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Colombia

Coffee & Museums in the Colombian Highlands

Salento & Bogotá


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From Tayrona National Park at the Caribbean Coast, we moved all the way to the small village of Salento in the Colombian Highlands. This trip took us an entire day, starting with a one-hour taxi ride to the airport of Santa Marta. From there we flew to Bogotá and then onward to Pereira to the West of the capital. Finally, a two-hour taxi ride through rush hour traffic brought us to our accommodation outside of Salento well after sunset.

Salento’s location at an altitude of around 1’900 meters makes it a great place for growing coffee. The hills around the village are home to many coffee plantations and we spent one day visiting two of them. There, we learned about the process of growing, harvesting and processing coffee. What was most impressive to us was that the harvest is still done by hand. Since not all coffee beans on one plant ripen at the same time, workers must pick each bean individually, making this an extremely labor-intensive process. The plantations were home not only to coffee plants, but many other exotic trees as well. These are supposed to provide shade for the coffee, as well as nutrition to the soil. Of course, we also got to taste the coffee. The second plantation we visited had a very elaborate tasting room, where they tried to teach us, with little success, how to recognize different flavors in the coffee. Like in wine tasting, they had samples of about 40 different tastes the experts can notice in coffee. Good ones like hazelnut, nutmeg or lime and bad ones like rubber or ash, which signal that the coffee was roasted for too long.

Coffee plantation in Salento

Coffee plantation in Salento

Ripe (red) and unripe (green) coffee beans

Ripe (red) and unripe (green) coffee beans

Dried coffee beans without shells

Dried coffee beans without shells

Green banana bunch on a coffee plantation

Green banana bunch on a coffee plantation

Pink banana bunch on a coffee plantation

Pink banana bunch on a coffee plantation

Japanese siphon in the coffee tasting room

Japanese siphon in the coffee tasting room

Besides the coffee, the other big reason to visit Salento is the nearby Valle del Cocora. The lush valley is home to a large concentration of Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm. There were regular jeep taxis from the center of Salento to the valley, from where we started the last hike of our trip. The first part of the hike led up through the jungle along a creek. From there, the way down went through a more open landscape with large groups of wax palms around. The wax palm is the tallest palm tree in the world and can grow up to 60 meters high. It was truly impressive to stand next to these giants.

Marta crossing a bridge in the Cocora valley

Marta crossing a bridge in the Cocora valley

Cocora valley with giant wax palm trees

Cocora valley with giant wax palm trees

Giant wax palm trees in the Cocora valley

Giant wax palm trees in the Cocora valley

Sam standing at the bottom of a giant wax palm tree in the Cocora valley

Sam standing at the bottom of a giant wax palm tree in the Cocora valley

For the trip from Salento back to Bogotá, we chose to take a bus from nearby Armenia rather than a flight. Unfortunately, on this last bus ride in South America we had our first bad experience. It started with our bus being delayed without anyone giving us any information about when it will go. After about two hours of waiting, we were informed that the bus was cancelled and that we could change our ticket for the next day. Since we did not feel like spending one day in Armenia, we managed to book a ticket with another company that still had a bus leaving on that day. The traffic on this day was terrible and we spent hours in the bus hardly moving at all. It was late at night when we finally arrived in Bogotá.

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, was our last destination in South America. The city is full of history, but will remain in our memory most likely for its bad weather. Because of its high altitude of 2’640 meters, temperatures rarely exceed 20 °C here. Fog in the morning is the norm and it rains a lot. We did a walking tour of the historic center, which has a lot of nice churches and old government buildings. Standing out was the modern Palace of Justice. It had to be rebuilt in 1985 after it was completely destroyed during a siege by the communist guerilla group M-19. There are suspicions that drug lord Pablo Escobar funded the attack.

Palace of Justice of Colombia in Bogota

Palace of Justice of Colombia in Bogota

Cathedral of Colombia in Bogota

Cathedral of Colombia in Bogota

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria in Bogota

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria in Bogota

Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Bogota

Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Bogota

Given the weather in Bogotá, it is good that the city at least has some great museums. The Museo del Oro (Gold museum) hosts the world’s largest collection of gold artifacts. It also shows the different techniques that the ancient Colombian civilizations used to produce their elaborate gold products. Our favorite museum though was the Botero Museum, dedicated to the unique works of Colombia’s most famous living artist, Fernando Botero. The most recognizable feature of his paintings and sculptures are his play with proportions. Botero gave all the pieces in this museum for free under the conditions that he himself gets to decide where each painting is placed, and that the entrance to the museum remains free forever.

