Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > South America
Reload this Page >

Trip report- road trip - Cafetero, Coveñas, Mompos, Santander

Trip report- road trip - Cafetero, Coveñas, Mompos, Santander

Old Jul 10th, 2019, 03:13 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 131
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Trip report- road trip - Cafetero, Coveñas, Mompos, Santander

Part One -Filandia to Coveñas

Our first destination on this 2 week road trip starting and ending in the Cafetero was the beach at Coveñas just south of Tolú, an almost 15 and a half hour drive according to maps. We planned to stay 5 days at the beach and then loop back down through Mompos and Santander before returning to the Cafetero. For the first day we would try and make it past Medellin and stay somewhere on the road for the night.

It was very pleasant driving for the first part with beautiful countryside in the departments of Quindio and Risaralda with their steep rolling hills and fields planted with coffee, plantains and bananas but as soon as we passed the turn off for Manizales we came to a seemingly never ending blockade of road work with only one lane open at a time and 30-40 minute waits before we could pass and then perhaps we’d get 5 minutes of driving before the next blockade stopped us. It is beautiful country yes, lush and tropical but from seeing the condition of this stretch of road almost the whole way to Medellin, I believe it will be at least another year or two before it is in a sufficient state of repair to allow constantly flowing traffic. So if planning to go by car, be prepared to be patient, have drinks and snacks and good working air conditioning as it can be hot and there are not a lot of restaurant options on the route.

We ate before we left with the idea of stopping at La Esquina Mediterranea Restaurant in the Sabaneta area of Medellin, a short detour from the highway at the entrance to Medellin. How disappointing when we finally made it, almost two hours past our projected arrival time, to find it closed on Mondays. Luckily there was a paisa restaurant just around the corner which had also been recommended - El Viejo John and we were not disappointed with our meal there. I had a bass filet lightly breaded and lightly fried and it was nice to have the option of a fresh ocean fish which was such a welcome change to what is available in the Cafetero. Looking around at the meals the other patrons were having reassured me that just about anything ordered there would be good- generous portions, interesting presentation, fast and attentive service. Bonus- there was free parking in the street directly in front of the restaurant after 5pm so we could keep an eye on the car while eating and there were other free parking spaces available the whole time we were there.

It took another hour to get to the other side of the city and then we started climbing up into the mountains north of Medellin. I had heard of a possible good option for the night -clean, cheap and with hot showers in the pueblo of Santa Rosa de Osos- the hotel of the same name- Hotel Santa Rosa de Osos which is actually on the main road and we pulled in about 9:30pm without a reservation but no problem- it’s a highway hotel and they cater to truckers and one night travellers so they had us set up in a room in less than 5 minutes with our car securely parked in the back. Yes the hotel was clean and the hot water in the morning was not the usual Colombian ‘hot’ (warmish) water - but deliciously hot with excellent pressure so well worth the room price of $60,000mil COP for a double. The only downside was the cleaning staff who started at 7am and cheerfully talked very loudly in the hallway for an hour before moving to the next floor- earplugs would have helped but as we were wanting to get up and out early anyway it was not too much of a bother.

As it was dark when we left Medellin we did not know exactly what kind of terrain we were in but we woke to find ourselves high up in cattle country, the climate a little cooler and milk and cows the order of business. There was a trucker restaurant beside the hotel but we were happy that we decided not to eat there as aprox 10 minutes down the road we came to the busy and bustling Betania Cheese Factory. A large production house for milk, cheeses, yogurt and kumis as well as a panaderia and restaurant with a small store attached. This place seemed to be the centre for all things social and commercial in the area and was lively with workers having their breakfasts, women buying food supplies and just a whole lot of people coming and going. However even with all the people the place did not seem crowded and we were quickly attended to and served a big breakfast of huevos pericos (scrambled with finely minced onion and tomato) a fresh slab of cheese, papas francesa, hot chocolate, coffee and the specialty of the house- pan de queso, hot from the oven- que rico! As an aside, I am highly averse to the regular coffee served in most of the paisa restaurants -tinto- It is usually oversugared, weak and either over cooked so quite bitter or just plain tasteless and it never comes with milk. If one asks for cafe con leche it comes similar to Mexico- half hot milk and half coffee which dilutes the flavour even more. However these restaurants always have hot chocolate, so taking another trick from Mexico I usually order a tinto and a hot chocolate con leche and then mix them together myself at the table. If you ask them to do it you will be met with a blank look. The chocolate does a wonderful job of enriching the coffee as well as cutting the bitter taste.

