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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Discover hidden riches when you travel to Colombia, the land that inspired the myth of El Dorado—and whose borders are now open to travelers after decades of being closed. While Spanish explorers searched in vain for a legendary “Lost City of Gold," when you journey here with OAT, you'll witness a country in the midst of a cultural renaissance ... and find that the real treasures of Colombia are all around you. Our comprehensive adventure takes us from the colonial gems of Bogotá and Cartagena to bustling modern Medellin and the Coffee Triangle region around Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia. Along the way, we'll meet the friendly and resilient Colombian people, experiencing a vibrant blend of cultures with a rich history.

Bogota Cartagena Expand All
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    Depart the U.S. today, arriving in Bogotá in the evening, where an OAT representative will meet you at the airport and assist with the transfer to our hotel. Tonight, join travelers who took the pre-trip extension to Bolivia: La Paz & Lake Titicaca and enjoy an included dinner at the hotel.

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    This morning after breakfast, we begin our discovery of Bogotá. Originally a settlement known as Bacatá by the indigenous people who inhabited this area on the high plains of the Andes, the site became a full-fledged Spanish colonial outpost by 1550. Bogotá remained under the control of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1717, when it became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, a vast stretch of land encompassing the modern countries of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. Since then, the city has served continuously as a political and social center; today this bustling capital city has a population of more than eight million people.

    We set out this morning to explore Monserrate Hill, a 10,000-foot peak that offers a commanding view of the city of Bogotá below. The summit of the hill is home to a 17th-century Catholic church that is a popular site for pilgrims—many of whom ascend the winding path to the top of the hill on their knees—and other travelers, who have the option of riding the funicular railroad to the top. Returning to the city below, we'll take a walking tour in La Candelaria, the Old City of Bogotá. With its Baroque and Spanish Colonial architecture, La Candelaria exudes a timeless elegance, made contemporary by the presence of artists and university students (due to the large number of universities located there, Bogotá is sometimes called the “Athens of South America”). As we walk the hilly streets of La Candelaria, we’ll follow in the footsteps of the many revolutionaries who plotted the independence of Colombia, including Simón Bolívar, who lived here during his decade of service as the country's first president. We’ll explore the square named in his honor, Plaza de Bolívar, which is lined with significant buildings, including the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol, and the ornate 18th-century cathedral that houses the Archbishop of Bogotá.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll head for Bogotá’s Gold Museum, which is home to the world’s biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts. These pieces—more than 6,000 are on display out of the museum’s 55,000-piece collection—are not only beautiful in their own right, but also give us an introduction to the indigenous cultures of Colombia. This evening, enjoy an included Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast today, you can join our optional tour to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá in the mountains north of Bogotá, a fascinating religious site. This unique cathedral is built into the tunnels of a salt mine, stretching more than 600 feet underground, with statues and ornaments carved out of the mine’s rock walls. The complex features an entryway lined with 14 small chapels that depict the Stations of the Cross, and is considered a highlight of Colombian architecture. More than just a monument, this site is an active Roman Catholic church, drawing up to 3,000 visitors to its Sunday services. Following our tour of the cathedral, we’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant that features dishes cooked using salt from the Zipaquirá mine, as well as ajiaco, a traditional Colombian soup of chicken, potatoes, and corn. Afterwards, we return to our hotel.

    Or remain in Bogotá to explore on your own, with lunch on your own. Later this afternoon, we’ll gain a richer understanding of Colombia’s recent history during a lively discussion with a local expert on some controversial topics. We'll learn about the Colombian government's lengthy conflict with guerrillas, the role that drug cartels played in the country in the late 20th century, and the career of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    View Medellin from a metrocable

    Our travel in Colombia continues with a flight from Bogotá to Medellin this morning. Once we arrive in Medellin, we'll ascend Nutibara Hill—one of the seven hills in the city—via the metrocable (an aerial tram) for panoramic views. Here, we’ll visit a comuna (a small community), have the opportunity to interact with its residents, and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we'll explore more of Medellin, a  city which is undergoing an economic and cultural rebirth. Established in 1616 as a village, Medellin’s El Poblado district is now the city's wealthiest enclave, nicknamed Milla de Oro—the Golden Mile. Our discoveries here will include retracing the life of Pablo Escobar, one of the most notorious drug lords of the 1980s. Afterwards, we check in to our hotel; dinner is on your own this evening.

