Essential Colombia

Travel Partner: Almaz Journeys

Duration | 12 Days

Destination | Colombia

Starting Price | $6,070


Forget everything you think you may know, and welcome to the real Colombia! This country has been safe for visitors for nearly a decade. You’ll be hard pressed to find friendlier or more welcoming people anywhere else in Latin America. Colombia’s national tourism board has adopted the slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay,” and we couldn’t agree more.

Famous as the birthplace of literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez, magical realism, renowned artist Fernando Botero, and of course producer of world-class coffee, Colombia is still relatively off the radar in terms of international tourism. This makes it a perfect choice for seasoned travelers looking for a destination rich in cosmopolitan urban centers, natural beauty and biodiversity, yet largely devoid of crowds. There is an unmistakable energy everywhere, so now is the time to visit this extraordinary Andean nation!

Day 1: Bogotá

Overnight – Four Seasons Casa Medina

Arrival into Bogotá this evening from the U.S. For city lovers, Bogotá is an absolute must. Home to nearly 8 million people and located at 8,700 feet above sea level, this bustling city is the country’s political and financial capital. Here you’ll find a thriving dining and cocktail scene, rich colonial history, a vibrant arts scene, great shopping, charming park-filled neighborhoods, and the country’s top boutique hotels. Your private driver and English-speaking Almaz Journeys guide will welcome you just outside Customs for your private transfer to the hotel. During the transfer, your guide will answer any questions you may have about your program and Bogotá.

Check-in at your hotel and remainder of the evening is at leisure to settle in. If you arrive early enough, we’ll help you choose the perfect spot for dinner this evening and make a reservation for you. The dining scene is exciting and rapidly expanding, so there’s something for everyone – including some excellent options right around your hotel!

Day 2: Bogotá

Overnight – Four Seasons Casa Medina

After breakfast at your hotel, meet your English-speaking guide and driver in the lobby to begin your exploration of the Colombian capital. Today’s exploration will give you a sense of the city’s history, as well as its place in Colombian society and in the context of the events of the last century. A highlight of this overview will be a stop at the city’s main market, Paloquemao, to get a taste of daily life of Bogotanos, as the city’s residents are called. You will be able to try the best street food and tropical fruits, if you like.

Then, walk the streets of La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogotá. Here, you’ll walk in the steps of history, from the colonial period to independence to the turbulence of the second half of the 20th century. Also in La Candelaria you’ll find some of the city’s most important museums. Among these, we think you should not miss the Botero Museum, which is dedicated to the work of the greatest Colombian contemporary artist known for his signature style of painting oversized people and objects. Another must-see is the Gold Museum, which houses up to 34,000 pieces of gold from 13 pre-Hispanic civilizations. Here, we’ll arrange for a specialist in-house guide to give you a behind-the-scenes visit with exclusive access.

This morning, you’ll also have the opportunity to meet the artists behind Bogotá’s internationally renowned street art. We’ll pair you up with a local expat artist who now calls Bogotá home to explore the city’s graffiti scene - it’s a great way to get to know Bogotá through the eyes of locals, and learn about Colombia’s recent history as reflected in the street art. (If you’d prefer a more traditional and extensive art exploration, we can arrange for an expert art buyer to welcome you into her home gallery before a few insider visits to galleries and artist studios for a look at contemporary Colombian art - based on your specific interests.)

After some free time for lunch, your guide will take you visit the Montserrate sanctuary, symbol of the Colombian capital. With a peak over 10,000 feet above sea level, this is without question the best place for panoramic views of Bogotá and the surrounding valley.

Day 3: Bogotá

Overnight – Four Seasons Casa Medina

After breakfast this morning, meet your local guide to hop on a bike and head out on the Ciclovía. For roughly 7 hours every Sunday and holiday Mondays, the city closes more than 60 miles of streets for use only by pedestrians and bicyclists. This is a terrific way to experience Bogotá as a local.

There are some lovely parks surrounded by residential neighborhoods filled with shops and restaurants, so you may also enjoy a bit of wandering with your guide this morning. If it’s a Sunday, you’ll find a distinctly slower pace in the city as locals spend it with their families and many restaurants are closed after lunch. Afternoon and evening at leisure. There are numerous experiences and specialized visits we can organize for you based on your interests. Some of these include (but are not limited to):

Day 4: Quindío Province

Overnight – Hacienda Bambusa

After breakfast, check-out and transfer to the airport for your 45-minute flight (not included) to Armenia El Eden airport. The coffee region is the heart and soul of Colombia, and a must for lovers of coffee and nature. The region officially spans three departments or provinces, but for us the best is in Quindío (Armenia is the capital). Here you’ll find a lush landscape of rolling hills and mountains covered by coffee plantations, farms, and charming villages with colorful houses. Equally impressive are the hardworking, fun-loving, open and friendly people who tend the agricultural richness that fills the valley (coffee is far from the only crop grown here). Your private driver will welcome you just outside baggage claim (it’s a very small airport!) for your private transfer to Hacienda Bambusa - a short 30-minute drive away. The friendly staff will welcome you and show you to your room to settle in.

We suggest a leisurely welcome hike (approx. 2.5 hours) around the Bambusa farm, including walks through the cacao plantations and the bamboo forest, as well as the chance to familiarize yourself with the local birds and neighbors who live on the farm. This evening, enjoy a tasting menu under the stars.

Days 5 – 6: Quindío Province

Overnight – Hacienda Bambusa

Enjoy two full days in the Coffee Region, with Hacienda Bambusa as your home base. There are a lot of options you can choose from in advance based on your interest, and with input from your Almaz Journeys Colombia expert, but some of our top suggestions are below. If you have more time, consider extending your stay for three full days to leisurely explore this gorgeous region.

