Tag - colombia

Domestic Air Travel in Colombia

Avianca airplane-Cr-travelandtourworld.com

Avianca airplane-Cr-travelandtourworld.com

With Vast Distances to Travel – Air Travel is Often the Only Way

While bus overland travel is the norm in Colombia, many foreigners are put off by tedious and occasionally dangerous overnight journeys for obvious reasons. Often there’s just not time to spare 18 hours on an overnight bus, so with massive distances, flying is the only option. The big two carriers are Aerorepublica and Avianca that cater to most traditional tourist areas and cities in Colombia, but to get further a-field it may be necessary to book onto a different airline and take advantage of Colombia’s first low cost airline –Easyfly


Now bought out by Copa Airlines and therefore code-sharing Continental, Aerorepublica’s reputation and stock has improved especially if you are a One Pass holder. With its relationship with Copa the international hub for Aerorepublica is conveniently in Panama. This airline boasts several daily flights to destinations from Bogota to Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cucuta, Leticia, Medellin, Monteria, Pereira, San Andres and Santa Marta.


Avianca code-shares with Iberia, Air Canada, Taca, Delta and Mexicana and so is the larger of the “big two” in Colombia, has been around longer and not surprisingly flies to more destinations. Daily flights include, Armenia, Barrancabermeja, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cucuta, Ibagué, Manizales, Medellin, Montería, Neiva, Pasto, Pereira, Riohacha, San Andrés, Santa Marta, Tumaco, Valledupar.


Over its 31 year history, Aires has been linking 22 destinations in Colombia and has established new routes into neighbouring countries, significantly to Maracaibo in Venezuela, Panama, Aruba and Curacao. Within Colombia, Aires flies between various cities, not necessarily using Bogota as its hub. Included in Aires’ routes are Barranquilla, Montería, Cartagena, Valledupar, Medellin, Apartado, Cucuta, Bucaramanga, Yopal, Quibdo, Pereira, Ibagué, Manizales, Bogota, Armenia, Pereira, Cali, Villavicencio, Popayan, Neiva, Florencia, Puerto Asís and Ipiales.


Created in 1962 by the Colombian Government Satena has been running flights to more out of the way destinations to which the “big two” do not cater. With Satena you can reach destinations such as Apartado, Araracuara, Arauca, Bahía Solano, Bucaramanga, Buenaventura, Cali, Cucuta, Florencia, Guapi, Ipiales, Las Chorrera, La Macarena, La Pedrera, Leticia, Medellin, Mitu, Neiva, Nuqui, Pasto, Pereira, Popayan, Providencia, Puerto Asís, Puerto Carreño, Puerto Inárida, Puerto Leguizamo, Quibdo, San Andrés, San José del Guaviare, San Vicente del Caguan, Saravena, Sincelejo/ Corozal, Tame, Taracapa, Tumaco, Villagarzon, Villavicencio,

Other airlines

  • AeroSucre and Lineas Aereas Suramericanas

For those with time, patience and budgetary constraints another option for getting from Bogota to Leticia and beyond is with AeroSucre or LAS. Mainly cargo airlines, if the vessel is travelling light, there are always possibilities of catching a flight to Leticia this way. Luxury they are not.


  • Aerolinea de Antioquia

Should your base be Medellin and not Bogota, look into Aerolinea de Antioquia which flies to a variety of locations and will be of special use for getting to and from the pacific coast.


  • SAM Colombia

SAM is a subsidiary airline of Avianca.

Villa de Leyva

 Villa de Leyva , Credit-Wikipedia

Villa de Leyva , Credit-Wikipedia

Home to the largest Plaza Mayor in the Americas, possibly

A few hours from Bogota, the delightfully chic, Villa de Leyva possesses colonial wealth, gastronomic wonders and internationally celebrated festivals. With idyllic whitewashed walls, cobblestone streets, elegant dining, boutique shops and galleries, Villa de Leyva is one of the top weekend retreats for Bogotanos escaping the demons of the daily grind.

Only three hours by car and a distance of 175km from the capital this colonial masterpiece and National Monument in the Boyaca department is a perfect haven from the rigours of Bogota.Boasting, what some say is the largest and certainly most gapingly expansive, Plaza Mayor in all of the Americas and some of the finest examples of colonial streets dating back to 1572, Villa de Leyva is a sight to behold. Certainly it would be hard to argue that this Plaza is not the biggest, covering 14,000 square meters of cobblestones and bordered by magnificent colonial structures.

Tourist Attractions

Busy yourself by day by touring the surrounding hills and valleys on horseback. At an altitude of 2125 meters above sea level you may be appreciative of your trusty steed! Just three of the must see attractions include the Periquera Waterfalls, the temple at Sachica and the Museo Paleontologico. As you can imagine there are plenty of charming examples of Boyacense culture here and in the area to delay you longer than a weekend.

Customer Service, Boyacense style!

On an average weekend the place fills up with exiles from the city and obviously during any of the town’s numerous festivals this number and the cost more than doubles. However, it must be said that the level of service in Boyaca makes their counterparts from the coast look hurried. Do not be surprised at long waits and poor service; Boyacenses are famed in Colombia for this.

Fabulous Festivals

Kites block out the sky above the Plaza Mayor in August when expert kite runners descend upon the town for the Festival de Cometas (Kite Festival), and on December 8 nobody within earshot of Villa de Leyva will sleep as the riotous noise and spectacular pyrotechnics of the Festival de Luces (Firework Festival) thunder on.

Zorro was here?

With ornate balconies and flowering bougainvillea spilling over the tops of the walls it is no wonder that this is a favoured location to use as a film setting. Currently some of the buildings are not painted in their traditional white as the telenovela (soap opera) Zorro is being filmed here, but should you, in your wanderings, reach a traditionally decorated area in the afternoon light, the paintwork is piercing. For a more accurate image of this place, think Antigua in Guatemala, Granada in Nicaragua, Trinidad in Cuba or perhaps Cajamarca in Peru, but shrouded in a white bride’s veil since this is one of Colombia’s most coveted wedding locations.

So, head to the Plaza Mayor in the early evening and join visitors, locals and soap stars alike as they congregate here in their numbers on the steps of the cathedral. Settle down with a beer, aguardiente or fejoa juice to listen to cuenteros (storytellers) and watch them gesticulate maniacally as they illustrate their tales of wonder and relevance to the region.

