Colombia Travel Route and Tips for Planning a Visit

Bogota

This post is the index to our trip to Colombia in March/April 2014. It will be updated with links as new stories and tips are posted, so check back often! Our Colombia travel route is shown on the map above. Click on markers and lines for more information. Green lines represent travel over land. Red lines were flights (which we got really lucky with price-wise!).

The Hardest Part: Forming a Plan

Having accepted a new work contract, we had about a month left before training began at the beginning of May. The contract is one of our typical mobile marketing tours, which will allow us to visit a different US city every week or two, managing promotional events. We can’t release the name of the client/product yet, but it’s one we were invited back to do, and one we really enjoyed the first time around. Staying in the US when we’re between contracts always gets expensive, even while accepting the gracious hospitality of family.  Leaving the country is often less expensive than staying at home, especially if you can nab a good airfare!

We started shopping around to see where we could go on the cheap.  One benefit we try and take advantage of is the use of a timeshare week. I bought a timeshare vacation week WAY back in the early 90s with Marriott, and each year I have a week anywhere in the world available either through Marriott Vacation Club or via an exchange company that lets you trade weeks. Marriott’s weeks have great trading power, so we’ve been able to use them in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Phuket, Sedona, AZ, Mexico and more. With a week due to expire in June, we searched to see what might pop up. When we saw Santa Marta, Colombia, the creaky brain wheels started turning. When we saw a super-cheap ticket on Spirit ($350 roundtrip) the trip was a done deal.

There’s one other thing we like to take care of between contracts, and that’s admin and personal projects. Though we both now have health insurance, dental is not included, and we each had accumulated several broken teeth!  A friend, formerly an exchange student at Donny’s Dad and Step-mom’s home lives in Colombia. These days, Camilo is a dentist with his own practice in Bucaramanga.

Our Colombia Travel Route

In Bogotá we were graciously received by Luisa, her son, and her husband Andres.  Camilo’s older sister had been an exchange student during a year of high school as well in the home of Donny’s Dad. The family lives in the northern suburb of Bogotá. Thanks to their hospitality we were able to do a quick tour of historic downtown, enjoy views from the top of Cerro Monserrate and enjoy a lovely evening out in Usaquén.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva

A weekend invitation by Luisa’s in-laws took us to a family member’s mountain home above Villa de Leyva, tucked into the mountains a few hours’ drive north of Bogotá. Highlights of our visit included walks in the woods, a daytrip to a small village known for ceramics and one that specializes in sausage, and a stop to see an ancient fossil!

Barichara

San Gil and Barichara

Breaking out on our own we traveled by bus to San Gil. This adventure capital of Santander department offers opportunities for rock climbing, rafting, parasailing.  We devoted ourselves to more relaxing pursuits like exploring the city’s famous park, Parque Gallineral. The park is filled with meandering paths by the river. Plants and trees are marked with local and scientific names and different routes pass by historic bridges and the river. We used San Gil as a jumping off point to explore Barichara and as a rest stop on our way to Bucaramunga.

Barichara, an easy 1 hr bus ride from San Gil, is a sleepy town seemingly preserved in time.  We spent the day walking its streets enjoying the charm of the traditional, colonial style buildings.  This area is also very famous for its fat-bottom ants, as a snack that is.  We had tried them a few years earlier in Cucuta when visiting a friend’s family there.

Bucaramunga

Visiting the Dentist in Buca

Moving on to Bucaramanga we reunited with a familiar face, exchange brother, and now dentist, Camilo.  Wasting no time we immediately took turns in his dentist chair as he skillfully rehabbed our teeth.  He referred us to an endodontist, Dr. Javier Jimenez, who took care of a root canal for each of us too!  After spending a few days in the “City of Parks” the three of us set off on an overnight bus for Santa Marta.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta and the Guajira Peninsula

Overnight there was only one cause for stirring on the bus ride: we think the driver didn’t see a speed bump thus locking up the brakes and causing a few ” Ay, Dios mio’s” around 4 am.  Arriving safely in Santa Marta we took a taxi to Zuana Resort where we would spend a week.  We also had a friend from Venezuela join us, adding good company and some fine Venezuelan rum.  Beaching and relaxing  we enjoyed fresh seafood including ceviche from some local vendors.

Palomino Sunset

To arrive in Palomino we took a bus from the Santa Marta terminal heading north toward Riohacha (on the Guajira peninsula) and asked to be let off at the gas station in Palomino.  After walking toward the ocean and looking at a few rooms we decided on Cabanas Praba.  Palomino boasts a laid back hippie-ish vibe with a very large stretch of wide beach.

Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias

From Palomino, we head to the historic walled city, Cartagena de Indias. Our favorite part of the city was walking. We did it every day, mesmerized by pink, purple and white bougainvillea draped over balconies, mysterious doors and steamy sunsets. Don’t miss our gallery of Cartagena’s doors and Cartagena street art. We also did a fun day trip from here to the Totumo Mud Volcano for some mud therapy.

Medellin and Guatape

When it was time to move on, believe it or not, we found an airfare on Avianca that cost less than a long-haul bus so we snatched it up! We arrived at Jose Maria Cordova Airport, about an hour from central Medellin.  We hopped a bus to the center of the city then a local bus and finally a walk up Calle 10 to Diez Hotel.  The neighborhood of Poblado is filled with hip cafes, restaurants and bars where the pretty young things of the city gather. It was a nice, convenient place to be based. Medellin was a comfortable city, with a handful of interesting sights. It’s street art scene is not to be missed.

Guatape

A day trip to Guatape was almost obligatory and we highly recommend it.  From the north bus terminal buses leave for Guatape and should take about an hour and half to get to “La Piedra” where you want to get out.  In hindsight we should have paid for a tuk tuk, (yes you read correctly) to take us up to the entrance because it’s about 1 km uphill the whole way and guess how you get to the top of La Piedra?  650+ stairs to get to the landing on the top and 700+ to get to the observation deck, oh and you have to go back down too!  After enjoying a michelada and the view we reached the bottom again and haggled for a ride into the town of Guatape.

Return to Bogota

Another Semana Santa (Holy Week) special fare with Avianca took us back to Bogota, a quick, 30 minute flight.  We cashed in some Marriott points to stay for free near the airport.  We spent our last day in Bogota with a visit to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira. We also spent some time taking in some of the great street art around the city.

Salt Cathedral

 

About the author

Tamara and Donny have wandered together since 2004, with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust. They write about discovering new destinations including beautiful photography, plus budget travel tips and how to give back through travel.