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    This morning, we head for Guatape, a colorful village in the countryside outside of Medellin known for its socalos, beautifully crafted tiles that decorate houses and the town's church. We’ll ride through the village using local transportation, have lunch at a local restaurant, and walk into town with the chance to interact with local people. After some free time in Guatape, we’ll continue to El Peñón, a monolithic rock that rises more than 650 feet above its surroundings and overlooks a nearby dam. This area is peaceful now, but was the scene of conflict between government and paramilitary forces in the late 20th century—a history we’ll learn about as we explore the site. We then return to our hotel in Medellin; dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Explore a coffee plantation in Ecuador

    After breakfast, we visit the Antioquia Museum at the Plaza de Botero in Medellin. The plaza has an open-air collection of 23 sculptures by Medellin-born Fernando Botero, whose exaggerated figures have been shown in the world’s greatest museums and galleries. Part of the museum also displays Botero's artworks. Then we transfer to the airport and fly to Pereira. Lunch is included today, either in Medellin or Pereira depending on the flight schedule.

    Pereira is one of three towns that comprise Colombia’s “coffee triangle.” Along with Manizales and Armenia, Pereira is a key player in the Colombian coffee-making tradition that is known world-wide. The top-quality Arabica beans grown in this region are harvested, washed on local plantations, dried, and exported all over the world. After we arrive, We visit a ranch that raises Colombian creole horses, then check in to our lodgings in a historic hacienda, where we have dinner this evening.  The Spanish term “hacienda” means the main house of a ranch or plantation, and we’ll see how Spanish colonial features like a courtyard with a fountain have been retained at our accommodation, which was built in 1737.

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    See the coffee plantation Hacienda Venecia

    This morning, we’ll explore the second corner of our triangle with a visit to Hacienda Venecia, a coffee plantation outside of Manizales, which is 4500 feet above sea level. The coffee plants here are nourished by 450 acres of volcanic soil, as we’ll discover in a visit that takes us from the growing fields to the drying rooms and roasting facilities. We’ll have a hands-on experience, trying our hand at picking beans (when in season) and sorting them. Of course, we’ll have a chance to drink some of the fine coffee produced here. Our visit includes lunch at the Main House of the plantation.

    We return to our hacienda. You’ll have some free time before we gather for dinner at the hacienda this evening.

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    Explore Corcora National Park

    The final turn in our triangle is the region around Armenia, once a way station on the march of Simón Bolivar. We visit Salento, a 19th-century village perched on a plateau over the Quindío River. We’ll witness local baristas making “latte art,” decorative patterns in the foam on espresso drinks. Going beyond the common leaf or heart patterns frequently seen in U.S. cafés, the “latte artists” here often “draw” animals, astrological symbols, faces, and more with coffee and foam. Then we discover that coffee is not on the only treasured resource here, as we visit the Cocora Valley. We’ll travel to Corcora National Park in yipaos, colorfully decorated Jeeps which are used in local parades and celebrations. After a guided hike near the cloud forest, we’ll have lunch in a local restaurant. Then we’ll learn about the wax palm, the national tree, which can grow to a staggering 250-foot height. The world’s highest altitude palm tree—and its tallest—is also one of its most slow-growing, so Colombia has made the wax palm a protected species. We’ll help to preserve this wonder when we participate in a wax-palm ritual, in which a new seedling is planted and blessed in the tradition of the local Quimbayas people.
    We’ll return to Salento with free time to explore the town further. Walking the Calle Real, Salento’s main street, will give us a glimpse into times past, as many buildings still reflect the bahareque cane-and-mud construction style. While here, we have time to browse the local handcrafts shops. We return to our hacienda in time to relax a bit before gathering for dinner.

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    • Meals included:
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    Encounter the tango in Colombia

    This morning, we’ll fly from Pereira via Bogotá to Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Officially known as Cartagena de Indias—so named because Spanish explorers believed the port would become part of a spice trade route to India—Cartegena is one of South America’s loveliest cities. Presiding over sandy beaches and azure ocean views, Cartagena still exudes both a colonial elegance and a tropical Caribbean flavor. From its inception, Cartagena’s riches made it a tempting target for pirates, as well as British and French forces, and Spain spent lavishly on its fortifications, a large portion of which have survived the centuries.

    We’ll check in to our hotel when we arrive in the afternoon and you’ll have some time to settle in. Later, we catch the rhythm of local life during a cumbia dance lesson. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Encounter local cuisine in Cartagena

    We begin our day in Cartagena’s oldest section, the Ciudad Amarullada, or Walled City, which is encircled by twelve-foot stone walls and considered to be one of the best-preserved walled cities in the world. Then we’ll visit the hilltop La Popa Convent, which honors La Virgin de Candelaria, Cartagena's patron saint, and offers sweeping vistas of the city.

