Do you go to Cali often

Colombia travel report - 4 weeks across South America's paradise

From Bogotá over deserts, the Coffee Zone and Medellín to the Caribbean coast

Colombia is still considered an undiscovered paradise in South America. However, no longer as an insider tip. I keep hearing from friends that Colombia is the next travel destination this year. Rightly so.

For many years I myself wanted to travel to Colombia with a backpack. It finally worked out for four whole weeks over the turn of the year. It is pure coincidence that January is supposed to be the best time of the year for Colombia.

More articles from my Colombia trip:

Here you can find my personal travelogue for 28 days Colombia. Including all information about the places, our route, distances, activities and where we stayed:

Why a trip to Colombia?

When you think of Colombia, you probably think of the cocaine mafia and guerrillas and are now wondering whether it is safe to travel there? Is it. Colombia is now considered one of the safest countries in Latin America and even safer than Mexico. Of course, you should avoid certain areas, such as the poorer neighborhoods Bogotásas we found out right after our arrival.

With Colombia, even before boarding the plane, I was pretty sure that I would love the country. It is such a premonition after many friends had already raved about the diverse country and their travels there.

Colombia is one of the most scenic countries in Latin America: Fantastic Caribbean beaches (Palomino), rough Pacific coastlines, numerous national parks and of course the Andes and the Amazon. In addition, you will find both beautiful ones in Colombia Colonial cities (Cartagena) as well as pulsating metropolises or remote villages where time seems to have stood still.

As a coffee lover, I of course cannot miss the coffee region where some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown.

What will we discover from it? We have no idea, because the country is three times the size of Germany and our time is limited to 28 days.

Our route for 28 days Colombia

Before our trip, we only thought of a rough route and only booked the first three nights in Bogotá.

Bogotá

Day 1 - Arrival in Bogotá

After a 14-hour journey, we land at Bogotá International Airport. Under a thick blanket of clouds, we can only guess the size of the 9 million city. Thanks to our arrival on December 31st, the streets have been swept empty. Therefore, we are only 20 minutes later in our accommodation, the Hotel Muisca * in the old town district of La Candelaria with a great view of the city below us.

I wouldn't have thought it possible that there would be dead legs in a capital city on December 31st. This is exactly the case in Bogotá. All cafes and restaurants are closed. Therefore we have to make do with a snack in our accommodation (the food tastes good). We slept through New Year's Eve thanks to jetlag.

Accommodation in Bogotá in La Candelaria:Hotel Muisca *

The accommodation is almost at the top of the mountain in the old town of La Candelaria. It is really cozy and the view of Bogotá is not the worst.

Costs for 3 nights in a double room with breakfast, 2 people: 144 euros

Book accommodation on booking.com*

Day 2 - explore Bogotá by bike

The next day we slept in for a bike ride Bogota Bike Tours. We explore the city for almost 4 hours and come to quarters that you otherwise should avoid as a tourist.

The main attractions such as Plaza Bolivar, Museo de Oro, Museo Botero, bullring, Parque Nacional, street art outside La Candelaria, university and the Parque de Renacimiento we happen. Like that too Red light district. In this it will be briefly adventurous, dirty and everywhere there are torn rubbish bags lying around. Our guide advises me to put the camera away.

I liked Bogotá from the first minute and even more after the bike tour.

At the end of the tour there is another nasty climb to the La Candelaria district. The lack of acclimatization is noticeable here (we are almost 2,700m high). But all the other participants suffer too.

In the evening we finally find restaurants that are open and fall into a deep sleep again after a Colombian meal.

Bogotá tips and addresses:

Bogotá Bike Tour: Great and informative bike tour through Bogotá that also takes you to corners that you would otherwise not visit.

La Puerta de la Cathedral: Actually, the restaurant next to it was recommended to us. However, due to a public holiday, almost everything was closed and we didn't have a large selection. Apart from us, there were only Colombians eating here, which speaks for it. There is typical Colombian food - watch out for large portions!

Day 3 - Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral and the best view in Bogotá from Monserrate

After breakfast, a driver takes you to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá (Catedral de Sal). The cathedral is one of three underground cathedrals in the world that was completely handcrafted by miners from the salt of the Zipaquirá salt mine. It is considered one of the greatest attractions for tourists and is visited by over 13 million visitors annually.

