President’s Pick: Crystal Canyons of Colombia

“Being one of the first companies to operate in Colombia has its challenges. It also has its benefits – chiefly, you are able to get the unique, quality experience down to a science, and your journeys are at the cutting edge. This latest adventure is one of my favorites. It exposes you to areas that just a decade ago were thought to be inaccessible. This journey will bring out your inner Indiana Jones. Explore, and get drawn in the way I have been for the last ten years.”

Country Information

Colombia

President's Pick: Crystal Canyons of Colombia President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Colombia


(Interest Type(s))

Romantic Getaways

,

Adventure Travel


(Tour Length)

13 Days


Tour Highlights

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  • PP FINAL web smExplore two of Colombia’s dynamic and historic cities – Bogota with its historic center and reputions for premier graffiti art; and Cartagena with its ancient walled city
  • Take in the impressive Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral, a distinctive feat of engineering, carved over time in the mines that include the fourteen Stations of the Cross, a dome, an enormous cross carved into the rock and finally the three naves of the cathedral that represent the birth, life and death of Christ
  • Investigate in depth a tributary of the Guayabero River called Caño Cristales, and witness why it is called the “river of five colors” or the “liquid rainbow”
  • Delve into the San Agustín Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in archaeological evidence, including enormous stone statues, ancient tracks, field boundaries and artificial platforms as well as funerary monuments
  • Go off the beaten path to San Basilio de Palenque, named for the Palenques, communities of fugitive and escaped slaves from the colonial period of the 17th century; and considered the first free town in America

Day 1: Bogota, Colombia
Welcome to Colombia. You are met on arrival and escorted to your hotel. This afternoon, begin your exploration of this dynamic capital city with the historic center known as La Candelaria, which has  great architectural merit with its stately old homes, Spanish colonial buildings with wrought iron windows, balconies and internal patios with beautiful gardens. The Plaza de Bolivar, with the statue of Simon Bolivar, was used for civil and military purposes as well as serving as a marketplace, a bullring and the site of a gallows. The cathedral, on the eastern side of the plaza, is constructed on the ruins of the first church built in Bogotá in 1539, and houses an important collection of religious artifacts including textiles and artwork from the last four centuries. The Capilla del Sagrario, next to the cathedral, is a gem of religious architecture and also holds valuable pieces of colonial religious art by Gregorio Vasquez de Arce y Ceballos. The plaza is where the Palacio de Justicia and the oldest school in the country are found. The capitol, built between 1847 and 1926, reveals renaissance and neoclassical influences with its carved stonework and tall columns. The central area of the capitol, known as the Salon Eliptico, is home to government buildings. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota

Day 2: Bogota
Today you discover the world of graffiti art in the capital. This unusual focus began when an Australian street artist and a Canadian graffiti writer decided to team up to share Bogota’s unique and prolific urban art scene, and help promote local artists to a wider international audience. This vibrant artwork adorns the streets of Bogota and is, in fact, considered one of the best things to do in the city. Your specialist guide is directly involved with this medium, either as an artist or as one who studies this art form.

Then, you visit Monserrate Mountain by funicular cable car for incredible panoramas of the city on one side and the Andes on the other. Explore the shopping and entertainment districts that feature cafes, fashionable boutiques and jewelry stores as well as supporting an active nightlife. Your day ends in Usaquén, a colonial district, once a separate town. Enjoy the colonial-style atmosphere that is, at the same time, modern. Wander its narrow streets and investigate small boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. Sundays are busier here with a bustling flea market. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota (B) 

Day 3: Bogota – Zipaquirá – Bogota
After breakfast, set out north past fields and greenhouses of carnations and roses. Flower production is an important industry in this region. You reach the impressive Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral, a distinctive feat of engineering. The name Zipaquirá refers to Zipa, the leader of the ancient Muisca tribe and the overlord of these rich salt mines. As one out of four advanced civilizations of the Americas (that included the Aztec, Mayas and Incas), they were overcome by the Spanish Empire in 1537. Over time, the mines have been carved out to include the fourteen Stations of the Cross, a dome, an enormous cross carved into the rock and finally the three naves of the cathedral that represent the birth, life and death of Christ. In the central nave is the main altar, above which is a cross measuring 16 meters/52 feet tall and 10 meters/33 feet wide, made by the Colombian artist Carlos Enrique Rodriguez. The salt mine excursion ends at a mirror of water, where you experience the amazing visual effects of water on carved saline rock. You return to the city where the remainder of the day is free for you to pursue your own interests. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota (B,L) 

Day 4: Bogotá / La Macarena – Caño Cristales – La Macarena
This morning, you enjoy a private transfer from the hotel to Bogota’s Eldorado Airport to board you plane for the approximately one-hour flight to the village of La Macarena. Upon arrival, a local guide and expert on the region will welcome you and transfer you to your hotel. Along the way, the guide will give a brief overview about the importance of the national park, and how to explore this delicate environment while still protecting it.

