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Drink in Colombia’s Coffee Culture and City Life
Are you torn between a relaxing beach vacation and exploring a big city? Maybe the quiet of a visit to a coffee farm sounds appealing, but at the same time you want to travel somewhere that’s the hot destination of the moment. Here’s some good news: You can have it all—and you can do it in just over a week.  

G Adventures’ Colombia Express tour includes the biggest highlights of a country that has emerged as one of the world’s must-visit destinations. You’ll start in Bogotá, the capital, which enjoys a mild climate year-round, a beautiful Spanish colonial historic center, lively restaurants, and many museums. From there, you’ll continue on to the country’s coffee region and explore the source of some of the world’s top beans, including a farm visit. Medellín is your next stop, where you can see a city in the process of transforming itself. You’ll end in Cartagena, a destination lost in time on the shores of the Caribbean.  

You’ll embark on this whirlwind trip with a group of no more than 16 travelers and led by a CEO—Chief Experience Officer—who knows every detail of navigating Colombia, from the best restaurants to where to find an ATM.
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    Day 1
    Arrive in Bogotá
    You won’t meet up with your fellow travelers and your CEO (Chief Experience Officer) until this evening so you have a free day to explore Colombia’s capital on your own, or with one of the optional excursions recommended by G Adventures.  

    Among Bogotá’s many museums, G Adventures highlights two of them. The National Museum of Colombia will soon be celebrating its bicentennial—it was founded in 1823, making it one of South America’s oldest museums. The museum is also the largest in the country, with some 20,000 objects that include everything from pre-Colombian pieces to works by modern and contemporary artists like Andrés de Santa Maria and Fernando Botero. At the Gold Museum, glittering artifacts from 13 different pre-Colombian civilizations are on display.  

    If you’d rather get outdoors, a ride up the Monserrate Hill Cable Car offers bird’s-eye views of the city. An hour north of town, the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral is a unique church, constructed underground in a former salt mine.  

    Then return to your hotel, where your CEO will outline the details of your trip and you’ll get to meet the other travelers embarking on this adventure with you.
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    Day 2
    Travel to Armenia
    Start your second day with a visit to the Paloquemao Market. This is a must-visit for foodies. The enormous market has thousands of stalls, many selling tropical fruits that you’ve likely never heard of before, much less tasted. Some vendors sell prepared foods, and you can sample local dishes like caldo, a soup that many Colombians eat every day for breakfast. The displays of flowers are even more dazzling than the stands of exotic produce.  

    You’ll then transfer to the airport for your flight to Armenia, in the country’s coffee-growing region. Tonight you’ll sleep at a traditional hacienda—one of the former working estates reborn as a hotel. It’s an entirely different world from the bustle of Bogotá.
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    Day 3
    This morning you can start your day with a stroll around the town of Armenia, located at the base of the Andes. 

    Later in the day, you’ll rejoin your G Adventures group and visit a coffee farm. Colombian coffee is synonymous with the world’s best, thanks to perfect growing conditions (an abundance of rainfall and sunshine paired with temperatures, in the coffee-growing region, that never drop below zero), a commitment to picking every bean by hand, and the fact that only superior arabica beans are cultivated. At the farm, you’ll be elevated from coffee drinker to connoisseur as you learn about every step of the coffee process before the drink ends up in your cup: cultivation, harvesting, roasting, and grinding.
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    Day 4
    Start day four with a hike through the Cocora Valley. On both sides of the valley, impossibly green emerald hills line the trail and cows graze amid a landscape dotted with waterfalls. The valley is most famous, however, for its towering palm trees—some of the tallest in the world, in fact—which reach heights of up to 200 feet. You can also opt to explore the valley on horseback.  

    Later in the day, you’ll travel in a private vehicle to the town of Salento. One of the country’s most charming towns, Salento has preserved many of its 19th-century buildings and has a relaxed, quiet atmosphere. You’ll have time to explore on your own, perhaps starting with a stroll along Calle Real, lined with small stores and cafes, or climbing up to El Mirador, with views of the town below.
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    Photo By Joel Duncan
    Day 5
    Travel to Medellín
    Today, your drive to Medellín will take you through some of Colombia’s most stunning countryside: a mix of forested valleys, soaring peaks, and farmland. Late in the day, you’ll arrive in Medellín.  

