Colombia 16 day trip report

Feb 9th, 2018, 08:35 PM
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Colombia 16 day trip report

Colombia Trip Report January, 2018

My family of 4 had a fantastic 16 day trip in Colombia – it was varied, beautiful and fascinating. We felt completely safe, and found the people we met to be consistently kind, optimistic and helpful. Note: Very few people that we encountered spoke English.

We started with 2 days in Medellin, which was a great introduction. I wish we had allowed a few more days there. We were picked up at the airport by a great, English-speaking driver Jose Vincente Perez [email protected]. We stayed at Las Rosas hotel, which was comfortable with a nice pool and sitting area, and in a terrific location in the wonderful Poblado neighbohood. The desk staff were the only people we met the whole trip that were not particularly interested in being helpful, but on our very first day we asked a stranger on the street to help us find the metro and he not only lead us on a 20 minute walk to the station, but showed us where to buy tickets and which track to stand on.

Medellin is wonderful, transformed from “the most dangerous city on earth” to the 2016 winner of the World City Prize. There are beautiful, verdant areas, cable cars, Botero sculptures, a spotless metro, excellent restaurants and cafes, and an incredible spirit.

We took 2 walking tours in Medellin that I highly recommend: 1) The Real City tour of downtown was a fascinating historical and architectural introduction to not only the city, but the history of Colombia, the current political situation, and the incredible Colombian spirit of optimism and gratitude. Our guide, Hernan, was terrific, entertaining and informative. 2) Communa 13 tour. We took the free tour with the delightful Esteban and learned about the incredible transformation of what was once Medellin’s deadliest neighborhood which is now ablaze with colorful murals, orange outdoor escalators, food stalls, music and dancing.

We enjoyed a day-trip to Guatape with Andes Adventures. Guatape is an unbelievably adorable, colorful town with whimsical frescoes painted on all of the buildings and a gorgeous setting on an enormous reservoir. For me, the walk up El Penol and even parts of town were too touristy. I think an overnight here, or even better in a town like Jardin, would be quieter and lovely.

From Medellin, we flew to Santa Marta for the start of a 3-night, 4-day Lost City Trek with Magic Tours. This was probably our favorite part of the trip. Our guides Bryan and Juan Carlos were fantastic. Bryan is hilarious, kind and extremely fun to be with. Juan Carlos had terrific knowledge of flora, fauna, the indigenous communities, and made our 5 a.m. wake ups much more bearable with his singing. The hiking was GORGEOUS and rigorous. I don’t understand people who describe this as “moderately difficult.” We are 2 active, athletic 51 year olds in good shape and 2 active young adults, and we found this hike to be very strenuous! The 5-7 hours of hiking each day are hot, often extremely steep, and filled with amazing vistas, waterfalls and streams to swim, birds, indigenous villages, jungle paths and, at the end, the beautiful Ciudad Perdida which exceeded our expectations. The camps were very basic and moderately clean, but do not expect any privacy or luxuries, and don’t expect your sweaty, damp clothes ever to dry. Bring hand sanitizer! The food was ample and good, though several people in other groups did get sick. We found this to be a fascinating, exhilarating and unique experience.

We then spent 3 nights relaxing at the Playa Pikua Eco Lodge near Tayrona National Park. This is a beautiful place: simple, steps from the ocean, thatched casitas that are clean and comfortable, with little kitchenettes. The beach is beautiful, vast and unspoiled, though the water is quite rough (people jumped in but didn’t swim much). There are hotels down the beach where you can eat, get a drink, find some activity. We did visit PNN Tayrona 10 minutes away, and while it is gorgeous, it was very crowded, and I preferred the quiet hammocks back on our own peaceful beach. Note: it is very difficult to get cash anywhere nearby, so plan ahead.

We drove 4 ˝ hours to Cartagena which is fun and beautiful, but 2 nights among its crowded, touristy bustle was enough for me. This is the one area we visited where things ere expensive and hawkers were constant. We stayed at Casa La Fe, a lovely, colonial hotel right on a park in the middle of the Old City with a delightful, verdant breakfast area and a cute little rooftop pool. This was a fun, vibrant location, but especially on the weekend expect to hear music and revelry late into the night. This is part of the fun if you’re prepared for it, and we enjoyed street performers, outdoor eating, and great energy. We walked the streets, listened to live Salsa , devoured fantastic ceviche at M_----The Getsemani neighborhood nearby is also beautiful and colorful, but it is less touristy, filled with more locals, and quieter.

