’s Coffee Country. Logically, the order of business was to do a tasting at a small finca known for the high quality of their brew. We followed the process from growing to harvesting, to drying and roasting. Finally they let us sample – it was worth the wait!
We hiked through the green countryside among 100 ft tall wax palms, and we fell in love with colorful Salento – a charming outpost that is a holiday destination for Colombians themselves. But our favorite experience was by far a visit to a lovely farm, full of orchards, and home to some 8000 orchid plants. The owner is a connoisseur, one of the top collectors in South America, and was on hand to show us his beauties. His family prepared a lovely traditional lunch for us, overlooking the valleys, flowers and fertile countryside – such a divine way to spend a few hours!
Colorful Salento - Coffee Country
Street Life - waiting for the sun to come out
Coffee beans coming through!
Medellin was our greatest surprise of the entire trip. This city, so destroyed by the drug wars of the 1980s and 90s, has completely reinvented itself. Good, accountable government has led to investment in infrastructure, transport and education, and the city has become such a model of urban renewal that delegations from other countries visit regularly to study its success. And, it’s still a secret – there are very few foreign visitors here.
Surrounded by beautiful mountains, the city is set in a long valley, but stretches up the slopes as well. The climate is spring-like; every day it is comfortably warm, and the evenings comfortably cool. Tropical vegetation abounds, although higher altitudes feature deciduous forests. It has a distinctly Latin flavor, but it is completely first world in terms of its architecture, upkeep and services.
Lovely Patio del Mundo - Medellin
Exclusive private apartment - Medellin
Our favorite experiences included seeing their amazing street art, exploring the bustling downtown area and its wide plazas, and riding the cable cars (public transport) up the side of the mountain. One of its newest boutique hotels is also its best, in our opinion – the charming Patio del Mundo is a peaceful haven, just 5 minutes walking to all manner of restaurants and a serious nightlife scene.
Grafitero Chota, sharing his art
And of course Cartagena…this colorful city has a pulse and it moves. Already discovered by the masses, it’s still very much worth a visit. Gorgeous architecture, bustling street life, great shopping and dining, and the cool after hours district of Getsemani (outside the city walls) are very much worth a few days. Hotels here are generally boutique in nature, built within its historic buildings. Our favorite was Casa San Agustin – boutique, with a very high level of service. Although not a beach destination, the city is set on a large bay, so a great activity is to charter a sailboat for sunset, after which you can be dropped off at a charming seafood restaurant on the water for dinner.
Cartagena Bay by sunset catamaran
Waterside dinner, Cartagena
We could go on and on about our experiences in Colombia, and we didn’t even have a chance to visit the Amazon Basin, the country’s amazing coastal peninsulas, its unique local tribes, or its many off-shore islands and beaches. The depth of what Colombia offers in a small country is impressive – clearly there’s a reason we’re going back!