And on the subject of coffee in Colombia, there is amazing coffee to be had in coffee shops especially in the Cafetero but just not usually in the regular restaurants.

Back to Betania, I wanted to stock up on cheese as there is so little cheese available in Colombia - most of it being either fresh pressed or mozzarella however it was the same here and there were no aged cheeses to be had so I had to I content myself with a jug of plain kumis and half a dozen pan quesos to go.

The road continued meandering through cattle country with very few road work stops now although there were more than a few places where parts of the road had been washed out or damaged and no warnings before hand so it is not a road to be driven at night. Eventually we made our way down into jungle country again and started to travel parallel to the River Cauca where there are many more small habitations of people, rudimentary squatters shacks built of brick with tin roofs as well as neat and tidy bungalows with well kept gardens and always children, dogs, chickens, bicycles and endless motorcycles weaving in and out. Eventually the small pueblos of Antioquia gave way to a richer way of life. It seemed that almost as soon as we crossed into the territory of Cordoba there was a palpable change to both the land and the people. Large acreages of cattle and horse farms bordered the river with huge fenced pastures dotted with giant shade trees and grand houses. Lunch was at a Peruvian restaurant in the town of Planeta Rica and highly recommended- Restaurante Bariloche right beside the Esso station and touted to be the best restaurant in town which I cannot verify but our pastas were certainly very good - rich, creamy and cheesy and we each had a limonada herba buena which was super refreshing for the hot day. The only thing I recommend not to order is the caesar salad as it is basically just a regular lettuce, tomato and carrot salad with crutons and not caesary at all. Otherwise there are so many more options on the menu other than what the usual paisa restaurants have so for the choice alone it was worth the stop.

Finally we arrived on the coast and found our accommodation on the beach in Coveñas- hammocks, white sand, palm trees and warm Caribbean water greeted us.

To be continued.

*
bellalinda is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2019, 03:58 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 19,450
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Nice to see a report on Colombia, was this a recent trip?
mlgb is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2019, 04:16 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 131
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hola mlgb, yes very current - actually not quite finished this trip yet. I wanted to share some of the information while it is all still fresh. Usually I wait too long to post and lose the freshness of the experience
bellalinda is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2019, 06:03 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 131
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Part 2
Coveñas is an odd mix. Stretched out over aprox 20km of coastline before the piaje to Tolú, it is possible to find a little hidey hole of a beach but one needs to search. The actual pueblo of Coveñas is on a small spit of sandy beach which I am sure was once quite charming but now with the many people coming and going, loud music, beach bars and shabby hotels, it is busy.
We found a nice spot towards the western end with a white sand beach and good swimming which was also quite private but that was because all the owners in the area have put long jettys of giant rocks out into the water on their property lines so it is difficult to pass. It makes for good privacy but not so good for long sunset walks.
There is a longer white sand beach further west of Coveñas called Playa Blanca which is quite lovely but you need to drive inland to San Antero and then back to the coast from there to access it. The beach walking is better and there are much fewer people around however there is a one lane unpaved sandy beach road in front of all of the accommodations so technically one cannot find a bed right on that beach.
A day trip to Lorica for lunch was a nice side trip. Only 30 minutes away and located on the Sinú River it has a different flavour from the coast having been originally settled by Turkish, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. The old market building sits on the water’s edge and although it is quite a small market it is an interesting place to poke around and then have a fresh fish lunch while watching the children swimming in the river, all kinds of unusual boat traffic and always the bird life.
The drive to Mompos from Coveñas was not quite as expected. We followed maps which directed us towards Tolú and then inland. After Toluviejo the route turns off onto a fairly good gravel road but eventually becomes a one lane wash out in many places as one navigates towards Colcsó and Chalán. Do not take this road unless you have a 4 wheel drive or a good off road vehicle. Seriously. Just before Ovejas it joined up with highway 25 which is a good road but when we stopped for gas in Ovejas and said we were going to Mompos we were directed to turn around and head to Magangué instead where there was a new bridge to Mompos. We asked two other groups of people including the police and they all said to go to Magangué which was only an hour and a half away instead of the 3 and a half hours to Nueva Granada and Santa Ana that maps was telling us to drive. Ok, too tempting not to do it. Well we arrived and yes there was a brand new bridge- actually two huge new bridges but no one was using them yet!! However there is a car ferry and we were lucky to get to the landing 30 minutes before the 2pm sailing. There are two ferries running this route and they go every two hours. The actual crossing was about an hour and then we had another hour’s drive to Mompos. So in the end the Magangué route actually took a bit longer but we likely saved money on fuel and piajes (ferry cost was $25,000COP) and it was a wonderful break to have some unexpected time out on the water so all good.
Hot and steamy Mompos is lovely and I’m happy we made the trek. We stayed in the historical centre and found the town exceptionally clean and well cared for although the heat did take it’s toll and we ended up only staying for one night.

