Bogotá was a blend of modern high-rises and a booming nightlife with slums stacked in the mountains surrounding it. Just outside the city, in the town of Zipaquirá, secrets were hidden underground in the mysterious Salt Cathedral. The second city I visited, Pereira, was a relaxing oasis of coffee landscapes, wax palms stretching into the cool fog that settled over a valley chock-full of wildlife. Cartagena was a city carved from colonial times, with history and culture dwelling in every corner.
Discovering the Islands of Cartagena
Just outside the romantic city of Cartagena, where we took horse-drawn carriages to dinner and walked walls riddled with cannons, we found islands scattered about that were a mix of natural and cultural beauty. Fishermen dived for crabs, trailing their boats behind them, and nature slowly reclaimed abandoned houses on protected islands. Salsa played on the shores and children rushed from school to the beach on Isla del Sol, Island of the Sun.
Bustling Bogotá on a Saturday Night
In Bogotá, we had a delicious dinner at André Carne de Res, a fast-paced four-story restaurant where we were greeted with a shower of pink and red hearts thrown by an enthusiastic waitress. On the streets outside, Bogotá residents piled into bars and lined up to dance in clubs in the popular Santa María district.
Exploring Simón Bolívar Plazas
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Each city we visited in Colombia – Bogotá, Pereira, and Cartagena – paid tribute to Simón Bolívar by naming main squares, centered around statues of him and his famous white horse. Bolívar, who liberated much of Latin America from Spain’s control, is revered by many Colombians, and eventually died of tuberculosis – or, as our guide Freddy postulated: “It may have been syphilis – he was very popular with the ladies.”
In the Simón Bolívar Plazas, vendors sold salted corn, obleas, and children’s balloons. A particular highlight was watching a group of teenage boys breakdance in front of Simón Bolívar’s statue in Cartagena, drawing a small crowd of wanderers on a Sunday night, and seeing kids chase after pigeons with boundless energy.
Experiencing Cocora Valley from the Back of a Jeep
To get to the dips and slopes of the chilly Cocora Valley, we hopped into the back of Jeeps for a windy ride through the winding streets of mountains. We stopped for pictures and, once, for a herd of cows plodding across the dirt road. Once in the valley, we ate a typical lunch of patacones, rice, and soup, sipping on warm canelazo, before digging into the rich soil to plant at-risk wax palms.
Read more: Kenza Moller, WildJunket