Latin America

STA Fam trip to Colombia

Colombia – I can think of three words Salsa, Music and Coffee and one feeling estar feliz!

I had the amazing opportunity to dust off my backpack and catapult into another world! Dragoman Tours hosted 17 lucky STA travel agents to join in on an intrepid adventure across some of Colombia’s most draw dropping locations. Our travel style was Overlanding- this style highlighted Dragomans’ mantra – “it’s the journey, not just the destination” was truly experienced on our trip, we indeed took the road less travelled, we saw the country in a real local way, the Dragoman crew engaged each traveller and we felt part of the crew, each taking part in some of the truck duties and making sure your Amigo is with you! From seeing the highlights of the country to the hidden gems that the Dragoman crew pulled out of their hat of tricks – like meeting Pablo Escobar’s Brother, eating at a local restaurant tucked away in a little street and the best of all meeting local guides that gave us the looking glass view into the world of the Colombian people.

Bogota, Honda and Rio Calro

What a city! A concrete jungle mixed with old world historic charm, we weaved our way through the maze of roads from the airport. An important note – cash is King and a must to exchange as soon as you get into Bogota, there is a bureau of exchange at the airport as well as ATM’s to with draw cash.

We settled in for the night at the Selina La Candelaria Bogotá, this art gallery of a hostel is filled with bold graffiti walls, hammocks dangling from the celling while the industrial style lounge and bar gathered adventure fuelled travellers from all over the world, with beers in hand, arms displaying their conquered trips in array of bracelets from each destination.

Waking up from a well-rested sleep in spacious dorms that lead out to spiral staircases opening into Selina’s coffee shop. What can I say it is Colombia after all and a huge must to try is their coffee! A word of advice is to take a walk away from your usual cappuccinos and lattes and head to the dark side 😉 – simply just coffee and sip on the heavenly taste!

Okay enough indulgence in coffee’s and the amazing selection of food – prepare yourself the Colombians do not shy away from dishing up big portions so eat up! After our introductions we hit the road and leave behind the hustling and bustling city to the hill side roads covered in bold greens. Our journey takes us along The Magdalena River we learn its importance in the town of Honda – our next stop. The quite town of Honda nestled next to the Magdalena River, our local contact Angelia directed us to the newly built museum displaying the importance of the river to the locals.

The following day we head out to La Hacienda El Triunfo a reserve just outside Honda, arriving we met the owner of the reserve, walking towards us in his gum boots, jeans and checked shirt with his trusted machete on his side, as his smiled his moustache raised along with his cowboy hat as his tilted his hat in signed of greeting. The group spilt into two, the first group out for the horse rides while the second group joined our very own cowboy into the forest for a walk along the river across the vast hectares of land. The trek and ride took us into a world that looked like a film set, a cross between Jurassic park and Tarzan!

After our trek and horse ride we ended the night in our beautiful hotel with its white washed walls and heavy stained wooden roofs, the tables were set, drinks shared with followed by talks of the day’s events, the scene was set – we started to become our very own Colombian famila!

The next morning, we head out of the quiet little town into the snaking valleys where monster size trucks hauled their heavy loads daily across the country. As we travelled through the hilly valley we entered the beauty of Rio Claro Nature Reserve, this protected reserve boasts the treasures of nature from the thousands of bird species to the crystal-clear waters built on marble rock, the reserve features activities such as hiking, rafting and zip-lining, plus hotels and a restaurant. We stayed in tree top cabanas that looked out into the rain forest – your very own nestled hide away. Our group geared up for a fun day of river rafting and many swims in the magnificent river to wash away the days heat – prepare for the tropical humidity!

Medellin, Santa Rosa, Salento

Leaving Rio Claro, we meet up with the magnificent and strong beauty Elle 2, she is not only a truck, but she has become part of us, part of the famila! We learn from our guide Mark about all her compartments, from the fridge inside to the library at the back to the bag locker compartment. Elle 2 is ready for any adventure she is built to provide enough comfort for her travellers, but she is geared for your unexpected adventures she is ready to take you on a journey of a lifetime!

We hit the snaking roads again – every view from every angle is so breath taking! Our Dragoman leaders Mark, Zulu, Sam & Paddy set the perfect atmosphere, with the music playing, the fridge ice-cold ready for refreshing drinks and laughter bouncing off the truck walls, we knew that this trip is going to be one to never forget.

Oh Medellin – the buzzing lights the music roaring from its belly and before we forget the dancing! We experience two amazing nights in Medellin, the delicious food and drinks filled our bodies while the nights lights and music filled our souls to early hours of the morning! We experienced such unforgettable activities, from meeting Robert Escobar to climbing up 700 steps on the Rock of Guatapé also known as the Stone of El Peñol, we spent the day trying our local food at the edge of the valley overlooking the fast coffee plantations to a small town with colourful and vibrant square where we tried the best coffee in town! Our second day in Medellin we visited Comuna 13 – an area with a harsh past but a colourful future, the graffiti tour opened our eyes to the turmoil this area has been through and exposed hope for a better future.

