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Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City

18 days from £4,456pp

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Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City:
Trip Dossier

With improved security, the (until now) hidden treasures of Colombia are being discovered by a growing number of in-the-know visitors. This enchanting country has stunning natural scenery, including volcanic Andean landscapes, sun-drenched coffee plantations, and near perfect Caribbean beaches.

There's some of the best-preserved colonial architecture in Latin America in the cities of Bogotá and Cartagena, and remarkable pre-Columbian artefacts in the San Agustín Archaeological Park.

This holiday takes you to all of these, plus a few days on one of the Caribbean’s laid-back and quirkiest islands, English-speaking Providencia, which flies the Colombian flag. Finish your unique holiday in cosmopolitan Panama City, exploring the environs of the magnificent engineering achievement which is the Panama Canal.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Bogotá. Transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Walking city tour with Gold Museum.

Day 3

Fly to Neiva and drive to San Agustín National Park.

Day 4

Explore the pre-Columbian archaeological park.

Day 5

Guided excursion to Magdalena Gorge.

Day 6

Fly to Armenia in the coffee region

Day 7

Excursion to coffee farm.

Day 8

Guided visit to Salento, Filandia and Valle de Cocora.

Day 9

By road to Medellín.

Day 10

Guided excursion to Santa Fé de Antioquia.

Day 11

Fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.

Day 12

Walking tour of Cartagena.

Day 13

Fly to San Andrés Island.

Day 14

Fly to Providencia by light aircraft.

Day 15

At leisure in Providencia

Day 16

Fly to Panama City.

Day 17

Panama Canal jungle boat expedition.

Day 18

Transfer to the airport for flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Bogotá. Transfer to hotel.
 
Bogotá is a city of sparkling prosperity, oppressive poverty, and everything in between. Its centre is awash with splendid colonial churches, fascinating museums, futuristic architecture and lively universities. Its population is diverse and engaging and its cultural life vibrant and seductive. 
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Day 2

Walking city tour with Gold Museum.
 

Your walking tour of the historic core; the colonial Candelaria district, sets off from the Plaza de Bolivar, where the Cathedral and Congress buildings are, continues through the steep streets towards the Gold Museum. Visit this well-displayed collection of pre-Columbian artefacts housing more than 34,000 gold pieces. It’s arguably the most impressive museum of its kind in the world. Continue by car to the northern residential areas, including Chico and Chapinero.

In the evening you might take an optional excursion to ascend Monserrate, the steep hill towering over Bogotá.The path up is quiet throughout the week, but on Sundays city dwellers depart en masse to climb or take the funicular railway or cable car to visit this place of pilgrimage. From 3,152m, you’ll have splendid views. You go up by cable-car or funicular railway from the base of the mountain to visit the church, the 14 stations of the Cross, handicraft and souvenir stands, and pause to enjoy the sunset. You have the opportunity to dine in one of the two traditional restaurants. You’ll take the cable car/funicular railway and be delivered back to your hotel.

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Bogotá

Day 3

Fly to Neiva and drive to San Agustín National Park.
 

Fly to Neiva, from where you’ll be driven southwards to San Agustín. The journey takes about five hours, passing through the fertile green landscapes and small agricultural towns of the undulating river Magdalena valley.

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Day 4

Explore the pre-Columbian archaeological park.
 
The archaeological park of San Agustín is an extensive UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic statues in South America. Gods and mythical animals are represented in styles from abstract to realist. They were created by a mysterious Andean culture between the 1st and 8th centuries AD.

The site is spread out over a wide area of green, forested hillsides, with impressive views. There are numerous easy (but sometimes hilly) paths within the park, which you explore on foot. The mountainous countryside contains impressive gorges and waterfalls. 

Your guided tour of the park includes the excellent museum. After lunch there is an excursion to other historical sites accessible only on horse-back. 

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San Agustin

Day 5

Guided excursion to Magdalena Gorge.
 
This full day excursion explores the Magdalena Gorge, at its narrowest point only 2m wide. The area embraces several other archaeological sites including some recently discovered tombs at the town of Obando and the hilltop site of Alto de los Idolos, known for its impressive funerary sculptures. Stop at the waterfalls of Salto del Mortiño before returning to San Agustín. 
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Day 6

Fly to Armenia in the coffee region
 
Drive back to Neiva and fly via Bogotá to Armenia. Continue by road to stay on a coffee farm in the heart of the coffee-growing region. Time will be spent at the ranch and there is a guided tour of a nearby farm, where you gain an insight into cultivation in the region

Learn about fruit growing and tropical flower cultivation as well as the intricacies of the coffee-making process, including the picking, de-pulping, washing, drying and roasting of the beans.

The coffee producing area of Colombia has a pleasant, warm climate, and lovely bucolic scenery; with a mountainous and lush landscape of shiny coffee bushes interspersed with enormous bamboo jungles and banana plants.

