Interesting trip that offers an insight into the geographic and cultural diversity of Colombia. Large distances mean internal flights and time spent at airports but the latter are efficient and its worth it to see the contrasting areas of the country. Colombians are very welcoming - delighted that people are willing to challenge the country's negative image by travelling there. Only disappointment was being unable to trek in Los Nevados National Park (closed for 8m+) due to the activity of Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Cocora Valley was a pleasant hike but Ruiz would have been special.......a good reason, amongst several, to go back!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Hiking to the well preserved ruins of Chairama (El Pueblito) in Tayrona National Park as an optional activity with our guide, Juan. There is a steepish paved path that leads from from Cabo San Juan del Guía (a couple of beach bays from where we stayed) that consists of boulders which were put together in a manner that allowed the sound of footsteps to carry. This alerted the indigenous peoples of Chairama to the approach of visitors. I had learned a little about these ancient people and their current descendants -the Kogi and Arhuaca- from the episode on Colombia of the BBC documentary-"Lost Kingdoms of South America". There was something truly magical about climbing to this isolated place with very few other tourists around. We were also very lucky to meet two Arhuaca near our base camp. They rarely come near tourists other than when they have mochilas to sell. A mochila is the traditional bag the Arhuaca use, amongst other things, to carry cocoa leaves and popora. It has an important historical and cultural significance to the Arhuaca and I had wanted to purchase one since watching the documentary. It was thus very special to meet the Arhuaca, purchase the mochila, and walk to Chairama.
Tayrona itself is very beautiful. The beaches are magnificent though potentially dangerous because of currents and shelving. I would have happily spent at least another day here despite the hammocks (which arent the most comfortable things to sleep in!).
In a different way, the Gold Museum and the National Museum in Bogata were also inspiring - largely because of the rich cultural history of the pre-Colombian peoples that are represented in the artefacts in both places. The Gold Museum is world class, with audio guides in English available. It is worth exploring in your own time in addition to the organised group tour.
Finally, Villa de Leyva - the beauty of the old hotel we stayed in, the weird phallic monoliths and astrological observatory of the Muiscas at El infiernito and the 120 million year old fossilised Kronosaurus were special. Again they evoked a past that little is known about.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Juan was a very engaging, helpful and pleasant person who was very interesting to talk to about Colombia but who was perhaps not as forthcoming as he could have been about the country to the group as a whole. On some of the longer drives it would have been good if he had talked more about the country in general and the place we were visiting in particular .....you get used to Exodus guides being good at doing this so miss it when it doesnt quite happen in the way you expect!! He was a good guy though and great at being willing to take us to Chairama in Tayrona.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Vegetarians are not well catered for in Colombia so if you can compromise at all -for example by eating fish- it would increase the enjoyment of the trip. The trout is fantastic in the mountains.
Its easy to change cash -the airport rate is slighly lower than elsewhere but its very convenient. There are ATMs but our card and that of another traveller were blocked by our respective UK banks from withdrawing cash despite the fact we both had notified our banks that we would be travelling to Colombia and using our cards there. We had to phone the UK several times to sort the matter. I would personally now only rely on a card as a back up to cash.
Pick up a map of Bogata from the tourist office, La Candelaria: Plaza de Bolívar. It very clearly shows all the stops on the Transmilenio. The start hotel is near the Transmilenio which makes it easy to get in and out of Bogata cheaply and -relative to cars-quickly. Hotel staff showed us how to use the Transmilenio which was very good of them. Worth getting used to especially if you have extra time in Bogata. The museums are great. Botero's work is fun and interesting.
If you want to purchase a mochilo speak to the guide and probably wait till you get to Tayrona. There are synthetic imitations around.
Its worth learning some Spanish, no matter how little. Not many local people speak English.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
The owners of the hotel in the Coffee area threw an impromptu party for us to thank us for visiting Colombia. Really nice. I was sorry I didnt have a small souvenir from the UK to have given them.
If you travel independently, the start hotel looks as if its in a grotty area but Zona Rosa is a great area for restaurants. Fine to walk around and lots of students. Good location for getting Transmilenio from Heroes Station into La Candelaria.
I personally wouldnt recommend Isles de Rosario as there is nothing there other than beach. If you want to snorkel its important to know that you need to pay extra and stay on the boat to another place. This wasnt clear to our party.
Really glad went on this trip. Good with a great crowd of people. If I could have walked in Los Nevados at high altitude in the paramo I guess I would have given it five star!!