Santa Rosa is a commercial and manufacturing centre for the fertile agricultural and pastoral hinterland. On route we stopped on the side of the winding roads at a view point stop to have lunch Dragoman style – the leaders unpacked an array of delicious food, with tables and dishwashing set up. The gents explain how to unpack, wash and pack away the equipment as many will take part in on an Overland tour, this was defiantly an awesome experience eating together chatting about the day’s activities and those to come while locals drove past amazed at the beauty Elle 2.

As night falls and our heavy eyes close we continue our journey to the Parque Nacional Natural los Nevados. Here we experience an unexpected turn of events as the crew battle on through the rough terrain Elle 2 has suddenly wedge herself in the dip in the road, the Dragoman leaders change the situation around without us even having a moment to wonder what has happen with their upbeat spirits they lead us on a hike up to the top of the mountain to our hotel, with such excitement and with complete control our Dragoman guides take us along an unexpected journey – with the turn of events we would have never seen the beauty that unfolded in front of us, the city lights danced in the early hours of the morning as we hike up to 4500m above sea level.

Hotel Termales Del Ruizis set along the river and thermal springs, the wooden cabin like hotel keeps us warm in the sudden change of weather – this is something you will experience a lot in Colombia with vary range of altitude you will need to prepare for four seasons in one day! Pack smart and with layers to change wardrobe when needed. We hit the hay and sleep off the hike before waking up to a traditional breakfast with rice, pasta and potatoes – the Colombians love their hearty wholesome food! Do not worry if you have specific needs regarding your dietary requirements as Dragoman has you covered, if we were not sure how to ask or google translate was not helping the Dragoman crew can gladly assist with conversing with the locals. The locals are very polite humble people who are willing to try and understand you if you try and understand them as well, a simple greeting such as Ola goes a long way. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the Thermal pools soaking away with local drinks in hand and conversations about the events that lead us to where we are.

The Dragoman Crew worked hard in the early hours to get Elle 2 back on the road for us, with a round of applause we cheered on the crew as we got to jump into the truck again for our onward journey, travelling through the vast country side the truck is filled with laughter as cards games play out on the two tables built into the truck. We tried out our own version of a karaoke sing off, while some napped in the comfort of blankets provided by Dragoman to keep the chill off from the early morning.

We head into the Salento, which is an Andean town in Colombia, west of Bogotá. It’s known for its coffee estates and verdant scenery. East is Cocora Valley where lofty wax palm trees, a national symbol, are home to rare parrots. The town is a gateway to the snow-capped peaks of Los Nevados National Natural Park, to the northeast.

In Salento, Calle Real has many colourful buildings and craft shops. We stay a night in a plantation hostel where the owners treated us to a delicious and very colourful meal all locally sourced from the area, this filled our depleted energy as we climbed the hills of the Cocora Valley to gaze upon the mighty wax palms! We jumped into the must have local rides, Jeeps! You will see these little jeeps scattered all over the town. The rest of the group headed into the little town to play Tejo, which is a traditional throwing sport in Colombia, it is characteristic for its use of small targets containing gunpowder, which explode on impact! You can wonder through the local markets to buy souverains and of course the famous ponchos! After our meal and pre-celebrations for one of our fellow travellers’ birthdays we head into the town to a local bar to play some pool and we spent the rest of the night filled with euphoria!

6am wake up! Time to have our coffee and breakfast before we hit the road for our longest journey back to Bogota, this last ride in Elle 2 and it was one to remember and cherish. We absorbed all the beautiful scenery we treasured the shared laughter and signing as we know it was going to be time to say goodbye soon. We stopped on route at last road side restaurant where English is minimal, the ice tea is refreshing cold and the food is mama made!

After our long road trip, we arrive back in Bogotá – this is Colombia’s sprawling, high-altitude capital. La Candelaria, its cobblestoned centre, features colonial-era landmarks like the neoclassical performance hall Teatro Colón. We freshen up and hit the town for the last dinner together and a night of Salsa dancing! For those who left later the next day Dragoman organized a walking tour with two locals who took us to the heart of the city to experience daily life as a local, from eating the street food, to shopping the markets to viewing the bold street art.

After all the words written I look back and they are still not enough to describe my experience! Not only did Colombia delivered a breath-taking adventure, Dragoman turned an amazing adventure into a life changing adventure! The Dragoman crew, Mark, Zulu, Sam and Paddy not only put a smile on our faces daily, but they made the trip memorable by connecting with the group and made each traveller feel welcomed and part of the family.

Colombia, Dragoman and my fellow STA Travel agents I say thank you, it was a trip of a lifetime and one I will forever retell!

Do yourself a favour and follow Dragoman’s mantra – “it’s the journey, not just the destination”.

Kayla Pieters
STA Travel South Africa
Groups Division.

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If you are interested in a trip similar to this take a look at our Latin America tours or contact us today!