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Grand Colombia tour: Crystal Canyon + San Agustin


GPG20B
20 NIGHTS
FROM £4,195
Per person sharing
International flights quoted separately
This Grand Colombia Tour covers this fascinating country in depth including Bogota, the Salt Cathedral & colonial town of Villa de Leyva, the fascinating River of Five Colours in the Crystal Canyon, the archaeological site at San Agustin, Cocora Valley & the coffee region, Medellin & magnificent Cartagena. All transfers, English speaking guides & specified sightseeing included.
Colombia Tour River of Five Colours Crystal Canyon San Agustin Cartagena
• 
Colombia Tour
• 
Bogota & Salt Cathedral
• 
Villa de Leyva
• 
Crystal Canyon: River of Five Colours
• 
San Agustin & Tatacoa Desert
• 
Coffee Triangle & Cocora Valley
• 
Otun Quimbaya Wildlife Sanctuary
• 
Medellin
• 
Guatape + El Peñol
• 
Cartagena
• 
Colombia Tour
• 
Bogota & Salt Cathedral
• 
Villa de Leyva
• 
Crystal Canyon: River of Five Colours
• 
San Agustin & Tatacoa Desert
• 
Coffee Triangle & Cocora Valley
• 
Otun Quimbaya Wildlife Sanctuary
• 
Medellin
• 
Guatape + El Peñol
• 
Cartagena
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
Today we leave Villa de Leyva and transfer 4-hours to Bogotá.
 
Along the way we visit the 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.
 
We also visit the 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.
 
Afterwards we continue to Bogotá, where you will be dropped off at your hotel.
Day 5
Transfer to Bogotá Airport for your flight to La Macarena.
 
You will be met in this town that is the gateway to the magnificent Crystal Canyon and the amazing Rainbow River (or River of Five Colours).
 
After checking into your hotel enjoy a boat ride along the Guayabero River to Cristalitos, with included picnic lunch. Here you can observe variety of bird species, as well as turtles that sunbathe on the trunks that jut out into the river and various fish. Enjoy these enchanting landscapes and rocky canyons, and if we are very lucky we may even see pink dolphins.
 
Note: From June to December there are direct flights between Bogotá and La Macarena three times a week (Wednesday, Friday & Sunday), with a 15 kg baggage allowance. Excess baggage can be paid for locally or stored with our representative in Bogotá. From January to June there are daily flights via Villavicencio.
 
Ensure you take sufficient cash, as there are no cash machines in this remote region and be aware that your driver will only speak Spanish. Access to the Rainbow River is closed during the dry season (January to May).
Day 6
This morning transfer to the port at Rio Guayabero for our 20-minute boat ride across the Guayabero River to Cajuche Spring.
 
From here we take a 4x4 vehicle to the starting point of our 30-minute hike to the Crystal Canyon - home to one of the most beautiful fast-flowing rivers in the world. It has many rapids, waterfalls and 'giant's kettles' - small circular pits formed by pebbles and chunks of rocks rotating in the swirling waters. From the end of July until November each year (i.e. during the rainy season), this River of Five Colours has striking shades of red, yellow, green, blue and black. This is due to its unique plant life, which change colour according to the light and water conditions. Depending upon the permit allocated we will hike to either the central, left or right arm of the river, with picnic lunch included.
 
In the evening enjoy the local music, dance and food of the region.
 
Note: Your guide will only speak Spanish. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and avoid touching or stepping on aquatic plants. Bring a sun hat and towel. Sunblock cannot be used if you wish to swim in the river, so rather wear light long sleeved tops and trousers that will dry quickly. A yellow fever certificate is mandatory for travel to this region and must be presented on arrival.
Day 7
Rise early this morning for a boat ride to the Mirador Viewpoint for an unforgettable 'Ilanero' (Colombian herdsman) sunrise.
 
Later transfer to La Macarena Airport for your flight to Bogotá, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel situated near the airport.
 
Note: From June to December there are direct flights between Bogotá and La Macarena three times a week (Wednesday, Friday & Sunday), with a 15 kg baggage allowance. From January to June there are daily flights via Villavicencio.
Day 8
Take the free hotel shuttle to Bogota Airport for your onward flight.
 
Note: Airport departure tax of $8 per person is payable locally.

A full day on the road today as you meet your guide at Neiva Airport and travel 5-hours along rough gravel roads to San Agustin.
 
Along the way we detour 1.5-hours visit the spectacular Tatacoa Desert (meaning 'rattlesnake'). Known by the local people as the Valley of Sorrows, this region of dry clay canyons has amazing ochre and grey sandstone formations and is today a dry tropical forest that is rich is fossils. Here we can admire the canyons and desert landscapes and visit the paleontological museum in Villavieja.
  