Medellin: A Walking Tour

All of This City’s Downtown Attractions Can Be Seen on Foot

Medellin, Cr-tripadvisor

Medellin – as has been frequently reported in recent years – has turned the corner from the dark days of its Escobarian past and is powering forward.


Walking Tour

In a day the visitor can cover most of what the old centre of Medellin has to offer. There is no better nor less hurried way to see this part of town than by foot.Start the day at the Basilica Metropolitana de Medellin located at the far end of the Carrera Junin. Enjoy a tinto coffee in the park while marvelling at this immense brick structure.

From here then walk along the Carrera Junin browsing the shops and businesses in this downtown sector. As you reach the end cross over the road and make your way to the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria. A colonial style construction it stands at odds with its environment of 1970’s high rise office blocks.

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria, Credit- Wikipedia

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria, Credit- Wikipedia

Just a few blocks from here, the other side of the Metro station can be found the attractions of the Parque Berrio with its Museums and Botero sculptures. The Museo de Antioquia is the large building towards the back of the square and holds a permanent collection of 119 pieces donated by Fernando Botero himself. Pose for photos in front of the grotesque reclining lady and then move on a further few blocks south.

Botero Sculpture Park, Credit- Expedia

Botero Sculpture Park, Credit- Expedia

The Parque San Antonio really isn’t a park at all. It more resembles an enormous parking lot in front of a shopping mall. But, of interest to the visitor are the two Botero sculptures here. The original Bird of Peace sculpture was placed here by Botero and was subsequently blown up and a dozen or so passers by tragically killed, by a suspected FARC bomb. Instead of replacing or moving the mangled sculpture, in brave defiance, Botero created an identical sculpture to the original and placed it alongside the bomb affected version.

Estacion Central, Credit- serturista.com

Estacion Central, Credit- serturista.com

Move down from the Parque San Antonio to the Estacion Central where historically all rail travel into Medellin would pass. Now a visitor’s centre one can relax with a cold juice or another coffee here before moving through the large buildings that make up the Town Hall of Medellin and passing by the Plaza de Cisneros in front of the city’s library.

From here you will be able to see the Edificio Inteligente – literally the Intelligent Building – which was built with environmental features in mind. Before reaching this building pass through the Parque de los Pies Descalzos where the emphasis is on recreation. Fountains are in place so that students fresh from visiting the children’s museum here can play in the jets.

Parque de los Pies Descalzos, Credit- Expedia.ca

Parque de los Pies Descalzos, Credit- Expedia.ca

The Cerro Nutibara is easily in view now as the only geographical feature in this area of the Aburra Valley. At 80 meters in height one can gain a reasonable view of the downtown area and view a Pueblito Paisa, constructed here to show what a typical Antioquian village should resemble.

Tips for the tourist

Take the metro – Medellin’s new Metro system constructed in 1995 is the choicest way of getting around the city. Single journeys cost $0.70 and the service is clean, safe and air conditioned.

Hang out at Parque Lleras

Definitely a place to come and watch the beautiful people, Parque Lleras is located in the fashionable area of El Poblado. From Thursday’s on people congregate here to meet friends and have a cocktail before hitting one of the nearby clubs.


Check out local listings as Medellin is gradually becoming known for its cultural activities. Very often free performances are put on at the Theatres in Medellin. Recently one could catch the city’s Symphonic Orchestra performing the Carmina Burana.

Catch a Football Game

If you are in Medellin when two of the city’s teams come head to head then try your best to secure a ticket. Nacional of Medellin were Pablo Escobar’s team and are a Colombian powerhouse. Medellin’s other side are in a slump of late, but this game is always different to the form book and will give you the opportunity of seeing true South American passion.

Other options

The Botanical Garden and Medellin’s Museum of Modern Art are well worth visiting as well.

From Cartagena to Mompox

Santa_Bárbara_-_Mompós, Cr wikipedia

Santa Bárbara-Mompós, Cr wikipedia

Isolated and Well Off the Beaten Track – Mompox Can Be Reached
Deep in the sweltering heat of the Bolivar Department, Mompox is a current day Colonial relic and backwater. A new road may change this, visit it now in its sleepy glory .

“As they sailed down to the coast the river had grown more vast and solemn, like a swamp with no beginning or end, and the heat was so dense you could touch it with your hands.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – The General in His Labyrinth

Mompox – where on earth?

Located some 250 km from Cartagena, Mompox is not an easy place to reach. Bordered on one side by vast swamps and on the other by the Magdalena River it is hard to picture that once, up until the end of the 18th century, this town was the third most important commercial hub in Colombia, behind only Bogota and Cartagena.

Indeed, unless you have studied the Simon Bolivar’s movements and battles in liberating much of South America from Spanish rule or seen fit to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, The General In His Labyrinth, it is very likely you will never have heard of Mompox.

How to get there

So, given its location and distance from major cities and combined with the fact that until the new highway is completed  the arduous journey can be made overland from Cartagena (8 hours including a ferry ride from Magangue) or overnight in a 16 hour haul from Bogota via a bridge and brief boat trip at El Banco.

The Magdalena River

The Magdalena river has been both a blessing and a poisoned chalice to the people and city of Mompox. From the 16th to the 19th century the city developed parallel to the river. The three straight wide streets of one storey whitewashed houses that run parallel to the waters are today the beating heart of the city as they were in Colonial times.

As the key bridge between the Caribbean coast and the interior of the country, the river provided the city with the origin of its wealth. Merchants laden with both legitimate goods and contraband came here from Cartagena to protect their interests from the rampaging and frequent attacks by pirates.

Colonial History

Founded in 1540 on the banks of the Magdalena, and given the conditions, merciless heat and swamplands, Mompox is a feat of stubborn perseverance and exact engineering and played a key role in the Spanish colonization of northern South America.

The historic center has preserved the harmony and unity of the urban landscape. Most of the buildings are still used for their original purposes, providing an exceptional picture of what a Spanish colonial city was like. As previously mentioned, the city increased in size and importance until that time when the Magdalena river, laden with debris and silt altered its course, moving away from Mompox and therefore leaving the city isolated and in decreasing in importance.