Late afternoon return to Hacienda Bambusa, and some time to unwind before dinner this evening. One of the many personalized touches is that Bambusa does every dinner differently every night, so that you never dine in the same place twice during your stay!

Day 7: Medellín

Overnight – Patio del Mundo

Enjoy a final leisurely breakfast before check-out and transfer to the airport for your flight (not included) to Medellín. Nonstop flights to Medellín’s domestic airport are offered from Armenia on EastFly daily, although flight times vary according to day of the week.

Perhaps more than anywhere else in Colombia today, Medellín is an example of just how far the country has come in the last 20 years - indeed, it has been recognized as one of the most innovative cities in the world. It is precisely this incredible transformation that makes Medellín a must for any visitor to Colombia looking to really appreciate and learn about the progress. Both the spring Festival of Flowers and the Christmas-time Festival of Lights are unique times to visit Medellín, but with its beautifully mild climate (average 72 F) there really is not a bad time to visit what’s known as the “City of Eternal Spring.” Arrival into Medellín where your driver and guide will welcome you outside baggage claim for your private transfer to your hotel. Check-in and evening at leisure.

Day 8: Medellín

Overnight – Patio del Mundo

After breakfast at your hotel, your guide and driver will meet you to head first to Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a traditional Antioquia (the province of Medellín) village on the Cerro Nutibara. The views of the city and the Aburra Valley are stunning from here! Then, you’ll head downtown to explore the historical center where you may wish to stop into the Antioquia Museum, which has an exhibition of work by the famous Colombian artist (and Medellín native) Fernando Botero. Continuing through the hustle and bustle of downtown Medellín, stop at Parque Bolivar, one of the most beautiful squares of Medellín.

After lunch, see firsthand the amazing transformation of Medellín from the drug-related gang violence of the 1980s and 1990s. You’ll take the Metro Cable – the city’s innovative cable car public transit system – up to Santo Domingo, which was once been a notorious area of gang violence in Medellín. The cable car was constructed to make the inner city more accessible to people on the outskirts (one of many reasons why Medellín is known as an innovative city), and allows visitors a glimpse into the everyday life of the city. While enjoying the spectacular view you learn more about the transformation of Medellín from one of the most dangerous cities in the world into a fascinating melting pot of cultures with one of the friendliest and warmest people in the world. Evening at leisure in Medellín.

Day 9: Cartagena

Overnight – Casa San Agustin

Elena is located less than an hour outside of Medellín, in the mountains of Antioquia (over 6500 feet ASL). It is home of a great variety of traditional flower farmers. The flower arrangements of the annual Flower Festival (“Feria de Flores”), called silletas, have an impressive history, and are today a cultural symbol of Medellín. You’ll visit an organic flower farm, where you meet a traditional silletero and learn how the flower arrangements are made. While in Santa Elena, you’ll of course get to snap a few shots of the breathtaking views over the valley of Medellín! Following lunch time we will continue to the airport for your nonstop flight (not included) to Cartagena.

Every visit is tailored to your interests, and there other terrific cultural and nature options that, with more time, we can include for you. Here’s a few ideas to consider:

Late afternoon arrival into Cartagena, where your guide and driver will welcome you for private transfer to Casa San Agustin hotel, in the heart of the historic center. Check-in and evening at leisure.

Day 10: Cartagena

Overnight – Casa San Agustin

The colorful streets are made for exploration on foot, so after breakfast you’ll meet your guide for a walking tour of the walled city center. Your guide will tell you about Cartagena’s past and present as you visit landmarks such as the Clock Tower and the monument to Don Pedro de Heredia, the city’s founder (1533) as well as other less visited parts of the historic center. During this morning’s walk, you’ll notice the many influences – Romanic, Moorish, colonial, military, Arab, Spanish and North American – that have shaped Cartagena. Your guide will take you into any of the sights of interest that you wish, such as the Palace of the Inquisition (one of the most beautiful buildings in the city today, masking its grisly past as home of the Inquisition) or San Pedro Claver Convent & Church, dedicated to the Spanish-born monk known as “Slave of the Slaves” for his life spent ministering to African slaves brought to the Spanish colonies.

During your walk, we can arrange for an architect to join you and accompany you through the narrow and colorful alleys, to explain all the special characteristics of the monuments, churches, convents and private houses that reflect all the influences – Moorish, colonial, military, Arabic, Spanish and North American – that have made Cartagena what it is today. Afternoon at leisure to explore independently, or we can organize additional exploration after lunch based on your interests –explore local art, visit boutiques of Colombian designers, take a salsa lesson, or see a different side of Cartagena with a visit to the women of the La Boquilla fishing village to learn about (and support) their entrepreneurial efforts to create income independent of their husbands.

Before dinner, one of our favorite local bartenders will invite you a tasting of several top-quality Caribbean rums. Rum is by far the mostly-consumed alcohol in Latin America, and during the tasting you’ll also learn about the history of the spirit as well as the different styles and their origins. This is the perfect way to start a great evening in Cartagena. Evening at leisure in Medellín.

Day 11: Cartagena

Overnight – Casa San Agustin

Meet your guide again this morning for more private touring in Cartagena. You may choose any one of the following favorites, or we can organize something specifically geared to your interests.

If you prefer a full day adventure, spend the entire day enjoying the Caribbean to its fullest on a Private Boat Island Hopping experience (additional cost).

Day 12: Cartagena

Leisurely morning before checkout and private transfer to the airport for your flight onward.

Prices are per person, based on two people sharing. Room categories, dates of travel and changes to services will affect the price. Dollar conversions shown (if applicable) will fluctuate throughout the year. Contact the Andrew Harper Travel Office to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.

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