Bucaramanga / Girón / Santísimo
As the fifth largest metropolitan area in Colombia as well as being known as the safest and cleanest city in the country, Bucaramanga offers a lot of interesting places to see, like important buildings in the city center, a historic museum, the famous leather shoe outlets, commercial market places, shopping malls, Colombia´s largest hanging bridge, etc. Girón is located in Bucaramanga´s metropolitan area and it is one of the 17 towns of national heritage in Colombia. Its well-conserved colonial architecture makes it an interesting place to visit and you will be able to imagine how the people lived here 300 years ago. At the end of the city tour you will enjoy an amazing view of the whole metropolitan area from the Eco Park Cerro del Santísimo which will be reached by cable car. The Christ Statue Santísimo is with 37 meters the highest statue in Colombia and a must-see during your stay in Bucaramanga. In addition, the park offers souvenir stores, a place that sells wine made from oranges and blackberries and a water show at night.
Santa Fe de Bogotá
Santa Fe de Bogotá is Colombia’s capital city, and it’s also the entry point into the country for travelers coming from Europe. Its multiple attractions make it an appealing place to visit before arriving in Cartagena de Indias.
Today a city of close to 8 million inhabitants situated in the Andean highlands at 2,680 meters, the area comprising Santa Fe de Bogotá was once home to the Muisca people, of the Chibcha linguistic family. The Muiscas were organized into two federations and had a rich culture with belief systems and rituals based on the cycles of nature and the heavens; their ceremonies in Lake Guatavita are at the root of the Legend of El Dorado. They cultivated the land, fished, mined precious stones and metals and engaged in barter, as well as the elaborate fashioning of practical, ceremonial and decorative objects in gold, fabric and ceramics.
The city of Santa Fe de Bogotá was founded in 1538, and over the following 300 years of colonial rule the city, now enshrined as the capital of the vice-kingdom of New Granada, became the seat of royal, ecclesiastical and military power for the region .
With the establishment of universities under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church, many of which are still operating today, Bogotá became a center of culture and knowledge. Painting and sculpture flourished, giving rise to what’s known today as the santafereña (Santa Fe) School. The Botanic Expedition of the New Kingdom of Granada, established in Bogotá to study native flora, contributed greatly to the knowledge of local plant species.
After gaining independence from Spain in 1819 Bogotá played a determining role in creating the political, economic and social conditions that gave rise to the Republic of Colombia.
By the 20th century Bogotá ‘s importance as a cultural capital was also established, and as the city became a modern metropolis it acquired all the attributes of a cosmopolitan capital city, including a dynamic cultural life of film, theater and dance, as well as word-class restaurants and a lively and diverse night-life.
Sites of interest to visitors: The Gold Museum displays an impressive collection of pre-Hispanic art, mostly in the form of sculpted and cast gold pieces. The Museum of Colonial Art displays paintings and wood sculptures from the Santa Fe, Quito, Cuzco and Lima schools. The Botero Museum features work by the famed painter Fernando Botero, and features significant pieces from different periods of Botero’s oeuvre. The Casa del Florero, where Colombia’s independence movement took root, is a fine example of Santa Fe-style colonial architecture. The National Museum is also of great interest, as is one of the old centers of Bogotá, the Barrio de la Candelaria, which has many old buildings and churches of great historical value.
Cartagena de Indias
Within the ramparts of the historical center of Cartagena de Indias lie the most extensive, well-preserved and restored vestiges of the colonial era in the Americas. Almost five centuries of history, art, culture and tradition come alive in the vibrant heart of the walled city, reminding even the most casual visitor that this imposing complex of fortifications and massive stone edifices was for centuries the undisputed symbol, the jewel in the crown, of Spanish imperial power in the New World. Within its 100 square blocks, covering some 100 hectares, lie architectural gems: military fortifications, imposing government edifications, and churches and cathedrals, almost all painstakingly preserved or restored.
The predominant architectural style is colonial baroque, a direct legacy of the Spanish colonization, which especially flourished in this city because of its size and political and commercial significance to the empire. Blessed with one of the most sheltered natural harbors in the Americas, Cartagena de Indias was coveted by kings and corsairs alike, making it the frequent object of raids and invasions during the 300 years of Spanish colonization, and contributing to its imposing fortifications which, by the 18th century, made it all but invulnerable to outside attack.
In 1984 UNESCO declared Cartagena de Indias a World Historical and Cultural Heritage Site. An hour’s walk through the old city will imbue even the most indifferent visitor with an irresistible impression of the city’s past power and glory, and the magnificence of an epoch long lost to us today.
But the Old Town isn’t just a snapshot of history frozen in time; it’s also home to teeming communities of trades people, artisans, and all the segments of a productive society that make a town a living entity. Its busy streets remind one of Andalusia, but here the people are clearly a mix of Afro-Caribbean, with Spanish and indigenous influences, and their cheerful, friendly disposition will make any visitor feel at home.
Imposing palatial residences, once home to noble and wealthy trading families, have reincarnated as intimate, exclusive boutique hotels. Others have been transformed into exquisite restaurants where local flavors and gastronomic traditions influence a variety of delightfully adventurous and successful experiments in Made in Colombia haute cuisine. Several larger hotels occupy today what for hundreds of years were convents or ecclesiastical edifications. Night life here is always hot; from intimate clubs, lounges and bars to vast outdoor brasseries where people-watching is the order of the day. Or night.