Modern day Mompox

Today the city has expanded with an influx of people displaced by the conflict but it can only grow so far as quite obviously an island can only contain so much expansion!

Tourism is growing gradually, obviously not as rapidly as those here would like, but, with the new highway and with an emphasis on its renowned and austere Semana Santa celebrations, hopes are high. Foreign money is flowing in and the streets and vast colonial mansions are being renovated in anticipation of Mompox becoming the next big thing in Colombia.

Mompox may be very indebted to the river for leaving it as a colonial backwater for so long. Its isolation meant that the colonial masterpieces have been left intact, the various churches and plazas may require some touching up, but they remain essentially as they were.

At the same time, the conflict has never strayed too closed to the city limits, in a department, Bolivar, that has seen its fair share of violence. Being situated in the flat swamp land with fluvial boundaries that provide little cover for attacking or retreating forces has left Momposinos alone to their own devices and to do so at their own speed.

Visiting the Police Museum in Bogota

Pablo Escobar's Harley in the Police Museum - rapidtravelchai

Pablo Escobar’s Harley in the Police Museum – rapidtravelchai

Travelers coming to Bogota are advised to make a stop at the Museo Historico Policia to gain a greater understanding of contemporary Colombia.

Housed in an immaculately kept neoclassical palace dating back to the early 1920s, the Police Museum should be atop the list of things to do and see for all visitors coming to Bogota. Here, accompanied by an English or Spanish speaking police guide, you will trail from exhibition to exhibition learning more about the history of this fractured nation and its contemporary issues with special emphasis on Pablo Escobar’s demise.

Pablo Escobar in the Police Museum

Gunned down on a rooftop in his native Medellin in 1993, Pablo Escobar is, unfortunately, a name that springs to mind when the topic of “Colombia” arises in conversation. His legacy as the Colombian godfather of international cocaine smuggling has left the nation riddled with self-doubt and a history of extreme cruelty and savage violence. The exhibition detailing Escobar’s life and times is little different.

After viewing some more mundane exhibition halls with portraits of former police heroes, flags and international relics that were instruments of torture, you’ll be taken into Pablo Escobar section of the museum.

Housed here are Escobar’s gun, his leather jacket, a dummy of him alive and also dead and some particularly gruesome images. Police guides speak animatedly of the window opportunity that their counterparts in Medellin had to hunt and track down Escobar whilst he made a phone-call to his son. They also talk solemnly of the sicarios or child assassins, employed by drug cartels, not only that of Escobar, to raze down all opponents, enemies and be rewarded handsomely for each police officer felled. More than 600 policemen were to meet their end this way and one sixteen year old sicario was responsible for 32 of these.

Perhaps the most telling and interesting part of the tour is that of speaking to your guide as you’ll gain a firsthand account of where this conscript comes from, where he’s been stationed and what he’s seen.

In addition to the Escobar exhibit, which really is the museum’s selling point, you can see how the police force in Santa Fe de Bogota conducted business back in the early period of the 20th century as they have on display one of the old prison carts used for transporting criminals. Just imagine, there were but 12 horse-drawn prison carts in use in the city between 1912 and 1919. But then of course this necessity reflects the village size of Bogota back then when there were in the region of 125,000 inhabitants.

And before you leave, be sure to head out onto the rooftop viewpoint which allows for a good view of the invasiones of southern Bogota before heading back into the nearby attractions of the colonial Candelaria district.

Andres Carne de Res

Andres Carne de Res Chia- Credit-epil0g.wordpress.com

Andres Carne de Res Chia- Credit-epil0g.wordpress.com

A Restaurant for Carnivores, 40 Short Minutes From Bogota

Fancy settling down for a quiet meal with a loved one in Colombia? Never! Feast on prime cuts, down potent cocktails and rumba the night away Colombian style in Chia. The steak was grotesque in its thickness, this restaurant – Andres Carne de Res – is nothing less than a carnivore’s paradise. All about us patrons gorged on cuts of Argentinean beef grilled to perfection while washing it down with knockout cocktails. Decadence – hardly, gluttony – possibly, a treat to be enjoyed once in a while – certainly.Located some 40 minutes drive from Bogota, Andres carne de Res, literally meaning “Andres Beef” is an institution and an establishment that succeeds in exactly what it sets out to do…serve a hearty and flavoursome meal and then evolve as the evening progresses into an all out old fashioned knees up.


At first glance this is a palace of antiquities but on closer inspection you can see that everything that adorns the walls of this enormous saloon is recycled. Bottle caps fill otherwise barren wall space, a mannequin’s legs adorn another, lit candles throw an ambient glow from ancient chandeliers, there is even an old road sign for the Avenida Caracas. Everything on these walls is Colombian; nothing has been brought in from overseas as so often is the case in places of this nature filled with curiosities. Each table has a heart shaped light hanging overhead with a number and name, tables range from “Lightening” to “Adobe” or “King”.

Andres himself:

The big man himself – Andres Jaramillo – like an artist in residence, is normally in attendance watching over the proceedings in his creation. With crazed hair that would not look out of place in a caricature of Einstein, he keeps to his corner and watches the harassed staff perform their duties with startling efficiency. Sparing a few moments for a brief interview prior to the peak hours on a Saturday night, Andres let it be known that he is in the market for investors for another branch of Andres Carne de Res, but until that time he cannot possibly dedicate himself to another establishment.

The Food:

As mentioned before, this is a grill joint, and it is incredible. Highly recommended are the Bife de Chorizo (Porterhouse) and the Churrasco Argentino (filet steak). Unless you have been fasting for several days you would do well to avoid the temptation of any starters.

The Rumba:

As the night progresses and the cocktails kick in then every available space, not least the dance-floor becomes jammed with bodies like cigarettes factory packed into their boxes. This is Colombia and here they know how to dance and what’s more, they love it, it fuels their identity. Bodies gyrate locked between tables, next to the bar, in the line for the bathrooms, in short, everywhere. The music begins as a mix of everything, international hits and then moves to a more Latin beat, Vallenato, Merengue, Salsa, Cumbia and all the goods that Colombia has to offer on this front.

