Barichara: Barichara is a town in northern Colombia with cobbled streets and colonial architecture. In the center, the sandstone Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion features a gold-leaf altar. Other significant churches include whitewashed Capilla de San Antonio, built in the 19th century, and hilltop Capilla de Santa Barbara. On the town’s western outskirts, Cementerio Barichara is a cemetery of ornate tombs.
Bogota: Colombia’s capital city sits at an elevation of 2,640 m/8,660 ft. in the Andino region. With a population of more than eight million, it is a city of contrasts. Classic, open plazas, and churches coexist with tall slender skyscrapers, and peaceful tree-lined bicycle paths cut across crowded, frenetic streets. Bogota is home to universities and regional offices for multinational companies. It embraces a variety of cuisine, from traditional dishes to sushi to fast food. It is one of the most modern and metropolitan cities in Latin America. The historic center is known as La Candelaria. The northern section of the city is where most modern development has taken place, and combines upscale living with affluent shopping centers, boutiques and restaurants. The Gold Museum boasts an outstanding collection of pre-Colombian treasures. Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, not far from the city, is a huge underground cathedral built into a rock salt mine. Fourteen chapels represent the Stations of the Cross. Long before the Spanish came, the mines were used by the Muisca people.
Cartagena: Cartagena was a major trading port for gold and silver going from the New World to Spain. It was also a slave port and market. The architecture of the old city is mainly Spanish colonial, but there are also Italian and republican influences. The Cathedral of Cartagena dates to the 16th century. Nearby is San Pedro Claver Square as well as the Museum of Modern Art. The notorious 18th-century Palace of the Inquisition is an eerie reminder of an especially turbulent period in world history. It exhibits tools used in torture, and a receipt for ransom paid to Sir Francis Drake in exchange for leniency and his pledge to not burn the city. One of the city’s most remarkable landmarks is a short walk from downtown – the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, arguably the greatest fortress the Spanish ever constructed in Latin America. The original was constructed between 1639 and 1657. Extensive enlargements made later resulted in a network of underground tunnels, so designed as to hear the footsteps of an approaching enemy. Augustinian Fathers Convent is now the University of Cartagena. The Heredia Theater is an architectural gem fronting the Plaza de la Merced.
Coffee Zone: The cities of Armenia and Pereira stand in the center of the western region of the country in a small valley that descends from the Andes. This is the center of the coffee zone as well as the heart of Colombian culture, which is strongly influenced by the traditions of coffee. Working coffee plantations allow guests to see the complete process of growing and production – from planting seeds to sampling a cup of Colombia’s finest brew. Valley of the Cocora, a wildlife sanctuary in the central Andean mountains, is within easy reach. Hiking, bird watching, game fishing, mountain biking, horse riding and river rafting are options.
Colombian Amazon: The Amazon region of Colombia is part of greater Amazonia and covers some 35% of the country’s total territory. It is primarily covered by tropical rainforest, which is a part of the greater Amazon Basin. More than 468 recorded species of birds and 150 species of aquatic mammals, including the Amazonian manatee and the river dolphin. Amacayacu National Park and Marasha Reserve are reached by boat. The upper forest canopy in the park varies between 30 and 50 m/98 and 164 ft. in height. Marasha Reserve is home to the largest lily pads in the world. In the park, ziplines allow for aerial exploration of this incredible ecosystem.
Crystal Canyon: Crystal Canyon River, Cano Cristales, has seasonal changes that turn the water brilliant hues of yellow, green, blue, black and especially red. The river is a tributary of the Guayabero. The bright colors, especially the red-pink colors of river bottom after the rainy season are caused by great quantities of endemic plant species, Macarenia clavígera. This plant is found in other local rivers. The water is extremely clean due to the lack of nutrients and small particles and its complete lack of fish.
Medellin: During the 19th century, Medellin was a dynamic commercial center; first exporting gold, then producing and exporting coffee. It was the first area in the country to take part in the Industrial Revolution. Medellin today echoes that kind of vigor with more than three million people. This is Colombia’s main industrial center, producing everything from designer clothing to cars. It is home to half a dozen universities, adding to the vibrant cultural scene and energetic nightlife. A pedestrian walkway encompasses 30 blocks. Medellin has the only aerial cables connected to a mass metro-type transit system. The city’s architecture includes five large new “Library Parks” – La Ladera, Belen, La Quintana, Santo Domingo, and San Javier Parks – symbols of the urban and social transformation of Medellin. Pueblito Paisa on the Nutibara Hill is a replica of a typical Paisa village of Antioquia, with its colorful houses, church, courtyards, patios, shops and fountain.
