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Welltravbrit's Colombia - Statues, Tombs, and Carnaval!

Welltravbrit's Colombia - Statues, Tombs, and Carnaval!

Old Feb 8th, 2016, 07:17 PM
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Welltravbrit's Colombia - Statues, Tombs, and Carnaval!

It seems Colombia is the flavor of the month here on Fodors so here is another Colombia trip report as the “Travel Cartel” aka yestravel and gotravel have just finished their trip report I thought it was about time to get around to mine! I'm blogging at the same time so you can find photos and more at
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/search/label/Colombia

We didn’t intend to go to Colombia. Yes it was on our "long list” but it jumped to the top of the queue when I found a ridiculously cheap flight from San Francisco to Bogota (the lesson is it’s really worth keeping an eye on theflightdeal.com). Anyway we couldn’t think when to go, so we tagged Colombia onto our six week end-of-year trip to New York City (report on the America forum). Essentially returning via Bogota was the same price as SFO-NY return, how could we resist? Bogota is on the way between NY and California right?

So we now had a flight but no real plans and that continued for a while. We went to Colombia with so few preconceptions and so little information which was a great set up as everything exceeded expectations - which had been set fairly low. We hadn’t spent months planning and it was all a last minute add on, so from the beginning it felt like a bonus trip. Though my husband was a bit baffled by my take that it was a free trip. “ Yes” he admonished , "the flight may be free but what about three weeks worth of hotels, food and transport?!!”
Reasonable point, but lets not let that stop us…

Where?
After five minute looking at the Colombia guidebook my husband said "I'm picking San Agustín - you can pick the rest!" The truth was that this shaped our entire itinerary. It takes time to get to San Agustín which is south of Bogot) and if we were going there it seemed like we should see a little more of the area and possibly the tombs in Tierradentro. Once we'd looked into it we found the "Negros y Blancos" Carnaval in Pasto (which looked like fun) and the whole trip began to take shape.

Here was what we ended up with…

Here is how the itinerary worked out:
3 nights Bogota Casa Medina (Four Seasons)
3 nights San Augustin Hostal Huaka-Yo
2 nights Tierradentro La Portada Hostal
2 nights Popayan La Plazuela Hotel
3 nights Pasto Maison Frances in Pasto for the Negros y Blancos Carnaval
2 nights Medellin Alejandria Poblado
3 nights Cartegena Tcherassi Hotel and Spa
1 night Bogota Artisan D.C

As usual we mixed high and lower end properties staying at the Four Seasons in Bogata and ending at the lovely boutique Tcherassi Hotel and Spa in Cartegena. But in between it was a mix small hotels, a nice colonial property in Popoyan and simple but comfortable pensiones. As usual we found the simpler properties to be far more communal and we had the opportunity to meet lots of people including many young Colombians. In general we try to avoid traveling during the high season but visiting Colombia over the holidays meant, serendipitously, we would be there for the Negros y Blancos Carnaval in Pasto. Another advantage was that this is the time that your fellow tourists are most likely to be Colombians, as the whole country seems to be on vacation In this regard it reminded me of going to the south of France in August!

We really enjoyed the mix of things to see from the cities to the rural areas. It's hard to describe the beauty of the areas we saw in the south. It seemed almost every town we visited in Colombia was ringed by stunning mountains. Between San Augustin and Tierradentro, Popoyan and Pasto the mountains were spectacular a seemingly unending knot across the country. The landscape varied from tropical mountains covered in small farms of coffee, sugar cane and bananas, to high desert plateau and rolling agricultural land planted on a larger scale with potatoes. There seemed to be stunning hillside vistas and precipitous drops down from the roads wherever we looked.

But along with the physical beauty is an interesting contemporary culture. This is a country on the brink of brokering a progressive peace between many of the armed factions. But the current plan isn't without detractors and the questions of peace, reconciliation and justice were forefront in several of the discussions we had, well, once we could get beyond people simultaneously worrying about our safety and telling us we would be fine! Even as a casual visitor you can see these political discussion in the contemporary art which is often concerned with social issues. Colombia (like so many places coming out of civil conflict) is currently having to grapple with an uncomfortable peace based on amnesty or greatly reduced sentences for human rights violations that will allow for a political way forward. Having visited, we are fascinated to see the results of the upcoming referendum on the latest peace deal.