Last edited by bellalinda; Jul 15th, 2019 at 06:25 PM.
bellalinda is offline  
Old Jul 18th, 2019, 06:08 PM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 131
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Part 3 - Mompos to Barichara

The road for the first hour south out of Mompos is treacherous - unpaved for much of the way, the paved parts were actually worse for the many hidden drop offs and huge chasms without warning. As we made our way out of the territory of Bolivar the road became significantly better and we were able to appreciate the scenery more. And the scenery really is quite stunning. Driving through the delta lands of the Rio Magdalena with it’s many small tributaries, lagoons and swamps so rich and lush with plants and grasses - green, green, green as far as the eye can see was an enormous pleasure. Because of all the water, there are not many inhabitants outside of the few small pueblos and the seeming solitude of the naturelaza amplifies the incredible beauty of the surroundings even more.

Eventually there are hills in the distance and the road starts to wind up through the mountains towards the city of Bucaramanga which we decided to bypass in favor of a very short detour to Giron for lunch. Giron was much busier than I expected and although we had an excellent seafood lunch at the Restaurante Y Cevicheria Puerto Marino we did not give it the time it deserved as we wanted to get through the Chicamocha Canyon before dark.

I have seen the Grand Canyon and the Colca Canyon in Peru and I was prepared not to be amazed at the Chicamocha, but coming from the north, from the valley and winding our way slowly up the steep canyon sides getting higher and higher and even higher I must say the views were absolutely stunning. The length, depth and beauty of the Chicamocha is hard to rival and seeing it as the sun was getting low in the sky at that special time of day was truly magical. We made it to our hotel in the centre of Curiti just as dark was descending and as it also happened to be the day of the Fiesta of The Madonna of Carmen we were serenaded for the next hour by the very heavenly choral voices singing hymns and filtering out of the church next door.

Curiti means ‘town of weavers’ in the local Guane language and so after breakfast we strolled around the central park and poked down the side streets and into the few shops selling textiles. The items available are mostly area rugs, folding chairs and wall hangings woven from a rough natural fibre and dyed in bright colours of turquoise, reds, oranges, blues and yellows. There are also purses, table mats and sandals made from a slightly finer sisal. Curiti is a special place, clean and quiet with white washed houses, tiled roofs and cobbled streets although it actually seemed almost too quiet with very few people in the streets. But yes, charming and adding to the charm is the unique view of the colourful sisal draped here and there on fences drying in the sun in preparation for weaving.

We drove the three kilometres behind the town to visit the Balneario Pescaderito which is a swimming hole on the river Curiti and is worth the drive for the bucolic scenery alone even if one does not feel like a swim. There are supposedly eight different pools for swimming if one walks up the river far enough but as there was only one other couple and a young family there with us we had plenty of room without needing to hike farther.

We left Curiti and arrived in San Gil which was very hot and busy. The El Gallineral Park is right on the main road and so we did stop and look at the trees and it truly is a cool refuge amidst the chaos if one needs to be in San Gil but as we had no plans to go river rafting or bungee jumping we decided not to spend any more time there and headed directly to Barichara for a late lunch.

Curiti is special but Barichara is magical. Now I know why it has the moniker of being the most beautiful town in Colombia. Of course there are many beautiful towns and it is difficult to compare one with another but Barichara is enchanting. A few times when travelling in Colombia I have felt as though I was in Italy but this was the first time that I felt as though I was in Portugal. Barichara has the same whitewashed buildings, cobbled streets and tiled roofs of Curiti but it is bigger, with more life and it’s location, built on the edge of a cliff to the west with a verdant valley below and a stunning mountain back drop in the distance makes it unique. The rest of the town rolls down towards the east and has been well preserved with no ugly new apartment buildings or large modern type stores allowed. Even signage seems to be regulated and a peaceful, timeless ambience hangs about the place although the locals say it is busy on the weekends and can be a zoo at Semana Santa and Christmas. Add the larger variety of restaurants than can be found elsewhere in Colombian towns and this little Colombian jewel just became my favorite. I had an amazing shrimp dinner salad at Shanti Restaurant just off the main park. It is a small place with only a few tables and the prices seem high at first look but it was one of the most memorable meals I have had in Colombia. There is also a wonderful bakery/cafe on the park with oatmeal raison cookies and real chocolate cake.