You spend 3 days in this beautiful, relaxing region, with walking trails, horse-riding opportunities, canopy zip-lines and colourful flora and fauna. And fresh coffee omnipresent throughout.

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zona cafetera Colombia

Day 7

Excursion to coffee farm.
 

Today offers a guided excursion to Finca La Morelia, one of the best coffee producers in the region. Here you will learn about the steps involved in coffee production, from the picking the coffee cherries to the various stages of processing, sorting, grading, roasting and the final brewing of the beans. 

Afterwards, continue to the Quindio butterfly farm, and visit the vast glass butterfly house built in the shape of a butterfly with over 1,500 butterflies, representing 50 different species. Walk around the botanical gardens which include some 600 species of plant including a diverse collection of orchids and palms. There's also a nature trail and insect museum to explore before returning to your accommodation.



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Day 8

Guided visit to Salento, Filandia and Valle de Cocora.
 
Drive to Salento, a charming, traditional and picturesque village set in high in the Andes, its houses adorned with balconies bursting with flowers, and wonderful views of the Cordillera Central emerging from behind elegant colonial buildings.

Hike through the cloud forest to explore Valle de Cocora, a valley full of hundreds of wax palms, the only palm found at this altitude in the Andes and the national tree of Colombia. Follow a well-marked path up the valley and look out over the mountains' lush foothills, and the cultivated patchwork patterns made up of a dozen shades of green.

Continue to Filandia, one of the most quintessential villages of the coffee region.

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Walking in the Cocora Valley, Salento, Colombia

Day 9

By road to Medellín.
 
By road to Medellín. This scenic drive takes a winding road through mountainous landscapes and takes about 6hrs. Overnight in the city.

Medellín is Colombia's second largest metropolis with over 2m inhabitants. It is an outgoing, friendly and lively place with a strong cultural scene and a pulsating nightlife. The city is essentially modern, with its wealth built on the back of the textile, flower and coffee industries. The city hosts a major annual flower festival, the Feria de Las Flores, usually held in early August.

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Medellin Centre

Day 10

Guided excursion to Santa Fé de Antioquia.
 
You’ll be escorted on a guided day’s excursion to the charming colonial town of Santa Fé de Antioquia (1,200m), 80km north of Medellín (90mins). The town of Antioch was founded in 1541. Following repeated incursions by the indigenous population it merged with Villa de Santafé, to become Santa Fé de Antioquia and the capital of the region. The evocative town has cobbled streets, churches, plazas and colonial buildings which display their original architecture.
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Day 11

Fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.
 

plundered from native inhabitants was stored here until the galleons could ship it back to Spain, so it became a tempting target for pirates. In order to protect their booty, the Spanish constructed an elaborate system of ramparts, which encircle the town.

Today the walled centre has changed very little, allowing a glimpse of 16th- and 17th century Spanish architecture and town planning. Enjoy the shade provided by the buildings in these labyrinthine, cobbled streets, and explore the monasteries, palaces, churches, plazas and imposing mansions whose balconies are heavy with flowers.

Beyond this, the city opens up: an eclectic and seductive mix of Caribbean and African influences produces a vibrant street life, with fruit stalls lining the roads and pulsating rhythms emerging from cars and houses.

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Cartagena

Day 12

Walking tour of Cartagena.
 
A guided walking tour will help you soak up the atmosphere of this unique city.  There’s a walk round the colonial sector of town, with its narrow streets and wooden balconied houses. The stroll takes you to the beautiful Romanesque church of San Pedro Claver, the Cathedral, Plaza de Bolívar and Las Bóvedas (dungeons-turned-tourist-boutiques).
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Cartagena

Day 13

Fly to San Andrés Island.
 
There's not much Colombian about San Andrés, which is popular among visitors arriving in droves on charter flights and is crammed with hotels. The beaches however are first class and the sea around the island is dotted with smaller atolls, some not much more than a pile of sand with a coupole of palm trees, which you can visit by boat.

In the year 2000 San Andrés and the surrounding sea was given UNESCO Biological Reserve status aimed at ensuring that the ecosystem, which is rich in biodiversity, is preserved and conserved.

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Day 14

Fly to Providencia by light aircraft.
 

Fly from San Andrés to folksy Providencia in the Caribbean, where the airport is little more than a wooden shed. This sets the tone for the laid-back island, where a string of narrow sandy beaches rings a dominant volcano, reached by a lonely road connecting hamlets and small posadas round the palm-studded shoreline.

Providencia is one of the largest islands in an archipelago of coral atolls and volcanic intrusions 480km off the Colombian coast. It is in fact much closer to Nicaragua, just 180km to the east (the population voted for union with Colombia).

Even so, it’s relatively tiny, just 7km by 3.5km.  Providencia has only modest tourist facilities mainly concentrated in the tiny village of Aguadulce, but this is part of the appeal of the place.