Ok, with the intro out of the way I’ll try to get down to the day-to-day stuff!
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 08:51 PM
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Thanks Brit. I enjoyed yestravel and gottravel's report on Colombia and am now looking forward to yours.
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 07:00 AM
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Yay, WTB, glad to see you started what I am sure will be an entertaining and informative TR. So little can be found on these boards for Colombia. Looking forward to following along as we watch what seems like endless rain and drizzle. Oh well, hiking in the rain can be fun��
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 07:13 AM
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WTB, I'm so looking forward to reading this! Colombia, outside of Cartagena, is truly an undiscovered gem. The one relatively recent travel narrative I found (Charles Nicholl's wonderful "The Fruit Palace") was over thirty years old.
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 08:43 AM
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Can't wait!
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 12:35 PM
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Signing on. Colombia is definitely on my list.
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 11:37 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement and I’m so glad you’re all following along .

Yestravel - I'm hoping the rain lets u for you both, I'm a fair weather hiker so the rain is not negotiable for me!
gottravel -it's true that outside of Cartegena we say very few foreigners. We saw one Italian group, various Europeans and the odd American here and there. Though I must say most of the Americans we me had an association with Colombia, friends, partner or business connections.

OK I’ll start with general tips for Bogota, what to know where to stay and how to get around.

HOTEL
We flew into Bogota and as we knew so little about the city we took the easy route and organized a transfer to the hotel. Where to stay in Bogota seem predominately to be a choice of either Candalaria in the historic center of the city or Chapinero and surroundings out near the financial center. It’s clear which one has the charm and you guessed it it isn’t the place with the guys in suits! We opted for Chapinero because we got an amazing deal at the newly reopened Four Seasons and I wanted to be able to walk out to restaurants in the evening. They called the area near where we stayed Zona G or "Zona Gastronomia”. We also picked it because the hotel came without too many caveats about safety.

Here’s the thing, we encountered any problems in terms of our safety in Bogota but we were cautioned several times about where we should go and where we shouldn’t, how we should get around (radio taxis only) etc. People were very concerned about us having a good time and nothing going wrong, in this regard it reminded me of South Africa. When we checked with some Colombians we met there they said the hotel had given us good advice about where not to go and how to get around. They said (having returned recently from living in Europe) that it’s astonishing how much of their lives is now concerned with things they didn’t previously worry about.

Why am I saying all this? Not to worry anyone, we didn’t have any problems, but just to say it IS worth paying attention, asking about which route to take, taking the radio taxis and not wearing any flashy jewelry on the streets or obviously expensive equipment. Essentially this is what we follow wherever we go, but it’s worth reiterating.

Chapinero is rather generic but we loved the Casa Medina which was very comfortable and elegant, we got an amazing rate for a junior suite by combining their opening special with a free night promotion offered over Christmas. It was a great deal, particularly given that they upgraded us to a full suite. Unfortunately we couldn't return to the hotel in January for our final night as the price for a standard room had risen to twice what we'd paid for the junior suite in December! The first in a number of advantages we got for traveling over the holidays. You can see picture and get more details about the hotel which is a beautifully renovated older building, on my blog.

http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2016/...ons-hotel.html

It’s hard to say where is best to stay, both Chapinero and Candleria have their own advantages and so it’s a matter of preference. I’d say stay in which ever one you fancy, in Chapinero you’re more likely to find larger international hotels and in Candleria you’re more likely to find the smaller, boutique and hostel options.

TRANSPORT
OK, so I don’t have a strong opinion on where to stay but I do have an opinion on how to get around. Caveat, I’m not a fan of Uber (anti regulation, unlicensed, you know the argument) but I have to say in Bogota all my concerns went right out the window. Apparently personal safety trumps my politics, Oh god did I just put Trump and politics in my trip report!??

I highly recommend Uber for Bogota where it worked wonderfully for us. My Spanish is appalling, lets be honest I don’t speak it, I string together infinitives and smile a lot, frankly I look a little crazed in a foreign language. However, I communicate without speaking the language and I do the same thing in French. Uber solves this as language is no longer necessary, no worrying about communicating with the radio taxi, you can even change your destination without worrying about that conversation, thank you TMobile for the fabulous foreign data plan, I need it more and more! Another positive is that it’s incredibly cheap, most of the trips were $3-4 coming and going into town - which was 20 minute plus. Out to the airport was around $10.


