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Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) Avianca flight AV121 departing London Heathrow at 21.40 hrs.
Arrive in Bogota at 03.50 hrs and transfer to the Hotel Cité where rooms are ready for immediate occupation and where one night is spent. This modern chic hotel is located in La Rosa district known for its designer boutiques and varied gastronomy. Morning at leisure.
Lunch at Las Margaritas restaurant followed by an afternoon tour of Bogotá including the historic centre of La Candelaria. The focal point is Plaza Bolívar which has a statue of Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, in the centre. Close by is the Cathedral, on the site of Bogotá’s first church built in 1539, and the white stone Capitolio, built between 1847 and 1926, which houses meetings of the Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Also situated on the Plaza Bolívar are the Palace of Justice and the Edificio Liévano which is the seat of the Mayor or Alcaldía. Visit the Museo del Oro which features nearly 34,000 gold objects and 20,000 in stone, ceramic, textiles and precious stones of the Quimbaya, Calima, Tairona, Sinu, Muisca, Tolima, Tumaco and Magdalena cultures and is considered the most important collection of its kind worldwide. Dinner at the hotel.
Depart for Villa de Leyva with a stop en route at Zapiquirá, a name which evokes Zipa, chieftain of the Muiscas community and absolute master of the area’s rich salt mines. Here visit the impressive Catedral de Sal an underground cathedral built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 metres underground. It is a magnificent work of engineering, starting with a tunnel showing the Stations of the Cross, leading to the dome with a great cross sculpted in low relief, then to the three naves of the cathedral joined by openings that represent the birth and death of Christ.
Lunch at Refugio del Sisga restaurant. On arrival at Villa de Leyva, check into the Hotel Posada de San Antonio where two nights are spent. The hotel is situated in a beautiful colonial house built in 1860 and classified as a national monument. It is situated on an attractive plaza close to the spectacular Plaza Mayor of Villa de Leyva. Dinner at Mercado Municipal restaurant.
Full day walking tour of Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful colonial towns in the area which was founded in 1572 and declared a national monument in 1954. The Plaza Mayor at 14,000 m2 is the country’s largest and is surrounded by charming cobblestone streets. Here see the Cathedral (Iglesia Parroquial) from the outside and visit the House of Congress where, on 4th October 1812, the first Congress of the United Provinces of Nueva Granada took place. Also visit the house of Antonio Nariño, home to the Independence hero, and the home of Antonio Ricaurte, who fought under Bolívar and is known for his heroic sacrifice during the battle of San Mateo.
Lunch at Antique restaurant. Drive out of Villa de Leyva to Also visit El Fósil (The Fossil) museum which has an almost complete kronosaurus dinosaur fossil on display, in the same place in which it was found in 1977; and El Infiernito (Little Hell), an old astronomic observatory consisting of cylindrical stone monoliths. Dinner at Artesa restaurant.
Visit the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo, founded by the Dominicans in 1620. Of special note here is the pavement made of local stone embedded with fossils, and the chapel’s magnificent golden altarpiece with a small Ecce Homo image. Transfer to Bogotá.
Lunch at Balu restaurant en route. Fly from Bogotá to Pereira in the Coffee Region and transfer to Casa San Carlos Lodge where three nights are spent. The small luxury hotel has modern décor designed by local artisans, a swimming pool, Turkish bath and Jacuzzi. There are wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and lakes and nature trail on which you can see brightly coloured birds such as hummingbirds. Dinner at the hotel.
Early morning departure for an excursion to the Valle del Cocora (Cocora Valley). Located within the central mountain range, it is part of Los Nevados National Park, the ideal spot to admire the palma de cera del Quindío (Ceroxylon quindiuense), Colombia’s national tree which can reach a height of 60 metres and was worshipped by the local indigenous people. Numerous bird species inhabit the area among which are the hummingbird and the orejiamarillo or palmero parrot (Ognorhynchus icteroti), which is in danger of extinction. Take a ride on a traditional Willys jeep.
Lunch at El Escobal restaurant. Visit the town of Salento, famous for its streets of old and colourful houses (many housing handicraft shops where you can buy a poncho or Panama hat) that trace their origin to colonial times. Continue to another typical town of Filandia, famous for its antioqueño architecture, as well as for basket weaving. Dinner at the hotel.
Visit the charming Hacienda San Alberto located near the town of Buenavista Quindio to learn about the coffee refining process, its nuances and stages of production. The farm produces excellent washed Arabica coffee, which is highly sought after overseas and by the top hotels, restaurants and bars of Bogotá. See each stage of production, from the sowing of seeds through the growing of the crop and harvesting and finally the roasting process. Enjoy a coffee tasting session with a Master Taster.
