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Perfect pavements meet crumbling
concrete slabs on wonky sidewalks
edged by multi-coloured, pebble-dashed
apartment blocks and fairytale gabled
buildings. Faded Colonial facades stand
dominated by futuristic high-rise towers
amidst an urban jigsaw of red brick, bed sheet, Colombia is South America’s two of the world’s finest
chrome, graffiti and mirrored glass. fourth-largest country after Brazil, colonial settlements. In
Painted shutters and ornate balconies look Argentina and Peru and is well-served by a sticky, steamy tropical haze I am
out on patches of manicured lawns. Ritzy an extensive network of criss-crossing reminded just how exquisite Cartagena’s Sizzling kerbside food stalls emit the telltale
bars and centuries-old monuments sit domestic flights, largely operated by streetscape is, as I stroll a picture-perfect aromas of Cartagena’s deep-fried meat-
behind rubbish-strewn alleyways beside national carrier Avianca. labyrinth in bold bubble-gum hues. filled empanadas (corn-flour turnovers)
topiary and blooms. Views from the airplane take in Facing the Caribbean Sea to the while street clowns entertain tinto-sipping
Like most visitors, I seek out the rolling hillsides, valleys and mountains west, with a sweeping bay to the south, passers-by.
surrounding countryside, hurtling north with numerous volcanoes that form the city is a jaw-dropping jewel-box of A steady climb up to the cannon-topped
in a decrepit fume-spewing buseta along a dominant (well almost) spiny ridge Spanish colonial ostentation, declared ramparts allows views over the Archipelago
mountain roads. Through an open window across most of the country north to south, a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Nuestra Seora del Rosario, a 100-hectare
I watch swathes of tufted pasture whizz rising to over 5,000m. Two great river A flamboyant vibrancy befits Cartagena cluster of idyllic islands that sit amongst
past. The road cuts through a checkerboard valleys – the mighty Magdalena and fast- as the artistic hub of the Atlantic coral reefs in a conserved marine park. Once
of smallholdings, flower farms and patches flowing Cauca – act as dividing channels coastline. Today it is a city where street inhabited by Caribe Indians, the islands are
of potato crops and maize populated by from the Atlantic coastal lowlands carnivals and parades celebrate the city’s renowned for their sea-grasses, plankton,
roaming goats and chickens. into the very heart of the country. Vast seemingly permanent state of festival: a crustaceans, fish, mangroves and seabirds.
A brightly-coloured road-sign steamy swamps form catchments for character born out of a slave-trade past Powder-fine beaches and shallow coral
proclaims Bienvenido Boyac – Su Merced the tributaries that empty into the in which sainthood and swashbuckling gardens provide world-class snorkelling,
(Welcome Boyac - Its Mercy), a courteous Orinoco and Amazon rivers, while the buccaneers both play a part. while tour boats take in three or four islands
Colombian salutation that prompts the gaping savannah of Los Llanos span over For me, Cartagena is best discovered on frequent trips from Cartagena. Me, I
driver to doff his cap. This breadbasket 250,000km
to form a vast semi-arid by simply walking its streets, so I head to Isla Grande – the largest of the palm-
region is Colombia’s natural store- tract of grassy plains. meander to my heart’s content through fringed atolls – to eat fire-roasted lobster,
cupboard, so blessed by colour the locals At more that 400,000km
rectangular plazas where vendors ply cooked fresh while I sway in my hammock
call it el tapiz (the tapestry). Slabs of yellow Amazononia engulfs the whole of juicy red papaya in man-sized slices. to Calypso rhythms. n
cheese lie piled high outside pretty red- southeast Colombia, a magnificent land
roofed fincas, where sombrero-wearing dominated by dense rainforest and
campesinos usher sheep across rocky riddled with magnificent vine-tangled
gorges dotted with wild flowers. rivers that is home to 3200 species of
We have two hugely popular tours to colombia, one small group tour and a
A crash of gears heralds our arrival fish, 7500 butterfly species, 1800 species
stimulating package for families. Both take in the best of what colombia has to
in Villa de Leyva, a beautifully preserved of birds, 800 insect species and almost
offer, ensuring an exciting and rewarding visit.
colonial-era town declared a national 2000 species of reptile and amphibian.
monument in 1954. Gloriously free from Giant blue butterflies and water lilies DIScOVER cOLOMBIA
modern carbuncles, Villa de Leyva is a the size of a tea tray are just a couple of BOgOtA – VILLA DE LAyVA – tAyROnA
pristine whitewashed cityscape coloured the highlights in this magical, surreal nAtIOnAL PARk – SAntA MARtA
by wooden shutters painted bottle-green, land, where hot, glue-like mud edges – cARtAgEnA – EL ROSARIO ISLAnDS
where poncho-clad octogenarians take a brooding river of outer-worldly – tOtuMO MuD VOLcAnO 8 DAyS
a snooze on rickety benches clustered inky-green. Crimson parrots squawk £750, €1125, Au$1915, nZ$2215,
around the expansive Plaza Mayor. and monkeys chatter in a muddle of uS$1575, cA$1725, ZAR12,750
Sun-bleached cobblestone streets with mangroves as a zillion insects whine in
over-spilling, flower-filled balconies soaring treetops overhead. PIRAtES, DOLPHInS & MuD VOLcAnOES
provided the perfect setting for the ultra- My flight snakes along the Atlantic, 10 DAyS fAMILy tOuR
melodramatic telenovela (soap opera) carefully tracing the seductive curves of Beach visits, gold museum, funicular railway,
‘Zorro’. I enjoy a refreshing dip in the the shoreline. Languid waters ripple in ostrich farm, fossil museum, desert horse
town’s spring-fed natural swimming dozens of shades of blue around coral riding, snorkelling, forest walks, castles, aquarium, pirate
pool and enjoy a glass of ice-cold, freshly reefs and cays. Colombia’s 1750km island, volcanic mud bath… Man, the kids will have a blast!

squeezed fejoa juice (pineapple guava) Caribbean coastal stretch is one of the If you’re looking for a tour that the kids will remember for
before bidding Villa de Leyva farewell. nation’s most accessible and tourist- the rest of their lives, this is it!
My custard-yellow cross-town friendly. It also has the distinction ADuLt: £1400, €1890, Au$3570, nZ$4130, uS$2940,
taxi speeds to Bogota’s Aeropuerto of being the first to be conquered by cA$3080, ZAR23,800 cHILD: £1010, €1365, Au$2580,
Internacional El Dorado where I board the Spanish. nZ$2980, uS$2125, cA$2225, ZAR 17,170
a flight to trade the cool, crisp air of the Today it contains Colombia’s two
capital for the Caribbean’s sweltering oldest surviving cities: Santa Marta
heat. Shaped like an oversized, fraying (founded in 1525) and Cartagena (1533),
cALL uS tODAy! uk 0800 092 9595 IRE 1800 946 843 uSA/cAn 1800 517 0867 SOutH AfRIcA 011 881 5765 OnLInE WWW.kuMukA.cOM
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