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Best of Colombia and Panama


GPQ12B
12 NIGHTS
FROM £2,995
Per person sharing
International flights quoted separately
Combine the highlights of Colombia and Panama on this 2-country holiday. Visit Bogota & its surrounding colonial towns, including the Salt Cathedral, the Coffee Region and historic port city of Cartagena - a World Heritage site. Then fly to Panama City for a tour of the Panama Canal & the old town. Also take the Panama 'Coast to Coast' Railway. All transfers & English speaking guides included.
Colombia and Panama
• 
Colombia and Panama
• 
Bogota
• 
Salt Cathedral
• 
Villa de Leyva
• 
Coffee Triangle
• 
Otun Quimbaya Reserve
• 
Cocora Valley & Salento
• 
Cartagena
• 
Panama Canal
• 
Panama Railway
• 
Colombia and Panama
• 
Bogota
• 
Salt Cathedral
• 
Villa de Leyva
• 
Coffee Triangle
• 
Otun Quimbaya Reserve
• 
Cocora Valley & Salento
• 
Cartagena
• 
Panama Canal
• 
Panama Railway
Day 1
You will be met at Bogota Airport and transferred to your hotel in this sprawling high altitude city.
 
Check in and relax in this capital city of Colombia.
Day 2
Today enjoy a tour of Bogotá, including a walking tour through the cobbled alleys of La Candelaria, the historic Old Town (with lunch included).
 
We start with an early morning visit to Paloquemao Market, one of the largest and most important in the country where you can see a large variety of flowers, exotic fruit, meat, seafood, cheese and medicinal herbs.
 
We then visit the Historic Quarter, starting from the church of El Carmen. Here you will see many beautifully preserved Spanish colonial houses and churches that date back centuries, such as the church of Santa Clara that today contains the Museum of Colonial Art. View the library of Luis Angel Arango as we head for the main square - Plaza Bolívar - where you can see a statue honouring Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan military leader who played a key role in the revolution against Spanish rule.
 
Enjoy views of the Cathedral, Teatro Colón (the neoclassical performance hall) and the 17th-century Church of San Francisco. View the presidential residence, Casa del Nariño, which has an observatory in its gardens, the Congress Palace, the Palace of Justice and the Cardinal's Palace. Continuing eastwards, we then ascend by funicular Cerro Monserrate, the mountain that dominates the city and offers panoramic views.
 
Afterwards we visit the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro), the most important gold museum in the world, with a splendid collection of over 36,000 pre-Colombian gold and emerald pieces. Galleries on three levels display exquisitely crafted pieces dating back nearly 2,500 years. Visit the vault-like room on the top floor where the most treasured pieces are displayed, as well as the Offering Room, where you enter a black circular area that is gradually illuminated, with indigenous music playing in the background.
 
Our tour ends with a visit to the Museo de Botero. Housed in a renovated colonial mansion, this museum showcases the art of Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous contemporary artist renowned for his proportionally exaggerated fat figures. Around 120 pieces of his work are display, including sculptures, paintings and drawings. In addition to his own work, his personal collection by Picasso, Renoir, Dalí, Degas, Chagall, Matisse, Monet and Giacometti are also on show.
 
Note: Bogota is situated at high altitude (8,660 ft / 2,640 m). When visiting churches and monasteries, women must not wear shorts or miniskirts and men must not wear shorts. The Gold Museum is closed Mondays and Museo de Botero is closed Tuesdays.
Day 3
This morning you will be transferred 4-hours from Bogotá to the old colonial town of Villa de Leyva, considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia.
 
Our first stop is at the small town of Zipaquirá, which was founded in 1600 and still conserves its colonial heritage. Here we visit the amazing Salt Cathedral - a Roman Catholic church built in the tunnels of a salt mine 200 metres underground. Here you will find 14 small chapels that represent the 'Stations of the Cross' and Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, a sanctuary and a main cathedral. The icons, ornaments and architectural details are all hand carved in the halite rock, with some marble sculptures.
 
We continue to the colonial town of Ráquira (meaning 'City of Pots'), probably the most colourful town in Colombia with its vividly painted facades and attractive buildings. This town specialises in fine handmade ceramics and here you will find many craft shops and artisans selling their pottery. In the shops around the main square you will find everything from ceramic bowls, vases, pitchers, children’s toys, piggy banks and dwarfs to Christmas decorations. You will also have the opportunity to observe the process of making traditional pottery.  
 
