Colombia
The Secret Heart of Colombia

Colombia – The Secret Heart of Colombia – a 17 day Small Group Tour.


The world is full of preconceptions, and it’s fair to say that Colombia has long suffered from these in spades. Insurgencies by quasi-communist FARC, ELN and other gorillas, violence fuelled by drug money, and corruption are difficult associations to lose. However, in 2016 a peace agreement ended the FARC conflict and after decades saw the group disband. Since a 2017 ceasefire, talks are ongoing with ELN rebels. Colombians are tired of these futile battles.

Most populous of South American states, Colombia melds Spanish, African and indigenous culture in a colourful blend. This tour offers a refreshing reality check to lazy headlines, providing a fascinating two-weeks of adventure among cities, towns and villages that highlight Colombia’s colonial legacy, its living indigenous culture and its incredibly diverse landscapes, from desert to cloud forest, mountains, volcanoes and beaches.

Colombia: to see once is worth a thousand words.

Colombia is emerging from its reputation as the bad boy of Latin America to show its true colours as one of the most exciting corners of the continent. Put aside what you’ve read about Colombia’s murky past – for those willing to step beyond the stereotypes the country offers a breathtaking array of world class attractions that are sure to leave an imprint on the souls of all who visit.

On this two and half week overland journey of discovery we take a trip back into the past, exploring the magnificent colonial heritage atmospheric towns such as Villa de Leyva and Popayan, and spend time in the famed coffee zone, experiencing rural life set amidst spectacular scenery. For lovers of history and archaeology, marvel at the little-known mysteries of San Agustin.

In addition, there is also the opportunity to extend your Colombian odyssey to  the azure Caribbean to explore the mazy cobbled streets of colourful and historic Cartagena and stroll on the palm fringed beaches of Tayrona National Park. Join us to explore Colombia and become a convert to the joys of this welcoming and enigmatic nation.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track 
  • Culture
  • History
  • Wildlife

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour style

Traveller

Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.

Itinerary.

Arrive in Bogota and transfer to the hotel, located in the historic heart of the city. The rest of the day is at leisure to either explore or relax. If you have arrived early you may wish to visit the interesting Gold Museum which is very close to the hotel, housing one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic metallurgy in the world, offering an insight into this lucrative but controversial activity which has brought wealth, war and fortune-seekers to Colombia’s shores for many centuries. Overnight at Hotel Casa de la Vega or similar. No meals are included today.

Spend the first full day on tour in Bogota exploring this vibrant city on foot and by vehicle. Firstly take a guided walk around La Candelaria – the historical centre of Bogota with colonial and baroque style buildings and cobblestone streets and plazas, and visit the Emerald Museum which catalogues the country’s rise to being the world’s largest emerald producer (make sure you bring ID) and then the San Francisco Church, a sixteenth century delight which still draws pilgrims as the oldest Christian site in the city. Continue to the Paloquemao for a visit to the bustling and colourful public market, essentially an authentic farmer’s market on an epic scale: a genuine cornucopia of foods and eating places, wander through the myriad of stalls and perhaps sample an arepa or pan de bono. Continue for spectacular views of Bogota City from one of its mountainous peaks at the Monserrate monastery, a seventeenth century shrine to ‘The Fallen Lord’. Overnight at Hotel Casa de la Vega or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time: four-hours)

Drive to the famous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, carved into the tunnels of a salt mine, and experience the surreal journey into the heart of the mountain’s holy site. From here, continue as far as the charming village of Raquira, famous for its handicrafts and pottery. After a short break to admire local craftsmen’s skills, continue to the beautifully preserved and traditional town of Villa De Leyva, characterised by its clusters of white-washed colonial-style buildings and sweepingly elegant central square. Overnight at Hotel & Spa Getsemani or similar. (BL)

