Salento and the coffee region

Salento is a small, sleepy colonial town in the coffee region. We went to a small family run organic coffee farm for a tour, which was incredible. The information about each plant and how it assists the coffee plantation was fascinating, from the chilli plant which acts as insecticide to the Yukka to stop landslides, the avocado trees for fertiliser and the banana trees for shade and potassium. The farm was a humble three acres, with eight thousand coffee plants. The harvest happens twice a year and takes three whole months of twelve hour days, all picked by hand. We got to see the whole process from picking to drying, roasting and grinding—then we got a cup. Their hard labour clearly paid of,as it was one of the best cups of coffee we have had. We topped off our lovely day with a Saturday night curry—first one in about 5 months—it was delicious!

The following day we hiked in the Valle de Cocora, a beautiful expanse of lush rolling hills, cloud forest and tall wax palms. This was easily our favourite hike so far and the weather was far more manageable than in Minca.

Salento also presented us with an opportunity to play Tejo, a local game that is basically an explosive version of boules. Given that all we had to do was buy a beer in order to play, we didn’t miss out on the opportunity and many laughs were had.

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Medellin

We flew into Medellin from Cartagena, again making use of the ridiculously cheap flights. On the drive from the airport the city looked magnificent, sitting nestled inbetween the mountains which surround it. The weather in Medellin is perfect, around 25 degrees all year round and mainly sunny—it reminded us of English summer. We really fell in love with Medellin and quickly, largely because everything is so easy. The metro system is clean and really easy to use, the best thing about it being the cable cars that join up to the metro stations, installed in an attempt to unite the poorer areas with the centre of Medellin. It is even thought to have had an impact on crime figures, dramatically reducing crime as more people from underdeveloped neighbourhoods (up the mountains) are now able to easily travel through the city.

We took it quite easy in Medellin, taking the time to use the very well equipped hostel kitchen to make some nice meals.

One of the highlights was visiting Parque Arvi, a beautiful nature reserve accessed by cable car from the city. It is amazing how quickly the city turns to lush countryside, as you travel above forest as far as the eye can see. Pleased to escape the buzz of the city, we hardly saw anyone on our walk, enjoying a picnic in perfect weather.

We also took a day trip to Guatapé, a lakeside town 1.5 hours away. The main attraction here is the “Peñol Rock” (La piedra del Peñol), a 200m scalable rock with stunning views of the local area. The town itself has quirky colourful buildings; however, has sadly become overly touristy. For example, many people visit the town to play paintball in Pablo Escobar’s old mansion.

Cartagena and the Caribbean coast

Making the most of Colombia’s cheap domestic flights, we flew from Bogota to the Caribbean coast. The lush and vibrantly green Colombian countryside did not disappoint. We split our time between Santa Marta, Minca, and Cartagena, spending most of our time hiking. One of our favourite routes was in Minca, up to the peak of Los Pinos (the pines) through a beautiful pine forest to the top of the mountain. After three solid hours of walking uphill in sticky hot weather the view was absolutely worth it, watching the clouds rolling in and around the valley.

Cartagena wasn’t our favourite place, we felt it lacked authenticity and quite frankly was so expensive it meant we could not enjoy it hugely. However, the pretty colonial buildings did somewhat make up for that.

We also ventured further afield and stayed near Tayrona National Park on an old cattle farm. We had a relaxing few days predominately reading and drinking beer in hammocks. We also went tubing down the River Buritaca. It was great fun floating along, beer in hand, enjoying the stunning jungle scenery. However, we all took a bit of a scare when we saw a snake in the water, which the guide laughingly told us was deadly. Sadly I (Rose) got a stomach bug and spent almost 3 days in bed—as even the hammocks made me feel ill! We surprisingly didn’t see much of the coast; we ventured to the beach one day but after Cuba’s incredible beaches a few weeks before it felt a bit of a let down. We also didn’t end up going into the national park after numerous people told us it was overrated and not worth the expensive entrance fee.

The flourishing jungle and stormy skies made the north of Colombia unforgettable for us, but we were looking forward to cooler climes in Medellin, the home of Pablo Escobar.

Bogota

We arrived into Bogota from Cuba, instantly excited to check out the supermarket! It was worrying how much enjoyment we got from seeing aisles upon aisles of fresh food. We spent a few chilled days in a lovely hostel in Chapinero, a nice part of town. Although we didn’t do much, we drank a lot of coffee, visited some brilliant museums and met up with a couple of friends (Julia, a friend of Ali’s from university who works as a journalist; and Nuria, a friend of Rose’s from Francis Holland who now teaches English in Bogota). It was great to have an inside view of what it is like to live and work in Bogota, as well as getting recommendations for what to do and where to go in Colombia. We also took the opportunity to walk up to a viewpoint at the top of one of the hills to the east of the city. Although the altitude is not massively high, this was our first attempt at walking at this height and we definitely found ourselves working harder than usual to get to the top. It was also unfortunately a public holiday, so despite leaving really early in the morning, the route was busy.