A Holiday in Colombia February 2014

This week we bring you an interesting article about David’s experience and perception of Colombia during his 15-day holiday in Colombia last February.

David Morgan and his wife travel from the UK for 15 days to Colombia. They visited various places in Colombia including: Bogota, Villa de Leyva, the Coffee Region, Cartagena and Islas del Rosario. During their trip, they had the opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of the country, and see a bit closer the current situation of Colombia. After their trip, David was asked to write an article for a local magazine in his hometown describing their experience in Colombia. David kindly decided to share it with us.

We would like to thank David and his wife for travelling with Uncover Colombia and for sharing his article with us and our readers.

Enjoy it!

The Uncover Colombia team

I would like to reassure all those kind people who thought otherwise, that it is possible to go to Colombia and not get kidnapped by drug barons.  We did however hear a bit about the drug business.  Apparently after Pablo Escobar, who ran the drug cartel in Medellin was killed in 1993, the level of violence decreased.  We were also told that all the action now is in the north of Mexico—definitely do not go there—and that today drug barons in Colombia keep a low profile.  Apparently Escobar had so much money, he ran out of things to spend it on.  The trinkets he left behind included a life-sized statue of John Lennon in gold!

Why, you might ask, did we go to Colombia.  It is after all a far-off country of which we know little, but that was part of the attraction.  Also we knew and very much liked the architecture of ‘old’ Spain and found the thought of seeing 16th to 18th century Spain in a tropical setting intriguing.  Finally we wanted to go to a place unspoilt by tourism—like our trip to Burma last year—where we could see people going about their business as they had always done.  We were not disappointed.

We started in Bogota in the old city, (now called Candelaria), founded by the conquistadors in 1538 and with many buildings built within a hundred years from that date.  Colombia is of course a Catholic country and is full of churches, convents and monasteries, most built to the same style that pertained in Spain at the time.  But here it was different.  There were no crowds, no stalls selling postcards and only occasionally an entrance fee.  Furthermore nearly all the old buildings we saw were in a very good state of repair.  In fact our favourite building was a 1650 monastery and church in the middle of the countryside.  It had been wonderfully restored and in exactly the same setting—i.e. no other buildings in sight—as it was when it was built.

There was much to see in Bogota but the star attraction is the gold museum, completely and brilliantly overhauled in 2008.  This is how our guide book describes it:  ‘enough cannot be said about this museum.  It is simply the most impressive museum of its type in the world, and one no visitor to Colombia should miss.  The museum celebrates the talents and mysteries of the pre-Colombian cultures, there are some 34,000 pieces to gaze at. After Bogota we went north by road, visiting some small towns and also a cathedral crafted out of the old workings of a salt mine.  It sounds odd but must be seen as it has been done with great beauty and style.  Thousands of people visit at weekends and during the church festivals, but we had the place almost to ourselves and our guide.

Our destination was a town called Villa de Leyva, originally founded in 1572 and declared  a national monument in 1954 in time to stop any of the awful 1960s architecture half the world is blighted with.  The settlement was moved in 1584 to its present site because of strong protests by the local people due to its proximity to a sacred site. So here was a town, about the size of Tenby, with totally colonial architecture, which thanks to strict planning controls maintains to this day a uniform appearance with new buildings replicating the design of the old.  The central plaza is a gem, a hundred metres square with a fountain in the middle and with the cathedral, municipal offices, colonial mansions and other examples of 16c Spanish style architecture filling up the four sides.  It looks like your dream town in Andalucia in Spain before it was spoilt by the results of modern tourism.  Here too we visited the Saturday market which has had stalls selling the same fruit and vegetables for 300 years.  It was a privilege to see all this. Next we flew to the coffee region and stayed in a hacienda built in 1889 near Pereira.  This was another privilege—huge rooms, beautiful flowers everywhere, a lovely garden and excellent service—go there!  From here we had a tour to learn about coffee production and another to the rain forest, both of which added to our overall Colombian experience.

Our last visit was to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast which meant short flights from Periera via  Bogota.  There are long distance buses but the roads are not designed for heavy traffic and the journey can be 20 times longer than flying.   The old city, a UNESCO World heritage site, is surrounded by the most extensive and complete fortification on the entire continent.  Again strict planning controls have ensured that this lovely place has retained its original appearance, with much of the traffic kept out.   This was the first time in Colombia where we had come across more than the occasional tourist but Cartagena quite understandably is a regular stopping point for cruise ships, both small and very large.  Our hotel was in an old colonial mansion and very special it was too, as we were reminded when we found tour groups from the cruise ship peering in the great door and taking pictures of the courtyard. Walking about the old city at any time, but especially in the evening, was a joy and delight: music, good humour, brightly painted buildings, shops spilling onto the pavement, smiling visitors in a pony and trap, a picture opportunity at every corner –all together another wonderful Colombian experience.

So what did we think of it all?  Colombia is certainly emerging from a troubled past.  The last few years of political stability and a crack-down on crime, (there was generally a reassuring police presence, particularly in the main tourist areas), have given the economy a real boost.  People look happy and although there will be I expect a degree of corruption amongst the mainly white, (rather than brown), faced politicians, those people I asked believed that the forthcoming presidential elections would be fair.  Though we did not see it, no doubt there will be poverty, particularly amongst the thousands who fled to the cities to get away from the drug related problems in the countryside, but all the indications are that life is getting better for all.   This is just a snapshot of a fascinating holiday with lots of lovely surprises and much to marvel at and enjoy.  We were very well looked after by Uncover Colombia, a local tour company, never felt threatened, did not get ill, stayed in some beautiful hotels and enjoyed a number of wonderful and entertaining Colombian experiences!  What more could one want?

David M.

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