Just Back from Colombia and NYC!

Well, we are just back from our unexpected Colombia trip which I mentioned here and which was preceded by a fabulous six weeks in New York City - you can see the planning post on NY here if you're interested. Well this all means I've got a LOT to catch up on, 2016 has only just started but as usual I'm behind on the blog!

After a couple of months away it's great to be home and California looks so much better now we are getting some rain, though the garden is a bit of a jungle. The question is which destination to start blogging about first? There's always so much to say about New York, the museums, the theatre the walks, the food and the fact that I finally seem to be making sense of their non-sensical subway where a "local" turns into an "express" at almost no notice. Yes, it's a very efficient system but only for those who understand it! 

However, I think I'm going to leap into Colombia first, it's foremost in my mind and I feel excited about all that we saw and did. I'm a great believer in grabbing a deal when it comes along and that was how we ended up in Bogota. We knew almost nothing about the country and ultimately that was part of the charm, we had almost no expectations and consequently everything was a wonderful surprise. Our first glance of the Colombian countryside as we drove out of Nieva heading towards San Augustin....
Here is how the itinerary worked out:
3 nights Bogota  Casa Medina, a Four Seasons
3 nights San Augustin Hostal Huaka-Yo
2 nights Tierradentro La Portada Hostal
2 nights Popayan La Plazuela Hotel
3 nights Pasto Maison Frances in Pasto for the Negros y Blancos Carnaval
2 nights Medellin Alejandria Poblado
3 nights Cartegena Tcherassi Hotel and Spa
1 night Bogota Artisan D.C

As usual we mixed high and lower end properties staying at the Four Seasons in Bogata and ending at the lovely boutique Tcherassi Hotel and Spa in Cartegena. But in between it was a mix  small hotels, a nice colonial property in Popoyan and simple but comfortable pensiones. As usual we found the simpler properties to be far more communal and we had the opportunity to meet lots of people including many young Colombians. In general we try to avoid traveling during the season but visiting Colombia over the holidays meant serendipitously we would be there for the  Negros y Blancos Carnaval in Pasto. Another advantage was that this is the time that your fellow tourists are most likely to be Colombians as the whole country seems to be on vacation   In this regard it reminded me of going to the south of France in August!
Pre-Colombian statues in the museum at San Augustin Archeological Park.

TRANSPORTATION; We didn't have great luck with Avianca, a four hour delay in Bogota (two flat trees discovered at the end of the runway?!!) and a six hour delay in Pasto but they were kind enough to change us to an early flight for free in Cartagena so it all worked out. 
The wonderfully helpful Cesar at Hostal Huaka-Yo arranged a car and driver for the San Augustin-Tierradentro-Popayan section and  I highly recommend going this route, I really didn't fancy the 6am bus out of Tierradentro. Cesar has lived in the US  and speaks perfect English. He's friendly, reliable and well informed so he is a great person to contact if you're considering an itinerary that includes San Augustin.

I'll probably write a chronological trip report on Fodors but on the blog  I'll review the hotels and each of the destinations, Bogota,  Medellin, the Archeological Parks at San Augustin and Tierradentro, the colonial cites of Popayan and Cartegena, along with  some of the things we did - including hiking, the spectacular Negros y Blancos Carnaval in Pasto, a Street Art walking tour in Bogota, a city tour in Medellin as well as various museums and general travel tips. As you can see there's such a range of things to do in Colombia.

We really enjoyed the mix of things to see from the cities to the rural areas. It's hard to describe the beauty of the areas we saw in the south. It seemed almost every town we visited in Colombia was ringed by stunning mountains. Between San Augustin and Tierradentro, Popoyan and Pasto the mountains were spectacular a seemingly unending knot across the country. The landscape varied from tropical mountains covered in small farms of coffee, sugar cane and bananas, to high desert plateau and rolling agricultural land planted on a larger scale with potatoes. There seemed to be stunning hillside vistas and precipitous drops down from the roads wherever we looked.

But along with the physical beauty is an interesting contemporary culture. This is a country on the brink of brokering a progressive peace between many of the armed factions.  But the current plan  isn't without detractors and the questions of peace, reconciliation and justice were forefront in several of the discussions we had, well, once we could get beyond people  simultaneously worrying about our safety and telling us we would be fine! Even as a casual visitor you can see these political discussion in the contemporary art which is often concerned with social issues.  Colombia (like so many places coming out of civil conflict) is currently having to grapple with an uncomfortable peace based on amnesty or greatly reduced sentences for human rights violations that will allow for a political way forward. Having visited, we are fascinated to see the results of the upcoming referendum on the latest peace deal. 

PS If you want to read about our New York City jaunt you can see the Ongoing Trip Report  I wrote on Fodors.