TAXES
Before I forget there’ one more tip worth passing on, as a visitor to Colombia on a tourist visa, who has booked a hotel room on a package (for example a reservation that includes breakfast) you are exempt from paying the 16% hotel tax. They will add it to your bill so it's your job to decline to pay it, they may also add dubious feel like “ security” and medical insurance which we encountered in Medellin and Cartegena so look over those small amounts on your bill carefully Don't worry once you point it out they will admit you are correct and quickly remove the tax and fees but the onus is on you to bring up the subject. If you don't address it you will probably end up paying it.

Also if you buy anything with reclaiming the tax on (I bought a bracelet at the Gold Museum) you can easily reclaim the tax at the DIAN counter at airport. It only took a few moments.
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Old Feb 10th, 2016, 04:03 AM
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WTB was in Bogota before we were and had passed on her tips. We also found uber to be a great way to get around. It was easy and efficient. I had been toying with changing my carrier and did switch to TMobile before we left for Colombia. Happy to report it worked great, still is working well. On the subject of taxes. For most US flights the departure tax is included in the ticket price.

Thanks again for your advance tips, but I don't know if I can forgive you for using trump and politics in the same sentence!
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Old Feb 10th, 2016, 04:53 AM
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Appreciate your observations regarding security. We felt similarly when we visited Rio de Janeiro, given some of the information and advice we received, although we had an excellent time.
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Old Feb 11th, 2016, 09:15 AM
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Just as a counterpoint to the safety discussion, I stayed in Candelaria a few blocks from the Botero museum, and also near Park Virrey, and walked around quite a bit on my own. I also took the public rapid transit a few times (which I would recommend only during off peak and not from the airport as it's probably too much for most people between altitude and carrying luggage).

I always spoke to the front desk about routes, times to be off the street, and whether to take at taxi. The strictest recommendation was to take a taxi back from Monserrate (the funicular) after dark. I think I also have developed some
street sense so stuck to the well-lit well-trafficked streets, and don't carry much at all when walking around..no backpacks, nothing but a small pocket camera.

Lots of details in my trip report on Bogota for those interested.
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Old Feb 11th, 2016, 09:56 PM
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Thanks for the comments mlgb, trippplanner and yes travel. Glad what I've said so far resonates with others' experience.

Our first day in Bogota was a Sunday and when we ventured out from the hotel after a fab, late breakfast we found half of the road in front of the hotel was closed for the weekly Ciclovía. What a wonderful Colombian innovation - the streets are closed for cyclists and pedestrians to get out and about, which is exactly what the locals do in large numbers. From early morning until about 2pm. Apparently it started in the 1970s and is clearly a popular local tradition, if you're in a Colombia city on a Sunday you will probably run across it and we really enjoyed walking down the center of the street with everyone else! Given the size of the portions in Colombia and the propensity for fried foods, the Ciclovía seems almost a necessity and we enjoyed seeing it again in Medellin.

After our walk we heading into the center of the city with Uber and walked around through throngs of people enjoying the Sunday markets and closed roads. There was lots going on including food stands (we loved the chorizo), guinea pig races, street musician and performers as well as people selling all manner of things.

We wanted to do two things in Bogota, the street art tour and the Gold Museum. We decided on the former and joined the free tour. The group was a little large but the guide did an incredible job of describing all the different types of street art, the place of street artists in Bogots (including Justin Beiber's arrival) and the political nature of some of the works. We have been on quite a number of street art tours and I've written about street art in London, Lisbon, Berlin Rome and Paris on my blog,
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/searc...l/Street%20Art

We really liked the tour and a recommend it as a way of learning something about contemporary urban culture in Colombia. It's also a good introduction to Candelaria which was great for us as we weren't staying there.You can see lots of photos of the street art as well as a more detailed reviews and links here...
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2016/...in-bogota.html

