Mix urban sights with golden lakes and coffee plantations (two days-two weeks Bogotá, Zipaquirá, Guatavita Lake, Villa de Leyva, Los Llanos, Coffee Zone)
As the entry point for 90% of all visitors, Colombia’s capital city is well set up for tourists, with good hotels and transport links to the rest of the country – especially by air. Driving out of Bogotá on day-trip excursions allows a pleasant foray into Colombia’s pretty breadbasket region.
In Bogotá itself, highlights include the dazzling array of art at the Botero Museum and the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) – one of the most spectacular collections of pre-Columbian gold in the world. Also visit La Candaleria, the capital’s historic downtown neighbourhood where elegant churches, atmospheric plazas and cobblestone streets rub shoulders with coffee bars, cosy restaurants and urban art.
Driving north guarantees a picturesque escape from the urban sprawl, through the nation’s fertile breadbasket region. Rolling pasture is so resplendent in colour – lush flower fields edged by fruit stalls and vendors selling fresh cheeses and churns of cream – the locals call it el tapiz (the tapestry).
Zipaquirá, a small town 49km north of Bogotá, is famed for its underground Salt Cathedral. Carved by hand, the cathedral has an 18m-high vaulted ceiling with enough space to accommodate 8,400 worshippers. Next is Guatavita Lake, about 75km north of Bogotá, the sacred former site of the indigenous Muisca tribes. El Dorado, one of the New World’s most influential legends, is believed to stem from 16th-century tales of a gilded man on the shores of the lake. Further on sits Puente de Boyacá, the scene of Simón Bolívar’s famous last battle in 1819; a perpetual flame burns on the bridge in tribute to the liberator.
Continue through fields of coffee, tobacco, cereal crops and fruit trees to the whitewashed colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Once renowned for its olive crops, the town (at 2,140m) is also notable for its numerous fossils from the Mesozoic and Cretaceous periods – you’ll see them embedded in patios and doorsteps.
Another popular excursion from Bogotá is a three-day trip west to Colombia’s ‘Coffee Zone’ – a stretch of coffee-growing countryside set around a trio of cities in the Paisa region: Manizales, Pereira and Armenia. Here you can stay overnight in a coffee finca, drink good Colombian coffee and walk the coffee trails; try Hacienda San Alberto in Buenavista, 33km from Armenia (www.cafesanalberto.com).
At the magical altitudes around 800m-1,800m, Colombia’s fields of shaggy coffee bushes create about 10% of the world’s coffee. In the ‘Coffee Zone’ (best visited at harvest time), thousands of farmers have opened up their homes to visitors; there’s even a coffee theme park.
Over 90% of Colombians drink coffee daily and swear that the basic rule for making the perfect cup is to start with fresh, cold water. Using two level tablespoons of 100% Colombian coffee, add six ounces of boiling water – the perfect quantities.
Juan Valdéz is Colombia’s most famous brand, which guarantees coffee is 100% Colombian.
A cuppa is easy to find – especially on the streets where vendors sell it for COP200 (6p), freshly brewed.
Sarah Woods is the author of the Bradt Guide to Colombia. She enjoys nothing more than a fierce game of dominoes in the Amazon town of Puerto Narino
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Cross-border connections from neighbouring nations – Colombia in context (as much time as you've got!)
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