    Next, we’ll experience the warmth of Colombian hospitality when we join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch, savoring traditional Colombian cuisine and spirited conversation. After lunch, we meet some of Colombia's young citizens when we visit a local school that receives support from Grand Circle Foundation. We have some free time, and then late in the afternoon, we enjoy a ride on a chiva, a vibrantly painted bus, while listening to a live music performance. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Discover La Popa Convent and San Felipe Castle

    This morning, we’ll take a walking tour of the Getsemani neighborhood, the oldest part of the city.  Then we'll head to one of Cartagena’s most conspicuous and commanding structures, the 17th-century San Felipe Castle. From its inception, Cartagena’s riches were desired by coastal pirates and defended by Spaniards, who eventually built the fortress to protect their prized city. Explore the labyrinthine tunnels that run beneath ground, or enjoy panoramic views of the city from atop the castle walls. Our discoveries continue with a visit to Bocagrande, a modern hub of activity situated between Cartagena Bay and the Caribbean. Bocagrande is known for its restaurants, shops, beaches, and sophisticated flair. We'll also visit an emerald workshop to see items made from this gem, for which Colombia is famous.

    Lunch is on your own, and your afternoon is free for making your own discoveries. Perhaps you’ll visit the massive cathedral on Plaza Bolívar, completed in 1602 after being partially destroyed in 1575 by Sir Francis Drake. Or examine the treasure trove of gold and ceramics found at the Museo de Oro y Arqueloguía.
    Tonight, a traditional carriage ride through the historic neighborhoods of Cartagena will bring us to a local restaurant where we enjoy a Farewell Dinner. There, we’ll dine on local specialties and toast the discoveries we’ve made in Colombia.

     

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    After breakfast, we transfer to the airport for our flight home. Or, begin your optional post-trip extension to Ecuador: The Andes & the Devil's Nose Train.

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Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
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Trip Leader Excellence
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 4 locations in 12 days with one 2-night stay; 3 internal flights; early mornings

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day including stairs

Altitude

  • 3 full days at altitude between 8,600-10,000 feet

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 40-60°F in Bogotá, 70-80°F in Medellín, and 80-90°F with high humidity in Cartagena
  • Wet seasons are April-June and October-November in Bogotá and Medellín; Cartagena receives a fair amount of rainfall year round  

Terrain

  • Travel on city streets, rugged paths and trails, cobblestone roads, and uneven ground
  • Agility and balance are required for boarding carriages

Transportation

  • Travel by 20-passenger minibus (no toilet on board), horse-drawn carriage, jeep, aerial tram, local bus, and moto taxi
  • 3 internal flights of approximately 1 hour each

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel standard accommodations with hot showers and Western-style toilets
  • Stay at a hacienda with limited services and no air-conditioning in the Coffee Triangle
  • All accommodations feature private baths

 

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Colombia: No visa required.
  • Bolivia (optional pre-trip extension only): Visa required.
  • Ecuador (optional post-trip extension only): No visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Hotel de la Opera

    Bogotá, Colombia

    Housed in Bogotá's La Candelaria district, the 29-room Hotel de la Opera boasts traditional Spanish-style architecture, two on-site restaurants, a café bar, spa, fitness center, heated pool, and Jacuzzi. Each room features high-speed Internet access, and a private bath with a hair dryer.

  • Le Parc Hotel

    Medellín, Colombia

    The Le Parc Hotel is located in the El Poblado section of Medellín, a short walk from El Poblado Park and the city’s “Golden Mile," which has many restaurants and shops. Each of the 47 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, free wireless Internet access, safe, telephone, kitchenette, and private bath. Hotel facilities include an on-site restaurant and bar.

  • Hacienda Castilla

    Pereira, Colombia

    The Hacienda Castilla in Pereira is a historic accommodation that was originally a plantation house built in 1737. The building retains its Spanish colonial features, including a central courtyard with a fountain, and is set in a grove of citrus, mango, and guava trees. The hacienda’s nine rooms each feature wireless Internet access, a TV, minibar, safe, and private bath.

  • Hotel Bantu

    Cartagena, Colombia

    Situated within the walled historic section of Cartagena, the Hotel Bantu is in a renovated 19th-century building with decor that reflects the city's Afro-Caribbean culture. Facilities include three inner courtyards with lush greenery, a roof deck with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi, and an on-site restaurant. The 27 air-conditioned rooms feature cable TV, direct-dial telephone, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer; there is wireless Internet access throughout the hotel.

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  • Radisson Plaza Hotel La Paz

    La Paz, Bolivia

    The Radisson Plaza Hotel is centrally located in La Paz near the Plaza Murillo, museums, shops, and restaurants. Each of the 200 rooms features cable TV, telephone, Internet access, minibar, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath. Hotel facilities include a health club with a heated indoor swimming pool, a bar, and two on-site restaurants.

  • Hotel Rosario del Lago

    Copacabana, Bolivia

    The cozy, red-roofed Hotel Rosario del Lago sits perched overlooking Lake Titicaca, offering not only splendid views but easy walking access to the lake itself. The 25 rooms each offer a private bathroom, hair dryer, cable TV, and telephone, and the hotel’s comforts also include a restaurant, terrace grill, and common-area fireplace.

  • Hotel Reina Isabel

    Quito, Ecuador

    We stay overnight in Quito at the 56-room Hotel Reina Isabel. Located on the main avenue in the commercial heart of the city, the hotel features a restaurant, coffee shop, gym with sauna, spa, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, and 24-hour room service. Each modern, comfortable room comes equipped with cable TV, radio, telephone, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Carvallo

    Cuenca, Ecuador

    The Hotel Carvallo is located in the historic center of Cuenca. This contemporary hotel, built in a restored colonial house, provides updated amenities and personalized service. Each of its 30 rooms includes a telephone, cable TV, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2595
w/ standard air $3395

Partner since: 2013
Total donated: $3,571

Supporting a World Classroom: Colombia

By funding improvements at local schools, the Foundation's World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society's most precious resources: its children. In Colombia, you'll visit the Alex Rocha Young Center in Cartagena, where the Foundation has helped to fund the purchase of a video projector and building improvements including lockers and separate bathrooms for girls and boys.

Alex Rocha Young Center

Partner since: 2013 • Total donated: $2,551

The Alex Rocha Young Center is a community school located in a disadvantaged part of Cartagena that teaches English, art, and moral values to children, teenagers, and adults as well offering recreational activities. The center provides a safe haven for children who may be exposed to crime and violence, as well as helping children who come from dysfunctional families. The school has seven faculty and staff members serving 25 children, with programs for students in three age groups: 6-12 years old, 13-17 years old, and age 18 or older. Foundation funds have helped to purchase a video projector, and to make improvements to the school's  building, including adding lockers and renovating the bathrooms to provide separate facilities for girls and boys.

School in session:

Year-round, except closed for one month around Christmas and one month during the summer.

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pens, pencils, and crayons
  • Storybooks
  • Maps and pictures of your home city or town
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Photos above provided by Overseas Adventure Travel

Reprinted with permission from The New York Times

I Just Got Back From Medellín!

By Henry Alford

IF Medellín is still a city that puts its visitors on guard, you wouldn’t know it from my traveling companion’s choice of footwear. “I can’t believe you’re wearing pink sneakers here!” I exclaimed to my friend Ryan, minutes after we arrived at the airport of Colombia’s second biggest city. “They’re not pink,” Ryan told me. “They’re salmon khaki. They’re pueblo rose.”

In the 1980s and early 1990s, you traveled to the largest cocaine-producing city in the world in the same manner that you lowered yourself into a tank of feral hogs: accompanied by either an insurance policy or a very porous concept of life expectancy. Then the home of the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, the city had its renown for cultivating prize orchids usurped by its ability to put the k in the word “traffick.”

As Michael Kimmelman reported in this paper last year, the annual homicide rate in Medellín 20 years ago was 381 per 100,000. In New York City, this would come to more than 30,000 murders a year.

Mr. Escobar’s death at the hands of the police in 1993 did much to cool the fires. At first the changes were subtle; gang members reportedly started showing up at group therapy sessions; former hit men started taking guitar lessons. Then this city of 3.5 million was gradually graced with a series of improvements befitting its jewel-like setting in a lush valley surrounded by green mountains. Parks, libraries, museums and hotels were built. A gleaming metro system was completed in the mid-90s; in 2006 and 2008, gondolas providing service to the city’s hillside shantytowns were added, reducing what had been a two-hour trip down to a few minutes. Fernando Botero, a Medellín native, donated more than 1,000 pieces of his own and others’ art to the Museo de Antioquia. Birds, in short, began to twitter.

Eager to sample this new Medellín, I canvassed my loved ones for a traveling companion. Thinking his essential winsomeness would be the perfect litmus test for any chicanery or danger, I selected my puckish 24-year-old assistant, Ryan Haney, a heterosexual mama’s boy who sometimes refers to his knapsack as “my little bag.” I knew Ryan would want to run the idea past his mother, Angela; 24 hours later, we received her blessing.

