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Colombia is the country where 'magical realism' comes to life. Rich in culture, with an enormous biodiversity and a notoriously friendly and welcoming population, a journey through this eclectic country is packed with standout moments. Not only do we visit the Caribbean coast and the lush, green coffee region, but we contrast the modern city of Medellin with the more traditional Andean culture found in Bogota.
Explore Tour Leader
3 nights comfortable hacienda
9 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Bogota, the capital of Colombia set at an altitude of over 2,600m. The city sprawls out from the high ranges of the Cordillera Mountains, blanketing the Andean peaks with an eclectic mix of historic buildings and modern, urban architecture. Its 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.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Bogota at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Bogota's El Dorado International Airport (airport code: BOG), approximately a 45 minute drive from our hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, La Candelaria is a good place to orientate yourself in the city, where a wealth of museums, bars and restaurants are dotted in between colonial convents and churches.
Hotel Casa Deco (or similar)
This morning we spend time exploring the city, first delving into local life with a visit to the farmers market at Paloquemao, with its overwhelming array of smells and colours. Our Tour Leader will introduce us to some of the tropical fruits on offer here, as we speak to some of the different sellers.
From the market, we visit the Gold Museum; while many cities in Latin America have their own 'Museo de Oro', Bogota's is widely regarded as housing the region's finest collection of gold from pre-Hispanic times. The museum's star exhibit is the Muisca Raft - an impressive piece of pre-Colombian artistry that fueled the Spaniard's search for El Dorado.
From the museum we'll walk to the colourful colonial streets of La Candelaria, into the vast Plaza de Bolivar. We'll have a traditional Colombian lunch at one of the city's many restaurants, before continuing our exploration on foot. Walking under the balconied houses from where local residents often observe the comings and goings below, we'll encounter some excellent examples of colonial architecture, such as the Catedral Primada de Colombia. 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. Our city tour ends at around 5pm.
We take a birds eye view of the city this morning, as we ascend the pilgrimage site of Mount Monserrate by cable car. We'll then drive to the airport to fly to Armenia on a one hour afternoon flight from Bogota.
Armenia is the capital of the Quindío department, an important coffee growing centre in the foothills of the Andes range. Immediately on leaving the airport, we'll drive to our hotel located about 30 minutes away. This old, characterful hacienda has views out to the Quindío valley, which we will be exploring over the next 2 days. We'll arrive in the early evening, with some time to relax.
Hacienda Combia (or similar)
After breakfast we take a drive to Salento, where we climb aboard an immaculately restored vintage Willys jeep and drive into the Cocora Valley. We're in the foothills of the Andes here, hiking amongst a multitude of towering wax palms that pepper the mountainside like pins in a cushion. These countryside walks are on undulating terrain with well-trodden paths and our walk will take approximately two hours. Before leaving the Cocora Valley, we'll have a typical lunch with views of the mountains. Trout is particular to the area, usually served with plantain and rice, but you may also find yuca and arepas too.
On our return to Salento, we'll play an explosive round of Colombia's national game - Tejo. This bizarre sport involved players lobbing tejos (metal discs) towards a metal ring in a sandpit that is loaded with gunpowder-filled pieces. The aim? Explosion! This lively bowls-like game is best played with a beer and a sense of fun. After the game, we'll have some time free to explore charming Salento town, its colourful architecture so characteristic of this coffee growing region, before driving back to our hacienda in the Quindio Valley.
Colombia is renowned for its excellent food, with regional specialties in almost every different town, from Bandeja Paisa (basically the Colombian equivalent of a full English breakfast, but with plantain, avocado, cornbread, delicious frijoles and heaps of different meats) to pandebono, a traditional bread made with cheese, frequently served with guava paste. Today we'll be getting stuck into the gastronomy with a cooking class at our own hacienda. A local chef here will help us to prepare 'sancocho', a typical Colombian soup that is stuffed full of vegetables, yuca, corn, plantain and either chicken, fish or beef. It is frequently eaten with avocado and white rice on the side. We'll make this together, alongside some other tasty appetizers and drinks, which we eat together for lunch.
Our hacienda here in coffee country happens to be surrounded by its own coffee farm. We'll spend the afternoon visiting the farm, learning 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 physical work undertaken by the pickers in hauling their loads across the mountainside is quite amazing.
