There’s not one clear-cut, common way to visit uncommon Colombia. If you have one week, a tour of the coffee region beginning in urban Medellín is a great introduction to a fascinating country, and an excellent place to start for coffee purists.
Alternatively, a week is the perfect amount to of time to take in the historical sites of San Agustín and Popayán, or to experience the rhythm of life in Bogotá and explore one of Colombia’s best-preserved colonial towns. If you have two weeks or more, these itineraries are great to mix-and-match to suit your interests.
Arrive in the evening at the Aeropuerto Internacional José María Córdova in Rionegro, outside of Medellín. Make the one-hour trip via cab or bus into town. Get settled at the no-nonsense Hotel Ibis, across from the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin, or at the friendly Urban Buddha hostel in the leafy Laureles neighborhood.
Head to the always-lively Parque Lleras area of the Poblado neighborhood. Familiarize yourself with Colombian cuisine at Mondongo’s, then have a beer at the coolest corner store in town, El Social Tienda Mixta.
Discover downtown Medellín by taking a ride on the Metro. Here you can check out the finest art museum in the region, the Museo de Antioquia, and have your picture taken in front of your favorite rotund Fernando Botero sculpture in the adjacent plaza.
Hop on the Metro again to see symbols of the new Medellín: the Metrocable gondola network and the Biblioteca España, a boldly designed public library built on the side of a mountain. From there, transfer once more to another Metrocable line to the Parque Arví, a huge recreational area.
Head back to your hotel and freshen up before checking out a salsa or tango bar after dinner.
Take the three-hour bus ride through the southern Antioquian countryside to the picture-perfect Paisa town of Jardín. Hang out with the locals in the sublime Parque Principal, a park bursting with flowers. Explore the neo-gothic Basílica Menor de la Inmaculada Concepción. Nurse a beer or sip a hot tinto at one of the park’s tiendas (shops).
Relax at the low-key hostel Casa Selva y Café, a pleasant walk away from the town center. Birding and nature enthusiasts will want to stay at La Esperanza.
Set off for the coffee region by heading to Manizales in the morning on a five-hour bus ride. Once in town, have a coffee under the shadow of the remarkable El Cable tower, a gondola system that once transported coffee over the mountains to the Río Magdalena.
Check in to a coffee farm in the valleys near Chinchiná in the late afternoon. The folks from Hacienda Venecia or Hacienda Guayabal, only about a half hour away, can pick you up in town.
Take a tour of a coffee farm today, and admire the orderly rows of deep green coffee plants adorned with bright red beans. Cap it off with a cup of 100 percent Colombian—served black. It’s called tinto. In the afternoon, take a bus to one of the region’s cutest pueblos, Salento, a five-hour trip.
Stay at the bright orange Tralala hostel and have dinner at wonderful La Eliana.
Walk through pasture land and tropical forest of the Valle de Cocora to the Reserva Acaime, where you can watch the hummingbirds flit about at the feeders while you warm up with a tinto (coffee). Then head back down through a wonderland of 60-meter-high (200-foot-high) wax palms, Colombia’s national tree, in the Valle de Cocora.
Spend the night again in Salento. Before you retire for the night, stroll the atmospheric Calle Real.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.