Afterwards your guide will introduce you to more of the beauty of western Colombia as we continue to the town of San Agustin. Situated in the Andes Mountains, at the intersection of the western and central Cordillera ranges at over 5,500 ft (1,700 m), this is the birthplace of the Magdalena River and home to an astonishing pre-Colombian archaeological site.
Day 9
This morning we explore the San Agustin Archaeological Park, one of the most important archeological sites in Colombia.
 
This UNESCO World Heritage site contains the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America and is considered the world's largest ancient cemetery. Two indigenous cultures lived in the adjacent valleys of the Magdalena and Cauca Rivers. Divided by uncrossable peaks, the rivers were their highways and it was here at the headwaters of both rivers that they met to trade, worship and to bury their dead. The result is more than 500 elaborate stone sculptures and tombs, mostly carved between AD 100 and 1200 by a northern Andean culture that pre-dated the Incas. Gods, animals, warriors and human faces were skilfully carved out of volcanic rock, in styles ranging from abstract to realistic, with the largest being over 23 ft (7 m) tall and weighing several tons.
 
Within the archaeological park there are several ceremonial sites, such as the Mesitas (small tables) A, B, C and D with their strange statues guarding the tombs; the Lavaplatas spring (a set of carved rocks on the bed of a creek) and the Alto del Lavaplatas megaliths at the top of the hill. At the entrance to the park you can walk through the beautiful Forest of Statues (El Bosque de las Estatuas). There is also a small archaeological museum.
 
After lunch (own account) you can either hike (4 to 5-hours) or horse ride (2 to 3-hours) to the El Tablón and La Chaquira sites, where you can see more examples of these pre-Columbian statues and enjoy a spectacular view of the Magdalena River. Alternatively you can spend more time in San Agustin.
 
Note: The Archaeological Park is closed every Tuesday. For the horse riding option, you need to be a competent rider. It is not suitable for beginners.
Day 10
After a morning at leisure in San Agustin, transfer 5-hours to Neiva.
 
Check into your hotel in this town situated in the beautiful Magdalena River Valley.
Day 11
Transfer to Neiva Airport for your onward flight.

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 12
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 13
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 14
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 Medellin Airport and transferred to your hotel in this cosmopolitan city that is the second largest in Colombia and has a pleasant climate all year round.
 
Once known for the notorious drug cartels that controlled the city, today Medellin is transformed and is a major centre for art, fashion and culture. It is also a significant international flower-producing region.
Day 15
Today enjoy a full day private tour of Medellín - the 'City of Eternal Spring', with included lunch at a local restaurant.
 
We start by exploring the historic centre, including the Parque Berrío with its local musicians and traditional 'guasca' music. This urban plaza located in the heart of the city and is a meeting point for local residents. We then stroll through the hustle and bustle of downtown Medellin to the famous Plaza de Botero, with its amazing display of 23 sculptures donated by Ferrnando Botero to his home town.
 
Our tour ends with a cable car ride up to the Santo Domingo Savio neighbourhood, which was once a notorious area of gang violence. While enjoying the spectacular view, you can learn more about the transformation of Medellín from one of the most dangerous cities in the world into a fascinating melting pot of cultures, with some of the friendliest and warmest people in the world. You can also see the stunningly designed Spain Library Park and the rocky Cerro Nutibara, the highest point in the city.
Day 16
Today enjoy a scenic drive through the Easterm Highlands of Antioquia, as we travel 2-hours from Medellin to the village of Guatapé, whose houses are decorated with colourful bas-relief sculptures.
 
Here we view the enormous 655 ft (200 m) El Peñol Stone, a giantic granite boulder with 740 steps that wind up to the top, offering sweeping views over the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir (pay entrance fee locally, if you wish to climb the rock).
 
Enjoy an included traditional lunch in this picturesque lakeside village, with its famous church and colourful painted houses. Afterwards we explore the lake on a boat ride, before returning to Medellin in the afternoon.
Day 17
Transfer to Medellin International Airport for your onward flight.
 
Note: 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 18
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.
Days 19 To 20
At leisure to explore the photogenic city of Cartagena independently.
 
We suggest walking through the old colonial streets of the historic centre, starting at the Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj) that was once the main gateway into the walled city. Walk across the Plaza de la Aduana, the largest  and oldest square in the Old Town that was used as a parade ground and is now surrounded by important government building. Here you will see a statue of Christopher Colombus.
 
You can also walk through the Plaza Santo Domingo, known for its nightlife and spectacular church. Enjoy the pleasant shade of Simon Bolívar Park or visit to the Palace of the Inquisition - one of the finest buildings in the city but with a shameful past, as it was here that the church sought to stamp our heresy through torture. The Emerald Museum and the Gold Museum are both worth a visit.
 
Whatever you do, ensure you soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant city that inspired the novels of Noble prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Partake in rum and chocolate tastings and enjoy the salsa of this fabulous city.
Day 21
Transfer to Cartagena Airport for your flight home.
 
Note: Airport departure tax of $38 pp (international) is payable locally.

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