The guided tour takes about an hour. Then we can move freely in the 180 m deep cathedral as long as we want. We are particularly impressed by the depth and the light effects of the chambers that depict Jesus' Way of the Cross. At the end of the tour, you will be guided into a kind of underground shopping center. The only strange thing about visiting this place.

Then we briefly explore that historical center of Zipaquirá, which is presented entirely in Spanish style with a square square and a colonial church. Like an old western.

Since there is hardly any traffic, we let us go directly to the foot of the over 3100 meter high Bogotá's local mountain - the Monserrate - bring. After a short waiting time, the Teleferico (cable car) takes you uphill quickly. Once at the top, we are only really aware of the extent and size of the city. Wow!

After a short break in the hotel, we look for a restaurant. We like it in passing La Bruja (The Witch) - a very good choice and top recommendation for Bogotá. The food is delicious and the interior is very cozy.

Tatacoa desert

Day 4 - Drive from Bogotá to the Tatacoa Desert (Desierto de la Tatacoa)

After breakfast, a driver ordered the day before takes us to the bus station. From here it goes with one comfortable bus to Neiva. The journey takes almost seven hours. From here it goes another 1.5 hours with one Collectivo further to the accommodation Noches de Saturno in the Tatacoa desert. The drive south takes us through picturesque valleys with mist-shrouded mountains at the ends. The further south we go, the warmer and sunnier it gets. It's gorgeous.

Our accommodation is located in the desert, is run by small farmers and is very simple but authentic. When we finally get there we are disappointed: there is no more food, the kitchen is closed. So we grab beer, camera and tripod and walk a little towards the entrance of the desert to enjoy the starry sky - which is really impressive - on this clear night. I have seldom seen so many stars shine in the sky. At some point we crawl into bed.

Accommodation in the Tatacoa Desert: Noche de Saturno.

Unfortunately only bookable by email (preferably in Spanish) or just give us a call. Very basic accommodation that is completely enough for one night. Good food and tours into the desert are run right from here. The observatory is also not far away (email: [email protected]).

Costs for two nights with breakfast for 2 people: 120,000 COP $ (approx. 34 euros)

Day 5 - Trekking in the Tatacoa desert and drive to San Agustín

In the morning we visit the gray and red desert with guides who give us a tour with their motorcycle. After it is as comfortable as ever, the tour begins sometime around eight thirty. The day before, there was talk of a start around 7 a.m. We are slowly getting used to them Coziness of the Colombians.

With them is a Colombian couple who enjoy the peace of Colombia and explore their own country. We not only learn a lot about nature, but also the culture of Colombia. The deserts are at least as impressive as last night's starry sky. We do not regret having accepted the long journey. The Tatacoa Desert should be on every Colombian traveler's itinerary.

Continue to San Agustín

Around 1 p.m. we want to continue to Neiva, to continue from there with the Collectivo San Augustin to drive. Of course it is 2 p.m. because the driver “wants something to eat first”. Then he would drive us straight to Neiva - without any stops. Of course, he doesn't stick to it and stops at hostals until the car and bunk is full.

Nevertheless, he accelerates and we are 1.5 hours later in Neiva at the bus terminal. We buy our tickets to San Agustin and we start almost punctually at 4:14 pm. The journey takes about five hours. It is cold and damp when we get into a taxi in San Agustín that takes us up the mountain to our accommodation, Finca el Maco. We fall into bed tired and frozen. We have arrived in the Andes.

Accommodation in San Agustín:Finca el Maco *. Great eco lodge with small, cozy huts, great food and friendly staff. Tours and transfers can be organized very well here.

Cost for 2 nights in a double room with breakfast: 96 euros for 2 people

San Agustin

Day 6 - Jeep tour around San Agustín

In San Agustín you will find all over the area more than 500 stone sculptures. Otherwise very little is known about the peoples and the significance of the sculptures. Nevertheless, the finds are among the most important on the South American continent. Today we are exploring some of these places as part of a Jeep tour.

We will make stops on Estrecho de la Magdalena. At this point, the Rio Magdalena is narrowest at just 2.5 meters. Also the archaeological sites Alto de los Ídolos (best preserved tombs and a 7 m high statue) and Alto de las Piedras let's not miss it like that museum for even more background knowledge. The figures were once free-standing and painted in color. Meanwhile, the paint is off and the sculptures are all fenced off because they were smeared by tourists.

At the spectacular waterfallsSalto de Bordones and let's make a photo stop.