After the tour we headed to the Gold Museum but unfortunately it closed at 4pm. I couldn't believe we hadn't checked the times, particularly as it was also closed on Monday which meant we'd have to try to make it we returned to Bogota pm the final day of our holiday. So my advice is CHECK THE TIMES OF THE GOLD MUSEUM!!! It doesn't seem to matter how often or how long we travel, we still make the same rookie mistakes. Driving to closed museums and turning up in small Italian towns just as everything closes in the afternoons are two of our classics, and recurrent, failures! I always say travel is a skill and it may be one we never master.
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Old Feb 11th, 2016, 09:57 PM
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The good news is that may mean we have to keep trying .
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Old Feb 11th, 2016, 11:41 PM
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Great stuff wtb. Really helpful for our forthcoming visit!
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Old Feb 12th, 2016, 04:44 AM
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Following along and enjoying your report! Sorry you missed the gold museum, but really glad you got to see cyclovia - just a wonderful community event we thought.
We also found the Colombian people so welcoming and appreciative of tourists as the country emerges from conflict. Such beautiful countryside.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 11:24 PM
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Crellston and Glover glad you're following along too!

This reminds me why over the last few years I've tended to write "ongoing" trip reports …because just I’m too unreliable when I get home. I’m just back from a short trip to Whistler and as I don’t ski I thought I’d make quick progress on this report, but somehow I managed to find plenty to do!

Ok back to it....

After our first full day in Bogota we opted to eat right around the corner from the hotel at Raphael. It’s the kind of place you should probably make a reservation in advance but the hotel concierge worked some magic, they seemed surprised it worked! Anyway, it’s the sister restaurant of a place in Lima run by chef Raphael Osterling and I’d highly recommend it — though it’s worth knowing that the portions are quite large. It’s a chic, stylish place filled with the wealthy from Bogota, interesting modern food with lots of seafood and a fabulous pisco sour for any cocktail fans. Given the exchange rate our meal was very reasonable and it could certainly hold it’s own internationally.

http://www.rafaelosterling.pe

The next day we were at a bit of a loss as the Gold Museum was closed so we decided to go up to the viewpoint at Monserrate. Which has a chapel at the top, which is a pilgrimage site but it’s also a tourist destination because of the expansive view over the city. This was the first time we ran into a holiday crowd. I’m not really sure why exactly we went there, lets call it a failure of imagination/energy to come up with anything else, perhaps it was the altitude. But we were stuck for a while in the queue on the way up, in the funicular and the way down in the cable car as there were large crowds of local families out for the holiday. The line was far shorter when we descended than when we went up at around 11 am. Personally I would happily have skipped the whole thing though I have to say the view is quite extraordinary and it does give one the sense for Bogota as a sprawling metropolis ringed with mountains. You could also see the large number of expensive apartment blocks stretching into th router suburbs and a new block which is said to be one of the highest in South America going up closer to the downtown.

After we’d take the cable car down we took a taxi to the Candelaria complex that houses the Botero Museum (Museo Botero del Banco de la Republica)
where we stopped at the museum cafe for a quick lunch. My husband and I felt quite differently about the museum, I enjoyed it but he had seen enough of Botero after the very first one he’d seen - before we even arrived in Colombia. Clearly the abundant, fleshy figures didn’t resonate for him!

However, what’s wonderful about the museum complex is that there’s plenty for everyone. The museum showcases an amazing collection of Botero’s work but the extraordinary collection of modern masterpieces he had donated to the state. the whole place is free which was a condition of his gift. He has the most extraordinary eye and the works range from Braque, Picasso, Miro, and incredible Dali sculpture. There is an extraordinary sculpture room.

I highly recommend the audioguide which you get from the shop, they’ll ask for id of some kind. What is incredible about this collection is that it brings a survey of modern art to the nation in a single donation which is mind boggling. There are more contemporary works by Lucien Freud, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg. I even saw a work by the Uruguayan, Joaquín Torres García who just had a retrospective at the MOMA in New York. You can see the diversity of the collection here
http://www.banrepcultural.org/museo-...nternacionales

While I spent time in the Botero galleries my husband moved on to the galleries of Colombian art which are housed in another of the buildings in the same complex. He RAVED about the survey of Colombian art and was very enthusiastic about a number of the contemporary artists who he liked a great deal more than Botero. he highly recommended this gallery. By this time I was “galleried” out so I walked down to the cathedral on the main square and just sat and took in the crowds.

I passed the Centro Cultural Gabriel Garcia Marquez as I walked down the hill and this could be a good place to stop for a drink in the cafe. I liked the view from the upstairs terrace where they had a photography exhibit. We walked around some of the more monumental buildings in the center and then headed back to the hotel.