Who to expect here:

Everyone of all shapes and sizes, colours and creeds. Politicians rub elbows with soap opera stars and singers. In a nutshell, the rich, the famous and the jaw droppingly beautiful.


Unless you have a private car, have contracted a driver, have friends with a car or have made a deal with a taxi driver then your options are going to be limited. Chia is 40 minutes outside of the capital and transport becomes scarce in the early hours when revellers are ejected from Andres Carne de Res. If any of the above are available to you then head out of Bogota on the Autopista Norte and follow the signs to Chia, directions to Andres Carne de Res will become apparent.

Opening hours:

Given the successful nature and daunting task of running this restaurant it is no wonder that it is only open from Thursday to Sunday from lunch until roughly 5am. Do not pass up the opportunity if you have the time.

Cartagena de Indias

Pirate Target and Colombian Caribbean Gem
    Cartagena Colombia, Cr-ixelmoda.com

Cartagena Colombia, Credit-ixelmoda.com

Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, colonial Cartagena bewitches Tourists and Colombians alike gateway to America, Spain’s first city on the South American main, Cartagena witnessed the shipment of Peruvian silver to Europe, the galleons from Seville, the piracy of Drake and Hawkins and sheltered behind its thick and impregnable walls, remained intact.

The origins and prosperity of this city are undoubtedly inextricably linked due to its location and the security of its port and the wealth inherent in the urban centre is reflected in the extravagant balconies and ornate doorways of the Ciudad Vieja (the old city). What were once homes to aristocrats and merchants are now guesthouses, gift shops and museums.

Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984, Cartagena remains the most popular tourist destination in Colombia, in part due to the security of the city and its popularity as a destination for cruise ships. It was, for a number of the years the only city in Colombia where US presidents dared to tread.

More elegant and far removed from Bogota’s Candelaria, the bay, the tiled rooftops and the multicoloured colonial walls of the Ciudad Vieja exude humidity and a sticky closeness familiar to those with experience of Caribbean weather patterns and coastal attitudes. To walk in the midday heat is a folly and solely the refuge of tourists who know no better. Cartageneros wisely shut up shop move to air conditioned or well ventilated retreats while beach lovers flee to nearby offshore islands or to the spit of land that makes up the architectural mess of Bocagrande.

The atmosphere, the sea air, the street vendors, everything feels like a film setting for a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Indeed Gabo himself spent pivotal and formative years here as a journalist and aspiring writer.

There is a sultry decadence here that has bewitched writers and wayward souls since time immemorial. Has it something to do with the sorcery of the fickle mistress the Caribbean? Is there something in the air, or are people rendered slightly unhinged and light-headed from the tall measures of rum in the potent cuba libres served at the bars that line the streets and portions of the old city wall?

Cartagena is the ideal place for a conference, but will the participants stay faithful to the event they are supposed to attend. With colonial treasures to discover, antiquated streets, museums, galleries and shops to peruse, do people go missing? Do the Congresos and Festivales seem thin on bodies? Are there visible empty seats in the conference auditoriums?

Whatever the case, this captivating Caribbean jewel must be visited. From the Puerta del Reloj and the Plaza de la Aduana, to the Plaza de los Coches and the Calle Santo Domingo, Cartagena will cast a lasting spell on you.

Visiting Taganga

 Taganga- Credit-tourist2townie.com

Taganga- Credit-tourist2townie.com

An Escape from Santa Marta

Just a short collectivo ride from Santa Marta, Taganga is a place to relax post Ciudad Perdida trek Glimpsing Taganga for the first time as you come around the rocky promontory and leave the decaying suburbs of Santa Marta behind is a breathtaking scene. From above the setting is paradisiacal, the sun’s beams hitting the rippling Caribbean, palms lining the beachfront and swaying gently in a cooling breeze, colourfully painted fishing boats anchored in the bay, what more could you ask for?

This being the Caribbean coast you could be forgiven for such thoughts of soft white sand, welcoming fishermen and the perfect coastal setting. So grateful will you be for the respite that all the bustle and intrusion of Santa Marta are behind you even though it remains a mere five kilometers to the south that initially Taganga’s flaws will be overlooked. Taganga resembles a Caribbean hamlet, idly going about its business.Despite the plethora of mangy yet harmless dogs that lie everywhere and the state of the boulevard, this is an ideal place to relax after a long bus journey and a popular haunt for those who have just completed the exhilerating and not to be missed Lost City trek. Be warned, Taganga has long been a destination for backpackers seeking to sway idly in hammocks, enjoy an ice cold beer at sundown and dabble in other illicit Colombian products. If this is not your scene then you would be better placed heading five kilometers in the opposite direction to the more upmarket Rodadero.

While the barrio of Taganga is not the most scenic, certainly rustic, there are many quality guesthouses catering to the crowds. So comfortable and welcoming, tourists often stay a few days longer than intended, beguiled by the fine weather, warm gentle ocean and that lethargy that strikes when in a comfort zone at the beach.

Should you tire of doing nothing, then there are a host of scuba centres with varying levels of efficiency and equipment. Shop around and bargain as this is one of the cheapest places in the Caribbean to get certified, but be certain to check the equipment thoroughly. Another option would be to stroll 40 minutes around the point to Playa Grande.

With a population of roughly 3000, Taganga can cater to most needs with a few basic markets, a pharmacy and internet cafe, but if you plan to stay longer than a couple of days, be sure to stock up on suncream and other essentials in Santa Marta or you will be found wanting.

Zona C – La Candelaria, Bogota

    La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia, Credit- flicker-szeke

La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia, Credit- flicker-szeke

Cultural Attractions and Gastronomy in Bogota

In a re-branding effort to pull Bogota’s colonial center in line with other chic sectors of the Colombian capital, La Candelaria is renamed the Zona C. Bogota’s Candelaria, the downtown colonial district beloved of tourists and visitors, home to the world renowned Gold Museum, the famous Hotel de la Opera and the Presidential Palace has been re-branded.

In a move that smacks of some fancy publicity driven organization in a shiny glass office high above the city streets, La Candelaria has now followed suit behind other areas in Bogota that have more “youthful”, “urban” or hip nomenclatures.