    Medellín’s recent history is an inspiring success story. In less than two decades, the city has transformed itself into a place that has attracted praise from around the world. A new subway, an emphasis on interconnectivity between once-isolated neighborhoods, and an expansion of educational opportunities for all of its residents has created a new sense of opportunity and excitement. The transformation of Medellín into “the most innovative city in the world,” to quote the Urban Land Institute, has not simply been a top-down affair; residents have enthusiastically embraced the chance to remake their home. The setting, in the shadow of the Andes, has always been beautiful. But now the city has new museums, parks, restaurants, and hotels, and has become a must-see destination. 

    You’ll explore the city in more depth tomorrow, but for this evening your CEO can recommend some great rooftop bars and restaurants where you can try the local dish of bandeja paisa (beans, pork, corn buns).
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    Photo By paweldotio
    Day 6
    You’ll start your day exploring Medellín with a walking tour of some of the city’s neighborhoods and learn about how Colombia’s second-largest city has reinvented itself. An infamous center of the country’s drug trade in the 1980s and 90s, it’s now a destination with a vibrant cultural life, dining scene, and bright future. The initial spark for this transformation began with the opening of a subway (the only one in Colombia) and a cable car (which connected once-isolated neighborhoods to the rest of the city). Those efforts were accompanied by dozens of smaller initiatives, from cleaning up neighborhoods to opening new cultural institutions. The transformation isn’t only of interest to travelers. Residents will often express astonishment at what they have achieved.  

    You’ll have the afternoon free to explore on your own. You might want to ride the MetroCable car or hop on a sightseeing bus. G Adventures also offers a number of optional excursions. You can go paragliding over the city, visit Explora Park (an architectural wonder that has been a key part of the city’s transformation), or dive into the local art scene at the Modern Art Museum. You can also ascend Nutibara Hill. From its summit at 263 feet above the city below, you can take in the views of Medellín and visit Pueblito Paisa, a replica of one of the region’s traditional towns.
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    Photo By Juan Saravia
    Day 7
    Medellín and El Peñón de Guatapé
    You can spend today exploring more of Medellín or go on a short day trip to El Peñón de Guatapé, just over an hour away. The monolith there rises 656 feet above the surrounding countryside and has been a source of fascination since the area was inhabited by the Tahamí people. Every step to the summit is numbered—there are 740 to the building atop the summit. This geological oddity even has its own plant species, Pitcairnia heterophylla—a member of the bromeliad family discovered at the rock’s summit in 1954.  

    If you choose instead to stay in the city, you can see some of the sights you missed on your first day. The Casa de la Memoria provides an overview of the historical conflicts in Colombia and Medellín. A lighter option is to simply wander through the city, visiting some of its many plazas. Among Medellín’s nicknames is the City of Eternal Spring, thanks to average highs in the 70s or low 80s year-round. It’s the perfect climate to be a flâneur for a day.
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    Day 8
    On day eight, you’ll board an early-morning flight to Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast. After you land and are transferred to your hotel, your CEO will lead a quick orientation walk covering the history of the city as well as practical information you’ll need before you explore on your own.  

    The city’s Old Town boasts the most extensive fortifications of any city in South America. These, as well as many historic squares, churches, and private residences from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, led UNESCO to recognize the area as a World Heritage Site. For centuries, Cartagena was (along with Havana and San Juan, Puerto Rico) one of Spain’s most important outposts in the Caribbean, and much of the wealth of the New World passed through this port on its way back to Europe. What it left behind was beautiful mansions and richly endowed convents and monasteries. Many of those historic buildings have been restored as museums or, in other cases, as hotels and restaurants.  

    Your CEO may suggest strolling to absorb the evocative atmosphere. Do some people-watching from a bench in the Plaza Bolivar or look for some last-minute gifts from the vendors under the arcade of the Bovedas Market.
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    Day 9
    Return Home
    The G Adventures trip ends this morning and you can head to the airport at any point, but if you plan to stay longer, you could visit some of the museums in Cartagena. As in Bogota, there’s a Gold Museum here, though this one is focused on the works of the Zenú people who flourished from roughly 200 B.C.E. to 1600 C.E., just inland from Cartagena. Or head to the Palace of the Inquisition, which served as the seat of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the 18th century. Today it houses a museum dedicated to the grim history of the organization charged with pursuing heretics and witches. You can also check out the city’s Museum of Modern Art, best known for its collection of works from the 1950s by artists from Colombia and throughout Latin America.  

    If you want to extend your stay in Cartagena by a day or two, G Adventures can help with arrangements. Even better, follow up your Colombia Express trip with G Adventures’ Caribbean Colombia Express itinerary, which starts in Cartagena, continues on to Minca, Taganga, and Tayrona National Park, and ends in Santa Marta.