Nuqui: On the Pacific coast, Nuqiu boasts beautiful beaches, waterfalls, thick forests, mangroves and thermal springs. Nuquí is culturally diverse with a majority of the population coming from Afro-Colombia ethnicity, represented here by members of indigenous tribes such as the traditional Chocoan community. Adventure activities include scuba diving, jungle treks, snorkeling and whale watching.
Pasto: Pasto was founded in 1537, and has served as an administrative, cultural and religious center of the region since colonial times. It is still recognized as the theological city of the country. In western Colombia, it is known for its Blacks and Whites Carnival. The Carnival Museum houses giant figures used in the celebratory parades. The colonial, Moorish-influenced Temple of St. John the Baptist sits beside central Narino Square. The Banco de la República Gold Museum displays priceless pre-Columbian artifacts. Southwest of Pasto is Las Lajas Sanctuary, an unexpected and striking Gothic church built into a gorge.
Popayan: Founded in 1537, it was the mid-point of gold’s journey between Lima, Quito and Cartagena on its way to Spain. It is well-known because of its beautiful colonial architecture and its contributions to Colombian cultural and political life. Popayan was declared by the UNESCO as the “first city of gastronomy because of its variety and meaning to the intangible patrimony of Colombian culture.” Popayan has been home to 17 Colombian presidents as well as noted poets, painters and composers. Often referred to as the “White City” for the many white-washed buildings in the historic center, it has stunning colonial churches such as San Francisco, San Jose, Belen, Santo Domingo, San Agustin, and the Catedral Basilica Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, known locally as “La Catedral”. The city’s cathedral was home to the Crown of the Andes, a 16th-century Marianist devotional object featuring emeralds taken from the captured Inca Emperor Atahualpa. But it was sold to finance local health care institutions. Although the city was damaged by an earthquake in 1983, most historic colonial architectural structures have been restored. Popayan is also widely-known for the solemnity of its Easter Week sacred processions, a tradition dating back to the 16th century. In 2009, Popayan’s Easter Week celebrations were declared by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In the Kokonuco Indigenous Reserve, Purace Volcano is considered one of the most active in the area, erupting 17 times since 1948. It is a stratovolcano with a 500-m/1,640 ft.-wide summit crater. It is also considered good for hiking for most levels of experience. The trail up the volcano is well marked with several signals and yellow marks in rocks and trees.
San Agustin: San Agustin Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is in the Colombian Massif of the southwestern Andes. The world’s largest necropolis, it encompasses an outstanding collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America. The statues were first described by a Spanish monk, who visited the region of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in 1756–57 as a missionary. He wrote about the statues he saw in San Agustín in mid-1756. When the statues were created remains uncertain, but they are believed to have been carved between 50 – 400. Who carved them also remains part of the mystery. The statues vary in height with the tallest at 7m/23 ft. tall. The common belief currently is that they may be related to burial practices. In other regions of the archaeological site where large burial mounds are located, animal figures are found such as snakes, frogs and birds, which are strategically placed to appear to stand guard to offer increased protection in the afterlife. Statues of deities or carving on the ground seem to include both male solar gods and female lunar gods; yet these figures and statues provide little insight into this civilization.
Santa Marta & Tayrona National Park: Founded in 1525, Santa Marta was Colombia’s first Spanish settlement on the Caribbean coast. It has a fine natural harbor. Gold was the primary reason the Spanish settled this area. The Tairona indigenous communities were celebrated for their talents as goldsmiths. The precious items were shipped to Spain via the new port of Santa Marta. Some of the relics are on view in Bogota as part of the “Treasures from the Museo del Oro” exhibition. Santa Marta is ideally located to discover the Santa Marta Mountains, the second highest range in Colombia, and the Tayrona National Park. The park has one of the most pristine and scenic coastlines in South America and includes hiking trails, beautiful beaches, secluded bays and offshore coral reefs. It protects some 108 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. The black howler monkey, oncilla, deer, eagle, iguana and more than 70 types of bats are among the park’s residents. There are also 31 species of reptiles, 471 varieties of crustaceans and 401 species of fish.
