Emily Explores Colombia
When I found out I was going to Colombia with Tango Tours I couldn’t have been happier! South America, in particular Colombia, has been a dream of mine for years and I was finally going! A massive thank you has to go out to Aled and Angeles who run the company and very kindly decided to send me on this awesome trip! Here’s an account of my time away. If you like the sound of any of the tours/experiences noted we can arrange everything for you and your party so just get in touch!
Day 1: London to Medellín
At a leisurely time in the afternoon I left a rainy Aberystwyth and headed to Heathrow for my direct flight to Bogota! South America has been my dream destination for many years so as the plane took off I had a real rush of excitement! The flight was around 10 hours, but lots of dozing and a film or two and it flew by in no time. I arrived into Bogota and found the gate for my connecting flight to Medellín. I ordered my first taste of delicious Colombian coffee using my rusty GCSE Spanish and enjoyed it whilst waiting for my next flight.
After a very short flight I arrived into Medellín and was met by my guide Mauricio, a lovely man who could not wait to get going on showing us his home city of Medellín! Myself and two others from the travel world boarded a minibus and headed to a hotel nearby for a delicious breakfast and to have a look around. I was struck by the lush greenness of the area and the colourful flowers that poked their heads up everywhere! I could see why they call this ‘the city of eternal spring’.
Next we headed to a local handicraft shop. A young man met us at the door and showed us around with such passion and pride in the crafts displayed, and all in flawless English! Each section of the shop housed crafts from a different area of Colombia – from tribes in the Colombian Amazon to coastal communities and everything in between! I am not really a ‘crafts’ kind of person but this was truly fascinating and these beautiful pieces really told a story of Colombia.
After a while admiring the handiwork of the Colombian people, and trying on MANY hats (!) we headed next door to a typical Colombian restaurant. The food was sublime – very typical food and drink which Mauricio told us all about. We had different types of pork on small corn breads, called Arepas, and stew made with local beans – we were stuffed!
We climbed back aboard the bus and zoomed through stunning countryside and mountains. As we turned a corner, we got a glimpse of an incredible view over the city. Everyone was awestruck so the bus stopped at an incredible viewpoint so we could take pictures and soak in the views in the sunshine, this is when I knew I was going to love it here!
After a photoshoot, we headed into the city to Museo Casa de la Memoria. A unique building which was erected as homage to those killed, injured or missing during the countries turbulent history. An informative guide talked us through a brief timeline of Medellín’s violent past and there were a number of moving exhibitions with real stories of the people in their own words. A very moving, hard-hitting place that really enforced how far the city has come over the past 20 years, this is somewhere I would very much recommend visiting. A lot of the exhibitions are in Spanish but the guides who work there will happily translate for you if required.
Some time was spent reflecting here, before we headed into the city to a real highlight of the trip that I was looking forward to when visiting Medellín – Botero Square. Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist, born in Medellín, who creates very unique statues and paintings. These ‘larger than life’ pieces can be seen all over the city and many of his statues stand proud in this famous square. The area was buzzing with life as it was a Sunday and that, we found out, is when people get together with their friends and family and head into the city to enjoy themselves. I would suggest going there on a Sunday for a nice atmosphere with lots of people around, or if peace and quiet is what you would prefer - go in the week!
On the edge of Botero square is a museum full of his, and others, works which we had a chance to look around before heading into the city to the stunning Botanical gardens. This was one of my favourite places out of everywhere I visited and is somewhere I think our customers would love. As you walk through the gardens, each section represents a different area of Colombia with ponds, wild flowers, trees and wildlife, it was spectacular! People were relaxing under trees, having picnics and generally chilling out.
Next up was the aquarium! This was a real whistle-stop tour of Medellín and I would definitely suggest spending some more time here than I did to really make the most of it. The aquarium was one part of a huge science park in the city offering activities and educational games for all ages that looked really good fun and would be great for a family day out!
Another highlight of Medellín came next: the Metrocable. We took this modern Gondola system to the very top, past neighborhoods and streets on the hillside - it was a fabulous view of the city. Transport is something Medellín is known for – there are so many ways to get around from one part of the city to another. This system was designed to reach some of the lesser developed areas of the city, therefore was essential for its development and integration and now is a huge draw for visitors.
En route to this evenings the hotel, we stopped for a night time view over the city which was well worth it! After a delicious dinner and a taste of the local drink Antioqueño, my bed was calling after a long but amazing day that I will never forget!
Day 2: Medellín Gastro tour and Comuna 13
Today was all about food! A gastronomic tour in Medellín – what a great way to explore the city! We headed to a typical Colombian market accompanied by Chef Rodrigo Isaza, a renowned Colombian chef who owns 3 restaurants around Medellín. He showed us around the market, explaining what all the different foods were and how they were used. There were many fruits and vegetables I had never seen before and got to taste, it was really fascinating. There was everything you could ever need at this market – meat, bread, fruit, veg and of course Medellin’s famous export – flowers! We picked up some ingredients and headed to Rodrigo’s restaurant ‘Herbario’. En route to the restaurant we stopped at a coffee shop where we sampled some very local Colombian coffee and were shown all the different ways coffee can be filtered, which effects the taste – extremely interesting stuff! Coffee is such a passion in Colombia and I can see why.