The tour lasts the whole day and in the evening we are happy to have seen a great landscape with a great company from a family from Bogotá and a funny one. We are also very impressed by this stop on our journey and we are looking forward to visiting the archaeological park tomorrow before taking the bus Popayan goes.

Day 7 - San Agustín Archaeological Park and drive to Popayan

Today the weather doesn't like us at all. It's raining cats and dogs. Nevertheless we walk to the Archaeological Park "Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín"which is located 2 km after the village. This archaeological site covers an area of ​​78 hectares and is one of the most important and impressive in South America. Unfortunately little researched yet. The culture of that time left around 150 stone sculptures and monumental tombs here. A museum with valuable background information is also located here (the boards are also in English).

After this museum let's go to theBosque de las Estatuas (Forest of Statues) and then the arduous walk up to the Alta de Lavapataswhere the high plateau reveals the mountains around us.

Unfortunately, the sculptures are now fenced in, as some visitors smeared the sculptures with paint. After around 3.5 hours in the park, we make our way back. We quickly take a shower, pack and then we go on Popayan.

Carnaval celebrations and a bumpy drive to Popayan

The road from San Agustín to Popayan is tough. The driver heats for almost four hours over a gravel road littered with potholes through the serpentines of the mountains. No wonder that at the beginning he handed out spit bags to the Colombian passengers, of whom they hardly make extensive use after take-off. No joke, the whole trip (including the breaks) goes like this.

Shortly after departure we pass the small town Isnos, in which we had lunch the day before. Today he is raging here"Carnaval de Blancos y Negros" (Black and White Carnival). On January 5th one celebrates the day of the black people (one rubs oneself with fat) and one day later - that is today - one celebrates it "Day of the Whites".

Originally the face was painted with flour. Here you throw depth charges, flour and everyone is armed with foam pistols. It is hardly possible to get through. Our window panes quickly turn opaque white. Fortunately, I stay dry.

Again and again we pass checkpoints with the military, because not so long ago the FARC was still in control here. At some point a huge rainbow appears in the hilly landscape. I have never seen such a large and colorful rainbow. Unfortunately, the driver didn't stop, so the picture didn't turn out so good:

The journey takes about four hours. In the end we are stuck in a traffic jam, there in Popayan "La fiesta de Reyes" and also the carnival are in full swing. Celebrating Colombians smeared with flour and foam everywhere. After we have finally arrived at our accommodation, we get the tip that we should go to the Parque Caldasto go to the central Hauptplatz. There are plenty of food stands set up for the Fiesta de Reyes, where we can test all the delicacies. A large stage with live music has also been set up. Sure we like it!

There are champús (non-alcoholic drink made from corn and fruits), empanadas, salpicón and many other Colombian specialties. We try our way through the night!

Accommodation tip for Popayan: The Hostel Caracol * is okay for one night, but then make sure that you don't have any of the front rooms at the "through traffic". Including free bike rental, which we did not use. Good alternative: La Casa de Mima (much nicer and a tad cheaper).

Popayan

Day 8 - We explore the white city and drive to Cali

Popayan will too "White City" (La ciudad blanca) called because the old town was built and restored completely in white. When the sun is finally shining again, we explore the old town on foot and climb the hill first "El Morro de Tulcá" with its equestrian monument to catch a glimpse from above.

Then we stroll more or less aimlessly through the old town to look at the beautiful houses and churches. In between we eat arepas with cheese and drink freshly squeezed juice. Then we stroll past the food stalls at Parque Caldas and look at the band that is currently on stage.

Half a day is enough for me for Popayan. Somehow I don't have a connection to the city. Maybe just because I have aching limbs and just want to go to bed.

Accommodation tip for Popayan: The Hostel Caracol * is okay for one night, but then make sure that you don't have any of the front rooms at the "through traffic". Including free bike rental, which we did not use. Good alternative: La Casa de Mima (much nicer and a tad cheaper).

Costs for 1 night without breakfast, 2 people: 75,000 COP $ (approx. 21 €); Breakfast for 2 people: COP $ 13,000 (approx. € 3.60)

Off to Cali

For the afternoon we have organized a driver who will take us to Cali via the Panamericana.

Originally, Cali wasn't on our list of places we'd like to visit. But the direct bus trip to the coffee region was too long for us and I was sick anyway.

