Colombia’s Coffee region & Carribean coast: Exploring cities, coffee & ocean with family

Damn, again visitors! The never-ending problem of being recognized at the airport all over again. This time we used my sister’s favorite character: A dog balloon (disguised as a Minion because they ran out of dog balloons). Hopefully they’ll find us in the big crowds at the airport!?

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Luckily for them they did, because if not they alone had to eat the 6,5KG of chocolate, M&Ms, Crac-a-nuts, 2 jars of Nutella and the bottle of champagne they brought us!
Mmmm … We love visits :-) .

We checked in in a nice hotel in Bogota and went straight out for dinner since they arrived late in the afternoon and the jetlag would soon kick in. In Bogota we’ve spent only half a day with them strolling around the old city center. We had a big loop ahead of us and didn’t want to waste too much time in “La Nevera”.

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Did you know?

People from outside Bogota, call this city “La nevera” (the freezer), because of the cold temperature. Note for Belgian people: this still feels like a good spring day in Belgium.
People from Medellin call themselves proud “Paisas” living in the eponymous region and Cartagena is also sometimes described as “La Heroica”, referring to the heroic actions of the inhabitants during one of the many Colonial invasions.

 

The places we were planning to visit with my sister, Jane and my mom, Anneke:

  • Coffee region, Valle de Cocora & PN Los Nevados
  • Medellin and Guatape
  • Cartagena
  • Palomino
  • Parque Nacional Tayrona
Colombia

As you can see we had a lot to cover in 2,5 weeks. Let’s get started!

 

Coffee region – Zona cafetera

Despite not being coffee-drinkers (except for Anneke) we went to Colombia’s most famous coffee region and engaged in a full-blown coffee & tasting tour. At a beautiful finca (with swimming pool!) we first had an in-depth exploration of the process of growing, harvesting and making coffee-(beans) and secondly we could taste the difference between several types of coffee. We saw, we came, but we didn’t conquer the coffee taste. They say Colombian coffee is less bitter but that was not something we could confirm. Conclusion: It was nice to experience the whole coffee making process, but we’ll keep on passing the cup to someone else :-) .

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Valle de Cocora

A valley close to Salento – a typical small colonial town with the most colorful houses – where one can find views which makes the Windows screensavers jealous: lush green hills with the highest palm trees in the world! They grow over 60m in altitude and were a welcoming view after the 3-hour loop hike we did in the area. Needless to say Céline couldn’t stop taking pictures. New for me was to see that my sister also takes pictures of everything… now we have 2 of those on the trip… Joy!

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Parque Nacional Los Nevados

Before we headed to Medellin we visited PN Los Nevados. It was a very rainy day, but when we arrived high in the mountains we had some clear moments through the clouds. Unfortunately, no view on the active volcano which is now harassing the area with its ashes.
Anyway, we went for a drive on an off-road track next to steep cliffs and passing some small waterfalls. After an hour or so we stopped at a “tienda” – aka a woman’s house that has some drinks and snacks to sell. In the middle of nowhere, but apparently the reason for its existence is that the local farmers bring the milk to that place, where it is picked up by a truck to bring to the town. We parked the car and started a 2-hour hike to a natural hot spring deep down in the valley. After a wrong turn adding an extra hour to the walk we arrived at the river. It turned out it was a full hot river instead of some small boiling holes we have seen in other places. The whole river was just boiling hot, everywhere.
After a sweat back to the top, the clouds have passed and we had an amazing view on the smoking volcano. The best reward we could wish for!

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Medellin

In short: WE LOVED THIS CITY. Arriving late/after dark at the eating & drinking area El Poblado, we immediately felt at home: Very trendy, hipster bars with a lively atmosphere! Buenas Noches Medellin :-) .
For the first time during our trip we participated in a “free walking tour”. These are free – tip-based – tours given by city-enthusiasts. A 4-hour walk in Downtown and although we are not too big fan of “tours”, we must admit it was a very nice way to hear more about the past & current situation of the city! We learned a lot and saw a great deal of the town we would have missed on our own.

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On the second day we were there it was the “Plebiscito por la paz”: The people of Colombia had to vote whether they accepted the peace agreement of the government with the FARC.
The curious thing of a voting day in Colombia is the “Ley zanahoria” (Carrot-law), also called “Ley seca”. This means no alcohol can be served as from 6PM the day before the voting day until 6AM after the voting day. The plebiscito was on a Sunday, so it was impossible to get any drinks on Saturday evening! Nowhere! The lively bar & resto area of the day before turned into a desolate, boring place. The power of alcohol…

Did you know?