When we arrived at the restaurant, Rodrigo was all prepped and ready to start cooking! He showed us how to make a typical dish called Ceviche which is popular all over Latin America in a number of variations. This was Ceviche Colombia style which included sliced mango, shallots, prawns, avocado and other ingredients combined with lime and a delicious spicy sauce. We watched Rodrigo put these dishes together with incredible precision and professionalism and it was delicious! Little did I know, that was just course one and there were lots more Colombian dishes to try!
We tried food from all over Colombia as Rodrigo explained the gastronomic history and the method of making these masterpieces. As a lover of food and cooking – I was in my element! This culinary experience is something we can arrange for our customers when they are spending time in Medellín. I would wholeheartedly recommend this as, not only is the food excellent, but this is a fantastic way of really getting to the heart of Colombian culture and exploring something that the Colombian people have so much passion for.
After desert and coffee we slowly headed, with full belly’s, onto the bus which took us through the city and up to ‘Comuna 13’. Before coming to Colombia I had read about this urban development project and was intrigued to see it for myself.
We met our guide Bicho – a 26 year old street artist who has been living in the area his whole life. He took us around the neighborhood explaining what the community used to be like and how things have changed over the past 20 years. This was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city and was known for drug trafficking, violence and a forced displacement of thousands of people. Over the years it has changed so much you would not think it today - this area has become a model example of development and innovation in the city and welcomes hundreds of tourists and visitors everyday.
We took a ‘graffiti tour’ and our guide explained the meaning behind the artwork on the walls. It was incredibly moving and emotional – an outlet for expressing what has happened here in the past.
The orange escalator you can see in the picture above, was a vital part of the Comuna's development as it linked communities like never before.
This tour is something we can arrange for our customers too and, in my opinion, cannot be missed if visiting Medellín. The way our guide spoke about the past and how not only the physical buildings and structure of the city, but the mind-set of the people, has had to change was truly incredible. It came with its ups and downs for the people, but overall it is extremely encouraging to see that this scale of progression is possible. The artwork of the area was stunning too, and really told a story. This piece commemorates the white flags raised by residents of the city during an extremely violent time to call an end to the destruction of their homes.
We then went with Bicho to Casa Kolacho – the community centre started by the young people of Comuna 13 where they get together, produce hip hop, and where the base is for the graffiti art, tours and much more. This was an amazing building and really showed the power and drive of the young people of Medellin.
After the tour we headed to a hotel for a look at the facilities for our customers and dinner. This was an inspiring and varied day that made me feel like I understood Medellín a little better.
Day 3: Guatapé to Bogota
Today I was up bright and early to travel to Guatapé. Everybody we had met from the area had asked me ‘have you been to Guatapé yet?’ So I was very much looking forward to this adventure!
Travelling through the stunning countryside with the pleasant sun shining down, we passed many farms and lush green hills – throughout the whole trip the beauty of Colombia never failed to amaze me.
As we approached Guatapé a huge formation came looming overhead. This was El Peñón de Guatapé – a rock that stands alone at almost 7,000 ft and we were headed to the very top! The rock was officially first climbed in July 1954 and years later an accessible staircase of 740 steps was built up the side to allow visitors to easily reach the top and enjoy the spectacular view. The rock overlooks the hydroelectric dam of Peñol-Guatapé, a completely man-made endeavor that flooded the area around the rock. An incredible climb well-worth it for the view – I highly recommend this to our customers!
After enjoying the view and heading back down the stairs we headed into the town of Guatapé itself for a ride in colourful tuk tuks! Something I did not think I would see in South America but a fabulous way to get around this beautiful little town.
The pictures of Guatapé speak for themselves. This ancient, colourful community is a real highlight of the area and well worth the 1.5-2hr drive out of Medellín. So if you are contemplating just staying in the city, I would highly recommend getting out and exploring gems like this! Contact us for more information about the tuk tuk rides – we can arrange everything for you and it is seriously good fun.
After a whizz around the town and some lunch fit for a king. We headed to the airport for a short flight to Bogota. This is where the actual work began!
Days 4 - 6: Bogota
I spent the next few days meeting with Colombian suppliers in Bogotá but I was lucky enough to see some highlights of the city too! Its red roofed buildings and cobbled streets are so picturesque and pretty I was pleasantly surprised how much I loved Bogotá! I had a look around the Botero museum here too which houses more of his amazing works.
On my final day in Bogotá, myself and another lady I had met on the trip, headed up to Monserrate – a mountain in the centre of Bogotá. Atop Monserrate stands an incredible church that has been a destination of pilgrimage for many years. You can walk up to the top – there is a footpath that takes around 2 hours, however we opted for the leisurely cable car option as we were short on time (well, that was our excuse anyway!). The views were breath-taking – an incredible way to end an amazing trip.
After a quick visit to the very pretty, historic square in Bogotá - 'La Candelaria', and a last look over this amazing city from the window of a beautiful restaurant (which you just have to visit!), it was time to get my flight back to London.
There is so much more I need to explore in Bogotá - I would suggest to our customers to spend more time in this amazing city and take a city tour to really get to the heart of the capital! That is my plan for when I return and there is so much more of Colombia in general I have not seen, so I cannot wait to go back. Thank you Tango Tours for an amazing experience!
Feeling inspired? Check out our itineraries here and Contact us today for more information on planning your own adventure to Colombia.