DAYS 196 – 215: COLOMBIA

Crossing the border from Venezuela into Colombia you will reach the town of Taganga where you will spend a couple of nights in this chilled out Caribbean town with a strong alternative feel.

Some of South America’s loveliest coastline lies east of Taganga in Tayrona National Park.  You will spend 2 or 3 nights exploring trails to beaches set in deep bays, shaded by coconut palms.  You have the option to snorkel and possibly scuba dive in some of the bays.  Lack of roads means that you will probably have to hike with your gear to your overnight spots where you sleep in hammocks!

A highlight of any trip to Colombia is undoubtedly Cartagena. With its colonial past and UNESCO World Heritage status, the old city is an ideal place to just wander the maze of cobbled alleys amongst churches, monasteries, plazas and bougainvillea draped balconies. Las Murallas, the thick walls built around the old city to protect it from pirates, are wonderfully preserved and make for an interesting walk, before stopping off in one of the hidden patio cafes. You will spend 3 nights here to get a flavour of both the old city and also the trendy area of Bocagrande.

We then head south into Colombia, with a roadside bush camp on the way before arriving in the lively city of Medellin. Here is a good spot to get a few Salsa or Tango lessons in before trying out your moves in the many discos and clubs. For those wanting a little culture there are several art galleries and museums worth visiting or also an option to travel via local bus to the sleepy colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia.

Continuing south, your Colombian overland adventure takes you into the mountains to the pleasantly cool climate of Manizales. Here, deep in the heart of the coffee growing area, you have the option to visit one of the numerous coffee farms.

Parque Los Nevados, with peaks topping 5000mtrs, is also a great place to spend a day trekking, before checking out some of the town’s funky bars in the evening.

Bogota is your next stop and you will have 2 or 3 nights to see the different sides of this once notorious capital city. Having had the reputation in the 80’s and 90’s of being one of the world’s most dangerous cities, things have really turned around for Bogota. The city is cradled by Andean Peaks and great views can be seen from a trek up the Cerro de Monserrate. Pop in to the cobbled historic centre, La Candelaria, and as well as taking in a few cafes and picturesque buildings, enjoy the age old tradition of adding cheese to your hot chocolate!

Your overland tour now travels through the Tatacoa Desert, an arid area of striking eroded cliffs surrounded by distant peaks of over 5000mtrs. The result is a quite unique ecosystem, and due to the dry, clear conditions, the area is an excellent star gazing spot and you will try to camp here to appreciate the view.

Turning west through stunning mountain scenery towards the Pan American Highway, and after a gruelling drive, you eventually take an unpaved road into Parque Purace. The park is the only place to see condors in Colombia, and it is also home to some good walking trails. The adventurous can scale Volcan Purace (4750mtrs), but there are a few other less strenuous hikes to the Sulphur Mine and Termales de San Juan – a spectacular hot spring.

Further west is the beautiful colonial city of Popayan. Nicknamed the white city, some would say only Cartagena surpasses Popayan’s colonial structures. You will make a small stop to admire the chalk white facades and stock up on supplies, before following the Andes south towards Pasto.

Santuario De Las Lajas – a neo-Gothic church built on a stone bridge spanning a gorge – is the main point of interest at your last stop in Colombia, Ipiales. You may camp the night in either Pasto or Ipiales, or possibly continue on to the border with Ecuador.

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