Our first point of order was to take one of the several Pablo Escobar tours now offered in Medellín. Having heard that one operator’s Escobar tour ended in a conversation with Roberto Escobar in his living room (Roberto, Pablo’s brother, was the Medellín cartel’s accountant), I wrote to the company, but was told they were no longer working with Roberto Escobar, who they said now painted his brother as a hero. A second tour operator I contacted added that Roberto now claimed that his job for the Medellín cartel had been to design submarines. I ended up enlisting Juan Uribe, a warm, emphatic tour guide in his 60s who took us to four Escobar-related sites. We saw the apartment building where Mr. Escobar’s wife and bodyguards lived; the roof where he was gunned down by police; a neighboring roof the police used to remove his body (Mr. Uribe: “They needed a lower roof. He was very heavy then”); and Mr. Escobar’s grave.

Between sights, Mr. Uribe recounted how the drug lord started his career by stealing headstones from cemeteries and reselling them, and how he gradually widened his power base, even holding office in government at one point. Ryan took all the accounts of cocaine-fueled mayhem in his stride, but when we visited the grave in a lovely, elevated cemetery in the middle of town, I started to feel vaguely anxious. I asked, “There aren’t cameras anywhere that are recording us, are there?” Mr. Uribe smiled, then pointed at four spindly bushes next to Mr. Escobar’s grave and mused, “Microphones.” On the ride back to our hotel, I told Mr. Uribe that I’d taken some heat from an American acquaintance when I’d told him I was going on an Escobar tour, given that Colombia is trying hard to change its image. Mr. Uribe said, “Don’t tell any Colombians that you went on this tour.”

The next day, eager to expose young Ryan to a brighter hue of the Medellín rainbow, we each paid just 1,800 pesos, about a dollar, for a metro ticket. Like us, most visitors to Medellín will probably want to stay in El Poblado, a villagey part of town that is thick with bars and excellent restaurants. From El Poblado, it’s a 15-minute cab or metro ride to the historic area downtown. The city runs north and south along the valley, with favelas climbing up the hills, which unlike most of Rio’s, remain wooded on top.

We rode a clean, elevated train across town, and then switched to a gondola, which thrillingly lofted us over the city and onto the hillside favela of Santo Domingo. Though Santo Domingo isn’t a neighborhood I’d go to after dark, its hillside perch affords good valley-viewing by day. Houses here are mostly built of cinderblocks with corrugated tin roofs. As it was a bright, lovely day in mid-December — Medellín’s perpetual springlike weather has earned it the nickname “City of Everlasting Spring” — we felt no trepidation about walking through the favela to the three giant black slate boxes that form the neighborhood’s public library, the Biblioteca España. We marveled at its three floors of computers for public use, not to mention a nearby vendor at whose portable stand one could both buy earrings and make photocopies.

A second short gondola ride later we were up even farther, this time in the beautiful Parque Arví, a sprawling mountain wilderness with hiking trails, hotels and a butterfly enclosure — a place where you can imagine going for a Sunday picnic. Walking along a dirt trail at one point, I told Ryan that it felt great, after our first day of imagining and reliving Escobarian excess, to plunge ourselves into something more wholesome and organic. Ryan looked at me sheepishly. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said, “but I smuggled in four ounces of toothpaste in my luggage.”

We spent most of our evenings in El Poblado. The heart of the neighborhood is Parque Lleras, a block-wide, restaurant- and bar-lined park that has great people-watching at night, and whose Christmas lights were phantasmagoric. All the beautiful young Colombians — Sofia Vergara, we should not forget, was discovered on a beach in Colombia — throng to the park at night, the women in short bandage skirts and three-inch heels, the men with their chests puffed out.

INDEED, Medellín is known for its night life. This is a city that likes to eat and drink and dance and watch soccer, often in groups, often in bars and restaurants. One night, sitting on a bench in Parque Lleras while a soccer game was being televised, I noted the number of TV screens within eyesight. I counted 13.

This is also a city that loves the sight of a sculpture or a drawing en plein-air. Major new buildings in Medellín are required to include public art; walls in both metro stations and favelas are bedecked with colorful murals. The city’s spectacular Christmas lights (this year’s theme: Flora and Fauna) are to Rockefeller Center’s what Cirque du Soleil is to a mime in a coffin. Night is turned into day — a throbbing, pistachio-hued day.

Also striking, though, are the sculptures that Mr. Botero donated to the city. As we approached the Museo de Antioquia downtown, we noticed 15 or so eight-foot-tall bronze Botero sculptures of bulbous people and swollen animals in the plaza. Though all the pieces were a dark chocolaty color, Ryan pointed out that some of the figures’ individual body parts — here a kneecap, there a foot — had been rubbed til golden. The nonbuff had been buffed.

