Colombia 2020

REPUBLIC OF COLOMBIA

PART 1. General Information

PART 2. BLOGS, Pictures & Gallery

PART 3. VIDEOS

PART 1. GENERAL INFORMATION

Capital city: Bogota 

Population: 49 million

Currency: Peso (COP)

Km travelled: TBA

Days in: TBA

Languages: Spanish, plus more than 180 indigenous languages

GENERAL INFORMATION

Colombia is a very diverse country both ethnically and linguistically. It has great cultural heritage influenced by Europeans, Amerindian and immigration from the Middle East. Colombia consisted of armed conflict in the 70’s and 80’s, however since 2005 there has been significant improvement in security, stability, and rule of law. Interesting is that Colombia is the only NATO partner in Latin America.  In February 2008, millions of Colombians demonstrated against FARC and other outlawed groups. This resulted in peace negotiations and a final agreement to end the conflict in 2016. Colombia has a growing economy  with some of the highest growth rates in Latin America. Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include; sugar, coffee, precious stones, vehicles, electronic products, electrical equipment, plastics, machinery, metals and forest products. Tourism is growing rapidly.

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

Colombia is rich in biodiversity, lush highlands and tropical seaside resorts. The energy and liveliness of the Colombian people is unmatched and makes it the land of the rhythm. Colombia has many annual festivals  full of colour, music, food and games. We were lucky enough to witness part of the black and white festival around Pasto and the villages of San Fransico and Sibundoy. People paint their faces black and white during this three-day whirlwind of wild colors, lively musicians, and dynamic dancers. People are showered with foam and talcum powder.

SALENTO & MANZINALES 

Associated with coffee, this is the place to immerse yourself in the coffee culture in haciendas, where they explain the cultivation of this grain emblematic of Colombia. The mountains in the surrounding area is reflected by Manzinales city’s steep streets. The volcano Nevado del Ruiz watches over the city. The city is also close to Los Nevados National Nature Park. Salento is located 24 km northeast of Armenia. Salento and nearby Cocora Valley are among the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia. It gets very busy in weekends and during holidays.

COCORA VALLEY

Just 11km east of Salento is the Cocora Valley, part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. It is the location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm. Be aware it gets very very busy in weekends and during holidays.

COFFEE IN COLOMBIA

Colombian coffee is one of the best in the world. Being home of the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes -which splits into three major branches or cordilleras- explains the variety of the several thermal floors that withholds about 3.3 million hectares, of which 33% are planted with coffee. Since Colombia is a country so close to the equator, there is a high luminosity guaranteed throughout the year. The three Andean ranges that separate the Amazon from the Colombian coasts over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the fact that is the only country in South America that borders both oceans, creates remarkable weather conditions for growing this valuable cherries throughout the year. There are two important varieties of coffee in the world: Robusta and Arabica. The latter, due to its high quality, needs a specific climate set to grow. As a result of the tropical and isothermal Colombian weather (without any real change of seasons), the country produces a balanced Arabica Colombian coffee.

BARICHARA

One of Colombia’s most beautiful and best preserved heritage towns. Andalusian style houses, cobbled streets and colonial era architecture  make this town so special. Not to mention the unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains.

GUATAPE

To get a great view of the town and surrounding area you have to climb La Piedra del Peñón”: It is a 220 meters high rock located two kilometers from town.  (740 steps) Guatape is a picturesque town that has a small square called “Plaza de los Zocalos”. There you will find colorful buildings and one of the best coffees in the region.

MOMPOX                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Mopox with it’s historic center is a World Heritage Site, a stunning Colombian town renowned for its architecture, culture and its great natural surrounding landscape. Mompox is a town frozen in time. It looks pretty much as it used to be during colonial times and for this reason, it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1995.

