Colombia | Exploring Colombia: Culture, Coffee, and the Caribbean

Colombia | Exploring Colombia: Culture, Coffee, and the Caribbean

About this trip

Acquaint yourself with the many facets of Colombia, a historically and culturally rich country currently experiencing a renaissance. Begin your journey high in the Andes, where you’ll immerse yourself in modern Bogotá as well as the small, well-preserved colonial towns of the surrounding mountains. Spend time in the coffee-growing region to learn about agriculture, the development of the area, and the famed crop amid beautiful scenery. Finally, experience the Caribbean flavor of the coastal city of Cartagena, whose colorful, jacaranda-draped buildings evoke another time in history. The experience is enhanced by meetings with local residents and representatives from several different NGOs, who offer an insider’s look at their innovative social and environmental projects.

Highlights

  • Discover the architecture, museums, monuments, cuisine, and history of Colombia’s bustling cities and traditional villages. 
  • Descend underground to the subterranean Salt Cathedral, a church carved from a still-functioning salt mine.
  • Learn about the art of Colombian coffee production—its origins, the growth and harvesting process, and different varieties—culminating in the opportunity to roast your own beans.
  • Stroll through a forest of endangered Quindío wax palms, the world’s largest palm species and the national tree of Colombia.
  • Board a boat with a local fisherman in the foothills of Montes de María for a firsthand look at sustainable fishing practices.
11 Travelers

$3,695

Land Cost

Group size

Book 10 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

16 Travelers

$3,495

Land Cost

Group size

Book 15 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

Bogotá

Day 1

Upon arrival, meet the local guide at Bogotá International Airport and transfer to the hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure to rest for a busy day tomorrow. Welcome dinner and orientation at the hotel.

Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel de La Opera

Bogotá

Day 2

After breakfast, visit Paloquemao, a large market that supplies fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish for residents as well as many of the city's top restaurants. Pick up specific ingredients for tonight's dinner. Next, take a walking tour of La Candelaria, the historical neighborhood in downtown Bogotá. La Candelaria is considered the city's heart and soul; see the architecture of the old houses, churches, and buildings of Spanish Colonial, Baroque, and art deco styles. The first stop is the Gold Museum, which has one of the finest collections of pre-Hispanic gold work in the world, with more than 35,000 pieces. Throughout the walking tour, your guide will explain the history of Bogotá and the intricacies of current Colombian culture and daily life. After lunch, visit Bolívar Square and several important Colonial- and Republican-style buildings, including the Palace of Justice, Colombia Congress, mayor's office, and the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá. Visit the Botero Museum, a permanent exhibition of artwork by Fernando Botero, Colombia's most famous artist, whose "oversized" art is instantly recognizable. The museum also has works by Dalí, Monet, and Van Gogh. Return to the hotel. Dinner is at the house of a local Bogotano who will prepare a variety of Colombian bites and appetizers worthy of a sampling menu. For each dish, he will go through its ingredients, cultural significance, and flavors. For larger groups (more than six people), a suitable alternative venue will be chosen.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel de La Opera

Villa de Leyva, Boyaca

Day 3

Take a half-day trip to Zipaquirá to visit the Salt Cathedral, one of the marvels of Colombia. Zipaquirá is famous for this underground cathedral, a Roman Catholic church carved from a still-functioning salt mine. As you explore the cathedral, your guide will explain its construction. Then head to Puente de Boyacá, stopping for lunch en route. Puente de Boyacá is a small bridge crossing the Teatino River that symbolizes the most important and decisive battle of the War of Independence from Spain-the Battle of Boyacá, which took place on this riverbank in 1819. The surrounding area now has several additional monuments that will be explained during this short stop, including statues of "The Liberator" Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander, among others. Continue approximately one hour to the town of Villa de Leyva. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own to explore local restaurants.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at Plazuela de San Antonio

Suescún, Boyacá

Day 4

After breakfast, walk in Villa de Leyva. This well-preserved historical town offers some of the most beautiful views of the altiplano (plateau) and is one of Latin America's best examples of colonial architecture and traditional village life, with its vibrant markets and craftsmanship. The guide will focus on colonization of the Altiplano Cundiboyacense. Have lunch at Mercado Municipal, and then transfer to Hacienda Suescún. Stop en route at the Pantano de Vargas monument. Designed by Colombian artist Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt, it commemorates one of the bloodiest battles of the War of Independence and is the largest sculptural complex in Colombia. Continue to the hotel to rest and freshen up. After dinner, enjoy a glass of wine and a lecture on the altiplano's history and main agricultural activities.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hacienda Suescun

Suescún, Boyacá

Day 5

After breakfast, visit the archaeological museum in Sogamoso, the sacred "City of the Sun" according to the indigenous Muisca people. The museum was established in 1942 by one of Colombia's founding fathers of archaeology, Eliécer Silva Celis, and displays archaeological findings and reconstructions of various temples, such as the stunning Sun Temple. It houses more than 4,000 artifacts from Muisca and pre-Muisca periods, with exhibits on paleontology, the history and importance of coal mining and metallurgy in the area of Boyacá, traditional musical instruments, and a beautiful sculpture of the last iraca or cacique (indigenous chief) of Sogamoso. Continue to Laguna de Tota. At an elevation of 9,892 feet, and with an average depth of 200 feet, it is the largest freshwater lake in the Colombian Andes and one of the largest at high altitude in South America. The lake provides water for many crops in the area and also hosts many trout-breeding farms. Stop and visit the main plazas at the towns of Iza and Cuítiva. After lunch at a lake-front restaurant, enjoy a flat-boat tour to Playa Blanca while learning about the lake and its importance to the surrounding communities. Make optional stops at two of the lake's islands before reaching a beautiful, white-sand beach on the far shore. Return to your hotel for dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hacienda Suescun