Religious architecture runs the gamut from the stately to the sublime, with its exquisite collection of temples and convents culminating in the grandiose Palace of the Inquisition, mute yet powerful testimony to the once-undisputed power of the Roman Catholic Church.
Eleven kilometers of massive, continuous ramparts and fortifications surround the Old City, powerful reminders of the invincibility of Cartagena de Indias at the height of its influence. One cannot help but be impressed when one tours the forts, with their once-secret connecting tunnels, dungeons, armories, garrisons, towers and bulwarks, and marvel, even today, at the indomitable logic of defensive military engineering.
Coffee Tour / Gastronomic Tour
The combination of the coffee tour and the gastronomic tour offers you a relaxed day with a lot of information and tasty food. Starting with the coffee tour after lunch you will get to know everything about coffee from the crop to the roasted bean. The coffee farm you will visit is the Hacienda El Roble producing the most expensive and exclusive coffee in Colombia and the third most expensive and exclusive in the world. You will get a welcome coffee of the coffee La Mesa de los Santos and at the end of the tour you will do the coffee tasting experience.
After a one-hour ride back to Bucaramanga you will get to know three different restaurants. Due to the high gastronomic diversity in Bucaramanga the three selected restaurants change every day. In each restaurant you will receive a small portion of food with a small drink, you will have the opportunity to talk to other people participating in the tour and you will also learn about the history and the secret of each restaurant.
Whereas the Coffee Triangle is known for its quantity of coffee, the coffee in Santander and especially La Mesa de los Santos is recognized for its high quality and being 100% organic. The coffee tour will be made on the coffee farm Hacienda El Roble, officially producing the most expensive and most exclusive coffee in Colombia and the third most expensive in the world. The farm is one of the oldest coffee farms in Colombia and it is the largest one in La Mesa de los Santos. Because of the fact that the whole region produces organic coffee, the farm is a perfect living space for birds, which means there are 127 different bird species living on the farm.
Upon arrival you will have time to enjoy the picturesque setting of the coffee guesthouse having a welcoming coffee. The coffee tour starts with a walk through the coffee fields and the outside coffee museum where everything about the coffee plant and the distinct types will be explained. After the walk you will arrive at the production facilities where all the steps from the coffee harvest to the finished coffee bean will be shown. The tour ends with the coffee tasting experience which fascinates most travelers due to the quality differences of the coffee.
Santander is the department with the biggest cacao production in Colombia producing more than 25 % of the country´s cacao. The region of Carmen and San Vicente de Chucurí is the main cacao region in Santander and well known for the high quality of the cacao and the sustainable production of its fair-trade products. The reason we selected the region is because there is cacao everywhere and you already drive through large cacao forests and past the beautiful Topocoro Lake on the way to the town of San Vicente de Chucurí.
Arriving on the cacao farm you will meet the owning family that welcomes you with a home-made hot chocolate. They will explain you the importance of the cacao in the region and how their entire life is influenced by the production of cacao. The tour will continue in a cacao tree forest on the farm, so you can learn about the agronomic management and you can admire the biodiversity of the crop. After the walk you will learn about all the steps of the cacao production from the harvest to the finished chocolate. At the end of the tour you will receive a short presentation of the finished products that can be made from cacao and you will have time to enjoy the quiet atmosphere at the farm.
San Vicente de Chucurí
San Vicente de Chucurí used to be one of the most dangerous towns in Colombia 20 years ago and nowadays it is one of the safest places in the country. It used to be controlled by the FARC and other guerrilla groups, and the ELN guerrilla even had its origin right in the center of the town. Today the inhabitants of San Vicente de Chucurí are very proud that they combatted the guerrilla groups. The museum Casa Memoria Histórica honors the approx. 2,000 victims of the conflict and shows a very sad but perfectly organized and interesting timeline of the events that happened in the region.
The region of San Vicente de Chucurí is the largest cacao producer in Colombia producing approx. 13% of the country´s cacao. The cacao farms in the countryside are well organized and can show and explain you the entire process from the plant to the chocolate. For people that want to spend an adventurous day the Airplane Cave just 25 minutes from the town can be visited. The Airplane Cave is not just a cave but also a place with various swimming holes with clear water, little waterfalls and even natural waterslides.
Zapatoca is a beautiful and calm town not known by a lot of travelers. The town has 5000 inhabitants and people from Bucaramanga go there to enjoy a weekend having relatively mild temperatures (day temperature approx. 21 °C/ 79 °F). In town you can enjoy a beautiful central park and try home-made wine from oranges and blackberries. Close to town you will visit the cave “Cueva del Nitro” where a specialized guide shows you parts of the cave that is several kilometers long.
Zapatoca also has a lot of German history since the famous German immigrant Geo von Lengerke lived and died in the town. Nowadays you still find German stereotypes of the people living in Zapatoca.
The road to Zapatoca is one of the highlights of the trip because it goes right through the stunning landscape of the Chicamocha Canyon. There are several viewpoints to stop by during the road trip. One of the viewpoints you will visit at the end of the day is the Mirador Los Guanes which is on top of the mountains from where you can see many parts of Santander such as parts of Bucaramanga´s metropolitan area, Barichara, El Socorro, the Chicamocha Canyon, the Suarez Canyon, the crossing of the two canyons, etc.