LAS LAJAS SANCTUARY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Just East of Ipiales is a basilica church built inside the canyon of the Guaitara River. The current church was built between January 1, 1916, and August 20, 1949, with donations from local churchgoers. It rises 100 metres (330 ft) high from the bottom of the canyon and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 50 metres (160 ft) tall bridge.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUTUMAYO 

This is one of the richest nationwide: it has oil fields and diverse flora and fauna. Around 300.000 people are disconnected from the rest of the country due to roads in poor condition. The trampoline of death, which is located within the mountainous region of Putumayo, connects the towns of Mocoa, which is 600 meters above sea level, with San Francisco at 2,100 meters above sea level, and is the only route that connects the departments of Nariño and Putumayo. The beginning of this route dates from 1909 by the intention of a priest to evangelize that region and the Amazon rainforest. Subsequently, 80 km was continued in the early 1930s by soldiers during the Colombian-Peruvian war. The road has one lane and is one of the most dangerous in Colombia according to others. Because of its geography and the heavy rains that, together, cause landslides, floods, avalanches and chasms up to 500 meters deep that have claimed more than 2,000 lives, between workers, passengers and drivers it makes traveling risky for people and a brake on the economy between the two regions. In 2012, an alternate route was planned that would connect the departments of Nariño and Putumayo, with the purpose of a short and safe route. Today, so far, only 13 km has been build and it looks like the government has given up on the road. However for overlanders, a little scared of doing some of the more dangerous famous roads in the world, this is a great road to drive as it is not as bad as what people make it out to be. But take note: It has in its route areas too narrow in which only one vehicle fits; because it is not paved, it is a true horseshoe route, so when it rains it is almost impassable and it may also be that there are also large landslides of earth and stones. The road is in total about 80 kilometers, your main worry would be some Kamikazi drivers

COLOMBIA AMAZON

Amazonía region in southern Colombia covers nearly 35% of the whole of Colombia. The region is mostly covered by tropical rainforest and jungle, all part of the Massive Amazon Rainforest covering most of Northern South America. Located in the far South East of Colombia is the town of Leticia (only reachable by boat or aeroplane). Until a few years ago this was the stronghold of druglords, but no longer, and it appears to be a safe town again with a large police force. The Amazon never fails to impress with its colours, animals and noises.

SAN AUGUSTIN

The town is known for its pre Colombian archaeological sites and the San Agustin Archaeological Park. This site was declared a Unesco World Heritage site way back in 1995. Be prepared for lots of tourists in weekends and holiday periods.

MEDELLIN

This is second largest city in Colombia with nearly 4 million people. Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, this city offers a great modern transport system and is easy to get around in. During the 19th century, Medellín was a dynamic commercial center, first exporting gold, then producing and exporting coffee. Medellín was once known as the most dangerous city in the world, a result of an urban war set off by the drug cartels at the end of the 1980s. As the home of the Medellin Cartel   funded by Pablo Escobar, the city was a victim of the terror caused by the war between the organization headed by Escobar, and competing organizations such as “El Cartel del Valle”. However, after the death of Escobar, crime rates in the city have decreased dramatically. It has been stated that in the late 70’s and early 80’s, cocaine surpassed coffee as the chief Colombian export. Throughout the rest of the 1990s crime rates remained relatively high, although gradually declining from the worst years. Today Medellin is classified as relative safe for tourists. Medellín is important to the region for its universities, academies, commerce, industry, science, health services, flower-growing and festivals.

PABLO EMILIO ESCOBAR GAVIRIA                                                                                                                                                                                                                Founder and sole leader of the Medellin Cartel. Dubbed “The King of Cocaine”, Escobar is the wealthiest criminal in history, having amassed an estimated net worth of US$30 billion by the time of his death—equivalent to $59 billion as of 2019. Raised in Medellin Escobar studied briefly at Universidad Autónoma Latino americana of Medellín, but left without graduating; he instead began engaging in criminal activity, selling illegal cigarettes and fake lottery tickets, as well as participating in vehicle theft. In the early 1970s, he began to work for various drug smugglers, kidnapping and holding people for ransom. In 1976, Escobar founded the Medellín Cartel, which distributed powder cocaine, and established the first smuggling routes into the U.S. Escobar’s infiltration into the U.S. created exponential demand for cocaine, and by the 1980s, it was estimated Escobar led monthly shipments of 70 to 80 tons of cocaine into the US from Colombia. As a result, he quickly became one of the richest people in the world. He had to consistently battled rival cartels domestically and abroad, leading to massacres and the murders of police officers, judges, locals, and prominent politicians. Escobar was killed in his hometown by Colombian Police a day after his 44th birthday. Escobar’s legacy remains controversial; while many denounce the heinous nature of his crimes, he was seen as a “Robin Hood like” figure for many in Colombia, as he provided many amenities to the poor. His killing was mourned and his funeral attended by over 25,000 people

TAYRONA NATURAL NATIONAL PARK.

