From the capital city of Bogota to the world-famous coffee region and colourful Cartagena, Colombia is Latin America’s rising star. It’s where I chose to visit for my first big post-pandemic adventure in February this year. These are just a few of my highlights.
TAKE A FOODIE TOUR IN BOGOTA
Come with an empty stomach and sample the “sweetest market on earth”: Paloquemao Market on a foodie’s tour with foodiescolombia.
Paloquemao Market is a cavernous and authentic local food market bursting at the seams with oodles of varieties of fresh fruit. You start the tour wandering through the outdoor flower market, a colourful and fragrant experience before visiting the market itself. The fruits appear to be on steroids judging by their size, avocados the size of melons and dozens of fruits I’d never heard of or tasted before. Who knew there were so many different kinds of passion fruit, even a banana passion fruit with yellow pulp and black seeds officially known as curuba.
My favourite was lulo, a tangy, citrus-like fruit and one of Colombia’s favourite fruits for juices; as the saying goes, “when life gives you lulos make lulada“, a deliciously refreshing fruit juice. You also get to sample Ajiaco, a Bogota speciality, a hearty soup with chicken, potatoes, corn and herbs and tamal, a powerful dish with chicken, pork belly, vegetables, rice and corn dough, all wrapped up in a plantain leaf.
MARVEL AT THE MUSEO DEL ORO
In the heart of Bogota, the extraordinary Gold Museum will astound you with the largest collection of pre-Hispanic goldwork in the whole world. The Bogota Gold Museum contains close to 34,000 gold pieces, plus 20,000 bone, stone, ceramic, and textile articles belonging to 13 pre-Hispanic societies: Tumaco, Nariño, Cauca, Calima, San Agustín, Tierradentro, Tolima, Quimbaya, Muisca, Urabá and Chocó, Malagana, Zenú, and Tairona. It really is a treasure trove that shouldn’t be missed. Among the museum’s many gold pieces, you’ll find the iconic poporo quimbaya, a vessel used by indigenous cultures to store lime for their ritualistic chewing of coca leaves. I came away totally bedazzled by the collection, leave at least a couple of hours to tour this spectacular place.
BOGGLE AT ALL THOSE BOTERO STATUES
Fernando Bottero is one of Colombia’s most famous artists, known for his unique style that depicts people and animals with large, exaggerated and voluminous features. Even if you aren’t that interested in art, you’ll find Botero’s work light-hearted and unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Many works by the artist are on display at the Botero Museum in the centre of Bogotá. The site in La Candelaria was founded in a colonial house, and houses a collection of 208 works (123 by Botero and 85 by international artists).
If these aren’t enough reasons to visit, admission to the museum is also free. Fernando Botero hails from Medellin, another must see city in Colombia. Medellín is the capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province and nick-named the “City of Eternal Spring” for its temperate weather. Medellin’s Plaza Botero is the best place to see Botero’s larger-than-life figures.
Centrally located in the “old quarter” of the city, it was difficult to choose a favourite statue, I loved them all – they made me feel so slim!
STAY AT A HACIENDA IN THE COFFEE REGION
A trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the coffee country, boasting a landscape of sweeping valleys, lush plantations and rolling hills dotted with colonial towns and traditional haciendas.
A stay at a hacienda is an absolute must and my home for two nights was Hacienda Venecia, a working coffee farm with 100 years of tradition, located near Manizales.
The main house is a classic Colombian country house, painted vibrant red and white with a wraparound veranda perfect for coffee drinking and admiring the resident peacocks as they wander around the lawns. The hacienda offers a wide range of activities from coffee tours and chocolate workshops to birdwatching and walking on one of the plantations many hiking trails.
The pretty little town of Salento is at the heart of the region. It’s very quaint, the houses a riot of colour, so much so that they were the model for Casa Madrigal, the Madrigal’s family home in the 2021 Disney animated movie Encanto. The true inspiration for Encanto, though, is just outside of Salento, the Cocora Valley. The film’s directors have stated that the rolling green mountains and palm trees surrounding the Madrigal house were inspired by the beautiful landscape. Children under 10 will be very familiar with the film, and anyone with similar aged grandchildren will get extra kudos for saying they have visited the region which is capitalizing on the film’s popularity.
TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME IN COLONIAL CARTAGENA
Leave the 21st century behind and discover the honey-stoned colonial architecture within Cartagena’s beautifully preserved historic centre. It is one of the most graceful and atmospheric cities in the world and easily explored on foot, the cobbled alleyways flanked by flower-filled balconies. Visiting colonial Cartagena is such a remarkable experience that Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, once said that he was reborn after visiting for the first time. I too found the city impossibly romantic and it was the perfect place to unwind at the end of my trip.
One thing that the last two years has taught me is that I don’t want to slow down. I like to travel as opposed to holiday, I’ve never been one to sit on a beach or lie by pool – I’m easily bored and there’s so much of the world I still want to see. These highlights are just a taste of the many incredible experiences, cultural wows and adventurous activities I experienced during my 3 weeks in Colombia. Colombia is gaining increasing recognition as one of the world’s most alluring destinations and it was easy to see why.
For travel to Colombia Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil