This story isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is this country. It’s for those who believe in resilience, the power of love and, the tenacity of will. How a country redeemed itself after surviving the wrath of history’s most notorious drug lord is beyond me. But somehow, they have. And it’s nothing short of miraculous.
My Trip to Bogotá, Colombia
My visit to Colombia began in Bogotá. I had heard only a little about this place. We stayed at the Four Seasons Casa Medina, which was walking distance to unique restaurants and bars. What appeared to be a rainforest inside turned out to be a cute cafe! The mountains in the background gave the town a naturalistic and jungle feel.
Upon arrival, we had a warm welcome at the W Hotel Bogotá. Martinis marked with the Virtuoso logo greeted us! It quickly became apparent that this high-end network of agencies is like none other, and this study tour with Big Five wasn’t going to disappoint. We were brought upstairs to a premium suite where a side door led us into a disco room with a gin and tonic bar. A bartender mixed us concoctions while we giddily did a scavenger hunt for tasty bites. I couldn’t help but imagine all the friends I knew that would have a blast in this VIP suite!
We awoke early to enjoy Colombian coffee (I’m now hooked!) and did a market tour where I learned how much of a role the environment plays in their natural cures and skin products. Flowers are one of the biggest exports of Colombia, and they come in all types and colors. We sampled the most delicious fruits I’ve ever had in my life with unbelievably hard to pronounce names such as “Guanabana.” Next, we strolled graffiti-lined streets, and I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken aside of La Abuela (grandmother in English). She’s the one picture that has survived and thrived past the typical three-month term of being brushed over. True wisdom never fades!
We explored an art co-op where we saw local artists in their true element. Bogotá is up and coming in the art scene, and I highly recommend catching a festival or art show here!
My Trip to Medellin, Colombia
We left early the next day for Medellin, and I had mixed feelings. I couldn’t help but wonder what the once most dangerous place in the world would be like today. We stayed at the nicely located Marriott. No trip to Medellin is complete without a visit to the Pablo Escobar museum. It describes in detail the history of his notorious reign, and more importantly, it honors the victims lost or missing. I was astounded at this unbelievable story! I didn’t know Escobar had built his own prison, where he got to enjoy a casino while serving time. Or that he built homes for the homeless (400 actually) while running for office and then solicited the children to work for him. It’s a hard-to-stomach story of drugs and greed and a torn apart country left to pick up the pieces.
On a more positive note, we visited Community 13 directly after. Due to its location, this town was hit the hardest in the guerrilla warfare overtaking the city. We spoke to a leader who developed 413- an organization focused on using arts, music, and sports to create positivity, community, and peace. What an inspiration Kbala is! I love seeing youth fearlessly making a massive impact. He began his talk with this:
“There are two rules here. One: you must smile because we’ve cried enough. And two: you must love each other because it’s love that’s going to bring peace to this world.”
I’ll always remember that speech. We took a tour of the graffiti-lined streets and watched break dancers crush it. We took in the incredibly positive vibes. I bought a picture and luckily ran into the artist that created it! We didn’t want to leave this extraordinary and unique place.
The following day was full of adventures. I was beyond excited to go paragliding and ATV riding! My nerves grew as I watched others jump before me. However, the experience was unforgettable, and this should be on the top of any visitors to do list! What a fantastic and fun way to see a city. The views were unbelievable, and finally, I know what it feels to be a bird soaring through the sky. My guide blasting Marvin Gay was a nice touch.
Next, we rode ATV’s in the beautiful countryside. Rolling hills and luscious green vegetation greeted us. I can see now why Colombia is such a hub for coco growth and environmental studies. Although my ATV kept breaking down, my partner and I laughed it off each time chanting “I’m too sexy for this ATV.” We had a lot of fun, and a picnic lunch topped off a wonderful day.
My Trip to Guatapé, Colombia
We headed to Guatapé bright and early. Our first stop was the magnificent Rock of Guatapé. After conquering 740 steps, it rewarded us with magnificent panoramic views! Exhausted and hot afterward, we took a boat ride to Bosko Hotel. It was true glamping at its finest! We each had our own “mushroom” perched on a hill overlooking the lake and mountains. An outdoor lover at heart, I very much appreciated this place and my outdoor shower. We drove to the town of Guatapé, where colorful buildings, shops, bars, and cafes greeted us. A hidden gem and must visit! I decided to kayak the following morning and take in mother nature in all its splendor.
My Trip to Cartagena, Colombia
Our next stop was the port city of Cartagena, located on the Caribbean coast. A popular hub for cruise ships and partiers, most people coming to Colombia place this city on the top of their must-visit list. And for a good reason! The first thing I noticed is that it was very, very hot! But after coming from the surprising cold of Bogota (50’s/60’s), this felt kind of nice.
We stayed at Hotel Casa San Augustin, and it was fancy! In good Virtuoso fashion, we all got upgraded, and my suite was incredible. I didn’t want to leave! But a rum tasting tour was on the schedule, and I sure wasn’t missing that. If there are two things Colombians know very well- it’s rum and coffee! I was impressed with the quality of what we sampled and the knowledge of the connoisseur. We ate dinner that night at another Virtuoso property: the famous Sofitel Legend. It had much more of a European feel and a grander pool. For socialites, this would be your spot! We met the lovely GM and had a fabulous dinner.
The next day we had a jam-packed schedule. We saw the fortress that surrounded the city, visited a cathedral, did a market tour, and learned about the history of beloved author Gabriel García Márquez. (I highly recommend “The General in his Labyrinth”). We topped off the afternoon with a cooking class where we made ceviche, plantains, soup and macaroons. Yum! Do not miss a cooking class here if you’re a foodie.
We had a few hours to explore on our own and explore we did! I kept hearing about the emeralds in Colombia, so we visited a licensed shop where I got a sparkling green stone ring. I walked around for hours, enjoying what seemed to be never ending shops, restaurants, and trendy hotels.
That night we went salsa dancing with a local. She took us to three hip bars where we drank beer, rum, and learned salsa moves. It was fun. The bar scene in Cartagena is impressive, and I made a note of a few places to check out next time I’m in town!
My Trip to Barú, Colombia
We were sad to leave as everyone was beginning to fall in love with Cartagena. But the whirlwind tour most continue! We hopped on a boat early Friday morning and made our first stop at the private beach of Hotel Casa San Augustin. It was peaceful and a pleasant escape from the bustling city. We next ventured on to the island of Barú and stayed at Las Islas, a 5-star tree top accommodation that I swear looked straight out of a movie! How freaking cool. My 7-year old self was screaming. We each had bikes which we could use to explore the beach, spa, pool, fitness center, etc. I was in heaven! Las Islas is my all-time favorite accommodation to date.
After giddily checking out my very first tree house, I biked over to the beach where I enjoyed a piña colada, swam in the temperate yet salty water, and enjoyed stand up paddle boarding. Tough day at the office! We did a boat ride and went snorkeling. That evening there was a bioluminescent tour. Due to the full moon, we had to go underwater to see the flickers of light, but it was totally worth it! Little gold specs surrounded me when I moved my arms. I felt like a mermaid.
That night we had our farewell dinner and toast. Wow, this trip went so fast and yet we packed so much in! Our fearless leader Ashish was excellent and a ton of fun. I’m lucky to have Big Five Tours as one of my partners! And can’t wait to send my clients on their adventure-loving trips. My fellow advisors taught me a bunch and were a joy to be around. I haven’t stopped talking about Colombia since I returned- so clearly, I had an unforgettable time!
If you’re considering visiting Colombia, please leave me a message! I’d love to help you put together the perfect itinerary that matches your interests and goals.