The Zona C

Presumably the Zona C refers to the Candelaria but the intention behind the move is well intentioned. La Candelaria suffers from a lack of security being so close to Carrera 10 and the unsavory barrios beyond to the south. The re-branding is an attempt to bring more Colombians in addition to the droves of foreign tourists who come to the area for its ambiance, nightlife and affordable residences.

Gastronomy in the Zona C

Presumably with the arrival of more Colombians, not just the weekday crowds from Congress and other Public Offices that lunch hereabouts, communication will in turn bring more people to the Candelaria, create a greater turnover of income and of course through careful investment will aid the clean up and restoration of an oft-overlooked area.

The Zona C does have more than its fair share of fine dining establishments to bring many more to these antiquated ramshackle streets. Fancy an Argentine Parrilla, there are three places to choose from. For seafood Mar de La Candelaria, for fusion El Olivar, for French cuisine Bonaparte…in short there is everything!

Museums and Cultural Attractions in the Zona C

Should you find yourself lunching one afternoon in the Candelaria or staying here a few days in one of the affordable hostels then take full advantage of the Candelaria’s cultural attractions such as the aforementioned Gold Museum, the newly completed Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center, the Quinta de Bolivar, the Botero Collection or the Museum of Colonial Art. Of course only a short walk can take you to the well known bullring

The Zona G and the Zona T

One supposes that the idea behind the Zona C came from the same person who thought up the Zona G and the Zona T. In the leafy well to do barrio of Rosales one can find the Zona G – the Zona Gastronomica, and then further north the Zona T – so called for the shape of the pedestrianized area lined with the ubiquitous Irish pub, eclectic and fashionable bars and restaurants.

Visiting The Ruins at San Agustin

    St Augustin ruins, Credit-Wikipedia

St Augustin ruins, Credit-Wikipedia

A Colombian Archeological Paradise Securely Shrouded in Mystery

For years the ruins at San Agustin were inaccessible due to FARC guerrilla activity in Huila province. Now easily accessible and affordable, San Agustin is a destination.

Here in the districts of Saladoblanco, Isnos and San Agustin, the topography is uneven; valleys, hill plateaus and mountainous clusters come together to form its exotic and varied landscape. It is in this geographically contradictory territory to the south of Huila that in 5300BC an advanced culture evolved existed and disappeared in this strategically important natural passage from the foothills of the Colombian Massif to the Amazon.

“Anyone can make an interpretation of what happened here or what these figures represent,” says Rosiverio Lopes Ibarra, a long time guide in the park.

“There are no accounts, no literature or folklore that exist that can help us understand the Agustinian culture any better. Therefore any studies carried out will be vague and all assumptions based upon similar artistic forms from other regions in the Americas.”

The Knowledge

Ibarra could become increasingly frustrated at guiding people around this site on a daily basis and not having the answers to persistent badgering from the tourists, given that they are arriving in larger quantities month after month as word gets around that it is now safe to visit the region that was formerly a leftist FARC guerrilla stronghold.

But he remains softly spoken, informative and collected in the face of the barrage of questions regarding the demise of these people, the kind of calm and unwavering tolerance that you would expect from a father of 18.

“Was it disease, war or the Spanish that wiped these people out?”

He smiles, his eyes sparkling despite 36 years of guiding here:

“If it was war, then there has to be a victor, here we have no sign of that. The Spanish arrived after the demise of the Agustinians and were largely confined to grave-robbing, but most likely, there was a climactic alteration and this affected the populous greatly. At the time we estimate the culture to have disappeared, the corresponding event in Europe was a mini ice age.”

Graverobbing and Gold lust

Grave robbers have strafed the area. First the Spanish who in their search for El Dorado, kidnapped a Xaman’s son and demanded a ransom leading the local people to ransack the burial mounds and later by subsequent mercenaries from the Antioquia region, according to Rosiverio. These grave robbers knew little of the area and suspected that each figurine and statue contained a similar gold likeness within the stone carving. One can view the desecration that took place by man made fault lines that split some of the statues in two as they searched in vain to find the elusive or rather, non-existent gold in the interior of the stone.

Gorillas in Colombia?

Rosiverio points out a carving that indeed does resemble a gorilla. Of course Gorillas are unknown to this continent, could it have been something else? Not in his opinion, to him this proves the migration of people via the Magellan Straits and the exchange in ideas, religious beliefs and traditions. Of course one cannot fault his version or try and play devil’s advocate and cite pieces of knowledge gleaned from Chile’s Easter Island, Guatemala’s Tikal, Bolivia’s Tiwanaku and Peru’s Macchu Pichu.

Put into context through carbon dating, the Agustinian culture is thought to have disappeared around the same time as the decline of the Mayan empire. After the Agustinians came another people, the Yalcones, thought to have been agriculturally minded and nomadic.

Rosiverio puffs out his chest as if to take on board all comments. There is a thoughtful understanding in his manner, of course, he has heard these before. He motions for us to come and look at another statue. There is no room to doubt his statements here; this sculpture is reminiscent of many on the continent. The figure’s hands have the coca pot and leaves clasped to its abdomen and its cheeks are bulging as if chewing the sacred crop.

A Truly Advanced Society

Taking into account the quantity and variety of the archaeological relics recovered, sculptures, sarcophagi, monoliths, tombs, artificial mounds, a vast number of ceramics and numerous works of gold it can be agreed and deduced that here was a pueblo that acquired a high grade of cultural development from the point of view of its evident social structure that produced great sculptors, artisans, farmers and above all the cultivation of a complex religious cult built around the enigma of death.

After visiting the relics and retreating to the town of San Agustin on feels comforted and relieved. There is something reassuring that we still have yet to master and qualify here. The unknown can offer us a certain humility and respect for these forbears. One suspects Rosiverio knows this too, in his quiet and contemplative manner.

A Visit to the Mompox Cock Fights

 Cock fighting, credit- globalanimal.org

Cock fighting, credit- globalanimal.org

A Soul Searching Trip to a Colombian Passion

Drinking, gambling, shouting, spitting and ultimately death. A tale of a trip deep into the strange fraternity of cock fighters in the Colombian interior. It was bloodthirsty and for all the wrong reasons, exciting.Mono was down, breathing his last and we were some $10,000 Colombian pesos out of pocket. But, in the last 8 minutes or so of frantic wing-flapping and scratching Mono had given what was presumed to be a good account of himself and provided ample entertainment for those in attendance. The emotions that preceded this sombre event when man’s bloodlust triumphs over simple animal welfare and good taste, kept the blood racing through our veins.

