On your way to the town of Villa de Leyva you’ll see flower plantations and visit a cathedral built entirely of salt. At Periera you’ll be staying in a region famous for its Colombian coffee whilst Medellin will reveal itself as a premier city of culture – including that most contemporary art form, graffiti. But the highlight of Highlights is probably Cartagena with its forbidding fortifications built to resist attack by pirates, its parade of colonial religious buildings, churches and Museum of the Inquisition.
London – Bogota
Flying in the evening from London you’ll arrive in Bogota very early the following morning. You’ll be taken to your hotel, close to lovely Virrey Park in the city’s most prized entertainment and business area. You’ll have time to explore before your city tour shows you the historic La Candelaria area with its charming old Spanish casonas featuring wrought iron window grilles, balconies, courtyards and beautiful gardens.
In Plaza Bolívar you’ll find the statue of Simón Bolívar and the cathedral that is known for its huge collection of liturgical and ornamental objects collected over the centuries. Your cultural experience continues with a visit to Capilla del Sagrario, and Museo Botero displaying masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir, Dalí, Matisse, Monet and Giacometti. The Museo de Oro has treasures of its own; 34,000 gold and 20,000 artefacts in stone, ceramic and precious stones from the Quimbaya, Calima, Tairona, Sinu, Muisca, Tolima, Tumaco and Magdalena cultures. Next, a cable car takes you to Monserrate – 500 metres above Bogota – to admire the soaring views over the city.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at Cité.
Villa de Leyva
A journey of just over an hour takes you through Colombia’s dazzling flower plantations, northwards towards Villa de Leyva. On the way you’ll pause to see the Salt Cathedral, a stupendous piece of engineering, and the neighbouring salt mines. At Villa de Layva, you’ll be staying in a fine colonial residence constructed in 1860 and set in the ideal position to allow you to explore a town entirely free of modern buildings.
The colonial architecture has been declared a national monument and is epitomised by the Plaza Mayor – the largest of its type in Colombia – and the magnificent Convento del Sante Ecce Homo founded by the Dominicans in 1620.
Stay: One night in a standard room at Posada de San Antonio.
Now a four hour flight zips you from Bogota to Pereira, arriving in the early evening. You’ll be staying in a delightfully restored hacienda, close to coffee plantations where you’ll gain an insight into the growing, harvesting, preparation, toasting and final production of world renowned Colombian coffee. Your next excursion introduces you to the beautiful village of Filandia, famous for its Antioqueño architecture and basket weaving.
Then you move on to the Valle del Cocora, part of Los Nevados National Park, known for its 60 metre high palma de cera del Quindío and diverse range of exotic birds including hummingbirds and parrots. After a fine lunch you’ll drive on to Salento with its winding streets lined with colourful old houses and handicraft shops selling ponchos and Panama hats.
Stay: Three nights in a standard room at Hacienda San Jose.
Four and a half hours further along the journey sees you entering Colombia’s second most important city. Medellin seems to be dedicated to art and culture. La Plazoleta, for example, has over 20 Botero sculptures and the Museum of Antioquia is one of Colombia’s most celebrated museums with exhibits from the pre-Columbian, to the Independence and modern periods.
More unconventionally, your tour begins in Graffiti-rich La Comuna 13 – once one of the city’s most dangerous neighbourhoods – where local spray paint artists will explain the importance of the graffiti art form. The following day you’ll see the Parque de Los Tamarindos before visiting the extraordinary Puente de Occidente suspension bridge and travelling on to Santa Fe de Antioquina with its narrow streets and white washed buildings dating back to 1541. On your way back you’ll visit another well preserved town; San Jeronimo.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at the Medellin Royal.
When you walk around the genteel, colourful streets of Cartagena, it’s difficult to associate your surroundings with the city’s history of conflict. Nevertheless, this is a place that was, at different times, inhabited by ferocious Caribe Indians, Spanish invaders, the Inquisition, buccaneers and pirates. And it has the fortified city walls to prove it. But today Cartagena is a symphony of civil, religious, military and governmental buildings dating back centuries.
In fact it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List and your city tour begins tranquilly in the Parque Bolivar with its four fountains and central statue of El Libertador, plus the Museo del Oro displaying pre-Hispanic archaeological objects. Especially interesting are the artefacts of the Zenu people and their innovative flood management systems. Then it’s back to Cartagena’s violent past; the Palace of the Inquisition housed the prison and has a terrifying exhibition of implements of torture. Your tour also includes the Santo Domingo church and the cathedral, and ends at the Ramparts and the Museo de Las Fortificaciones.
Stay: Three nights in a classic room at Sofitel Santa Clara.
Santa Marta – Bogota – London
Finally you’re taken to the airport for your evening flight to Bogota and onwards to London, arriving at Heathrow in the middle of the following afternoon.