Therefore we booked ourselves for two nights in a huge room (or rather a suite) in the Hotel Colina de San Antonio. The hotel is new and advertised with a 50% discount. We had to strike there. An old residence that was completely renovated and gave us a gigantic view of the city.

As soon as we entered the room, we could smell that one of the best restaurants was right next to it. From lunch time we had the most delicious chicken smell in the nose. The view of the large terrace of the restaurant is included. Sure we ate here. By the way, the food was just as delicious as it smelled. No matter what we ordered. The first evening I stayed in bed while the others visited the restaurant "El Zaguan de San Antonio" inspected.

Accommodation in Cali: Hotel Colina de San Antonio. On my visit (January 2017) brand new accommodation with large rooms and very hard-working staff. Even if some things take longer a great place to stay.

Costs for 2 nights in a triple room with breakfast: 198,000 per person (56 euros per night)

Book accommodation on booking.com

Eat: El Zaguan de San Antonio. Who could have guessed that one of the best and most popular locals would be right next to our accommodation? In addition, that from 11 a.m. the delicious smell wafts into our room? Great Colombian Food!

Day 9 - We explore the old town of Cali

Many speak of Cali as a Moloch, we found Cali very green in some places. After a hearty breakfast we wanted to go: Street Art Tour Muli. But the meeting point given to us did not exist, thanks to the weekend, unfortunately, none of the organizations answered the phone. So we decided that San Antonio old town to explore on your own.

As far as it could go. Because nowhere else have I been told so often that I should pack my camera and be careful. Well, if I hadn't lost my cell phone in Bogotá, I would have been able to easily take photos with it. Unfortunately, it is not (anymore) that way. So I was really happy when I was able to “hide” the camera in my backpack again.

At the end there was a delicious lunch in one of the many small restaurants in the district (vegetarian "El Buen Alimento"). In the evening we went to our favorite restaurant again with two Colombian girls"El Zaguan de San Antonio". They gave us further tips for the Zona Cafetera, in which they also live.

Eat: El Buen Alimento. Delicious juices and, above all, vegetarian and vegan food.

Zona Cafetera (Quimbaya, Filandia, Salento)

Day 10: Zona Cafetera - Quimbaya coffee finca

After breakfast a taxi takes us to the bus terminal together with the Colombian girls. The bus ride from Cali takes us to Cartago in 2.5 hours. There we change to a taxi to Alcalá (5 people including luggage!), Which will bring us to the Colombian women’s place of residence in just 20 minutes. A friend of the girls is waiting there in his taxi to take us after Quimbaya to Coffee finca Villa Nora bring to. Again, the journey takes only 15 minutes.

Thanks to the girls, we've saved a lot of time. Because Lonely Planet and Co. would have "guided" us more laboriously via Pereira or Armenia.

We immediately feel at home on the finca. It is located outside the small town of Quimbaya, surrounded by palm trees and coffee plants. Idyllic tranquility and finally moving freely again, without worrying that someone might come and steal the camera. We explore the immediate vicinity of the finca on foot. Apart from other plantations and fincas, there isn't much to see. In the evening we get the most delicious food served by the cook before I fall into the antique and very cozy bed.

Accommodation in the Zona Cafetera:Finca Villa Nora. Great and beautifully located café finca by Nora and Roberto. Roberto likes to take the time for a private tour of the coffee plantations and his orchard. Spanish required.

Cost for 2 nights in a double room with breakfast, snack on arrival and dinner (with wine): 247,40 €

View on Tripadvisor | Book via website

Day 11 - Tour of the finca and drive to Filandia, probably the most beautiful place in the area

After breakfast with home-baked bread and fresh fruit from our own garden, we get one from owner Roberto private tour of his coffee fields. He explains to us how coffee is made and why coffee in Colombia is of such high quality.

After that we get a tour of the Roberto's orchard. He grows 30 types of fruit here himself. Of course we can also try everything that is just ripe. Whether grapefruit, cocoa, mango, agaza, guava, carambola (star fruit), pomelo and countless more. Roberto cut and peeled a piece of aloe for the skin.

The tour went longer than expected and ends after 2.5 hours with a delicious 8 year old Ron de Caldas. If we hadn't the plan to go to Filandia, Roberto would surely have had a lot more to tell.

Filandia - my little highlight of the Zona Cafetera

At around 1 p.m. our driver comes and takes us through the beautiful landscape Filandia