In the evening we took Uber to Usaquen which was a smaller town that was absorbed into the sprawling mass of Bogota. However, it retains a distinctive character and a central square which was filled with people and elaborate Christmas lights. there was an outdoor night craft market and the whole place was buzzing with local visitors. We stopped somewhere on the main square (sorry I don't remember the name) and had a simple but good meal.

There was a great deal we didn't see in Bogota including the main vegetable market, the Salt Cathedral outside town, lots more museums including a small Art Deco museum which we were interested in and the Botanical Gardens. But it's always good to give yourself plenty of reasons to return.

The next day we were off to San Augustin. We were flying into Nieva and then taking a car down to the archeological site. The day was a bit of a fiasco. For some reason we took a hotel car to the airport and thank god we did, because about half way there we remembered we'd brought along all of our bags. Including the two bags full of winter clothes from our prior trip to NY - that the hotel had agreed to store for us. We were panicking and trying to work out if we had time to return with them to the hotel (which we didn't) before the driver pointed out that he could easily drop them back for us! Thankfully someone could think logically! So glad we weren't in a regular taxi or an Uber!

Well, our luck took another turn at the airport when our plane had to stop right before takeoff (when we had already taxied to the end of the runway) because we had TWO flat tires! I guess it was good luck that they discovered it before we took off!?? After a multi hour delay we were on the next direct flight - lets just say we would have been faster taking the bus, thank you Avianca! Incidentally I can absolutely see how Yestravel and gotravel and anyone else could end up getting in the wrong line at the airport, as they open the door for boarding but don't really direct the crowd at all. It seems there are two different domestic terminals, one for the smaller destinations and one for Cartagena, Medellin and other larger domestic destinations. The later was MUCH more modern.

Once we arrived at Nieva airport there was our driver who had of course been waiting for four hours poor chap. I'd deliberately picked the earlier flight so we would make the drive in the light but of course that wasn't going to be possible and we only had light for the first hour of so of the five hour drive from Nieva to San Augustin. However, I was captivated by what we could see of the landscape outside Nieva which was flat agricultural land with beautiful mountains in the background.


What drew us to San Agustín was the UNESCO World Heritage Archeological Park which is an extraordinary place and very much worth visiting. This is the center of a ancient chiefly society of which very little is known. As UNESCO describes it, "This is the largest complex of pre-Columbian megalithic funerary monuments and statuary, burial mounds, terraces, funerary structures, stone statuary and the Fuente de Lavapatas site, a religious monument carved in the stone bed of a stream." Here's a site of continuous occupations over several millennia, with monuments far older than anything you'll see in Machu Picchu and yet it's barely known outside Colombia.

More details and photos on my blog
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2016/...-colombia.html
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Old Feb 16th, 2016, 12:53 PM
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Well the long and short of it was that we were very glad we'd come to San Augustin, the landscape was stunning and the sites fascinating. The first day we focused just on the main archeological park which was next to our small hotel Hostal Huaka-Yo. The park is very well set up with a small museum, which essentially tells you they know very little about this civilization. After the museum there's a circular walk where they've relocated large numbers of the funerary statues and after this a series of separate (large) burial sites, guarded by similar carved stone statues.

It was hot and there was a fair bit of elevation gain going up to one site and down to another by the river. The scenery is gorgeous, so lush and green. The statues are amazingly diverse with lots of zoomorphic imagery, some are reptilian, others like birds, they remind you of something else you may have seen with decorative earrings and pectorals, but the things that struck us was the sheer diversity of the works, most were from 1-900AD but they date back a millennium before this.

We really enjoyed the day and stopped at a small cafe for empanadas, and headed back to the hostal for dinner. Lots of pictures on the blog, you can also see my review of Hostal Huaka-Yo here
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2016/...-colombia.html
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Old Feb 16th, 2016, 03:46 PM
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Appreciate your sharing. This is a place I didn't know existed; photos are gorgeous too.
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Old Feb 16th, 2016, 05:07 PM
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Thanks tripplanner001 - glad you like the look of it!