If, for any reason, the hotel changes, we will visit one of the other many coffee farms in this area.
This morning we fly to Medellin - flight times are subject to change, but we aim to arrive in the morning. Medellin has had a colourful history, yet since the death of its most infamous resident, Pablo Escobar, in 1993, the city has gone through comprehensive urban and cultural development. After many years in which the city was considered to be the most dangerous in the world, it now has a reputation for innovation and creativity and is representative of the country's social transformation. Part of this innovation lies in the building of a cable car system that allows the residents of the poorer neighbourhoods on the steep mountainsides surrounding Medellin to easily commute into the city to work and trade. This has undoubtedly had a huge social impact on the city, and our stay in Medellin is an opportunity to learn more about Colombia's recent, and fascinating, history.
Arriving in the morning, we'll go straight into our city tour, where we discover Medellin's past and present. We'll travel on foot and by cable car, including the outlying suburban area of Comuna 13 and the main square at Plaza Botero. We'll have the afternoon at our leisure to explore the city on our own time.
Hotel Poblado Plaza (or similar)
Today is completely free to explore the city. We have the opportunity to learn about graffiti's artistic, cultural and political context in Medellin and interact with some of the local artists in a street art tour, or visit an organic flower farm in the town of Santa Elena, just outside the city. Alternatively choose to remain in the city, perhaps discovering the eccentric Barefoot Park, a zen-inspired public park where children and adults alike are encouraged to wander and play barefoot.
We have an early start this morning, driving out of the city to the picturesque lakeside town of Guatape, where the houses are painted in glorious pastel shades, and where we will visit the enormous rock of El Penol. This monolith is Guatape's most visited site, and the 700 step climb to the top is well worth it for the astounding views over the town, the lake and the mountains before us. After taking a breather on the top, we descend and take a relaxing boat trip around the islands on Lake Guatape. We'll then have time in the afternoon to visit the town, known as 'Pueblo de Zocalos' for the intricate paintings of animals, musical instruments, flowers and birds found on the lower half of almost every building in the centre. The cobblestoned streets are alive with colourful architecture and locals going about their daily business.
Hotel Santorini (or similar)
Driving to Medellin airport this morning, we take our flight to Santa Marta. There are limited direct flights daily, but we do aim to get one of these. In case of low availability or schedule changes, the flights will go via Bogota.
Located on the Caribbean coast, Santa Marta is a hub for people seeking Colombia's northern beaches, and it is a jumping off point for the myriad trekking routes around the Lost City and in Tayrona National Park. We will be driving up the coast immediately on arrival towards the village of Palomino, where tall palm trees meet the mountains. Our hotel for the evening is a set of rustic cabanas just off the sandy beach.
Hotel Hukumeizi (or similar)
Tayrona National Park is home to some of the most outstanding beaches on Colombia's northern coast, their pristine golden sands being protected by a large swathe of hilly rainforest. Today we will have a hike to explore some of these gems, walking for approximately three-four hours through rainforest paths and past rugged beaches including Arrecife and La Piscina. The coast up here is wild, with reefs and rocks creating strong waves and currents along some of the shoreline. Cabo San Juan, however, is the best swimming beach in the national park - a haven of luxurious emerald water and outstanding views of the tropical rainforest behind us.
We walk back the way we came. There is no vehicle access into the national park, so the only way to arrive and depart is on foot. The total walking distance is approximately 14 kilometres on easy terrain with minimal ascent and descent.
Please note that the Tayrona National Park closes several times a year. Closure dates for 2023 are currently 1-15 February, 1-15 June, 19 October - 2 November. This may change at the discretion of the Park Authorities. If Tayrona is closed, we will instead be visiting the Taironaka Nature Reserve, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, on the banks of the Don Diego River. The park was originally inhabited by the Tayrona people, and there is a museum within the reserve that houses some archaeological finds, as well as ruins from the original settlement. There is a short forest walk to the reserve with some good opportunities for birdwatching both here and along the river within the reserve itself - toucans, flycatchers, woodpeckers and many native species all call this area home.
For those who don't wish to do the walk in Tayrona, there will also be the option to visit Taironaka instead, even when Tayrona National Park is open.
