The group flight leaves London this morning, and we arrive in Bogota this evening.
We begin the day with a ride on the Transmilenio bus to the historical district of La Candelaria. It was here that the city of Bogota was first founded in 1538. We have a walking tour taking in the main buildings around the historic centre including the Plaza Bolivar, which is surrounded by the main government and judicial buildings as well as the Cathedral Primada. We will learn about the history of Bogota and the people who inhabit this amazing city, and visit the famous Gold Museum, home to the largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold in the world. In the afternoon you will have free time to explore more of the city at your leisure. Recommended places to visit include the famous Botero art museum (which features works by Colombia's greatest living painter) and the Casa de Moneda (or old mint), or you may wish to take the cable car or funicular railway to the top of Monseratte for spectacular views of the city and the surrounding hills.
We leave Bogota this morning and drive for about an hour and a half to Zipaquira, where we visit the unique Salt Cathedral. This subterranean church was carved out of the salt bedrock in an old salt mine. We will have a guided tour of the cathedral, following the elaborately carved stations of the cross to reach the main part of the cathedral, which has capacity for over 8000 worshippers. We also stop at the pretty and colourful village of Raquira, noted for its community of artisans who produce distinctive pottery and woven goods, before continuing on to the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, where we arrive in the early evening.
This morning we will have a walking tour of Villa de Leyva, taking in the main plaza and the most important and significant colonial buildings. We will also get an insight into the town's history and the local culture. The afternoon has been left free for further exploration of the town's cobbled streets and craft shops, or to simply relax in one of the laid-back cafes. Alternatively, an optional excursion is available to see El Fosil, an incredibly well preserved 12-metre long fossilised Kronosaurus discovered by a local farmer and housed in a small museum close to town.
We drive back to Bogota today to catch a short flight to the town of Manizales, in the heart of Colombia's 'Coffee Zone'. The town is the main centre for the region's coffee production and enjoys a beautiful location, surrounded by steep mountains which form the foothills of some of Colombia's highest peaks, including Los Nevados National Park. On arrival, we transfer to our hotel, and the remainder of the day is free to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Our itinerary today is dependent on the volcanic activity in Los Nevados National Park. If the Nevado del Ruiz is calm and has been calm for a while we will visit the high Andes inside the park. If the volcano is too active we will, instead, visit the charming Cocora Valley with its famous Wax palms.
Today we experience high altitude as we spend the day amongst the mountains of Los Nevados National Park. A winding road takes us steadily upwards, with constant changes in scenery and vegetation the higher we go. We have a short stop near Laguna Negra, a picturesque glacial lake, for a cup of coca tea to help with acclimatisation, and then continue to the park entrance at around 4000m. From the gates, we drive on a volcanic ash road until we reach a small mountain hut (4800m) which marks the start of our short hike. Depending on how well we have acclimatised, we may walk for an hour or so towards the snow line, or we may wish to appreciate the glaciers from the hut while catching our breath! There is a complete change of topography throughout the day as we make our way from around 1950m in Manizales to over 5000m - on the way we pass waterfalls, mountain lagoons and the stark lunar landscapes of lava fields, as well as seeing some fine examples of unique paramo vegetation, including the distinctive frailejon, a cactus-like succulent.
Part of the wider Parque Nacional Los Nevados, the Cocora Valley is located on the eastern limits of Quindío along the central Andean range, near the small town of Salento. The valley has a unique landscape like a lush version of a Swiss valley. It has been regarded by Colombia as a sanctuary for its national symbol; the Wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense). The Palms cover the Mountain range, which is now protected and declared monument to protect the tree itself and the endemic species that depend on it. The valley is spectacular and great for walking or horseback rides, either way this stunning mountain scenery will not fail to impress. Salento is a municipality in the north eastern part of the department of Quindío. It was the first settlement in Quindío of modern times dating back to 1850, and the first municipality founded in the department. This picturesque town boasts a number of fine houses of traditional architectural style. Rimmed by distant snow-capped mountains Salento has a real rural traditional feel.
This morning we visit a coffee plantation near our hotel, where we will find out about the whole production process from seedling to cup, as well as learning about the trials and tribulations of the plantations themselves and the many workers who rely on coffee for their livelihoods. Naturally, cups of coffee will be in plentiful supply throughout our visit! After lunch, we will have a tour of the traditional villages in the local area which are almost wholly dependent on coffee production. There will be plenty of opportunities for photos of the beautfiul countryside and the interesting villages themselves.
Today we return to Manizales airport to board our flight via Bogota to Cartagena, where we stay in a small characterful hotel close to the historic walled city. The heat and humidity will probably be a bit of a shock to the system on arrival, and so the afternoon has been left open for us to adjust to the change in temperature.
This morning we explore the beautiful colonial centre of Cartagena on foot, wandering through its narrow streets and colourful plazas to discover some of its historical gems, including the Puerta del Reloj (clock tower gate), Plaza de los Coches, Plaza Bolivar, and the church of San Pedro Claver. After a break for lunch and an escape from the heat of the day, we resume our tour of the city this afternoon with visits to San Felipe Fortress and La Popa Monastery. San Felipe dominates the old town and is the largest Spanish fort in the Americas, and its solid construction allowed Colombian forces to successfully defend the city against frequent attacks in the 17th and 18th centuries. La Popa is a fortified monastery dramatically perched on a hilltop overlooking the city and offers fantastic views as well as an insight into Cartagena's religious and cultural life from the colonial era to the modern day.
Today has been left free for further exploration of the city, or for some time to relax on the nearby beaches of Bocagrande. Alternatively, you may wish to take an optional cruise to Isla del Encanto (Enchanted Island) in the Rosario Islands. The island is surrounded by coral reefs, and snorkelling equipment is available to hire so that you can discover the incredibly diverse fish species which are supported by the reef. There is also an aquarium on the island, as well as opportunities to swim and kayak.
We drive out of Cartagena early this morning towards Tayrona National Park, stopping en route at Totumo mud volcano, where we have the chance to bathe in therapeutic mud. We should arrive at the park gates by late afternoon and from there we have an hour's walk through the jungle to get to the pristine beaches. We will spend the night in thatched huts sleeping in hammocks, an authentic Colombian beach experience.
Today has been left free for some relaxation time in the park. There are a series of beaches stretching westwards from our hammock hut, ranging from secluded coves to long stretches of tempting sand, although the more energetic may be tempted to set off early this morning for a walk to the pre-Colombian town of Pueblito. The ruined settlement is set in the rainforested hills behind the beaches and although the stepped path is steep and rocky, the rewards of walking through the forest to be greeted by a clearing and a fascinating archaeological site more than compensate for the tricky ascent. In the late afternoon we return to the park gates and drive to nearby Santa Marta. The city is an important port, and its recently renovated colonial centre boasts fine architecture as well as a large variety of restaurants, shops and bars.
We fly back to Bogota today, and the rest of the day has been left free for last-minute shopping or further exploration of the capital.
We transfer to the airport this afternoon for the return flight to the UK.