The landscape in southern Colombia is just gorgeous, steep hillsides with coffee, sugar cane and bananas. The countryside around San Augustin is very lovely and I wasn't surprised to learn quite a few foreigners (mainly Europeans) have bought small fincas (smallholdings) here.

It has the feel of a tropical paradise and reminded us of rural Kauai in parts. One of the nice things about staying there is that there lots of things you can do. We had a lazy morning and went to the archeological park at lunchtime but met another couple who'd managed to cram in a half day horsehide along the river AND the archeological park, far too much for us but them we're pretty laid back, at least sometimes!

The second day in San Augustin we asked Cesar at the hostal what he would recommend and he suggested several options; walking to some sites locally, taking a trip on horseback or a day out with Luis Alfredo. To be honest we could easily have spent four days here to take advantage of all that was on offer and clearly the Colombian visitors were doing just that. Anyway we opted for the day out and signed up for a very cheap sum, only to find we were the only people on a trip that had had six the day before.

Before I start lets just say everything is perception. An American and his French boyfriend (who had gone the day before) described it as a death defying ride on incredibly treacherous roads and said they spent half the day with their eyes closed! Well, it reminded me of listening to Fodorites describe driving on the Amalfi, lots of hype but not our experience. Lets just say the roads were a bit crazy but the driving looked pretty good to us and the views over the Rio Madgelena were incredible as we weaved around the countryside.

We spent the day driving around the Isnos area and saw waterfall, small towns, ate incredible arepas overlooking the most beautiful gorge, and visited the major archeological sites of Alto de las Piedra and Alto de los Idolos. The sites were much of the same but we enjoyed them anyway and we kept bumping into a charming Italian group who had been delayed on the same flight going into Nieva.
The whole drive is a little formulaic but it works well and we very much enjoyed the opportunity to see the countryside which is amazingly lovely with lush hillsides, flowering vines and trees and green, green green. the views of the river were incredible. Because we were out on New Years Eve we saw amazing decorated human dummies in the towns and villages, effigies that symbolize the "Old Year" which are burnt at midnight, to let go on anything bad in anticipation of a new year.

In Isnos all the young people were out spraying each other with white foam and flour, sometimes on motorbikes carrying the effigies with them and when we got back to San Augustin town i was chaos. Apparently the police let everyone run wild for a couple of hours and the main street was completely white. It gave us an idea of what we could expect at the carnaval in Pasto a few days later! lets just say at this stage we were glad to be in a locked car!!!

We had a quiet night at the postal where the owner Cesar had an Andean band playing and one of the french guests joined in on his guitar which was fun. Cesar even gave us a bottle of sparkling wine at midnight which was charming.


Quick note on Hostal Huaka-Yo :I can't rave enough about Cesar's hospitality. In fact without Cesar's help we may not have opted for this past of the trip as he organized the car from the airport in Nieva and a car and driver to take us to Tierradentro (another UNESCO site) and then on to Popayon. His wife currently works for a small liberal arts college in the US and he lived in the US for many years and visits often, so his English is perfect. We found him very simpatico and really enjoyed hearing about the coffee he grows and roasts and his impressions about San Augustin and Colombia. The hostal was simple, clean and comfortable and it worked well for us though it wasn't quite as luxurious as the Four Seasons in Bogota!

LOGISTICS: It might look adventurous to go to these areas of Colombia but when you do it with the help of someone reliable like Cesar it's really very, very easy and although the transfers were not cheap they were ALOT cheaper than the travel agent itineraries I'd looked into where anything that included these areas of southern Colombia was astronomical. There are a number of nice hostals in the San Augustin area run by Europeans but none could guaranteed that the car and driver would turn up on New Year's Day, which was the date we needed. Cesar assured us he could arrange it without any problems and he did.

To avoid the hassle and expense of a transfer from Nieva you might consider the newly started flights into Pitalito Airport only 25km from San Augustin. the flights didn't work for our itinerary as they are currently only a few times a week on a budget airline but it might be worth considering, depending on when you go.


Photos and more details on the blog.

http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2016/...-colombia.html
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Old Feb 17th, 2016, 04:05 PM
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OK, on to Tierradentro which may have been my favorite place in Colombia. Many people head south and only go as far as San Augustin but I highly recommend extending the trip to see the UNESCO painted tomb sites in Tierradentro.