There is an approximately six hour journey between Santa Marta and Cartagena, as we travel hugging the coastline for much of the journey. We skirt around Barranquilla, the city that hosts Colombia's annual Carnival - the second biggest in the world after Rio de Janeiro - before continuing along the Caribbean to Cartagena.
This afternoon we are at our leisure - Cartagena has a fantastic nightlife, and the cobbled streets are perfect for exploring in the evening.
Hotel 3 Banderas (or similar)
Cartagena's beauty is well documented throughout history. In recent times the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez put it at the fore of Colombian culture by using it as the setting for many of his novels, including the famous 'Love in the Time of Cholera'. The massive fortified walls around the old city, dating back several hundred years, helped with the designation of the city as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today we will visit the ancient plazas and churches of the city with our Tour Leader, exploring the narrow cobblestone streets and colonial convents that seem to be straight out of a filmset. As well as the popular walled city, we also visit the charming Getsemani district, the hilltop convent of La Popa with its spectacular panoramic views of the city, and the 16th century fortress of San Felipe Castle.
We have a free afternoon with plenty of options, including a canoe trip to the fisherman's village La Boquilla, or a Colombian rum tasting.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Cartagena.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Cartagena at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Cartagena's Rafael Nunez International Airport (airport code: CTG), approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.
The dry season in Colombia roughly runs from December to March/April and also a slightly 'dryer' period from July to September. These are among the best times to travel, although visits outside of these months are very manageable. The Caribbean coast is very hot and humid all year round (always around or above 30°C), although the offshore breeze between December and March makes this a more popular time to visit. Due to the high altitude locations of places like Bogota, Manizales and Armenia temperatures here can be quite cool during 'winter' months (Nov to Mar/ Apr) and the nights are cool to cold at anytime of the year. The coffee harvest seasons are March to May and September to November; it is during these periods that it is possible to see the red coffee beans and watch the whole process of coffee production.
2 Pin Flat
Cartagena - Boquilla Canoe Ride US$ 70 (min 3 pers); Salsa classes: US$37 (Plus cost of translator between group US$50) All tours include a local guide aside from the salsa class.
For this trip you will need to pack for all weathers, as you travel through several different climatic zones. In the Andes (Bogota and Salento), warm clothing is useful, particularly in the evenings when the temperature can drop sharply at night. Lightweight clothing is necessary for the Caribbean coast with long sleeve shirts and trousers ideal to provide protection from the sun and insect bites. A waterproof is essential as it can rain at any time of year, particularly in Tayrona National Park. The boat on Lake Guatape has hot tubs, so you may wish to take your swimwear.
Comfortable hiking boots/trekking shoes, shoes and/or sandals.
One main piece of baggage and daypack. Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself. The internal flights have a luggage allowance of 23kg for checked luggage. However, some of the internal aircrafts in Colombia have a 5kg weight limit on hand luggage, which you may need to bear in mind if bringing (for example) heavy camera equipment.
A torch, water bottle, good quality sunglasses, sun hat, insect repellent and high factor sunscreen are all essential. Don't forget your swimming things.
Bus, 4WD, Boat, Cable Car, Flight
We aim to stay in perfectly located properties that allow us to make the most of our time in these diverse areas of Colombia. In Bogota we're located near the La Candelaria area, near the Gold Museum and the other attractions of this district. In Cartagena we stay within the walled city, and in Armenia our hotel is located in the countryside, away from any towns or cities, to best appreciate the rolling landscape of the Andean foothills. Please note that our hotel in Palomino doesn't always have hot water available. The Caribbean climate usually benefits from a refreshing cold shower, but of course it's worth knowing about before your arrival.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Colombia: Visas are not required for UK, New Zealand, Australian, US and Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult the relevant consulate. All visa information is subject to change. You should confirm all visa related issues with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. USA: If your flights pass through the USA, even if only in transit, you will require either a visa or an ESTA (an e-visa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html Canada: An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is required by British citizens transiting via Canada. For more information see the official Canadian government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
An ability to swim is essential for your safe enjoyment of the water based activities on this trip. If you wish to participate in these activities then we insist that you are able to swim.
We recommend protection against malaria, Tetanus, Infectious Hepatitis, Typhoid and Polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.