Lucy, from marketing travelled to Colombia with friends to one of the continent’s natural wonders and untouched gems.
Colombia is fast emerging as a beautiful butterfly from its pupa having been wrapped in a cloak of conflict for over fifty years. I and a group of friends have just returned this month and our journey to Colombia has been a deliciously relentless assault on the senses, as each crinkled wing unfurls from the darkness revealing glittering scales of discovery along each vein.
The country offers astonishing diversity of population and rich cultural history as well as being a geographical melange,with high Andean peaks and lush rainforest to mighty rivers and powder-white beaches. We flew into the cosmopolitan capital Bogota on its towering Andean plateau and sampled its excellent hotels, restaurants, bars, art galleries and museums and lost ourselves within the relics and stories of ancient pre-Columbian civilisations and Spanish conquistadores.
We travelled to Armenia in the heart of the stunning coffee region and experienced traditional Colombian life on a plantation by staying in Hacienda Bambusa, a delightful colonial style property. I woke to a philharmonic tropical dawn chorus and discovered hummingbirds darting between the Tumbergias flowers on my veranda, sampled the farm’s delicious produce and explored its cacao plantations. We hiked in the foothills of the Parque Nacional Los Nevados surrounded by exotic plant and bird life of unimaginable variety, ceremonially planted a wax palm seedling and swam in swirling pools below cascading waterfalls.
The Caribbean glory of Cartegena so beloved of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with its cultural wealth and architectural beauty stole the show for us, particularly as its history was brought to life by our highly entertaining, encyclopaedic guide Willy (who had been born in our hotel when it had been a hospital!). We passed our days in a blissful sun-soaked haze starting with refreshing dips in the exquisite Hotel Santa Clara pool, languid breakfast banquets of kaleidoscopic tropical fruits, eggs and traditional arepas (cornmeal patties), followed by cultural immersion into Cartagena’s UNESCO listed colonial gems and mojitos atop the city wall watching the glowing sun dip below the Caribbean horizon, before dinner of delectable ceviche and coconut rice, tapping along to a six-piece playing jubilant Colombian folk music.
We walked atop the magnificent city walls, crafted from coral and limestone by African slaves. We then ambled through cobbled narrow streets within the historic walls of El Centro with magnificent studded doors leading to courtyards of fountains and tropical palms and admired the bright figures of the Palenquera women balancing enormous basins of tropical fruit on their heads.
Relieved to escape the heat for a day, we headed by speed boat to the offshore national park of the Rosario Islands and Isla Grande to soak up some sun on a Caribbean beach. We snorkelled through intricate corals and shoals of colourful tropical fish in the balmy sea and for lunch feasted on fresh grouper at a sun-dappled table beneath mystical strangler figs.
Throughout our adventures we experienced nothing but warmth and kindness from remarkable people who, like the butterfly unfurling, are emerging from the drug-fuelled Colombia of old. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 has been awarded to the President Juan Manual Santos for bringing civil war to an end and this should be seen as a tribute to Colombia’s wonderful people, who are utterly charming and gave me one of the best times of my life.
As a relatively untravelled country Colombia is not entirely geared up for tourists and it’s not always simple to get around. World Odyssey can advise you on the most interesting places to eat, sleep and visit and arrange the best guides along the way – give Dineke, our South American expert a call to talk through your ideas.