Spend the morning exploring Villa de Leyva, visiting the central plaza with its churches, restaurants and handicraft shops. Take a guided walk through its atmospheric streets, many boasting huge cobblestone paving that boast colourful bougainvillea spilling from balconies, patios, courtyards and white-washed buildings with pan-tiled roofs. Continue to the “Santo Ecce Homo” Dominican convent, constructed in 1620 by the Spanish from local stone, studded with a profusion of fossils.  The site offers a real window on the colonial era and religious missions from Europe. Having passed through the delightful gardens, within you will find a dozen beautiful galleries adorned with religious art and impressively informative guide materials. Later, continue to the extraordinary Museo el Fósil, which houses the 7-metre-long remains of a crocodile-like ancestor, the Kronosaurus, dated between 100 and 150 million years old, and beached here when the whole area lay on the shores of a tropical sea. Finish the tour at the Casa de Terra Cotta, claimed by architect Octavio Mendoza to be the largest piece of pottery in the world. Explore the whimsical rooms inside, fashioned entirely from clay, baked hard by the sun. The afternoon is at your leisure to further discover this charming town. Overnight at Hotel Hotel & Spa Getsemani or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time: five-and-a-half hours)

Leaving Villa de Leyva behind, drive back towards Bogota taking an alternative scenic back-road via Tunja, capital city of the department of Boyacá. Stop at the most important monument in Colombian history: the Boyacá Bridge, a tiny, white-washed stone crossing which belies its national significance. On that site Simón Bolívar won his most decisive battle against Spanish settlers which directly paved the way for independence from the Spanish Empire and the establishment of ‘Gran Colombia’. On arrival back in Bogotá, pay a visit to the foundation of Hogar de Paz and learn about their vital work to shelter and support adolescents with family difficulties by supporting them via community projects.  Finally, continue south to Girardot. Overnight GHL Relax Hotel Club el Puente or similar (BLD)

(Approximate driving time: three-and-a-half-hours)

After breakfast start the journey to Neiva along the reliable tarmac of Route 45 which gradually gives way to narrower roads alongside which are villages with clusters of houses amidst scattered woodland approaching Villavieja, a little village close to the Tatacoa Desert. In the afternoon we take a trip through the arid scrub where we will pass the labyrinthine profusion of eroded dry gullies in ochres and greys which make for some stunning photographic opportunities. We continue to Neiva where we spend the night. Overnight at Hosteria Matamundo or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time today: five hours)

We leave Villavieja in the early morning and drive through a vivid landscape, rising through dramatic mountain-scenery with the Rio Cabrera and then the Rio Ambica as constant companions. As the route winds around the edges of hills and wooded ridges, near the archaeologic hotspot of Colombia –San Agustin. We spend the next two nights imbibing the splendour of the area and its archaeological wonders. In the afternoon we drive to the famous Rio Magdalena Strait. Here, the longest river in Colombia narrows to a raging torrent just two metres wide. Returning to San Agustin, we visit a ‘trapiche’ traditional factory producing unrefined panela sugar from sugar cane. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or explore independently. Overnight at Akawanka Lodge or similar. (BL)

Spend today exploring the village of San Agustin and its Archaeological Park, which comprises three main sites: Las Mesitas, the Fuente de Lavapatas, and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, all of which will astound and bemuse you in equal part. The visit ends with a fascinating visit to the Archaeological Museum which will provide fascinating context to what was seen throughout the day. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the tranquillity of the hotel. Overnight at Akawanka Lodge or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time: four-and-a-half-hours)

After breakfast, continue to Popayan stopping at Village Isnos where nearby we will observe some impressive tombs and statues at Alto de Los Idolos, dating from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. In all, 16 tombs and 17 sculptures were built on an ambitious man-made platform between two hills. The region’s largest funerary statue, at 7m tall is also to be found there. Continue traversing the beautiful Puracé National Natural Park, named after the active volcano in this stunning mountainous region. Experience the unforgettable landscape of the Andean cloud forest where the road winds and climbs through lush vegetation which tumbles thick and steaming down the hillsides. On its fringes, pass through the little-known landscape of the Paramo: residing between exposed mountain-sides and forest, this wetland offers incredible biodiversity from over 200 orchid species, rare trees such as the Colombian Pine, Andean Oak and Wax Palm, and animals worth keeping a beady eye out for – like spectacled bears, cougars, howler monkeys, mountain tapir and the world’s smallest deer, the pudu. The sharp-eyed visitor may also spot circling Condor in the skies above. We expect to arrive in Popayan – known as The White City – around midday. This afternoon, take a walking tour to discover what the city has to offer. Overnight at Hotel La Plazuela or similar (BL)