Inside the museum, we marveled at a floor’s worth of paintings by Mr. Botero, including two of the heavyset Mr. Escobar being shot by police. At gallery’s end, a placard on the wall asked, “Why does Botero paint fat people?” An accompanying quote from the artist explained, “I do not see them as fat, but voluminous.” Ah. I will try to keep this in mind next time I visit a volume farm.

Meanwhile, I was increasingly falling under the sway of Natalie, who worked the desk at our hotel, the Art. Petite and enthusiastic, she’d helped us with various reservations. Though we’d met plenty of friendly and helpful natives, not everyone’s English was as good as Natalie’s. When she found out we’d been to the justly popular El Poblado restaurant Carmen, she had rapturously mouthed but did not actually speak: “Ohmygod.” I explained to Natalie that Ryan and I were the sole workers in a 120-square-foot space and that we wanted, the following evening, to have a blowout “office Christmas party.” Natalie enthused, “Of course!” She suggested we try a discoteca called Palmahia. She said Palmahia had a show — here she outstretched her arms and shimmied, to denote dance — that started at midnight. Perfect.

I also wondered, given how well Ryan was adapting to the seems-scary-but-actually-is-not theme of our trip, if Natalie had any leads on paragliding — because of the city’s strong thermal winds, the sport is popular here. Ten minutes later Natalie had us booked for paragliding (about $60 per person) from one of the city’s hills the next day. That night at dinner I told Ryan, “If you die from paragliding, it will be awkward for me.” Ryan said, “My mother will call you each night and breathe heavily into the phone.” I said, “An Angiegram.”

The next day, we availed ourselves of one of the city’s inexpensive taxis, and rode 40 minutes (about $30) to the top of a grassy hill on the edge of town for the paragliding. The view was gorgeous: a scrim of mountains, and all Medellín down below. Even the Boteros looked tiny. Given about five minutes of instructions, Ryan and I each put on helmets and harnesses and then strapped ourselves to individual 30-foot-long paragliders, each manned by a pilot. “Break a leg!” I shouted to Ryan.

But it was not legs we needed to worry about. Once in flight, I started to feel slightly nauseated: my harness felt very tippy. I’ve hang-glided before, which was a gentle wafting ever-downward; but paragliding seemed much more variable and vertically oriented; indeed, my pilot steered us far above and then behind the grassy hilltop we’d started from. Ryan and his pilot zoomed deliriously past, corkscrewing and riding the wind like a unicorn in a perfume ad. Meanwhile I gently declined my pilot’s invitation to spiral, pointing my finger at my open mouth to denote the potential fallout of such an activity. Back at the hotel, Ryan e-mailed his mother about the paragliding. Once she’d e-mailed back, Ryan reported, “She says I’m on her list.” I asked what list. He said, “The things she worries about while trying to fall asleep.”

Then came the night of the office party. We’d had dinner at Ferro, a mostly Italian restaurant in El Poblado, which, like the restaurant in the museum of modern art we’d been to the night before, the wonderful Bonuar, featured live Latin music, which prompted diners to stand and dance. But upon returning to our hotel, Ryan felt fluish; he lay in bed transfixed by a TV channel whose name an extra-suavo, extra-basso announcer repeatedly identified as “Gleeeetz.”

Did I feel safe enough to brave the Medellín nightclub world on my own? Absolutely. I jumped in a cab, and at 11:30 on a Saturday night arrived at Palmahia in 10 minutes’ time. Hulking and black, it looked like the cross between a shopping mall and a Louise Bourgeois spider. The club’s swarthy bouncer and his friend looked at me dubiously. “Palmahia?” I asked. The bouncer said, “Privado.” Not believing him, and suddenly feeling all of my 50 years, I pointed at myself and said, “New York City.” No effect. Scrambling for the Spanish for “office party,” I coughed up the Italian-ish “festa officina.” Still no effect. The bouncer’s friend said in heavily accented English, “Maybe tomorrow.” The bouncer said, “No.”

NOT to be undone, I hopped into another cab, and dashed off to La Strada, a shopping mall full of restaurants and clubs for the young and beautiful. Once inside the club Crista — a disco-ball-bedecked black box whose floors were covered with drifts of Styrofoam balls and glitter — I happily danced by myself for half an hour, and then glommed onto a bumptious group of fellow boogiers. At one point I started spontaneously laughing at nothing: I was in Medellín! I was happy and safe! I had found some gleeeetz!

As office parties go, ours, with 50 percent of its participants incapacitated and 50 percent in a state of rapturous narcissism, was probably pretty average. But its location made it wholly unique. When, the next morning, Ryan asked how the clubbing had been, I simply mouthed “Ohmygod.”