34 km East from Santa Marta lies the Tayrona National Park –Mangrove swamps, corals, algae prairies, thorny scrubland and magical dry, humid, cloud forests and nice beaches.  Most of the park’s indigenous inhabitants are mestizos who live mainly from tourism and fishing.

MAYAPO, (La Guajira)

It takes twenty minutes to reach Mayapo’s stunning shores from Riohacha, capital of the La Guajira department. The Caribbean Sea plays a big role in the lives of the Wayuu people, who live from fishing, tourism and handicrafts, including the famous Wayuu mochila (bag), which is hand woven in a multitude of colors. The beaches are some of the finest in Northern Colombia .

BARU ISLAND

Magical Baru island is just 45 minutes from Cartagena, but it feels like you are in a different world. It has white sands and clear seas.

MUCURA ISLAND

Also known as “Colombia’s gem” in the Caribbean Sea, Múcura Island is located nearly 2 hours into the Caribbean Sea by boat from Cartagena. This island makes up part of the 10 islands of the San Bernardo’s Archipelago, which has been part of the National Natural Park Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo since 1996.

TATACOA DESERT

In central Colombia, surreal landscapes, incredible stargazing, and a sense of isolation is what this zone provides. Tatacoa desert is the best place to experience a true stargazing activity.  La Tatacoa Desert, the second largest dry area in Colombia after the desert of La Guajira, is one of Colombia’s most attractive natural landscapes. It covers an area of 330 km² of gray and ochre soil interrupted by the green of the cactuses.

LOS LLANOS

Los Llanos, located in the Llanos Orientales Region (Eastern Plains) is home to thousands of cowboys –in Spanish “llaneros”- hard working people who have lived by traditional ways for hundreds of years. This culture has produced some really wonderful and unique music and folklore dances. The traditional music is the Joropo which is played with traditional guitar, maracas and harp. This Region is considered an important ecosystem with two marked seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Its climate is intertropical savannah, hot, except in the high plains with milder climate.

PALOMINO  

a small beach town on the country’s northern Caribbean coast, is a popular destination, 2 hours north of Santa Martha It is also a gateway to explore more of Colombia’s La Guajira Peninsula.

CLIMATE

Because of the country’s close proximity to the Equator, its climate is generally tropical. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. The only genuinely variable climatic element is the amount of Rain and Altitude. The climate of the Amazon region, the northern Pacific coast, and the central Magdalena valley is marked by an annual rainfall of more than 2,500 mm and annual average temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius.

BOGOTA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Average temp:  10 degrees at night to 20 degrees during the day                      Average Rainfall: All year round. April, May and the Month of Oct are the wettest

MEDELLIN                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Average temp: 12 degrees at night to 23 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                      Average Rainfall: 

LETICIA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Average temp:   22 degrees at night to 32 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                    Average Rainfall: 230mm per month

CARTAGENA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Average temp: 22 degrees at night to 32 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                      Average Rainfall: May to Nov between 80 and 120mm per month, Oct is wettest month with 200mm. Dry Dec to April.

LLANOS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Average temp:  22 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                      Average Rainfall: Sept and Oct wettest around 140mm per month. rest of the year below 70mm

SALENTO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Average temp: 18 degrees at night and 32 degrees during the day                                                                                                                                                    Average Rainfall: around 100mm per month 

PART 2, BLOGS, PICTURES & GALLERY

COLOMBIA BORDER to DESIERTO de la TATACOA

After a great Christmas and New Year at Finca Sommerwind it was time to leave Ecuador. Hans mate, your reputation as one of the best overlander Christmas venues in South America stayed intact.

Many thanks to you and your staff. New years eve was no different and the view from the hill watching the fireworks was superb.