After breakfast we visit Silvia, where on Tuesdays, the indigenous Guambiano people come together dressed in their royal blue and fuschia native costumes to offer and buy their products at the market and to converse with one another. This takes place at the famous market in Silvia, which creates a special opportunity to see and meet these ancestral groups that are so fiercely proud of their culture. Depending on the length of the visit, we either have lunch in Silvia or back in Popayan, before we continue to Timbío, one of the few places where the silk production, which was initiated by the state about 40 years ago, still persists. Here, the entire production process – from cultivating the mulberry leaves to the production of the silk threads – is entirely in women’s hands. We are welcomed by the strong women whoshow and tell us everything about their daily work on a tour through the mulberry fields, the nursery and pupating stations of the silk worms, as well as the final processing of the raw silk. After a delicious local snack and a visit of the local silk craft store, we head back to Popayán. Overnight Hotel La Plazuela or similar (BL)

Today we leave Popayan and head towards the Coffee Region, where we stop in Buga, where the famous Basilica del Señor de los Milagros is located – founded to celebrate the miracle of the gift of a crucifix from the local river to a generous and pious old woman. We then continue on to our charming hotel in the coffee region. Overnight Hotel Vila Nora or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time: six-hours)

We leave our hotel towards the city of Armenia. In case of bad weather we change to Willy jeeps to make our way to Hacienda Evelyza, where we visit the plantation of different native and non-native varieties of cocoa. The owner of the Hacienda shares his profound knowledge of the cultivation, history and culture of cacao. During the tour through we taste various cacao fruits, and see how the grafts for no new seedlings are made. Finally we arrive at the main house where we experience the fermentation-, drying- and artesanal grinding-process. After tasting a delicious, selfmade hot chocolate, we return to our accommodation. Overnight Hotel Vila Nora or similar (BL)

Today we take it easy and enjoy the grounds of the finca in the morning, before we drive north towards Manizales. On the way we stop at a typical “trapiche”, where sugar cane is processed to raw sugar cane blocks called “panela”. Panela is used in every Colombian household and is a great alternative to white sugar. We either have lunch close by or continue to our final destination of Hacienda Venecia in the outskirts of Manizales. Overnight Hacienda Venecia or similar (BLD)

Spend the morning learning about the fascinating life and culture of those who inhabit the coffee region and learn about the complex process that transforms the humble coffee bean into one of Colombia’s most renowned exports as well as enjoying tastings of the farm’s product (this tour is shared by other visitors to the Hacienda). This afternoon will be at leisure for you to relax or explore further. Overnight at Hacienda Venecia similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time today is four-hours)

After a leisurely morning we leave Manizales and head to the quaint little city of Honda for two nights. Overnight Hotel Casa Belle Epoque or similar (BL)

Today take a half day walking tour through this historic river town, founded in 1643, located directly at the Magdalena River. Visits include the market (plaza de mercado), the puente Navarro Bridge, some colonial houses and the “Museo del rio”. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight Casa Belle Epoque or similar (BL)

Today we drive back to Bogota via the central Andes mountains. Upon arrival and at a suitable time you will be transferred to the airport for your departure flight (B)

(approx. driving time four-hours)

Contact us for details of our post tour extension to Santa Marta/Cartagena and Tayrona National Parkand to book your place.

Transfer to the airport for the internal flight to Santa Marta. On arrival transfer to the hotel and the rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Finca Barlovento or similar. (B)

This morning depart Santa Marta for Tayrona National Park and take the interesting coastal road eastwards until we reach the eastern entrance of the Park after about a 1 hour drive. From the Cañaveral area where the entrance is located, we start a hike through the tropical forest past idyllic palm fringed beaches until we reach Arrecifes (1h. approx). Here we take a short break to enjoy a refreshing natural juice. We continue our hike for a further 1 more passing by beautiful beaches like Arenillas, La Piscina and Cabo San Juan Beach, where we have time for some swimming and just relaxing to enjoy this stunning place. Late this afternoon return to the hotel. Overnight at Finca Barlovento or similar (BL)

Note: The walking is an easy grade with a height gain of around 150 metres in total but trails can be more challenging especially after rain so good footwear is recommended. Also please be aware that this section of coastline is subject to strong currents and tides. Therefore, swimming is limited to certain beaches and on occasions can close without warning if conditions dictate. Please note the park can be hot and humid and so we recommend that you take adequate water for the walk and also be well protected from the sun, ideally wearing a hat. It is also advisable to be wearing insect repellent for a visit to the park.