The 20 minute drive to Guane is a nice side trip and we had heard that the museum there is worth seeing but unfortunately it was closed so we meandered back to Barichara stopping at both of the miradors just as the sun was getting low in the sky and the light was at the magic hour.

Last edited by bellalinda; Jul 18th, 2019 at 06:12 PM.
bellalinda is offline  
Old Jul 21st, 2019, 01:25 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 131
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Part 4 Socorro, Villa de Leyva, Raquira

The morning we left Barichara we had our sights set on Villa de Leyva for lunch with a stop at Socorro on the way. Socorro is an important town in the history of Colombia and played a key role during the quest for independence however it was the church that we were interested in. La Basilica Nuestra Señora del Socorro is the largest stone church in Colombia and apparently also one of the biggest in South America. Approaching it, it didn’t seem quite as big as it sounds but once inside the grandeur and majesty of the arched ceilings are much more magnificent and definitely worth a stop to see if one is in the area. The road from Socorro to Villa de Leyva is not well travelled and although the road was rough in parts it was enjoyable to be alone again as we were thrust once more into the wilderness with very few houses or people. The route climbed up and through a few small mountain passes and then opened into a high altitude basin surrounded by small mountains and dotted with many houses and farms all around the valley. The structures look modern, new and well kept and I am told Villa de Leyva is a retirement area for many people who have moved out of Bogotá. The old historic centre of the town however has been very well preserved with the typical white washed colonial buildings intact and the streets and large central plaza still paved with cobblestones.

We next drove the short distance to Raquira and were delighted by the liveliness of the town as compared to the old historical and some what staid feeling of Villa de Leyva. The people of Raquira are proud of their homes and all of the buildings in the main square as well as down the side streets are painted in bright colours and murals. Raquira is a production centre for pottery and there is a large variety of ceramic wares which can be found there from huge outdoor garden pots and ornaments to indoor food utensils- bowls, mugs and vases etc.

After perusing the streets and poking around the shops we drove 7 km behind the town to La Candaleria to see the monastery which is over 350 years old and still has many of the old artifacts, furniture and paintings which were acquired during it’s history. The setting of the monastery is lovely - also in a small basin and surrounded by mountains, it seems to be a world unto itself- a timeless refuge of peace for the monks who live there. The monastery receives very few visitors and when we were there we had the place to ourselves although you are not permitted to enter alone. However a guide is on call all day and for $6,000.COP per person you can be shown around the cloisters and grounds within minutes of arriving.

From Raquira we took Hwy 45A towards Zipaquirá and again we ended up on gravel for quite a few miles but we saved some time and the road was not too bad. We spent the night in La Vega and returned to the Cafetero through Manizales which is a little longer than going through Ibagué and the horrific 2 hour stretch of road before Armenia known as ‘la linea’ but much more relaxed and peaceful. Manizales is a lovely medium sized city and deserves at least a full day on it’s own in order to see the historical buildings and plazas properly. Perhaps another day as well for a hiking tour into the Los Nevados National Park
bellalinda is offline  
Old Jul 21st, 2019, 05:12 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 19,450
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Still reading along. I envy your ability/willingness to drive yourselves!

Los Nevados is fabulous, we were able to spend a night at Hotel Termales del Ruiz and wish it could have been more.
mlgb is offline  
Old Jul 21st, 2019, 07:51 PM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 131
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yes, driving always gives one so many more options for spontaneous exploration and I also feel lucky to have had the opportunity to drive. This route would have taken much longer if we had had to rely on public transport but if one has the time there are modern comfortable buses available and always inexpensive taxis once one arrives at the destination of the day. There seem to be a lot of people doing these treks on rented motor cycles and of course there are rental cars available as well although as said earlier one needs to be sure to get a vehicle which is comfortable off road. Hiring a car and driver here and there for day trips is another option.
bellalinda is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
Floridafran
Mexico & Central America
10
Jun 4th, 2007 10:19 AM
sean420
Mexico & Central America
14
Sep 4th, 2006 01:26 PM
floydf
Mexico & Central America
17
Mar 8th, 2006 07:11 PM
hightide
Mexico & Central America
16
Mar 12th, 2004 08:04 AM
Sheila
Europe
5
May 6th, 2002 05:10 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information