I think perhaps people are put off by the long bus journey. WE had rented a car which was a big help but the drive took 5 hours and that was only because we could cut over a dry streamed in a four wheel drive. Again the views were spectacular, think endless hills, lush landscapes, small towns, precipitous drops. In several places you could see there was extensive work on a new road but it was meant to open years ago and still hasn't. This means theres quite a bit of time on an unfinished dirt roadway.

Our trip was a little unexpected as the driver (who would be waiting for two nights to transfer us to Popayan) asked if he could bring his wife for a small holiday. Filled with the spirit of the New Year we said yes, though we knew from previous experiences that you're often saying yes to more than you know. Sure enough when we stopped to pick her up there she was with their charming four year old. You know what happens next - small child, windy roads, long journey...yes all very predictable and all over the back seat! No good deed goes unpunished but he was a nice little guy despite the vomit.

One of the joys of visiting Tierradentro is the opportunity to do some walking and in particular to hike between the archeological sites. We stayed at a wonderful small inn called La Portada in San Andres de Pisimbala which I highly recommend. What a fantastic place and astonishingly reasonable at $20. Run by a delightful family this small hotel has everything you could wish for in rural Colombia; clean rooms with hot water, simplicity, charm and good food.

I've written a detailed description of the wonderful hike we took between the sites on my blog. The full day hike was about 12 km and in the morning we walked the first half on a loop around several sites including El Tablon, Duende Segovia, ending at the museum. Segovia has the largest number and best preserved painted tombs and after this we stopped for lunch near the local museum. The landscape was so lovely and it was great to get out walking, the path in this first section was very well marked. There are some steep up and down sections and it was hot but it was very manageable.

Here's the blog post where you can get more details (including a map) and see our pictures.
http://www.somuchmoretosee.com/2016/...ombs-from.html

More to follow on the second section in the afternoon which was MUCH more demanding.
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Old Feb 17th, 2016, 06:52 PM
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Walking up Aguacate
The second part of the hike was considerably more difficult and started with severe discouragement and a steep ascent. Here's how I put it on the blog,


"As we turned to begin the walk we ran into a young Colombian couple who we recognized from the hotel. They looked exhausted and somewhat concerned, "Are you experienced walkers?" he asked as he look dubiously at my Keens. I didn't know what to say to this. Yes, we walk quite a bit but the truth is I'm a fair weather hiker and I hate hiking boots which I find clumsy and too heavy. I always walk in Keens, a lightweight water shoe. I once went walking in the Tibetan foothills in Keens and socks. Not my most stylish moment but I ensured no photos were taken!

Their concern wasn't dissipating, they stressed that the walk was extremely demanding, that the path was narrow and treacherous and that they didn't recommend it. They repeated this several times. Apparently the recommended route was from the hotel to the museum via Aguacate and not the reverse direction which we were proposing which, they said, would involve an extremely steep ascent. They pointed up the hill which seemed to rise ominously behind us and said discouragingly, "It's straight up and for a very long while."

D was looking discouraged which was a logical response.However, when someone suggests I shouldn't do something that I want to do, I can't be relied upon to think logically, my response is more visceral. Hearing that perhaps we weren't up to it (from a fit young couple decades younger than us) was enough to send me straight up the hill. Of course their assessment had as much to do with the difficulty of the hike as their take on our capabilities, it was sincerely meant but in the moment that wasn't how I read it. I was determined and we were doing it. "

I've described the walk along with pictures in great detail on the blog for anyone who's considering it. Suffice it to say it was a hard four plus hours and given the ascent I understand why the hotel recommends doing it reverse, heading to Aguacate from La Ported and then down through the other sites. However, it was magnificent the views went on and on, as did the trail. It's a great walk and we felt such a sense of accomplishment as we returned to the hostal. Here's the link foe anyone who might be interested.
http://laportadahotel.com

La Portada was such a great place to stay in part because of all the young Colombians we met there and we had some fascinating conversations over the set evening meal. People laughed when they heard we had done the walk in one day as they were all staying for three plus days and would break up our trek into two more manageable day hikes. Even the young couple who'd cautioned us were impressed, particularly as they'd returned back directly and hadn't hiked all the way around the circuit. It turned out they's just returned home to Colombia after several years in Europe and it was fascinating to hear their thoughts on the peace process as they were extremely well informed and progressive.
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