The Muisca raft at the Gold Museum in Bogota

The Muisca raft at the Gold Museum in Bogota

"Family" at the Botero Museum in Bogota

"Family" at the Botero Museum in Bogota

"Mona Lisa" at the Botero Museum in Bogota

"Mona Lisa" at the Botero Museum in Bogota

"Woman in front of a window" at the Botero Museum in Bogota

"Woman in front of a window" at the Botero Museum in Bogota

Posted by samandmarta 07:57 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Caribbean vibes at Colombia’s North Coast

Cartagena & Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona


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We entered Colombia at the airport in Bogotá, but did not stay in the capital yet. Instead, we continued straight to Cartagena at the Caribbean Coast, where we stayed for four nights in the historic old town. We have seen a lot of old towns in South America by now and Cartagena was the most beautiful of them all. The entire area within the old city walls looks like time had not passed since the Spanish founded Cartagena in the 16th century. Beautiful colonial buildings with wooden balconies on the second floor line almost every street and an old church is visible from nearly every corner. Unlike other South American cities we have visited, we also felt completely safe strolling through the streets at night here. They are full of life at every hour of the day, with people playing music, singing or enjoying a romantic horse carriage ride. We also had a great first impression of the Colombian people. They are very friendly, outgoing and just as colorful as their city.

Street in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena

Street in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena

The old clock tower of Cartagena

The old clock tower of Cartagena

Marta with a Palenquera

Marta with a Palenquera

Colonial houses in Cartagena’s old town in the evening

Colonial houses in Cartagena’s old town in the evening

Marta walking through the old town of Cartagena at night

Marta walking through the old town of Cartagena at night

Sam in our AirBnB’s rooftop whirlpool in the center of Cartagena

Sam in our AirBnB’s rooftop whirlpool in the center of Cartagena

Just outside the old city walls there is the huge Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress from the 16th century. We visited on a beautiful afternoon and enjoyed it a lot. The structure is built on top of a small hill and there are fantastic views over the old town, as well as the rich and shiny neighborhood of Bocagrande. The Caribbean vibes were complemented by flocks of parrots flying overhead. The fortress is very well preserved given its age. There are many “secret” pathways underground connecting the different parts of the castle and it was possible to explore those too.

View towards Bocagrande from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

View towards Bocagrande from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

View over Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

View over Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in the evening

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in the evening

On our last day in Cartagena, we joined a daytrip aboard a 26-meter catamaran to the Rosario islands. This small archipelago in the Caribbean sea is also a national park. However, we did not have high expectations for wildlife and mainly came to swim and relax on the boat. The huge catamaran could fit 200 people, but there were only 30 to 40 tourists onboard. Perfect to relax with a pleasant breeze while drinking an ice cold drink. The islands were not overly impressive, but the roughly 28 °C warm water was a bliss. We also went snorkeling in two different spots and while the coral was not very colorful, there were surprisingly many beautiful fish. Another highlight of the trip was the inflatable pink flamingo provided by the crew, which was ideal for shooting that perfect Caribbean vacation photo.

Cartagena’s old town from our catamaran

Cartagena’s old town from our catamaran

The Bocagrande neighborhood from our catamaran

The Bocagrande neighborhood from our catamaran

Marta on an inflatable pink flamingo in the Rosario islands

Marta on an inflatable pink flamingo in the Rosario islands

Sam on an inflatable pink flamingo in the Rosario islands

Sam on an inflatable pink flamingo in the Rosario islands

Tiny inhabited island in the Rosario islands

Tiny inhabited island in the Rosario islands

The next day we took a bus along the coast to Santa Marta. From there, a taxi brought us the last hour to our hotel, right next to Tayrona National Park, where we stayed for three nights. Sadly, all the beaches near our hotel had very strong currents and were therefore unsafe for swimming. In fact, almost all the beaches in this area of Colombia are very dangerous. Because of this, we were very glad to have a beautiful pool in our hotel where we spent hours every day. Even better, the hotel allowed for drinking in the pool so we made good use of the happy hour every evening.

Playa Los Naranjos near our hotel

Playa Los Naranjos near our hotel

The pool at our hotel

The pool at our hotel

Our day in Colombia’s most famous national park was fantastic, but also very strenuous. Our hike was only 12 kilometers for the round-trip, but at 30 °C and very high humidity it still took an effort. The hike led us up and down through the jungle, past very beautiful beaches and under tall palm trees to Cabo San Juan. At this peninsula there are two almost symmetrical beaches which were safe for swimming. Of course, we took advantage of that and went for a swim there. While the scenery was very beautiful, it was also very crowded. Tayrona National Park is very popular among Colombians too and since we went on a Saturday the park was really full. After lunch on the way back, we stopped at Playa La Piscina which is also safe to swim. We liked this beach even more, because it had much less people and the water was calmer too. We ended the day like every other day here, with a cocktail in the pool.

Path through the jungle in Tayrona National Park

Path through the jungle in Tayrona National Park

Eastern beach at Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

Eastern beach at Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

Western beach at Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

Western beach at Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

Playa La Piscina in Tayrona National Park

Playa La Piscina in Tayrona National Park

Path through palm trees in Tayrona National Park

Path through palm trees in Tayrona National Park

Posted by samandmarta 12:24 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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