After your hotel check in, you board a boat for a 20-minute ride on the Guayabero River, where you may spot a variety of indigenous species including turkey, heron and turtle. Then, you set out by jeep that takes you the 10 kilometers/6.2 miles to Caño Cajuche, where you set out on a walk of about 25 minutes (approx. 2 km/1.3 miles). It covers easy terrain with almost no ascent or descent. As you reach Caño Cristales, a tributary of the Guayabero, you may see why it is often called the “river of five colors” or the "liquid rainbow." The water is bright with yellow, green, blue, black and especially red. Caño Cristales has aquatic plants but no fish. The water of the river is extremely clean due to the lack of nutrients and small particles. The bright colors, especially the red-pink colors of river bottom after the rainy season are caused by great quantities of endemic plant species Macarenia clavígera. This plant is found in other local rivers, such as the Caño Siete Machos. These red plants adhere tightly to rocks in places where the river has faster currents. This is a fast river with rapids, waterfalls and curious small circular pits. Called giant's kettles, these pits are formed by pebbles or chunks of harder rocks. Once one of these harder fragments falls into a small cavity, it is rotated by the current and begins to carve at the wall until the small cavity becomes a pit. Explore with your guide all the natural wonders found along this river before returning in late afternoon to the village. Hostal Punto Verde (B,L,D)

Day 5: La Macarena – Caño Cristales – La Macarena
After breakfast, you return to Caño Cristales along an alternate route, exploring different features on the river, enjoying opportunities to swim and discover more striking waterfalls. In each of your visits, you will take in the most representative sites in the area. You will see the quartz waterfalls, the Stone of the Virgin, the Pianos, and the Love waterfall. It is hard not to be impressed by the river’s show, where the water mixes in capricious forms and sculpts the river bottom and banks as it has done over thousands of years. Enjoy a serene picnic lunch in this pristine landscape and look for turtles, snakes and small caimans and, in the treetops, you may spot primate troops. This river is part of a larger biome that is rich in biodiversity with some 420 species of birds, 10 species of amphibians, 43 species of reptiles, and 69 primate species. After a day of exploration, return to the hotel where you will enjoy performance of folkloric music. Hostal Punto Verde (B,L,D)

Day 6: La Macarena – Caño Cristales – La Macarena
Today, you continue your discovery of this unique ecosystem, exploring the right bank of Caño Cristales with incredible viewing spots that include the Buddha armchair, square well, staircase and eagle jump that you reach by trekking along trails of virgin mountainous jungle. You encounter spectacular landscapes of tepuyes – a series of large flat rock formations or mesas, some of the oldest in the mountain range. In this wild area, there are numerous rock paintings that remain largely unexplored. The erosion of the rock that forms the mountain range has for millennia shaped the waterfalls, plateaus, tunnels and natural pools. The combination of water, plants and light create an almost stained glass affect is some places. You have the chance to swim in natural pools and picnic on the river bank. The hike, including stops for lunch and swims, takes between four and six hours each way. The exact length of the hike and the stops may vary depending on the water level at the time. Hostal Punto Verde (B,L,D)

Day 7: La Macarena – Caño Piedra – Bogota
After breakfast, you will be transferred by car a short distance to a local family’s home, where you get in some birdwatching that may include spotting hoatzin, herons, parrots, vultures, sparrow hawks and more. A short walk of some 500 meters/1,640 feet brings you to “caño piedra,” surrounded by Moriche palm trees. The water is crystal clear and you have time for a refreshing dip before you are transferred to the airport to board your flight to Bogota. Upon your arrival, you are transferred to your hotel. Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota (B) 

Day 8: Bogota / Neiva/ San Agustin
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for flight to Neiva. From there, you venture out on a four-hour scenic drive to San Agustin. You glimpse views of the extensive floodplains of the Magdalena River Valley, pass plantations of fruit, maize and, of course, coffee as well as rice paddies, cotton and wheat fields.

