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  • Writer's pictureUrsula

Colombia 4.7.-13.8.23

After a good two months stay in Switzerland, our journey finally continues again. We first spend a few days in Bogotá with the impressive Plaza de Bolivar ...

... and undertake the absolutely recommendable excursion to Zipaquirá where we visit the pretty historic town ....

... and visit the huge salt cathedral. The cloister leads 180 meters into the mountain to the main cathedral where an impressive light show is projected onto the salt wall.

Our car was shipped from Panama to Cartagena. This means that we have to arrive in Cartagena in time to unload the car from the container at the port and take care of all the formalities. The whole procedure takes 4 days until we finally receive our vehicle again.

The walled, historic center of Cartagena is beautiful with colorful houses, many small streets, squares and pretty stores. The culinary offerings are also outstanding. In the evenings, the city center is reserved for pedestrians, carriages and cabs, which makes strolling and lingering in the rather large town very pleasant.

The Getsemani neighborhood is somewhat simpler in design. But you will find many murals, art stores and nicely decorated narrow streets where you can have an aperitif.

A visit to the mighty Castello San Felipe de Barajas and the former monastery with its stunning view of Cartagena is also not to be missed.

Cartagena is one of our favorite cities on the whole Panamericana.

We spend a few nights near the Tayrona National Park, three of them on a mango farm where we get an interesting guided tour in the plant with the 1'500 trees. Each tree bears one ton of fruit per year. Most of them are eaten in Bogotá and the rest is exported to France and the United Emirates.

We decide on two day trips to the Tayrona National Park. The first one starts at the side entrance at Calbazo, where we park the car directly at the entrance for 2 francs. For the first part we take two motorcycle cabs, which bring us rapidly over narrow paths, up and down to a starting point 15 minutes away. From there we hike through the jungle towards the beach Playa Brava, a good two hours away. We have the hope to observe some animals and birds, which unfortunately proves to be wrong. The humid heat makes us turn back already before we have reached the beach.

The second excursion starts at the main entrance, where we take a hike through the varied jungle to two beautiful beaches. Again and again we meet huge photogenic granite blocks, which remind us a little of the Seychelles.

We reach our next destination Barichara after an overnight stay in San Roque. The drive is varied over some passes and through a beautiful green nature. In the villages in the middle of the main road, the inhabitants haggle over drinks, food, 2 kilos of limes for 40 centimes and even parrots.

Barichara is said to be the most beautiful pueblo in Colombia and it is indeed a very quaint, well-preserved town.

Villa de Leyva also has a very uniform village appearance and is much larger and more touristy than Barichara. Impressive is the large main square and the surrounding car-free alleys. Worth visiting is the Terracotta House, but unfortunately it is only open on certain days of the week... and we were there on the wrong day.

After a very long drive, again over passes and partly unpaved road, we reach Medellín, where we move into a very nice apartment in the hip neighborhood 'El Poblado'. To get an overview of the huge city we do a 'Pablo Escobar' sightseeing tour. We learn the whole story of the murderous drug lord, who even caused a plane crash with 200 passengers to eliminate a close political rival. Until about 30 years ago, the whole city suffered a lot from these war-like conditions.

We visit the cemetery where Escobar is buried ...

... ride the metro through half the city and up by gondola over the poor quarters, a self-built settlement of the moved-in country dwellers ...

... visit the Plaza Botero in the city center with the 'castle' and the sculpture exhibition ...

... and finally drive to the viewpoint Cerro Nutibara with the rewarding view over the long stretched city.

The visit to Comuna 13, once the most dangerous neighborhood of the city, today captivates with a lively life with hip-hoppers, many small pubs and stores. The murals show us the heavy past and present. We explore the quarter with a guide, who leads us through hidden alleys, stairs and solar-powered escalators. A very impressive experience.

Unfortunately, we miss the annual flower festival in Medellín only in a few days. Therefore, we decide to make a trip to Santa Elena to visit one of the flower fincas that produce flowers for the city and also make the flower arrangements for the festival and present them at the parade.

In Manizales we visit the beautiful nature park 'Recinto del Pensiamento' where the two hour circular hike through different ecosystems can only be done with a guide. On the way we stop at the Hummingbird House ...

... wander through the Japanese garden with impressive bonsais ...

... visit the butterfly house...

... and discover many flowers, a blue dragonfly and a brightly colored grasshopper in the rainforest and park.

Manizales, built on steep hills, has not too much to offer in terms of tourism, except for the beautiful cathedral and the viewpoint 'Torre de Chipre'.

Our next stop is the Hotel Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal, located at the end of a beautiful valley. A pretty waterfall flows into the thermal bath, which has several pools. The hotel is nice and modern, but the included food is only of mediocre canteen quality.

The next day we continue to the nearby Salento where we drive to the impressive Cocora Valley, which reminds us of the Alps, with its up to 60m high wax palms. We undertake a small round hike to various great viewpoints.

Salento is located in the middle of the coffee area, so of course a visit to a coffee farm is a must ...

... and we always enjoy the beautifully planted coffee plantations in the hilly surroundings.

Salento itself is also a very colorful and well visited lively town.

Villavieja is our starting point to explore the Tatacoa Desert. We set off early to escape the great midday heat. First we visit the red part where we do an hour round trip through the bizarre rocks and the impressive column cacti.

We continue to the nearby gray part 'Las Hoyos'. Here we are told where the trail starts and it should end at the swimming pool. Unfortunately there are no signs and we get lost in the small valleys of the impressive landscape. At some point we meet a Colombian couple who also don't know where they are. Then finally an Italian couple shows us the way to the pool. After two hours in the sweltering, meanwhile midday heat, we are happy to finally be able to cool off in the spectacular pool.

Towards Popayán, we first drive on a newly built road through the valley, always along the beautiful Magdalena River, and then, as on every Andean stage, over passes with gravel roads.

Popayán is also called the 'white city' because of its white painted houses and squares. We visit the cathedral and take pictures of some churches and streets. Otherwise, there is not too much to experience.

Towards San Agustín, the route climbs to a good 3000 m, where we discover huge fields of Espeletias (also known as Frailejones or monk flowers). For a good hour, the route runs on a narrow dirt road with huge potholes and some oncoming traffic.

In San Agustín we visit one of the three archaeological sites with the various human and animal figures carved in volcanic rock. They served as burial guards and some of them are still very well preserved today.