There are simple, homely restaurants and some delightful white-sand beaches. The local people, who speak patois English, are friendly and the atmosphere is distinctly relaxed. 

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providenca

Day 15

At leisure in Providencia
 

At leisure on the island. There are some good walks – you may like to climb to the top of El Pico (610m) for expansive views over the island and the sparkling sea. It takes about an hour - mostly through woodland - and you’ll be accompanied by electric-blue lizards rustling the undergrowth and scampering on the sun-bleached rocks. If you are aficionados of the undersea world, there are excellent snorkelling and scuba-diving opportunities.

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Day 16

Fly to Panama City.
 
Fly back to San Andrés and connect to Panama City. This thriving cosmopolitan metropolis sits at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal.

The city dates back to 1519 when it was a settlement base for transporting Peruvian gold back to Imperial Spain. Its subsequent wealth made it a frequent target for pirate raids. These days, soaring skyscrapers, sparkling banks and smart modern offices overshadow forts, Spanish convents and sumptuous French-style mansions, reminders of its colonial and belle-époque heydays.

You’ll be driven to your hotel alongside the Panama Canal.

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Panama City

Day 17

Panama Canal jungle boat expedition.
 
Today you embark on a partial transit of the jungle-fringed Panama Canal.

The trip starts with a short drive to the Panama Canal Dredging Division in Gamboa, which is located at the north end of the Gaillard Cut where the Chagres river flows into the canal. The crossing provides a unique insight into one of the world's greatest engineering feats which included the creation of the largest man-made lake in the world.

You will board the comfortable passenger ferry to embark on your journey south along the Panama Canal. Depart from Gatún Lake, part of the Gaillard Cut and the narrowest section of the canal.

You will sail through carved rock and shale cliffs forming the backbone of the Continental Divide and fringed by lush jungle foliage. Gliding through what was one of the greatest engineering feats of its time, passing huge container ships that remind today's visitors of the history of the canal and its importance in the era of shipping at the turn of the twentieth century.

Navigating through a number of lock systems, you will reach Miraflores Locks where the boat lowers gently before entering the next section of the canal. Finally, having passed under the Bridge of the Americas, the link between the South and North American land masses, you will disembark at the port of Balboa where you will be met by your driver for the return to your hotel.

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Panama Canal

Day 18

Transfer to the airport for flight home.

Essential information

Transport

7 domestic flights (3 connecting); 2 scenic road journeys  (4 to 6 hrs each)

Accommodation

Here you will stay at small, mid-range, friendly hotels, colonial or modern in style with well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating or air-conditioning. In the coffee country you stay on a traditional coffee farm (finca).

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, most of whom we have worked with for many years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Bogotá: Walking city tour with gold museum.
• San Agustín:  tour of archaeological park.
• San Agustín:  Excursion to Magdalena Gorge.
• Coffee Country: Excursion to Parque del Café.
• Coffee Country: Visits to Salento and Filandia.
• Medellín: Day trip to colonial Antioquia.
• Cartagena:  Guided walking tour.
• Panama City: Canal jungle boat tour. 

Summary of nights

18 days, 17 nights: Bogotá 2; San Agustín 3; Coffee country 3; Medellín 2; Cartagena 2; Providencia 2; Panama City 2.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office 
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides
• All land and air transport in Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• International flights to Latin America. 
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions

Currency

The unit of currency in Colombia is the Colombian peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$45 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns of Colombia, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money. Never change money on the street.

There is an ATM at San Andrés airport.  There are few or no exchange facilities in Providencia, take your spending needs in pesos.

Panama City has ATMs; payment is accepted in $US dollar bills and credit cards.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for most visitors, including families with children. Should you have a disability, please contact us.

Climate

The dry season in Colombia is from December until March and then June to September. Temperatures during this period average around 30°C, although are reasonably consistent throughout the year. Bogotá, and towns in the coffee growing region, because of their altitude, have a spring-like climate and can be chilly at night. Cartagena and the Caribbean islands are hot throughout the year, with the rainy seasons typically in April, May, October and November.

Panama’s ex-Canal Zone and the rainforest have a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (over 30°C) all year round. May-Nov is rainy season and the flowering months are Apr-May. The region lies outside the main hurricane belt.  

Altitude

Several days are spent at high altitude (over 2.500m). You may notice the effect of high altitude; symptoms vary: most common are mild headaches and breathlessness. If you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of being adversely affected.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing and special equipment

Temperatures will be relatively high throughout this holiday. Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes. A couple of warm items and a good waterproof jacket or umbrella are also useful. We suggest that you plan to 'layer' your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper. Sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellant are essential and you should bring swimwear. 

Note that the free luggage allowance on the flights to and from Providencia is low; ( 10kg in Apr 2014); however, each additional kilo is relatively cheap,  so this is unlikely to be a serious concern for most travellers. 
Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. 

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.
This costs $14 per person and must be done by you personally.
Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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