Arrive in the afternoon at San Agustin. Later, visit San Agustín Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its enormous stone statues. The area is rich with archaeological evidence, including ancient tracks, field boundaries and artificial platforms as well as funerary monuments. This was a sacred land of pilgrimage and worship. Walk on to the ceremonial fountain, Fuente de Lavapatas, before heading up the hill to the Lavapatas Terrace, where you enjoy remarkable views over the surrounding countryside. Visit the small Museo Arqueológico. Hotel Monasterio del San Agustin (B) 

Day 9: San Agustín – Isnos – San Agustin
Today you set off for the rural town of Isnos to further explore archaeological sites such as the Alto de los Ídolos and the Alto de las Piedras, where well-preserved tombs still show some of the original paint and feature some of the largest stone figures to be found. These hieratic guards, some more than four meters/13 feet high and weighing several tons, are carved in blocks of tuff and volcanic rock. They protected the funeral rooms, the monolithic sarcophagus and the burial sites. Moving between these sights gives you the breathtaking view of the Macizo Colombiano, Colombian Massif, a group of Andean mountains, and the incredible waterfalls of Salto del Mortiño and Salto de Bordones. Hotel Monasterio del San Agustin (B) 

Day 10: San Agustín / Cartagena
After breakfast, transfer to local airport for flight to Cartagena via Bogota. Upon arrival, you are met and transferred to your luxury hotel in a restored 16th-century colonial house. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Hotel Casa San Agustin Cartagena (B)

Day 11: Cartagena
In the morning, start with panoramic views of the city from the Monasterio and Iglesia de La Popa. Constructed in 1606, this church and monastery offers expansive views of the city and the port, one of the busiest in the Caribbean. Discover the fortress of San Felipe, built on San Lázaro Hill to defend the city from pirate attacks. Explore this fascinating fortress with its tunnels, underground galleries and passageways. Then, travel into the old section of the city to visit the Convert and Church of the San Pedro Claver compound, which was built in the mid-1600s. Enjoy the lively handicrafts and artisan area of the Bovedas, a collection of archways built into the city wall that were used to house armaments until the end of the 1700s. In the 19th century, they served as a prison. After lunch, visit the city’s colonial district, starting in Parque Bolivar with its large shade trees and four fountains in the center. Around the plaza is the Museo del Oro, which exhibits a fine collection of archaeological objects dating back to the pre-Hispanic period. The Palacio de la Inquisicion, recognizable for its large Baroque door, is where the Inquisition held its meetings. It was also the site of the prison and torture chambers used for presumed heretics, opponents of the Catholic Church, and many others. Continue to the Santo Domingo Church, the cathedral and the Museum of the City’s Fortifications. Hotel Casa San Agustin Cartagena (B) 

Day 12: Cartagena / Palenque / Cartagena
In the morning, depart for San Basilio de Palenque, a town located 60km/37 mi, about an hour’s drive along the Vía de la Cordialidad on the way to Barranquilla. The town’s name comes from the Palenques, communities of fugitive and escaped slaves from the colonial period of the 17th century. In 2005, the village was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Palenque is also considered the first free town in America. This community has survived in San Basilio with their practices, customs and traditions intact. They retain heavy African influences in their daily routines, including in their Palanquera language, which blends elements of Spanish with the Bantu dialects of Africa. Upon arrival in Palenque, meet a family who teaches visitors about the local customs and way of life here. Palanquera women demonstrate how to carry fruit in a head basket while walking. Palanquera men routinely take care of the children while the women go off to work. Also, take a walk around the community to listen to tales of religious beliefs and customs, and sample traditional sweets. Return to Cartagena. Hotel Casa San Agustin Cartagena (B)

Day 13: Cartagena / Depart
Today you are transferred to the airport for your flight to Bogota and onward connections. (B)

 

Please note: Note: The Caño Cristales season runs from mid-August through the end of November. La Macarena - Caño Cristales are new to tourism and therefore the accommodation in La Macarena - Caño Cristales is very basic, and has no warm water and no air-conditioning. The food is fresh but very simple. At Caño Cristales, specific routes, sites and the order of excursions may change, depending on the season and current weather conditions. The walks are easy, but rocky so bring good shoes. Chemical products like repellent are not allowed in the national park, so bring long-sleeved shirts.

Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$400 per person per day

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