El Rosario, Caldas

Day 6

After breakfast, drive approximately four hours back to Bogotá and catch the flight to Pereira. Have a packed lunch en route. Upon arrival to the lush coffee region, transfer to Hacienda Venecia. Settle in, then have dinner at the hotel this evening along with an introduction to the Antioquian colonization and the development of the coffee region.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hacienda Venecia

Salamina, Caldas

Day 7

Have breakfast, including a cup of locally grown coffee, and then experience the life of a coffee bean from seed to cup. The fun begins with a general introduction to the world of coffee, during which you will learn about the crop's origins, history, and worldwide distribution. Also hear about different coffee varieties and the properties of each, and learn about the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Next, walk through the plantation for a firsthand look at growing and harvesting. After picking your own beans, visit the wet mill (operational weekdays only) to learn about coffee processing, roasting, and marketing (Juan Valdez brand). You will have the chance to see and taste beans at different grades of roasting to experience the differences between each. Have lunch at the Hacienda. This afternoon, visit Fundación Huellas de Vida, an NGO in Manizales that has worked in one of the city's neighborhoods to generate change through social action. After a brief talk, take a graffiti tour of the barrio, discussing how the neighborhood has changed thanks to the fantastic work the NGO has done there. Then transfer to Salamina and enjoy a walk in this beautiful historical city, famous for its colorful buildings, main square, and intricately carved wooden balconies. Continue to the hotel for dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Casa de Lola García

Salamina, Caldas

Day 8

After breakfast, visit the Samaria Valley for a look at the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm, also the tallest palm species in the world. Found mainly in certain Andean regions of Colombia and Peru, it was declared an endangered species in 2005. The decline began in the 19th century when wax from the trees was used to make candles and matches. More recently, heavy deforestation and disease have taken their toll. On the way, stop at San Felix, a small community close to Salamina. Due to the influence of Boyacá colonizers, many farmers here keep dairy cattle. Enjoy some cheese or other dairy products and visit the plaza with its beautiful, Italian-style church. Boxed lunch today. Return to enjoy late afternoon at the hotel or around Salamina. Dinner is at the hotel.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Casa de Lola García

Cartagena, Bolivar

Day 9

This morning, drive approximately three-and-a-half hours to Pereira for the flight to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. Lunch on own at the airport. Upon arrival in Cartagena, transfer to the hotel. Have dinner this evening and receive an orientation to the city. The historical Old Town features the most extensive military fortification system in South America, due to the port's significant role during the colonial era. The walled city was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1984 for its stunning 16th century architecture and cultural symbols.

Breakfast-Dinner included
Overnight at Ananda Hotel Boutique

Cartagena, Bolivar

Day 10

This morning take a city tour, beginning in the Manga neighborhood. Observe the Spanish casonas-immense and ornately decorated mansions, many with national heritage status. Then visit St. Philip's Castle (Castillo San Felipe), an imposing military fortress on a hill overlooking the city. From here, return to the walled city along stone streets and plazas, soaking up the atmosphere, history, and surroundings. In its early history, numerous attempts to take the city failed, due to the natural barrier formed by its offshore reef (later used as the building blocks for fortification walls). It wasn't until 1586-when Sir Francis Drake (considered a pirate by Colombian history) attacked and burned half of Cartagena-that Spain decided to invest in the impressive walls that still stand today. The buildings range in antiquity; older buildings, such as the cathedral, date back almost 500 years to the 16th century. All are excellent examples of colonial structures with their intricate woodwork, overhanging balconies, terracotta roofs, and brightly colored facades.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at Ananda Hotel Boutique

Cartagena, Bolivar

Day 11

Today, visit with local fishermen to learn about sustainable fishing practices. Begin with an early morning transfer to San Basilio de Palenque, declared a UNESCO Cultural Space because it was the first free and independent Afrodescendant village in the Americas. During the colonial period, individuals who had escaped slavery (palenqueros) gathered and formed small bands that took shelter in the mountains and eventually established free and autonomous communities. Today, elements of the palenqueros' African dialects, dances, and culinary traditions continue in these communities. Board a boat with a local fisherman and a representative from Los Andes University, which together with a local NGO is carrying out work in this community. See firsthand how a fisherman conducts his daily rounds, checking nets and fishing contraptions around the mangroves. Learn about the ecological impact of Cartagena's infrastructure development and urban growth, and how this is changing the lives of modern-day fishermen. The NGO is currently investigating the efficiency of the local fishing methods-whether there's a reduction in environmental impact, whether the ecosystem services provided by the mangroves can be quantified, and if the local community is conserving its natural resources. Have lunch in San Basilio and then return to Cartagena, with the afternoon at leisure. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner at Interno. This unique restaurant is located within the local women's prison, part of an amazing project by Fundación Acción Interna. Enjoy a talk about the NGO's project, which gives incarcerated women a second chance in life as they train with some of the best chefs in Colombia.

Overnight at Ananda Hotel Boutique

Cartagena

Day 12

Transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Breakfast- included
Overnight at Depart