At first mention to a US traveler, Colombia often conjures many outdated understandings about travel in the country. “Is it even safe?” is a question most frequently asked. After spending a full week traversing across this beautiful land I want travelers to know not only did I feel safe the whole time, but I also think it’s a quiet destination that deserves to be on their list if they’ve yet to experience Colombia. The luxury properties in Colombia hold incredible value as well, which is welcomed as other regions’ pricing can be prohibitive at certain times of the year.
While there is much to cover, I wanted to highlight the accessibility of the country and how we got around during our time in Colombia.
EASE OF ENTRY
From eastern US, there are a ton of easy options to enter Colombia. Direct flights from Miami to Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena are plentiful. After departing LAX, I had a brief layover in MIA (just enough time to grab a bite!) before taking off for Medellín.
This airport is the main one in Western Colombia. The wait at Customs & Immigration was only made long due to their current Covid-19 protocols and a few travelers not knowing about the Immigration form necessary to have completed prior to arrival. I was met immediately after retrieving my luggage by my incredible English speaking guide Pablo (a part of the Almaz Journeys family of superb Colombian guides).
The weather in Medellín can feel like springtime in Florida, more or less. The city is at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level, in the steep, temperate Aburrá Valley of the Cordillera Central. I arrived in the evening which was a stunning site. After exiting the approximately 5 mile long Túnel de Oriente, I was greeted by a valley of city lights. In the morning I realized the city was literally “hugged” on all sides by lush hills, which explains why this region is also referred to as the “Land of Eternal Spring” and is home to many rich flower farms.
We stayed at Click Clack and I fell in love with El Cielo Hotel when we toured it. Depending on the traveler, these both could be great options in the city! Let’s chat about which one could be the best fit for you.
FROM MEDELLÍN TO ARMENIA (“COFFEE REGION”)
To travel from the city to Armenia, there is a smaller airport in Medellín (Olaya Herrera / EOH) that I was in love with. So sleek, clean and efficient. Our guide Pablo joking would often say “Colombians are still learning what efficiency means” which is true for street traffic many days. But this airport made the boarding process super smooth.
After about 45 minutes, we had landed at AXM in Armenia and were met by our guide Cami, who proudly showed us around this stunning region. We immediately went to La Morelia where I enjoyed the most delicious coffee and croissant I’ve ever had (sorry, Paris). We walked around this full coffee farm and after our tour, we were greeted by a cool Jeep Willy (great history here) to take us down the bumpy rural roads to Hacienda Bambusa.
Hacienda Bambusa, it’s inspiration on the film ENCANTO, and the people who work there to make it extra magical are worth a whole separate post which I hope to do soon. Just know this is a MUST stop when you come to Colombia!
FROM ARMENIA TO CARTAGENA
Once we sadly accepted it was time to leave beautiful Hacienda Bambusa, once again the transportation to our next stop was very smooth. The roads in this region are rural so it’s really important to have a hired driver to manage all ground transportation. It was about an hour and 40 minutes to the Pereira Airport (PEI).
This airport was given a refresh that began in early 2017 and again, we were struck by how easy it was to get to our gate and relax with wifi before boarding the 90 minute flight to Cartagena.
CARTAGENA & ROSARIO ISLANDS
Landing at CTG (Cartagena), you’ll absolutely feel a change in climate. This region is warm and very humid. I love humidity so I was in heaven! We had an incredible welcome from Carlos our guide, and a few vintage vehicles to drive to our hotel in style. It was so nice to have the roofless cars drive along the coastline before stepping in the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena.
This city is very walkable and I suggest doing this to really get to know the local shops, cafes and culture. It has a very lively energy at night with a lot of young people out but it’s very joyful, not rowdy!
Just a quick boat ride (approx 1 hour) away is the beautiful Rosario Islands region. Here you can spend the day snorkeling and swimming. We checked out 6 unique stops along the way included a few beach clubs, a private villa (huge value at this incredible property!), a private island house and the Hotel Las Islas. Our final stop was the brand new Sofitel Hotel Calablanca Baru.
The photos here barely scratch the surface of this incredible city and the Rosario Islands. It’s definitely worth having a chat about if you’re interested in learning more to see what could be the best fit!
TRANSPORTATION CURVEBALL WITH A LUXURIOUS FIX
Even travel advisors run into travel “fails” along the way. In our case, we were scheduled to travel approximately 30 minutes via private van from the Sofitel Hotel Calablanca Baru back to Cartagena. Well, the previous night’s rain had other plans. The roads are still somewhat rural and the muddy route forced several larger buses to stall out which blocked our vehicle.
The fast thinking team at Almaz Journeys turned our van around and moved us (and all our luggage!) onto another private speed boat back to the city. Because the Sofitel has it’s own dock, this was a quick solution. Working with strong partners who have deep local connections allow for things to happen with ease.
The amount of care and love put into our group’s EDU (educational) experience was all thanks to Joe Sandillo and the Almaz Journeys team who specialize in Colombia.
If this type of destination is of any interest to you, I think now is the time to start planning. I don’t anticipate Colombia staying “secret” for long!