Tio Julio is the master. By bringing us along with him to the cockfight arena (more of a shack) away from the well-kept and altogether more sanitary area of Mompox, he had invited us in to view another world as his esteemed guests.

We arrived early so that Tio Julio – by day a jobbing lawyer, father of two and serious candidate for Mayor -could fraternise and speak fighting cock talk with his cronies. Of course, all entry fees were waived, Tio Julio holds some sway here, to the point that when his niece Alba, visiting from Bogota for Semana Santa, was approached by a less than savoury cock fighting type, she just merely had to make mention of her familial ties and he was off.

A few ice cold Aguila beers sunk, the chat picked up momentum as more and more people came along with their fighters clasped lovely to their breast. This could make or break them tonight, as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, No One Writes to the Colonel.

There were those who clearly trained dozens and were accustomed to losing a creature and it was all factored into their enjoyment, the spectacle and their overall budget. But also there were those who appeared to have walked in barefoot from the surrounding swamp land to pitch their all in an attempt to feed their families and make some riches.

Tio Julio excused himself before the second bout to prepare his colleague’s challenger. Together they filed the claws, melted the wax and bound a lethal spur to the reverse of the chicken’s leg. Made from tortoise shell, this spur is designed to do exactly as one would expect, to kill.

Given the constant heat here in Mompox, averaging 31 degrees daily and not a great deal cooler than that at night, these animals have had the feathers on their back, undersides and lower necks trimmed down. Before the final preparations are made and their weapons are attached they are weighed before a gaggle of interested parties and measured up in weight categories, a bit like in boxing. This perhaps gives new meaning to featherweight. It is hard to imagine if the creature truly knows what is going on.

Spurs attached to the fighters, everyone makes their way over to the arena and onto the bleachers that run in a circle around the venue. All the while cash is visibly changing hands as the bets are placed. Owners and gamblers are placed in the front row ringside. Then, once the stopwatch has been set, the cocks are dropped in by their owners and the spectacle steps to another level.

Both animals periodically launch themselves, claws first at one another. In a flurry of wing activity and almost in flight they fling their legs forward aiming to spike the other with their fastened armament. It is hard to follow but the crowd is baying for blood.

Consisting of mainly middle aged men, a few women and some teenagers they cheer along, whooping and trying to coax and provoke their chosen cock to victory. The time flies by, the umpire steps in on occasion to separate the fighters. Then one is down and the other has its wing in place holding him under, pecking and maneuvering for the killer blow.

Just like that is all over. The victorious cock is cheered raucously by those who remain in the black and mourned briefly by those who lose. The losing party, breathing its dying and futile breaths is swept up and taken away by its owner while the winner struts in the ring before being swabbed down with antiseptic wash to speed up any recovery needed for the following week.

We had lost and Tio Julio had lost. Rather than dwell on this he grinned, after all, there was a long night and many fights ahead.

Visiting Barrancabermeja, Colombia

 Cienaga San Silvestre - Richard McColl

Cienaga San Silvestre 

 Home to Colombia’s Biggest Oil Refinery and Birthplace of the ELN

Home to Colombia’s biggest refinery, and largely shunned by tourists, Barrancabermeja may be the perfect place to mix it up with some Colombians.

Located along the banks of the mighty River Magdalena, the sweltering city of Barrancabermeja may sit pretty in the province of Santander but in climate, style and thought it is distinctly part of an area known by Colombians as the Magdalena Medio, quite literally, the middle part of the course of the Magdalena River.


While there are artifacts that suggest the existence of indigenous communities such as the Yariguies in the area around Barrancabermeja, the settlement as we know it was late to flourish. Founder of the Colombian capital of Bogota, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada passed through the region in the 16th Century and commented that the area had an abundance of ruddy-coloured ravines – thus Barrancabermeja was named.

Oil Oil Oil!

In the early 20th Century, the Tropical Oil Company (Standard Oil) moved in and started to exploit the area’s substantial resources, this of course brought with it demographic growth and relative wealth and prosperity. The state-owned and run company Ecopetrol took over the refinery in the 1950s and to this day Barrancabermeja with its towering smoke stacks is the main base for all of Colombia’s gasoline and petroleum products.

The Colombian Conflict

Barrancabermeja has long been a focal point for Unions and leftist organizations and has the unfortunate history of being the birthplace of the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla group who remained powerful in the city until the 1990s. At this point the larger and more powerful guerrilla outfit, the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) moved into the region ousting the ELN influence. The violence did not stop there as in the late 1990s the rightwing paramilitaries, the AUC (the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia) massacred opposition and have a lasting presence here.

Culture and Sites of Interest

While the refinery and oil exploitation is the backbone of this city’s society, even a trip out to bathe in the cooling waters of the Cienaga San Silvestre takes you past some nodding donkeys relentlessly pumping oil from the depths. Here in San Silvestre or El Llanito one can swim safely from the shore, enjoy water-sports and have a BBQ right there at the water’s edge, just 25 minutes out of town. For another great fish experience, head to the Avenida del Rio in town, head to where the kiosks are, pick any one from 30 in which to feast on some freshly caught Bagre or Bocachico – a local specialty.

At first glance Barrancabermeja may seem a cultural wasteland if you take advice from the city government’s recommendation and visit the Museum de Petroleo (Petroleum Museum). This city has more than that and one can find it in the people. With the influx from Colombians from all over the country eager to participate in the oil wealth, there is no one style of music preferred as you can listen to Salsa, Vallenato, Reggaeton and Papayera, and there is no one accent for here you can tune in to voices from the Pacific, the interior and the Caribbean.

Barrancabermeja may just be the ideal place to kick back with some regular Colombians.

Avoid – the midday heat, routinely in the upper 30s.

Do – Eat Bagre on the Avenida del Rio.

Do – Hit the Zona Rosa on a Friday and Saturday night.

Do – Ride the train from Barrancabermeja to La Grecia if you can.