Today is spent at leisure. Overnight Finca Barlovento or similar (B)

After breakfast journey along the Caribbean coast to Cartagena where colonial chic meets Caribbean flair, old city walls and fortresses bear witness to gold treasures and pirates, and pebbled alleys, green plazas and colourfully painted facades carry us away and right into the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The perfectly restored historic town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is best explored slowly on foot, by horse carriage or by bicycle. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure to start to enjoy the maze of cobbled streets. Later, perhaps enjoy a sundowner on the historic city walls and allow your gaze to wander over the terracotta roofs towards the shimmering expanse of the Caribbean Sea. Overnight at Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

(Overall approximate driving time is 4 – 5 hours)

After breakfast, take a half-day guided tour to see the most important monuments in Cartagena. Start at the Convent of La Popa (the highest point of the city) and continue to the Castillo de San Felipe, an immense fort filled with history and mysteries hidden in its stonewalled tunnels. Leaving the castle, visit the monument of Zapatos Viejos, the “Old Shoes”. Certainly the most impressive monument is the gigantic defensive wall that surrounds the old city, and overlooks the sea and its well-preserved colonial architecture. During the rest of the visit you will see the city’s churches, museums, plazas, restaurants, shops and jewellery stores. This combination of treasures makes Cartagena deserving of the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site: You will never forget this wonderful destination. The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the city further or relax at the hotel. Note: During this tour, the visit to La Popa can be replaced by the visit to San Pedro Claver Convent. Overnight at Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Your last full day in Colombia can either be spent at leisure or alternatively you may wish to take a further excursion (not included) perhaps to Isla San Pedro de Majagua for swimming and snorkelling and to enjoy the fine beaches or perhaps take a cooking class in Cartagena preceded by a visit to the local market. There is also the option to visit the small active Totumo Volcano and bathe in its therapeutic mud pools. Overnight Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Time at leisure until transfer to the airport on due time for your onward journey. (B)

Dates & Price.

Tour Notes

This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 3 travellers.

Single Supplement £475.

Return flights from London to Bogota start at £690. Contact us for a quotation.

Extra night accommodation pre-tour in Bogota costs from £44 per person, per night sharing a twin/double room and £82 per person in a solo occupancy room.

Please note that the prices quoted above are for the category of accommodation and hotel used for this particular tour. Depending on the hotel eventually confirmed there may be some difference in the rate advertised by the hotel, and the prices available through Undiscovered Destinations. It should be noted we will not apply a surcharge should more expensive accommodation be used. At the same time in the event that a lower rate is available for the confirmed hotel we are unable to offer a refund.

Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.

This national park is visited on the Cartagena extension. The park is closed during the month of February so an alternative excursion will be offered if you are taking the extension in the month of February. This does not impact on any sightseeing in Cartagena.

£1145 per person based on a minimum of 2 people travelling.

Join us on this extension to Santa Marta and the magical city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.The city was founded on June 1st 1533 and named after Cartagena in Spain. During the colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire and it was a centre of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys.

It is a city closely associated with pirates in the Caribbean and in 1984 the colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy plenty of time to thoroughly explore the atmospheric old walled city and perhaps enjoy a sunset drink up on the city walls. Also visit Tayrona National Park, a magical slice of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, with stunning stretches of golden sandy beach backed by coconut palms and thick rainforest.

Behind it all rise the steep hillsides of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range. Single supplement on this extension is £385.

Mapped itinerary.

Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?

Download PDF.

Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

Tour inclusions.

  • Arrival and departure airport transfers
  • Transportation throughout the tour
  • All accommodation
  • Services of English speaking guide/tour leader from Day 2 to Day 16 on the main tour
  • Local guides on Pacific and Cartagena extension
  • Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
  • Internal flights on the Pacific Coast or Cartagena extension

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights to Colombia
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visa if applicable
  • Drinks
  • Tips (Discretionary)

Stunning scenery, architecture and beautiful beaches. A really good mix of coast, town and country. A great tour.

Jodie Benson, UK