My last image of Ryan is at the airport on our way home. We had stopped at the duty-free shop, and he surprised me by buying three large bottles of aguardiente, an anise-flavored Colombian liqueur that translates literally as “fire water.” Squeezing the three bulky bottles into his suitcase, he said, “I’m getting more and more Pablo by the minute."

IF YOU GO

WHERE TO STAY

These hotels cite prices in U.S. dollars.

Art Hotel Medellín This 54-room boutique hotel, rich with soaring brick walls, is wonderfully located just a block from the happenings of Parque Lleras, on a fairly quiet and uncrowded street. The 40-seat theater off the lobby is the site of mini film festivals for the hotel’s guests (during our stay: Fellini). Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 10 a.m. From $120. (Carrera 41, Calle No. 9-31; 57-4-369-7900; arthotel.com.co)

The Charlee More chic than the Art Hotel, this 42-room boutique property is directly on Parque Lleras and thus is for someone who wants to be not near the scene, but at the throbbing heart of the scene. The hotel has a huge health club and spa, a rooftop pool surrounded by a bar and a lobby reminiscent of Philippe Starck. From about $200. (Calle 9A, Nos. 37-16; 57-4-444-4968; thecharlee.com)

Hotel Dann Carlton A 200-room hotel with a large outdoor pool behind it, the elegant Dann Carlton is in the upscale El Poblado neighborhood, close to several shopping malls. You’re only a 10- or 15-minute walk from Parque Lleras and its night life, but it’s an uphill walk. From $109 (Avenida El Poblado, Carrera 43A, Nos. 7-50; 57-4-444-5151; hotelesmedellin.danncarlton.com)

WHERE TO EAT

Carmen Offering international cuisine with a strong Californian influence, Carmen has two floors of dining, both with lovely outdoor seating. Run by a Colombian-American couple who are both Cordon Bleu graduates. Reservations necessary. Dinner for two, with drinks, about 258,000 pesos, about $150 at 1,734 pesos to the dollar. (Carrera 36, No. 10A-27; 57-4-311-9625; carmenmedellin.com)

Bonuar The sprawling Bonuar is stylish but informal, and is on the ground floor of the museum of modern art. The food is Creole fusion, and the popular brunch includes smoked salmon with passion fruit béarnaise. At night, there’s often mellow, live music, usually of a blues variety. Dinner for two, with drinks, about 100,400 pesos. (Carrera 44, Nos. 19A-100; 57-4-235-3577; bonuar.com)

Ajiacos y Mondongos A tiny gem in El Poblado that has drawn both Julio Iglesias and Oscar de la Renta to its doors, this mystique-dappled lunch counter serves only three dishes: tripe soup, cazuela con frijoles (beef with beans) and a chicken soup called ajiaco. The front room is decorated with religious iconography and vintage food labels. Lunch for two, about 47,000 pesos. (Calle 8, Nos. 42-46; 57-4- 266-5505)

Enhanced Itinerary

Now including Medellin & the Coffee Triangle

Beginning with 2013 departures of Colombia's Colonial Jewels & the Coffee Triangle, you’ll now enjoy our enhanced itinerary, with improved pacing and new included features. We’ve added a two-night stay in Medellin, a city at the heart of Colombia’s current cultural renaissance, which was praised in a recent New York Times article for its “jewel-like setting in a lush valley surrounded by green mountains.” Near Medellin, you’ll also enjoy a visit to the colorful village of Guatape. And you’ll spend three nights in the “Coffee Triangle,” a lush region where Colombia’s prized coffee beans are grown. We’ve added an extra day to the overall length of the trip to allow for more in-depth exploration of this beautiful country.

Medellin

You’ll spend 2 nights in Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city and a center of the country’s culture, education, and economy. Here you’ll witness the luxurious “Golden Mile” where drug lord Pablo Escobar once lived, take in the artistic flavor of the Plaza Botero, and ascend one of the city’s seven hills to visit a traditional community.

Guatape

During your stay in Medellin, you’ll also venture to the nearby village of Guatape, one of Colombia’s most colorful communities. Guatape is famous for its “sockets,” beautifully crafted tiles that decorate local homes and the village church, and boasts a unique natural feature at El Peñón, a stone monolith that towers more than 650 feet above its surroundings and overlooks a nearby dam.

The Coffee Triangle

You’ll stay for 3 nights near Pereira, your base for exploring the scenic and historic coffee-growing region in Colombia’s highlands that also encompasses the towns of Manizales and Armenia. Your discoveries here include delving into the cultivation and processing of Colombia’s famed top-quality coffee beans at Hacienda Venecia outside Manizales, where you’ll savor an included lunch in the Main House of the estate.