Stay – If you have budgetary concerns then head to the Hotel San Cristobal downtown. Cheap, cheerful and clean.

Buenaventura, Colombia

Colombia’s Most Important Pacific Port

    Buenaventura, Credit- Wikipedia

Buenaventura, Credit- Wikipedia

Unlovely and dangerous, Buenaventura is an essential port on the Colombian pacific coast and the gateway for tourist destinations. Buenaventura is a city that invokes only the most negative of reactions when talking to Colombians.

As Colombia’s most important port on the Pacific its status brings with it all of the ills one would associate with a port town, drugs, prostitution, gangs, civil disorder and most worryingly turf wars between the right-wing Paramilitaries and the leftist Guerrillas for control of the lucrative drugs trade in the town. The murder rate here is startlingly high and wikipedia quotes it as being at 24 times that of New York City.

Stay Safe – Precautions

Obviously if you are visiting Buenaventura you have reasonable cause to be here. Heed any advice and warnings offered by locals and use your common sense. From the description above the city might conjure up images of a war zone, but if you stay to the areas around Calle1 and the Muelle Turistico you should not encounter any

Calle 1

For the most part, if you have to stay any length of time in Buenaventura then you should head to Calle 1 where there are a number of decent and safe hotels and restaurants in front of the park at reasonable prices. If you have no upwards price limit then the Hotel Estelar Estacion representing all the opulence of another era when Buenaventura rode high from ships passing through during the California gold rush is the place for you. The creation of the Panama Canal hit Buenaventura hard as you would imagine.

All of the following are located on Calle 1.

Recommended Hotels – Hotel Capilla del Sol, Hotel Titanic, Gran Hotel and Hotel Los Delfines.

Recommended Restaurants – Lenos y Mariscos and La Casa.

Around Buenaventura

One reason for passing through Buenaventura is to get to the resort areas of Juanchaco and Ladrilleros. These towns found to the north of the city are pleasant places to visit catering to package tourists and those interested in watching the annual marvel of migrating humpback whales in the months of July to late September through the waters of Bahia Malaga.

Other Attractions

From the Muelle Turistico – the central heartbeat of Buenaventura’s tourist scene – you can, aside from catching boats to Juanchaco and Ladrilleros, negotiate rides to the surrounding beaches of Bocana, Pianguita and La Cangreja.

To and From Buenventura

If you are not considering riding a cargo ship north or south from Buenaventura then your options are catching one of the prevalent vans from the Terminal de Transportes that go to Cali (3-4 hours) or flying with Satena to Bogota and beyond.

Adventures in San Gil, Colombia

Adventure travel

Adventure travel

Colonial Wealth and Adrenalin Sports in Santander

Where in South America beyond Cusco, Peru can one combine sightseeing colonial masterpieces and white-water rafting? Look no further than San Gil.

Should you find yourself in Colombia and in need of an adrenalin rush, San Gil is just the place for you. For here, set in the Guanenta province of Santander, is Colombia’s adrenalin and adventure sports capital.

Long recognised on the backpacker circuit as an ideal place to kick back and relax and take a welcome break in the journey between the chilly altiplano of Bogota and the sweltering Caribbean cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta, San Gil and its surrounding towns are blossoming into must visit destinations.

Adventure Sports

Here in the lush and verdant environs of San Gil, there is something for every taste and even better, prices are presently very accommodating. There are a plethora of companies offering excursions so be sure shop around. One can experience the thrill of white-water rafting on one of three rivers, the Fonce (Grade2-3), the Suarez (Grade 4+) and the Chicamocha (Grade 4).

To fill other days, there are activities such as rappelling, hydroplaning, caving, bungee jumping, canoeing, parascending, hiking and horse riding.

Less strenuous activities

A short stroll down to the river’s edge brings to you the Parque El Gallineral, an enchanting introduction to the flora of Santander. With towering Ceiba trees straddling the river Fonce and dripping with Spanish moss the scene is quite breathtaking. A stroll around the well-tended gardens might be just the anecdote to the exertions of other days.

Colonial tranquility

San Gil is ringed by seemingly forgotten Colonial towns nestling on hillsides and unconcerned about the pace of life elsewhere. Barichara and Guane are just two examples of well preserved and enchanting places to visit. Located 40 minutes from San Gil by bus, Barichara should, by all accounts be rivaling San Gil in the tourism industry. After a short time there one understands that the people of Barichara would sooner remain a calm retreat for artists and writers.

If you find Barichara to be too laid back for your liking, then Guane is positively horizontal. The main square boasts a quaint church and a museum dedicated to archaeological finds in the area and remnants of the Guane civilization that preceded the Spanish invasion.

Local delicacies

Pepitoria – A type of chicken stew cooked on a base of almonds, saffron and egg yolk

Carne Oreada – For Brazil travelers, this is literally the same as Carne do Sol, for those unfamiliar with Brazil, then this dish is no more than sun dried cuts of beef.

But the real piece de resistance is the Hormigas Culonas Tostadas. Pretty simply these are toasted fat bottomed ants. Yes, ants. And they are crispy, crunchy and very tasty.

Getting to and from San Gil


Bogota to/from San Gil – buses every hour, 6-8 hours

Bucaramanga to/from San Gil – every 30 minutes, 2 hours

San Gil to/from Baranquilla – frequent buses, 11-12 hours


All major airlines have several daily flights to Bucaramanga from Bogota. From there it’s the bus!

Bogota’s Zona Gourmet – A Foodie’s Paradise

 A Foodie’s Paradise

A Foodie’s Paradise

Close to the multinational firms, international hotels and located in an attractive section of Bogota, the Zona Gourmet is foodie heaven at a price. Colombian food has its strengths and weaknesses, a fine ajiaco soup that perfectly blends several types of potato, corn and chicken with the secret ingredient of guasca is unrivalled on a cold day on the plateau of Bogota. And for those fish lovers, a trip to the Embajada del Pacifico near to Las Aguas reveals a world within a world of fish restaurants run by natives of the Choco region.

But, there is one section in Bogota where you will find a fine selection of international and Colombian run restaurants that provide world class cuisine, the Zona G.

The Zona G: Rosales and Quinta Camacho

Rosales and Quinta Camacho is a well-healed section of Bogota and the rent here is amongst the most expensive per square meter in South America, some of the restaurants reflect this of course, but you do get a bang for your buck or peso in several of the longer standing and established restaurants here.