It was time to say goodbye to Ecuador and time to say, “Hello Colombia”. It is 45 years ago I went to Colombia as a young Marine based in the Caribbean, in those days pretty much lawless and wild west. 20 years ago, we visited Cartagena as part of a cruise holiday, but just for one day hence it did not leave much of an impression.

Instead of following the Pan Americana North we decided to go off the beaten track, first stop Ipiales, cheap shopping, sim card and organizing insurance. Next the church in Las Lajas, a great building lit up at night and good spot to stay overnight to visit the church again the following morning. This beautiful basilica church built in the early 1900s is in the Guaitara river canyon and is one of Colombia’s National Monuments. Pasto north of Ipiales is known for its annual Black and White festival and we were just in time. Locals paint their faces black one day and white the next. These are the two principal days of the Blacks and Whites Carnival, (Carnival de Negros y Blanco’s) which since 2009 is part of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage.

We also visited the very touristy El Puerto (give it a miss in the weekends) located at a volcanic crater lake La Cocha Lagoon. This is the second largest inland body of water in Colombia. Lake Tota is the largest. From here we ventured further East to Sibundoy and San Francisco, great places to visit if you like and appreciate indigenous cultures and last towns before the Trampolín de la Muerte (Death’s trampoline).

According to some (and the national geographic program the world most dangerous roads) this is the fourth most dangerous road in the world! Well not in our opinion. It has very narrow stretches in which only a vehicle can travel, it has falls of more than 300 meters, landslides occur on a regular basis. Traffic accidents are a regular event, but this is many times due to driver stupidity. There have been many fatalities from cars and busses falling off the road every year. Different sources record more than 500 people dead in 2011 and in 1989 about 300 people died in a terrible collapse. So, with all this, the springboard of death is not something to be taken lightly. However, I have seen much worse in India-Pakistan and even in Peru and Bolivia. The road was built in 1930 and zigzags the Andean mountain range. We travelled West to East passing the small towns of Sibundoy and San Francisco. From San Francisco the 68 km of narrow unpaved road starts and it looks sometimes that no-one did any work on it since it was built in the 1930’s to transport soldiers during the war between Colombia and Peru, and so far has been directly responsible for ending hundreds of lives.. It reaches 2300 meters at its highest point and drops down to 600 meters when you arrive in Mocoa. See video famous video clip of the road.  https://youtu.be/X2Of5iGhDE4 I have the utmost respect for those who have done this on motorbike or bicycle.

Mocoa the capital of the department of Putumayo is a great overnight stop and to have a cold beer after a long days driving. From Mocoa plenty of opportunities to visit the start of the jungle and indigenous people. Back on the bitumen we followed the rotten road north to Pitalito and San Augustin. San Augustin is best known for its Archaeological Park and the surrounding areas with many statues.

The Archaeological Park contains the largest collection of religious monuments in Latin America and is considered the world’s largest necropolis. The dates of the statues are uncertain, but they are believed to have been carved between 5–400 AD. The origin of the carvers remains a mystery, as the site is largely unexcavated. Having travelled many deserts over the years we have to admit that the Dieserto de la Tatacoa was a disappointment. the Tatacoa Desert is not really a proper desert.

And some say it is semi-desert and others say it’s a semi-arid dry tropical forest. Parts of the area is heavily eroded and has dry canyons that develop transiently but it does get you some amazing pictures. This desert area is filled with rocky canyons that form dry labyrinths in red and grey colours that are interrupted by occasional green bushes and lots of Cacti up to 5 or 6 meters high.

The Tatacoa Desert is the second largest desert area in Colombia after the Guajira Peninsula. The Tatacoa Desert has two distinctive colours: ochre (natural reddish clay) and grey moon-like terrain in the Los Hoyas area. Some of the local wildlife includes scorpions, snakes, spiders. Bush camping is great located in the middle of nowhere. it’s quiet, enjoy the amazing views and the stars. But after a day of 42 degrees we looked for a pool to cool off.

Till Next time when we are heading west towards the Pan Americana crossing the Andes again and explore the best coffee regions of Colombia.