The outcome of the vote was ‘NO’. We asked many people before what they would do and they ALL said “I’m gonna vote NO”, but they didn’t have good faith in the outcome regardless the amount of NO-voters (including themselves). They believed the government would ‘make’ the Yes-camp win in order not to lose face on the international scene.
The outcome was NO, but this doesn’t mean the Colombian people don’t want peace! They do want peace but not at the negotiated terms as they were now on the table: Small punishment for FARC members who committed harsh crimes; FARC accepted as political party and receiving 3% of the seats in the government. Those two were the most mentioned reasons we heard why people would vote NO. The former because they think it is unjust, the latter because they fear that once they are accepted into the political system, they will grow “by buying votes in the poorer areas – and they have the money to do it” and even “We don’t want to have a second Venezuala or Cuba here”. Interesting times …

 

Guatapé

Guatapé is a famous getaway for the “Paisa”-people from Medellin as it’s only a 1,5h drive. It’s a flooded area between the hills and its most famous attraction is a giant monolith named El Penol: 740 steps which we gladly did for the short enjoyment at the top: the view.
Later we explored the area and found very nice rivers to relax and swim a little.

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Cartagena

Boy, where to start with this one. Cartagena is Cartagena! Everything you imagined a colonial town should look like, you’ll find it here. Also, everything you don’t want tourism to be like, you’ll find it again here. It’s a very nice colonial village with lots of bars, restaurants, shops, … but also lots of people selling hats, necklaces, sunglasses, bags, fruits, … Everything and always on. As much as we liked they city, we didn’t enjoy the pushy sales that much. Note: This was mainly the case in “El Centro”. As soon as you went into the other areas “San Diego” or “Getsemani” it was very chill with also the colorful houses you came for :-) . The people from the cruises don’t go this far I think.

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Did you know?

Las Palenqueras: The Afro-Colombian ladies dressed up in beautiful colored dressed balancing a fruit basket on their head. Don’t bother to buy fresh fruits from them. All they want is a nice picture with you… followed by some dollar-billed tip.
Why do I say dollar? This ‘profession’ was ‘created’ back in the time they actually sold fruits, but tourist were only interested to have a picture with them. These tourists back then, are the ones who are currently offloaded by the thousands from the almost daily cruise ships that arrive there. As they only have dollars to spend (don’t change to local currency for their short stops) and only one day in each place/country the notion of what is ‘cheap’ or what is ‘expensive’ is totally absent, creating a very pushy salesforce in the streets.
Needless to say: we don’t have a picture of a Palenquera :-) .

 

Palomino

Although Cartagena is already at the Caribbean we didn’t had the typical Caribbean image yet: A white sand beach with palm trees and a green-blue sea. We did feel the heat already since the temperature hasn’t dropped below 30° C since we arrived in Cartagena, but this ‘real’ Caribbean image we found in Palomino!

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We checked in a nice on-the-beach hotel with a swimming pool (a treat from Anneke, because it was way above our budget of course 😉 )! Having crossed the whole country in a couple of days, this was a welcoming time to relax.

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Anneke almost died while tubing a river, so catching her breath again after this near death experience (see video of the swirling death trap we call river) was needed. Honestly, I didn’t know my mom could be so afraid of a river where the water was only waist-deep… but hey, that’s what these trips are for: to get to know your family even better.

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Parque Nacional Tayrona

“The most beautiful place in Colombia”, “Everybody goes there, you definitely should go”, “Where the jungle meets the ocean. Nice!”,… All things we heard up front, so we had to check it out.
Conclusion: It was nice to be there, but it’s not the only nice place in Colombia :-) . The beaches are nice, but not all of them are swimmable due to the currents and in some places it can get crowded especially in the weekend.

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But (1)! We saw a crocodile or cayman (still not sure what it was – even after comparing pictures on the internet. We think it was a crocodile but later we saw a sign to watch out for caymans). Anyway, it was leaving a small creek that we just passed ourselves! Anneke was even considering to walk into it because it was freakishly hot that day. I wonder how that would have worked out … would it be as bad as her tubing-experience?

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But (2)! We saw monkeys, among which also the endangered “Titi Cabeciblanco”, a small Einstein-like monkey. Seeing them eat and play really made our day.

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2,5 weeks passed and we did A LOT! Jane & Anneke saw the main places most people visit during their Colombia holidays. All they had to give in return was the 6,5kg of snacks. Thanks again missies!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

 

A last thing we’ve learned was that those two cannot be around a dog and think “if only we had something to give you…”. So they bought dog snacks and every time we saw a stray dog it was “Dag vriiiiiiieeeeend (Dixit Jane)!!!” and they would pop out the dog candies… you gotta love them dogs … in a country where they are everywhere.
We are still giving cookies to every dog we meet. The dogs say thanks!

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Want to see more of the good times we had together with our family in Colombia? Check out the video below.

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