DAYS 96 – 112: COLOMBIA
Your final border crossing on this epic overland tour will take you from Ecuador into Colombia. Your destination is the border town of Ipiales. In the afternoon you will visit the famous Santuario de las Lajas church just outside town.
A full day’s drive will take you to the beautiful town and former colonial capital of Popayan, with its white-washed buildings located amongst rolling green hills. The next day you will then travel to the small town of Salento where you will stay for a night and have an included guided trek through the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) to see the 50m tall Quindio wax palm trees, the largest palms in the world, and the national tree of Colombia. In the afternoon you will head to the town of Manizales where you will stay for two nights on a coffee plantation.
During your time in Manizales you will enjoy a night of traditional Colombian music and dancing, take a fascinating tour of the coffee plantations, and visit the Sagrada Familia charity – a local Dragoman-supported charity that provides education, nutrition, and psychological support to poor children in the area.
From Manizales you will travel to Honda, a historic river town where you meet the Rio Magdalena for the first time. After a night in Honda you will continue north, driving to Villa de Leyva, one of the country’s most beautiful colonial villages. Nestled high in the arid semi-desert away from any trade routes, the town has escaped development and modernisation for centuries and is one of the most authentic old-towns in South America. After staying the night in the village, the following morning you will take an included walking tour of the main sights of the city before driving to San Gil.
San Gil is the outdoor capital of Colombia and a mecca for extreme-sports enthusiasts! After arriving you will enjoy a vegetarian Indian buffet from the campsite’s in-house restaurant, and then the next day you are free to enjoy some of the myriad of adrenaline activities on offer in the area such as white-water rafting, caving, mountain biking or trekking, or to spend the day relaxing at the campsite which is situated on a coffee & cattle farm.
From San Gil you drive north, stopping for the night in the town of Aguachicas. You will then drive to the peaceful and rarely-visited colonial town of Mompos where you will stay for 2 nights. While in Mompos you will have an included short boat trip down Rio Magdalena to observe the riverside life and do some wildlife spotting. There will also be plenty of free time to explore this historical colonial town, the first town in Colombia to declare independence from Spain, wander the beautiful streets and soak up the atmosphere of the architecture.
Continuing north you will drive to Tayrona, one of the most popular national parks in Colombia. Leaving your main luggage stored on the truck, you take a day-pack/night-bag and go on a moderate walk in to the park to where you will stay for 2 nights (mules can be hired to carry luggage). The following day is a free day to explore this stunning coastal park. We have the opportunity to trek to El Pueblito, a pre-Hispanic settlement of the Tayrona people, do some snorkelling, or just relax on the beautiful beaches. While in the park you will sleep in rented hammocks (or you can take a tent if you prefer, but you will need to hire a mule to carry the tent).
From Tayrona you will complete your epic overland tour with a drive to the beautiful coastal colonial city of Cartagena. Your trip includes two nights in Cartagena and so you will have a full day to explore the city including a guided walking tour and a free time to enjoy the city further, enjoy the many optional activities on offer, or simply relax on the beach.
There is so much to see and do in Cartagena that it is well worth considering staying for a few more days so you have more time to explore this jewel of South America.