Salento & Cocora National Park

In the Coffee Triangle, you’ll also spend time in the 19th-century village of Salento, where many buildings reflect a traditional cane-and-mud construction style. Then you ride a yipao jeep to Corcora National Park, where you’ll hike through cloud forest and learn about the wax palm, which can grow to be 250 feet tall. Here you’ll participate in a ritual that involves planting new wax palm seedlings.

Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to produce this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

Save 10% when you reserve by 10/31/14

It’s simple with our Good Buy Plan: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on your 2015 departure of Colombia's Colonial Jewels & the Coffee Triangle—a value of up to $559 per person.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 10/16/15 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve
by 10/31/14
SAVE 6%
when you reserve
by 12/20/14
Land Tour only price: $2995 $2696 $2815
Add a Ecuador extension: $1895 $1706 $1781
Add international airfare out of Miami: $700 $630 $658
Total price per person $5590 $5031 $5255

Use our Dates & Prices feature to begin planning your trip, determine your savings with our Good Buy Plan calculator, and Request A Call to speak with our expert Travel Counselors.

Private Adventures—New for 2015

How do you arrange a Private Adventure?

It’s simple: You choose the people you travel with. You choose the departure date. You choose the size of your group. OAT does the rest.

Your lifelong memories are only a phone call away: Call us toll-free at
1-800-955-1925

Group Size Additional Cost
4-6 $1600 per person
7-9 $750 per person

Now you can reserve an EXCLUSIVE departure of Colombia's Colonial Jewels & the Coffee Triangle with just 8 travelers. Enjoy a truly special adventure—starting from only $750 per person more than our published trip price.

The benefits of your Private Adventure …

  • Travel in an exclusive group of friends or family members
  • Work with your Trip Leader to create unique experiences and special memories
  • Tailor the pacing of activities—spending more time doing what interests your group most at the speed that fits your comfort level
  • Enjoy the security of knowing we have regional offices nearby

This program is available on new reservations in 2015 only, and cannot be combined with any offers, including our Vacation Ambassador Referral program. The additional cost of a Private Departure is per person, on top of the departure price and varies by trip. Private Departures do not include any changes or additions to our standard itineraries. Age restrictions may apply to some itineraries and must be at least 13 years old to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel. Ask your Group Sales Team for details. Additional taxes and fees will apply. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to present this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

Bounty in a Bowl

Colombia’s beloved national dish

by Max Krafft

The most famous dish of this region as a whole is its eponymous chicken, corn, and potato soup, ajiaco bogotano ...

The cuisine of Colombia is as varied as its landscape. On the Caribbean Coast—in cities like Cartagena—the local people have long thrived off the bounty of the sea, as well as tropical fruits like bananas and coconuts that flourish in their warm climate. Farther inland, in the fertile and mountainous region around Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, meat, corn, and potatoes are the culinary staples, and the latter come in a variety of species, some of which are found only in Colombia’s Andean plains.

The most famous dish of Bogotá—and perhaps of Colombian cuisine as a whole—is its eponymous chicken, corn, and potato soup, ajiaco bogotano (also known as ajiaco santafereño). Commonly called ajiaco, this stew-like soup features three kinds of potatoes—red, yellow, and white—one of which, papas criollas, is a variety of yellow potato found only in the Andes Mountains. These tiny potatoes—around one inch in diameter—have a thin skin and buttery interior, and when cooked to make ajiaco, they dissolve into the broth, helping to give the soup its signature creamy texture.

The second most important ingredient in ajiaco—and the one that’s said to really give the soup its distinctive flavor—is guasca. This aromatic herb—indigenous to Colombia—now grows throughout the Americas, but it is still commonly used only in South American cooking, as it’s generally considered to be an invasive weed in other parts of the world.

The third notable feature of this soup is the large chunks of corn on the cob that are left whole in the broth. The variety of corn (more properly called maize) used in Colombia is slightly tougher than the sweet corn that is common in the U.S.

Finally, the name ajiaco itself is thought to come from the native Taino people’s word for “hot pepper,” ají, which today is the generic word for spicy peppers in South America (similar to chile in Mexico). While peppers are notably absent from the soup, it is almost always served with aji picante (a Colombian hot sauce) on the side, as well as crema (Latin American table cream), capers, and slices of avocado—all of which should be added to suit the diner's individual tastes. White rice sometimes accompanies the soup on the side, as well.

While other soups are served alongside an entrée as part of a normal Colombian lunch (the biggest meal of the day), ajiaco is such a filling dish that it is usually served as a meal in its own right. Rich enough for celebrations but delicious enough to eat any day, whatever the setting, ajiaco bogotano earns its place as the national dish of Colombia.