Finally we arrive at Villa de Leyva, one of the most charming colonial villages in all of Colombia and steeped in atmosphere. Declared a national monument in 1954, this photogenic village has been preserved in its entirety, including its cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings with terracotta tiled roofs, pine green doors and balconies decorated with flowers.
 
In the evening enjoy a short walking tour of the town. We start at the Plaza San Agustín and continue to the house of Antonio Nariño, a famous journalist, political and military leader who played an important role in Colombia's independence. The tour ends at Plaza Mayor, the largest town plaza in all of Colombia.
Day 4
This morning we leave Villa de Leyva and transfer 4-hours to Bogotá.
 
Along the way we visit El Fósil paleontological museum, where you can view the ancient remains of a marine reptile called Kronosaurus Boyecensis, which resembled a giant alligator and  lived on earth over 120 million years ago.
 
We also visit the nearby Santo Ecce Homo Convent, founded by Dominican monks in 1620. This large stone-and-adobe building has a lovely courtyard and floors, paved with local stones that contain ammonites (extinct marine molluscs) and other fossils.
 
Our last brief stop is at Tunja, the site of the Battle of Boyaca Bridge, where Simon Bolivar decisively defeated the Spanish forces and assured the independence of Colombia in 1819.
 
We continue to Bogotá Airport for your onward flight.
 
Note: Airport departure tax of $8 per person is payable locally.

You will be met at Pereira Airport and transferred to your hotel.
 
Check in and relax in the Zona Cafetera (the 'Coffee Triangle') - the gateway to Colombia's coffee-producing region.
Day 5
Today enjoy a full day jeep excursion to the Cocora Valley and Salento, high in the Colombian Andes.
 
We travel to the striking landscapes of the Cocora Valley, where Colombia's national symbol - the gigantic wax palm - can be seen. These are the largest palm trees in the world, measuring up to 190 ft (58 m) tall and living for more than 120 years. After tasting a traditional local cocktail called a 'canelazo', take a guided walk in this magnificent cloud forest and wonder at the biodiversity of its flora and fauna.
 
After an included smoked salmon lunch at a local restaurant, we visit the sleepy little town of Salento, one of the first settlements in Quindío state that has preserved its colonial architecture. Here you can explore the Plaza de Bolivar with its colourful balconies and the main street, Calle Real, with its many craft workshops before we return to Pereira.
Day 6
An early departure this morning as we travel 1.5-hours to the Risaralda district in the heart of the Andean Mountains to visit the lush Otún Quimbaya Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a bird watcher's delight and the ideal place to observe a great variety of birdlife and many orchids and bromeliads.
 
On arrival we board 4x4 jeeps and drive into the Otún Basin, where we will meet our naturalist guide. You will have a choice of two relatively easy 3-mile (5-km) level trails through this amazing flora and fauna sanctuary, each taking about 2-hours. You can view more of Colombia's iconic wax palms and see a great variety of birds, butterflies and small mammals with possible sighting the Paca caucana bird, Mountain bull bird, Mountain solitude bird and Hummingbird racket tail. You may also hear Howler monkeys.
 
After an included lunch at a local restaurant, you will have some free time to enjoy this sub-Andean rainforest, before we return to Pereira.
Day 7
This morning enjoy a Coffee Tour that will give you insight into the lifestyle of workers on a coffee farm and teach you more about the history of coffee growing in Colombia.
 
Follow the production process, as coffee beans are harvested and brought to the cooperative where they are pulped and dried. You will have the opportunity to sort, toast and grind the coffee before enjoying an excellent cup of Colombian coffee.
 
Afterwards transfer to Pereira Airport for your onward flight.
 
Note: The coffee fields are located on a mountain slope, so let us know in advance if you have any walking difficulties. Your guide today will only speak Spanish.
 
Airport departure tax of $8 per person is payable locally.

You will be met at Cartagena Airport and transferred to this tropical port city, situated on the Caribbean coast.
 
Check into your hotel in this colourful city, whose magnificent 16th century walled Old Town is a World Heritage Site.
Day 8
Enjoy a half day private walking tour of beautiful Cartagena today, starting with a visit to the Convento de la Popa, the highest point in the city with spectacular views over Cartagena Bay. This 17th century Augustinian monastery served as a fortress during colonial times.
 
We then visit the Castle of San Felipe located on San Lazaro Hill, the largest Spanish military building in the New World dating back to 1536. It was built to guard the city’s landward side from invasion and has a complex system of tunnels connected with strategic points, used to distribute provisions and for a possible evacuation. The tunnels were built so that any noise would echo along them, making internal communications easier and allowing the citizens to hear even the slightest sound of an enemy advance.
 
