Bienvenidos a Colombia! Welcome to Colombia. Cartagena is one of South America’s most historic cities. The old city, particularly the inner walled town, is the main attraction – it’s packed with beautiful churches, monasteries, plazas and mansions. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. Your hotel is located in the vibrant Getsemani neighbourhood, a part of the old town with loads of colourful street art and an authentic feel. After the meeting, step out for an orientation walk with your leader (note that this may take place tomorrow morning instead).
Spend some free time today getting to know Cartagena’s Old City under your own steam. Shop for local handicrafts, head up to San Felipe de Barajas Castle (the largest of the city’s fortresses), or perhaps head out of town to the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo. Instead of lava, this strange volcano emits a cream-like mud that is said to contain many healing properties. Enter for a wallow, then wash the muddy goodness off in the nearby lagoon.
If you’re feeling like an authentic Colombian meal and supporting a great cause in your free time, why not do both by dining at one of Cartagena’s hippest restaurants, Restaurante Interno? Housed in a women’s prison, the restaurant opened in December 2016 with the aim of giving inmates nearing the end of their sentences a second chance and job-ready skills to have a better chance of reintergrating into society on their release. It has since become one of the hottest spots in town (graced by local celebrities and even the Colombian President), prices start at USD$30, so while not a budget option, it is a unique experience and the money is going to a good cause.
In the morning, take a shared van transfer (approximately 5 hours) north of Cartagena to Guachaca, your home for the next two nights. This is a beautiful region, awash with lush green mountains that collide with the rugged coastlin, enjoy a cocktail or two with your travel companions or treat yourself to a massage. It’s the perfect jungle paradise in which to take the pace down a notch. Once you’re there, the remainder of the day is free. Park yourself in a hammock with a book, or make the short walk to the beach and get a load of that coastline. Your accommodation is a lovely family-run guesthouse, simple and comfortable, nestled high in the jungle, however please note that they do not have hot water, which, thanks to the steamy, tropical weather may be a welcome relief!
Tayrona National Park / Guachaca Region
Head to Tayrona National Park, a protected plot of wilderness encircled by the massive Santa Marta mountain range on one side and the picture-perfect Caribbean on the other. There’s a fair amount of hiking involved today, so be prepared and make sure your walking shoes are on (bug spray will also come in handy). It’s a solid hour or two to hike to the first beach, with a few up and down parts, and if it rains it may get a little muddy here and there. The reward, however, is not only the superb beaches but the hike itself. The ambience of the jungle, the verdant scenery and the first glimpse of the sea make for a magical day out among nature. The hiking is flexible; you can hike more or less, depending on your wishes and energy levels. The hike to stunning Cabo San Juan is well worth the effort; it’s further away than some other beaches however highly recommended. Note that it’s not possible to swim at all beaches, as the ocean rip can be strong. When it’s all over, we head back to Guachaca for the night.
Guachaca Region / Barichara
Enjoy a final morning in your jungle haven, perhaps rising early to see the sun rise from the beach. After a tasty continental breakfast, head off for your (included) flight Santa Martha to Bucaramanga (approximately 3.5 hours including a stop in Bogota). From Bucaramanga, transfer to Barichara (approximately 3 hours). With its quaint cobbled streets, stuccoed houses, and rolling hills for a backdrop, Barichara is probably the prettiest and best-preserved colonial-style village in all Colombia.
With free time, spend today however you please. Barichara is itself a fine place to wander around on foot, with its artistic (but safe) atmosphere and plenty of nice shops to browse. If you’d like to get out and get active, head over to San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia (approximately 30 minutes’ drive). Please speak to your tour leader for suggestions of things to do. The Pescaderito swimming hole on the way there is well worth a visit too; even if the water is a little chilly, it’s an idyllic spot to relax for an hour or two.
After breakfast, set out on a two-hour walk along the Camino Real to the village of Guane. The walk is stunning, full of awe-inspiring mountain scenery. Declared a national monument in 1988, the ancient trail was built by the indigenous Guane people. It starts off with a gentle descent down the rim of a canyon before crossing a valley filled with cacti. The walking is mostly downhill, and you’ll likely spot a few fossils embedded in the stones that pave the trail en route. On arrival in Guane, refresh with a cooling drink, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and perhaps check out the local church before catching the local bus back to Barichara. There may be some time to relax or explore back in Barichara before the day’s end.
Today we travel by local bus to Bogota via San Gil (approximately 8 hours), so kick back and enjoy the lull as the scenery rolls by. There will be only the one stop along the way, so ensure you take drinks and snacks for the journey. Your hotel in Bogota is located in the Chapinero neighbourhood, one of the most culturally interesting parts of town.
Today we’ll check out a couple of essential local spots. One is La Candelaria, the historic heart of the city. Boasting a wealth of cosy cafes and colonial churches, it’s a neighbourhood full of surprises. As well as loads of museums, art and great food to try, it’s also just a beautiful town to walk around, an interesting clash of the old and new. We also head to the Gold Museum for a chance to learn about the wealth this country once had. Fascinating and easy to navigate, the museum has 55,000 artifacts from various eras on display. Finally, it’s time to head up Cerro de Monserrate by cable car, where a 17th-century church overlooks the sprawling capital. It’s a great place to watch the sunset as the trip draws to a close.
The trip concludes after breakfast this morning.