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Preparation for Flights
No issues with checking in on Avianca flights, but I believe that was mainly because they used the same PNR number as my booking. On the outgoing SYD-SCL QF/Latam leg, I was able to check in online and get a boarding pass. However, I wasn’t able to check in properly for the SCL-SYD return leg as my QF PNR wasn’t recognised on the LATAM website, although I was able to get the LATAM PNR via a call to LATAM, I wasn’t able to check-in properly. Fortunately, I was able to sort everything out at the Avianca counter, though I had to show them some proof that I couldn’t check in for the SCL-SYD leg properly online. Still – they checked my bags all the way to SYD and told me I’d have to get my boarding pass in SCL. No worries.
Colombia Migracion (check-mig)
Had a small hiccup when filling in my ‘entry to Colombia’ form prior to departure, but was able to do it a second time with no issues. The line for Colombian customs was so long, it took 90 minutes to get to the counter, but the officer was good – asked me my reason for visiting, and how long I was visiting for – then stamped my passport. Done! The customs line took so long to clear that by the time I reached the baggage carousels, my flight was no longer listed! I had to ask around to find out which carousel my bag would have arrived at and then go looking for it among the bags placed to the side. Fortunately, my bag was waiting for me, so no issues there! No issues with check-mig on departure either, some people didn’t fill it in, but they didn’t appear to have any issues, so maybe check-mig is really for entry only? I couldn’t say.
Airport Transfers & Bogota Hotel
The driver was waiting for me at the airport on arrival, even though it took me a really long time to exit. Drivers were polite and willing to listen to my rubbish Spanish. On departure from Bogota, driver showed up early and dropped me off in plenty of time to catch my flights. Hotel Vilar America is a decent hotel, with few frills. The breakfast buffet was good, and counter service professional. The rooms (including bathrooms) were clean and well laid out – no complaints. Wi-fi service was pretty decent as well.
Awesome. I loved it. Showed a lot of Colombia and all of it good. Our Intrepid tour guide Andrea was great – professional, on top of everything and great fun to travel with. I was on the “Best of Colombia” tour, which was in fact made up of two smaller tours “Cafe Colombia”, followed by “Explore Colombia”. On both legs, we had excellent travellers who were most fun to be around. For the first 8-9 days (“Cafe Colombia), we had 12 people. Most of them from the UK, a couple of Aussies and a couple of Americans. For the second 8-9 days, we had 7 people – some UK people from the first half and the rest of us from various places – Australia, Italy, and the US. The poor American on the “Explore Colombia” trip caught Covid after 3 days. However, once he started feeling sick, he stayed away from the group, so none of us caught it. Or at least, none of us got sick. His holiday was effectively ruined, but he made a decent effort not to ruin it for anyone else.
Bogota Part 1
Started with a walking trip through downtown Bogota. Saw La Candelaria, the Botero Museum, Plaza Bolivar and walked through the Saturday markets to Parque Santander. We had dinner in the party district that night – couldn’t believe how many people were out & about. And the traffic….yikes.
From there to Pereira by plane, followed by a bus to Salento. Loved Salento – it’s the most colourful village I’ve ever seen! From there, we visited the Cocora Valley, which was simply gorgeous. Even if it involved a 3.5km uphill walk and another 3.5km downhill one. After Salento, headed to a Coffee Plantation near Manizales. Got to pick some coffee fruit, drink some good local coffee and see the entire process. And got to taste some truly local rum at the plantation!
After that, headed to Medellin. We took a public bus, and as soon as we hit the outskirts of Medellin, we came to a grinding halt. Apparently, taxi drivers nationwide had gone on strike, so all the roads in Medellin were blocked up. Fortunately, we were right near the first stop on the Medellin metro, so Andrea gathered all of us and our luggage and got us on the Metro. In peak hour, no less! Fortunately, only had to go 5 stops, so that was a mini-adventure! Enjoyed some time in Medellin and then made a day-trip to Guatape the next day. Climbed the big rock – all 700 steps worth! Also had a boat ride on the Guatape Dam. Saw the fancy villas in the region….and the dilapidated ruins of Pablo Escobar’s estate.
Cartagena & the Caribbean Coast
After Medellin, flew to Cartagena, which was hot. Gorgeous, but my word, the heat & humidity together. Still….spent a lot of time wandering the old Walled City and quite enjoyed the various museums. From Cartagena, we went to Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast. Stayed in a lovely little family-run guesthouse. They mentioned that they didn’t have hot water…but it didn’t matter in that place! Had a lot of charm & character. We went for a walk through the park – super, super humid, but a dip in the Caribbean sea made it worthwhile. After Tayrona, we had a long travelling day, flying to Bucaramanga via Bogota and then taking a bus to Barichara, a lovely little village where we had the opportunity to go on a lot of long picturesque hikes.
Bogota Part 2
The long bus ride to back to Bogota was on a was very winding road, so I think it was the only time I felt a little travel sick. Maybe altitude played a small part too. However, that passed soon. Did another tour through Candelaria, this time with a tour guide explaining Colombia’s history right up to the modern day. After that, we had a visit to the Gold Museum. The next day, some of us went up the Funicular to Montserrate which did offer some spectacular views of Bogota. Also got to do a Graffiti tour of Candelaria, and paid a visit to the house of Simon Bolivar which is now a museum.
All in all, a really, really fun holiday. One thing that stuck with me – at different places at different times, we had local guides, but each one of them thanked us profusely for visiting Colombia and said that they hoped they’d shown us a part of the country that people don’t know about, or realise. I really hope Colombia gets more tourist traffic – I think they’ve got a lot of good stuff to offer!