Afterwards we walk through Las Bóvedas, a series of 23 vaults built in the 18th century and considered the last major military colonial construction within the city walls. The vaults were used as storerooms for munitions and provisions by the Spaniards and later they became jail cells. Nowadays they are used as crafts markets where you can find handicrafts, antiques, galleries, jewellery, clothing and souvenirs.
 
Our last stop is the church and monastery of San Pedro Claver, built in the early 17th century by the Jesuits. Pedro Claver, a Jesuit priest, was a defender and protector of slaves and lived in this monastery until his death. Your afternoon is at leisure.
 
Note: Shorts and short skirts should not be worn when visiting churches, monasteries and religious shrines.
Day 9
Transfer to the pier today by 09.00 for a full day excursion to the Rosario Islands in the Bay of Cartagena.
 
We sail 1-hour to this spectacular archipelago of 27 coral islands, with their crystal clear turquoise waters. The whole archipelago is a marine park covering an area of around 500 square miles (1,300 sq km) and its coral reefs, mangroves and lagoons support over 1,300 different marine species
 
Enjoy an included typical fish lunch at a local resort and swimming in these warm Caribbean waters. Snorkelling, kayaking, diving and bicyle hire are also avaioable at a charge (pay locally). There is also an aquarium at San Martín de Pajarales and an open-sea oceanarium.
 
We depart from the islands between 14.30 and 15.30, depending on the tide, and arrive back in Cartagena in the mid afternoon.
 
Note: Towel hire is included today. Pregnant women are not allowed on this excursion, as the boat ride can be bumpy.
Day 10
Transfer to Cartagena Airport for your onward flight.
 
Note: Airport departure tax of $8 per person is payable locally.

You will be met at Panama City Airport and transferred to your hotel in this modern city, situated on the Pacific Coast at the entrance to the Panama Canal and surrounded by tropical rainforest.
 
Panama was the starting point for the Spanish expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire of Peru, and today it is a major centre for international banking and commerce.
Day 11
Today enjoy a tour of Panama City, including a visit to the famous Panama Canal.  
 
We start with a visit the Miraflores Visitors Centre, where you will learn about the history and operation of this engineering wonder, with an audiovisual display and four floors of exhibits about the Panama Canal that cuts through Central America, linking the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean. From the observation deck you can enjoy 180 degree views of the southern locks and the Pacific. Depending on shipping transit schedules, you may even see a ship manoeuvre through the locks.
 
Afterwards we drive along the Amador Causeway, built as a wave-breaker during the construction of the canal and now linking four small islands to the mainland. From here you have panoramic views of the modern city skyline, the old Colonial City, Panama Bay, the Bridge of the Americas, Taboga Island and ships transiting through the canal. You can also enjoy some duty free shopping (passport required).
 
Our tour continues with sightseeing in the old Colonial City, which is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally founded in 1519, it was burnt down in 1671 on the orders of its governor, to prevent the city falling into the hands of the pirate Henry Morgan. It was rebuilt a few years later. Here you will see many beautiful baroque, colonial and neo classical churches and monuments. Among the best preserved are the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, Casa Alarcón (a massive private residence) and the church and convent of Santo Domingo. The restored Old Quarter (Casco Viejo) is vibrant, with many outdoor dining venues, bars, handcraft markets. In the evening you can enjoy live music here.
 
Note: The ruins of the Old City and Canal Museum are closed on Mondays.
Day 12
Request a breakfast box from your hotel this morning, as you will be collected early (around 06.00) and transferred to Panama Canal Station in good time to board your train to the city of Colón on the Atlantic coast.
 
The Panama Canal Railway is one of the great train journeys of the world, travelling for 1-hour along a  picturesque route that crosses the Isthmus of Panama from 'Coast to Coast'. As the train proceeds from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, it follows the Panama Canal with its astonishing locks - passing through lush tropical jungle, the Culebra ('snake') Cut and across Gatun Lake.
 
You will be met at Colón Station on arrival and driven along a jungle track to Fort San Lorenzo on the Caribbean coast. At this World Heritage site you can see some interesting 17th and 18th century military fortifications built by the Spanish to defend their transatlantic trade.
 
Afterwards we visit the new locks at Agua Clara, which were put into use following an expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016. Enjoy an included lunch, with some time to enjoy beautiful Lake Gatun, before returning to Panama City by road at the end of your tour.
Day 13
Transfer to Panama City Airport for your flight home.
 
Note: International airport departure tax of $50 per person payable locally.

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