Lunch at Hacienda San Alberto. Visit the colonial town of Pajao, including some of its historic houses and their beautiful gardens and its central square. Dinner at Octavo restaurant in the Sonesta Hotel.
Transfer to Pereira airport for a flight via Cartagena to Santa Marta.
Packed lunch en route. Transfer to the Hotel Casa Carolina where three nights are spent. The boutique hotel is located in a calm area of the historic centre of Santa Marta and facilities include two terraces, two Jacuzzis, a swimming pool, spa and a gourmet restaurant. Afternoon city tour of Santa Marta starting at the Monument of the Tayrona Gods followed by the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the house in which Simón Bolívar died in 1830. There will also be the chance to visit the hacienda’s Botanic Garden and the adjoining Museo Bolivariano of Contemporary Art. Dinner at Burukuka restaurant in Rodadero.
Full day excursion to the Tayrona National Park, located on Colombia’s northern Atlantic coast and a few kilometres from Santa Marta. It covers an extension of 15,000 hectares of which 12,000 are on land and 3,000 are maritime with bays, unspoilt beaches, coral barriers, lush vegetation, mangroves all set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Drive to Palangana, the entry point for the park, and on to Playa de Neganje. Take local fishing boat to the beautiful Playa Christal where you can enjoy free time on the beach to rest or swim.
Lunch is included during the excursion. Return to Santa Marta the same way. Dinner at the hotel’s Eli’s restaurant.
Early start for a full day excursion to meet Kogi indigenous people, related to the ancient Tairona civilization, all living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Its population is estimated at about 10,000 members who inhabit the Palomino valleys and Don Diego, San Miguel and Rio Ancho rivers. From Santa Marta drive through the coastal road to Rio Ancho town (approx. 2 hrs). From here start a 9 km walk (approx. 2 hrs) accompanied by a community guide through the humid tropical forest, along some parts of Ancho River until you reach the village of Tungueka. After a tour around the village, where you will learn about the way of life of the Kogi, you will meet the community Mamo and village authorities.
Picnic at the edge of the river on a large rock. Return to Santa Marta. Dinner at Ouzo restaurant.
Visit Santa Marta’s Casa de la Aduana, formerly the Customs House, which houses the Tairona Gold Museum containing artefacts from the ancient inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada including the ancestors of the Kogi. Also visit the Anthropological and Ethnographic Museum housed in the same building and Santa Marta Cathedral. Drive (approx. 4-5 hrs) to Cartagena.
Lunch en route at Cueva restaurant in Barranquilla. On arrival in Cartagena check in at Hotel El Capellan de Getsemani. The hotel, a recently restored classical-romantic style house, is located in the Getsemani area of the historic centre. Facilities include two pools, a restaurant and bar, a Jacuzzi and spa. Dinner at Interno restaurant.
Full day city tour of Cartagena which was founded in 1533 by the conqueror Don Pedro de Heredia and rapidly turned into a jewel in the Spanish crown. Cartagena was the first province to gain independence from Spain on 11th November 1811 and remains a real architectural treasure of civil, religious, military and governmental buildings. Start with a panoramic view of the city from the monastery and church of La Popa. Built in 1606, it is perched on the area’s best vantage point and was formerly called La Popa del Galeón, due to its incredible resemblance to the stern of a galleon. Also visit the fortress of San Felipe de Barajas, built on the San Lázaro hill in order to defend the city from pirate attacks. Continue to the old town to visit the church and monastery of San Pedro Claver founded by the Jesuits and named after the Spanish-born monk Pedro Claver (1580-1654), who lived and died in the monastery. Called the Apostle of the Blacks or the Slave of the Slaves, he spent all his life ministering to the slaves brought from Africa.
Lunch at Quebracho restaurant. Visit the Palace of the Inquisition, recognisable by its magnificent baroque entrance. The meetings of the tribunal took place in the palace, and it housed the prison. It now exhibits a truly horrifying collection of implements of torture used on the alleged opponents of the Catholic church. Nearby is the Cathedral whose construction began in 1575 although building was delayed when it was partially destroyed by the cannons of Francis Drake in 1586. Continue to Santo Domingo Church which is the oldest church in the city, dating from 1552 and has a crooked bell tower. Dinner at El Santisimo restaurant.
Morning street food walking tour through the old town. Remainder of the morning at leisure.
Lunch under own arrangements. Transfer to Cartagena airport. Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) Avianca flight AV9753 departing Cartagena at 18.44 hrs arriving Bogota at 20.14 hrs. Connect to Avianca flight AV120 departing Bogota at 22.55 hrs.
Arrive London Heathrow at 14.35 hrs.
It was a great experience and now I have dipped my toes in the Ultimate waters I shall be back for more.- JE, October