We next twent not to the Rosario Islands, which I thought would be too crowded and touristy, but another hour further to the San Bernardo Islands which are remote and gorgeous. We spent 3 nights at Hotel Puntanorte which has a dazzling location at the very tip of Tintipan Island, with uninterrupted views of turquoise sea and sky in all directions. The owners are friendly, their two grandchildren are delightful, the fresh seafood is terrific, but this place is definitely run-down. Don’t expect too much in the way of comforts or supplies: the linens and furnishings are worn, we got one scratchy towel apiece for 3 days, water splashed into our cabana, sand-fleas abound, there is one leaky dug-out canoe on-site. Pablo took us on a daily excursion each morning, including beautiful snorkeling trip and an interesting visit to Isla Islote, and a for spectacular evening swim with bioluminescent plankton, but other than that there is not much to do except lie in various hammocks looking at the ocean in different directions. We enjoyed the setting, the water, the relaxation, the food and the company enormously.

After a hair-raising boat ride back to Cartagena, we flew to Pereira and went to our last stop, Salento. I adored Salento and the surrounding area. We stayed a few miles out of town at Reserva El Cairo, a beautiful, peaceful old hacienda with beautiful rooms, lovely grounds and a good breakfast (but with,surprisingly weak coffee). The town is adorable, with flowers spilling over brightly colored balconies, bona fide cowboys, a lively central plaza and gorgeous artisan shops. We spent a morning on a downhill mountain bike ride with Salento Cycling which afforded us absolutely stunning views of the famous wax palms. I greatly enjoyed riding on the back of the jeep willys to hike in the Cocora Valley, devouring trucha a la plancha, biking to a beautiful coffee farm. The trip ended with an absolutely wonderful afternoon at the Quindio Botanical Garden, and a ride with yet another ridiculously friendly and helpful cab driver to the Armenia airport.
acw is offline  
Feb 12th, 2018, 03:47 AM
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Thanks for sharing you excellent report acw. It sounds like you had a fantastic time. Coincidentally, we stayed in the sister hotel to Casa la Fe, Posada la Fe in Getsemani, which was also a great place to stay. Loved Salento too and hav3 ahankering to return after readin* your post!
crellston is offline  
Feb 12th, 2018, 07:41 AM
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Thanks for your report acw.
mlgb is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 11:30 AM
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Thanks for your report, we are just planning our trip for the Fall now and this really helps.
live42day is offline  
Apr 10th, 2018, 08:40 AM
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What fun! - I think we would have preferred staying in Getsemani and would recommend that for others (though being right in the center of the all-night party on the plaza outside the hotel did have a certain charm to it for a night or two, but it could get old. Earplugs a must!)
acw is offline  
Jan 10th, 2019, 07:54 PM
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Trek and playa pikua

Hi there,
I'm curious about your Lost City Trek - were you dropped off in Santa Marta at the end of it? If so, how did you get to Playa Pikua? Did you drive yourself, cab or hire someone? I was also wondering how long the driving time is between Santa Marta and Playa Pikua? We will have three days of beach time after our trek as well. We'd like to be in Tayrona Nat'l Park but none of the accommodations there are appealing; however, Playa Pikua has peaked my interest. We will not have a car though.

lyntay is offline  
Jan 12th, 2019, 11:27 AM
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Lost city transportation

Hello from what I recall the lost city trek company dropped us right at Playa Pikua which was on their way back to Santa Marta, and a short drive form Tayrona.
acw is offline  
Jan 13th, 2019, 04:23 AM
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lyntay is offline  
Jan 14th, 2019, 03:03 PM
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Thanks for a terrific read. You helped move Colombia further up my list.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 14th, 2019, 04:21 PM
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Colombia is really worthwhile. Although Medellin doesn't have the big tourist draws such as the Gold Museum, I went on the same two tours in Medellin as acw on my recent solo trip and enjoyed both. I spent a few nights at the inexpensive Ibis (which I found perfectly fine and reasonably located near the Metro) and then a few nights at Poblado Alejandria which is up a fairly steep hill from the Golden Mile so had a very nice view. I've also stayed at the bh El Poblado which is opposite a big mall. You can also walk to one of the Metro stations from there, but the route is quite confusing (although I've done it a few times). From Medellin I took the bus to Jardin, in coffee country.

A prior trip a year ago I went with Road Scholar who has a birding trip to different reserves in Colombia.. the itinerary wasn't that well planned, but we visited some great spots such as Nevado del Ruiz, the El Dorado Lodge in the Santa Marta Mountains, Rio Claro and Rio Bravo.
mlgb is offline  
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