Villa de Leyva: In a high-altitude valley of semi-desert, this town was some distance from major trade routes, so it received little attention and as a result has not been altered much over the last four centuries. In 1954, it was declared a National Monument to help preserve its 16th-century colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. The central feature is the Plaza Mayor, which is 14,000 sq. m/150,695 sq. ft., making this the largest square in Colombia, and it may be the largest entirely cobbled square in South America. Villa de Leyva is one of Colombia’s most visited towns. It and the surrounding countryside are popular getaway spots for people from Bogota.
Villavicencio: Surrounded by amazing mountain scenery, Villavicencio in central Colombia is situated on the eastern slopes of the Andean Cordillera Oriental. Founded in 1840, the city was named after Antonio Villavicencio, an early advocate for independence from Spain. It serves as an important manufacturing and commercial center for the plains and rainforests of eastern Colombia. In a rural area with a tropical climate, Villavicencio is on the great Colombian-Venezuelan plain called Los Llanos east of the Andes. Villavicencio is also on the historical route from the Colombian interior to the immense savannas that lie between the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. Villavicencio’s proximity to mountains and plains offers insight into Colombia’s geodiversity. Animals that inhabit the riparian forest include jaguar, ocelot, puma, capybara and giant otters. Active travelers can opt for kayaking, swimming, artisanal fishing and horseback riding.
Best Time to Go
With its proximity to the Equator, Colombia maintains relatively constant temperature all year. Altitude determines the temperature ranges. The best time to visit is during the dry seasons, December to March, and then June through September. These are also the best periods to see Colombia’s colorful festivals, meaning that some of the more popular areas may be crowded from late December to mid-January and mid-July to mid-August.
Day 1: Bogota, Colombia
This is a city of contrasts where centuries-old plazas and churches coexist with lofty skyscrapers.
Day 2: Bogota
While it is one of the most metropolitan cities in Latin America, its heart is the historic La Candelaria.
Day 3: Bogota / San Agustin
San Agustin Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is in the Colombian Massif of the southwestern Andes.
Day 4: San Agustin
This remarkable site contains the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America, and is considered the world's largest necropolis.
Day 5: San Agustin / Popayan
Popayan is well-known for its beautiful colonial architecture and its contributions to Colombian cultural and political life.
Day 6: Popayan
The city’s white-washed colonial buildings have led to the nickname “White City,” and it is known for its stunning colonial churches. Nearby Purace Volcano offers a good climb for all levels of experience.
Day 7: Popayan / Bogota / Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is a colonial jewel with an enormous plaza surrounded by colonial houses, small alleyways, cobblestone streets and a 17th-century parochial church.
Day 8: Villa de Leyva / Barichara
The historic center of Barichara was declared a national monument in 1979 due to its a historical and architectural value.
Day 9: Barichara
The architecture of its houses with white, thick walls in rammed earth and adobe, wood doors and windows, and a sea of clay tile roofs along streets of stone presents the very picture of a Spanish colonial village.
Day 10: Barichara / Cartagena
Once the Spanish empire's most important Caribbean port, Cartagena is one of Colombia’s prettiest cities.
Days 11/12: Cartagena
The 16th-century walled city and fortress are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The enormous plaza is surrounded by historic colonial houses, narrow alleyways, cobblestone streets and a 17th-century church.
Day 13: Cartagena / Depart
Coffee Zone (4 days)
In the western Andes, the center of the coffee producing region features working plantations and a wildlife sanctuary.
Colombian Amazon (3 days)
The Amazonia region in southern Colombia comprises 35% of Colombia's total territory, and supports 468 recorded species of birds and 150 species of aquatic mammals, including the Amazonian manatee and the river dolphin.
Crystal Canyon (4 days)
Crystal Canyon, Cano Cristales, is an amazing “rainbow” river that during the rainy season glows in hues of yellow, green, blue, black and especially red.
Medellin (3 days)
Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin enjoys art and cultural venues as well as fashionable shopping and excellent regional cuisine. It was the first Colombian city to take part in the Industrial Revolution.
Nuqui (4 days)
Scuba diving, snorkeling, jungle treks to waterfalls and whale watching are among the adventures activities here.
Pasto (3 days)
Pasto was founded in 1537, and has served as an administrative, cultural and religious center of the region since colonial times, and is known for its Blacks and Whites Carnival.
Santa Marta & Tayrona (4 days)
The colonial city offers historic and cultural sights while, nearby, Tayrona National Park remains a stunning, pristine and scenic coastline.
Villavicencio (2 days)
Surrounded by amazing mountain scenery, the area is rich with opportunities for kayaking, swimming, fishing and horseback riding.
$600-$1000 per person, per day. Land only, double occupancy.