The final countdown, 10 days in Colombia.

[writing this blog post I realised how much I miss Colombia, we spent such little time there and the people are one of the most welcoming we came across]

Once we had stamped out of Ecuador, we just needed to cross the bridge to the Ipiales checkpoint for Colombia. It involved just crossing a bridge but there were army guys all over the place and barriers, in the end I asked one of them which way to get across and he pointed the way. Once across the bridge we had the easiest immigration crossing ever, managed to get some Colombian pesos at a slightly less rip off rate (the guy later ripped us off on a taxi but it was only $2 extra, we expected that). We got a taxi to Ipiales bus station (arriving 4.15 pm) and arranged our onward travel to our next stop of Popayán. We had a few hours in Ipiales to kill which was exactly what I wanted. We put our bags into storage rather randomly located at the back of a shop and had just under 3 hours before we needed to be back to collect them before the shop closed. Moments later we were in a taxi on our way to the famous Las Lajas Sanctuary….

Having the place almost to ourselves was great but by 5.50pm we were almost the only people left and it was getting dark. Time to head back up to get a taxi back. By some stroke of luck there was one taxi (well collectivo/car share) left and two girls who were waiting for two more people to join them. They had almost given up hope of getting anyone else when the spotted us! So we got a super cheap return journey back to the bus station, got our bags, some dinner and most importantly found a cleaners plug to charge our phones before getting the bus at 9 pm- the recommended Bolivariano bus (60,000 COP/£14.28/$20 for both of us).

Up until recently it was recommended not to travel at night due to holdups, muggings and related nasty business but now it is actually recommended as being the safest way to travel due to limited stops and higher security. Bolivariano was actually the more expensive of the coaches (but had the best reputation). That night turned out to be the worst most terrifying bus journey we had. He was speeding so much we arrived into Popayán over two hours early! It was like being on a rollercoaster. The most horrific bit was probably going to the toilet, apart from having to negotiate the way down the pitch black bus avoiding being catapulted onto someone as we careened around corners, once I did get into the toilet (I should be thankful there was one I suppose) I was faced with one with no cover over the tank so the waste was sloshing up the sides. I’ve never wanted to be a man so much in my life but managed to use it without getting destroyed but nevertheless feeling quite traumatised after it! I barely got any sleep as the driver had music on full blast the whole way and even with earphones you could still hear it. For the last hour I couldn’t work out who was singing though my earplugs but Gav informed me later it was the driver. So at 3.50 am rather unexpectedly we arrived into Popayán. Where luckily there happened to be a taxi there as we seemed to be the only tourists on the bus and everyone else had people there for them. Our home for the few days we were in Popayán was Hotel Krone with our amazing host Bernardo. Who made us feel very welcome despite us showing up in the middle of the night.

So why did we choose to stop in Popayán, a place most travellers we met had never heard of rather than go on to the more vibrant Cali? Well it was for food. Popayán is the first UNESCO city for gastronomy due to the wide variety of different dishes specific to the city  and to the intangible patrimony of Colombian culture. (The Easter Week processions here are also listed as by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Patrimony of Humanity).

So we settled in to wander about and eat for a few days. After a week of not eating very well in the Galapagos this, for me, was heaven.

We also went to the Museo Nacional Guillermo Valencia. He was one of Colombia’s presidents (1962-66), we kinda just wandered in. Interesting place but I think it would have meant more if we had known who he was rather than piecing it together as we went round.

The following day was more eating and we walked to the bus station to arrange out onward travel to Bogotá.

They recommend you go to the tourist office when you arrive-which we did (not that we made much use of them elsewhere) and the lovely young army chap gave us a map of the area and recommended we check out a place for Aplanchados. We did go check them out but they were a sort of dry sugary pastry that the locals adore but we weren’t fans.

The following evening we were due to leave for Bogotá so we had one almost full day in Popayán. We decided to check out the Natural History Museum (really interesting collection there).

The bus left at 8 pm (ended up being a Fronteras bus-cost of travel was 194,000 COP/£46/$69) but luckily it was a very uneventful journey and 12 hours later we arrived into the Main Bus station in Bogotá. After a quick freshen up and chill out in our room we went off to explore the historic La Candalaria district of downtown Bogotá, get our bearings etc.

The following morning after another lovely breakfast with the friendly ladies at our hostel we headed for Cerro Monserrate and then in the afternoon we checked out the Museo de Oro all the while taking in the amazing street art that the city had to offer. You could even do a street art tour if you wanted to.

So it was now Sunday, which rather handily in Colombia is also the day the museums are free so we tried to make the most of it. First by going to the Military Museum, as luck would have it we were the first in the door so we got some special attention from the general in charge. He was great. We had noticed that there were lots of army out (the closer we got to the centre the more we saw. We asked the general why this was and he laughed and said that Colombians feel safer when they can see army and security services about. So there was nothing going on it was all normal Anyway as we were in the area we also checked out the  main government buildings such as the Capitolio Nacional….

In case you thought Bogotá was warm it wasn’t. It has some sort of micro-climate so it is mostly cold (ish) and wet, its also at a relatively high altitude  as the third highest capital in South America.

We had one full day left and despite the constant threat of rain we had only one chance to do the Bike Tour of Bogotá, we had heard great things about this so we really didn’t want to miss it.

We had a fantastic few days in Colombia and would have really loved to have spent more time here, but we got a taste of it and will be back, we still have Cali, Medellín, Cartagena, San Agustín, the emerald mines, coffee growing area, Colombian Amazon….so much stuff left to see!

Early the following morning we were off to the airport for our final destination Havana, Cuba for a family holiday before we headed back to the UK. So this is my final destination post the next two posts will be a video and wrap up post!


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