The Zona G differs from the Zona T further uptown and the Zona C in the colonial Candelaria (Bogota’s hipsters have repackaged and renamed several areas!) in that restaurants here survive only if they are delivering on their promise and so there are several stalwarts that always draw a faithful crowd.

With architecture that would not look out of place in England the four of five square blocks that make up the Zona G are positively littered with dining options from the ubiquitous Argentine steakhouse to Oriental, fusion and seafood.

Recommended Dining Options in Bogota’s Zona G

For seafood lovers you’ll do no better than either feasting on Peruvian cuisine and the internationally lauded Astrid y Gaston (Cra 7 No. 67-64) or the dark and atmospheric 69 Oyster Bar (Calle 69A No. 5-59). Just along the same street from the 69 Oyster Bar you are spoilt for choice if you fancy a spectacular cut of beef in the aptly named La Biferia (Calle 69A No.5-61). This elegantly designed building with high ceilings, long windows and blood red walls delivers.

On the other side you can try out the Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s favorite haunt in Bogota, the Criterion (Calle 69A No. 5-75). The cuisine is listed here in the Criterion as francesa moderna and President Calderon is rumored to order dozens of platters to go to take with him on the presidential jet.

For Colombian food there are two excellent options in Harry’s Bar (Calle 70 No. 5-57) and Local (Calle 69A No. 9-09) and so if you are in town in business just for a few days you can head down to this safe area of town and try some of the local specialties such as posta cartagenera or a calentado.

Cafes in the Zona G

Just along the Calle 70 at No. 5-23 is Authors bookstore, attached to which is a charming Diletto café. Here you can pick up the latest edition of the local English newspaper, The City Paper or the most recent Economist and settle back in the café with a strong coffee to recharge your batteries before deciding upon where to dine.

The Guajira Peninsula, Colombia

Sunset at Cabo de la Vela Credit: Richard McColl

Sunset at Cabo de la Vela Credit: Richard McColl

Where Ethno-tourism and Eco-tourism bloom together in Colombia’s Northern Desert. Essential advice for the adventurous traveller.

As Colombia shakes its negative rap, more intrepid travellers are finding their way to this formerly out of bounds country and rather than sticking to the ubiquitous destinations of Bogota and Cartagena are pushing further afar to regions such as the awe inspiring desert region of the Guajira.

Where is the Guajira Peninsula?

Located up in the country’s far north-eastern corner bordering Venezuela on one side and the Caribbean Ocean this semi autonomous Colombian department is the northernmost tip of South America and home to spectacular beaches, irresistible sunsets and inhabited by a proud indigenous people called the Wayuu.

The History of the Guajira Peninsula

Populated and inhabited by the Wayuu people this region was first spotted by the Spanish when the Conquistador Alonso de Ojeda (the first European to create a settlement in Colombia in Uraba) sailed around its coast in 1498, although he never ever set foot on this semi arid land. What is now the town of Cabo de la Vela was founded by Martín Fernández de Enciso in 1526 and what ensued was a bitter rivalry between the colonial seats of power in Santa Marta and Venezuela for control of the lucrative trade in pearls. Harried by pirates and the Wayuu people the Spanish headquarters was moved to the actual departmental capital of Riohacha in 1544. In 1898 the department of La Guajira was created and it is worth noting that the Wayuu people were never cowed into submission by the Spanish and remain proud of their culture of resistance.

Tourism in La Guajira

With Colombia almost firmly on the tourist circuit, many people are looking for further adventures that offer more in the way of scenery and culture and this is where the Guajira really delivers. This region of legends, indigenous people, history and nature has a great deal to offer and what keep it protected is the relative difficulty in access and communication here. Previously this type of travel was limited to outgoing backpackers with no time restraints and plenty of patience, now, with better guides, cars and information it is still an adventure but a far more accessible one.

How to Get to La Guajira

Quite simply getting to the departmental capital of Riohacha is relatively straightforward as you can fly here with Avianca or bus in from several locations, in particular Cartagena and Santa Marta if coming from the coast or from Valledupar if you are making the trip from the interior. If you are short of time you are suggested booking a trip through a reputable agency such as the Franco Colombian Aventure Colombia who can organise multi day tours of varying standards for groups of any size. If you choose to go it alone, this will, as aforementioned, take time and patience. It could also work out being more expensive since you have to negotiate every possible transport and price whereas in an organised trip everything is covered, even side trips.

Sights in La Guajira

There may be no beach more beautiful than Cabo de la Vela in all of Colombia and the setting is perfect as you settle back after several hours of jolts and bumps over unpaved rocky desert terrain and enjoy a refreshing beer in this Rancheria (as the small Wayuu settlements are called) and watch as the fiery red sun sets into the blood red ocean. Accommodation is basic but clean and comfortable but it is the abundance of fresh seafood that will set your pulses racing. Your meals will routinely consist of ample platters of lobsters or snapper. In the area of the city of Uribia, the indigenous capital, you will find the town of Manaure, famous for salt and providing a photographer’s fantasy with the contrast of desert colours, the ocean and the mountain of salt at the waterfront. Heading north from Cabo de la Vela several hours brings you to Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point in South America. From this distant outpost you can launch off for side trips to the beaches of Playa Honda, view flamingos and head to the dunes at Punta Taroa. Further on is the spectacular natural reservation and home to a grand variety of flora and fauna the Serrania de Macuira, surely a must for bird watchers.

Recommendations for Travel in the Guajira

A trip to the Guajira and into the upper Guajira where Punta Gallinas and the Serrania de Macuira is located is no picnic. You need to plan and rely on the wits of your guide and the weather gods. This is hostile terrain and you must bring extra water, flashlights, your personal medicines, sun block, sun hats and anything else essential. There are routinely cars breaking down and if you do not go with an accredited guide how can you be sure of your safety and his knowledge of these parts, in particular as for most people here Spanish is a second language, wayuunaiki, the language of the Wayuu being the first. And lastly, bring ample cash as there are no cashpoints outside of Uribia and Riohacha as you are going to want to buy some of the fashionable and beautiful Wayuu mochila bags!