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Colombia geographically “crowns” the South American continent. Sitting above Ecuador and along side Venezuela, the country lays claim to magical coast lines on both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans. With the Andes dissecting the country, Colombia is rich in lush green jungles and a temperature that amazes. It’s the perfect place for coffee production, another modern day claim to fame.
Historically, Colombia was part of Gran Colombia, a combination of modern day Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru and was centre of the campaign led by Simon Bolivar – the George Washington of South America – to win independence from Spain.
At the colonial centre of Colombia’s rise, is the “Jewel in the Crown,” Cartagena. The secondary gateway (after the Panama isthmus) for gold and silver leaving the new world, and supplies coming in, Cartagena is a city lost in time.
Built as a fort city to protect it from marauding pirates, Cartagena is a magical reminder of a rich colonial past narrow streets dotted by stunning Spanish colonial buildings, with a wide choice of restaurants, night spots and white sandy Caribbean beaches, Cartagena is a must for any visit to Colombia.
Bronwyn Hodge, Goway’s Islands General Manager, visited Colombia on a one week escape last December. Here she shares her experience, selling tips and reasons why you should offer Colombia to your clients.
Where did you go in Colombia?
My husband and I flew to Cartagena from Toronto direct with Air Transat, which just 5 hours and 20 minutes. This was their inaugural flight for this route and it seems there are a lot more airlines adding Colombia to their routing. We stayed five nights in Cartagena (split between the old town and Bocagrande, the beach area, with a two night extension to Tayrona National Park.
Why did you choose Colombia (Cartagena) for your vacation?
Colombia has been on my radar for a while now, it’s very much an ‘up and coming’ destination, but it is not lacking in tourism infrastructure or quality products. We were seeking a quick one week getaway somewhere warm, but did not want a week at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. We wanted to experience a new culture, enjoy good food and wine and outdoor activities. Colombia fit the bill perfectly.
What were some of the highlights?
I loved Cartagena! The old town has is filled with Spanish Colonial architecture, including the impressive Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fortress, and the entire old town is protected by massive fortified walls. You can walk through charming cobblestone streets, packed with restaurants, bars, street vendors, shops and beautiful churches. We met a great mix of locals and travellers from all over North and South America.
For those who love their food, wine and coffee, Cartagena is perfect. There’s a wonderful spot called Café del Mar and it has the most amazing views looking over the walled city to the ocean. I highly recommend tasting the different ceviches, as well as ‘arepas.’ We also loved the bohemian area in Cartagena,Getsemani which has lots of outdoor restaurants, local street performers, and many historic buildings.
We visited a local bar one evening where they were actually teaching salsa dance lessons (which we participated in with great amusement). It felt far from ‘touristy’. There is a popular Colombian drink called Aguardiente, best served very cold, which we tried. I think it translates to ‘burning water.’ It’s pretty strong, so one was enough!
The people were very friendly and hospitable. We were in Cartagena on Christmas Day, and spent the afternoon on the beach in Bocagrande. It was packed with Colombian families who were there enjoying swimming, picnic lunches, and beach games. It was really interesting for us to experience what Christmas is like in another culture.
We did a day trip to Rosario Islands, which are located about two hours by boat from Cartagena. With Cartagena sitting on the Caribbean Sea, the Rosario islands are a small sampling of typical white sandy atolls surrounded by crystalline clear blue waters. We chilled out here, went swimming, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding and had such a relaxing day. The water was a beautiful turquoise colour.
We then travelled to Tayrona National Park, further up the coast, where we took a beautiful and popular hike. This was fun but the only downside was that we were there in peak seasons (December) so it was quite busy. I’d recommend it for travellers but would say give it a miss if they’re there over the Christmas/New Year period.
What are some selling tips for agents for Colombia?
Travel agents should not hesitate about sending their clients to Colombia. I can understand why some travel agents/clients would feel cautious about visiting. In the last 50 years, most of what you heard about Colombia was negative but that is well and truly in the past now.
It’s clear that progress is being made, and the doors are open for tourism especially since the high-profile peace accord. In the end, safety when travelling often comes down to booking through a reputable operator, and travellers using common sense and good judgement.
With the signing of the peace accord with FARC, all barriers of the past have been removed. In fact, Colombia has been safe and secure to travel to for many years now, and those willing to “give it a go” will benefit from experiencing one of the most welcoming, beautiful, and open countries in South America.
If you could go back, where would you go?
I would love to go back and see Medellin (every traveller we met raved about this city)! I’d also love to do the 5-day Trek to the Lost City. I would also go back to Cartagena in a heartbeat (even if just for a long weekend).
Goway can assist with all things Colombia from our 3-day Cartagena stop over Jewel in the Crown – Cartagena to a “long weekend getaway” the coffee triangle 3-day adventure, our 3-day Bogota stopover and the overall 8-day experience of Essential Colombia or the in depth journey of 12 days on the Coast Coffee Culture Colombia.
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