I did not know much about Colombia before we started exploring it. Of course I knew about the drugs, the FARC and the coffee, but beautiful Colombia is so much more. We fell in love with this country for two reasons: the people and the landscape.
The people are the most wonderful people I have ever met in all my travels, and I have traveled many places. They are generous, warm, funny and always wanting to help. I seriously can’t say enough good things about the people here.
Then there is the landscape which is stunning. It is so diverse that we drove from the hot, jungle filled tropics to the high, green mountains in a day and felt like we had been in two separate countries. And Colombia felt safe to us. The military never stopped us, they would just give us a thumbs up and a smile when we drove through the check points, and at all the police stops our time was spent talking about our trip and giving XP tours. The roads felt safe (especially in the North) and as long as we asked the locals about areas to be avoided where there was recent rebel activity (not many) we felt totally safe in Colombia.
Our first week in the highlands of Colombia started in the state of Santander in the Andean north-east. The drive from the coast took us two full days of driving and reminded us how big Colombia was compared with Central America. The first day of driving was through hundreds of small, poor villages inland from the Caribbean that reminded me of the fictional town Macondo in Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize winning novel One hundred Years of Solitude.
As it started to get dark our first night of driving, we pulled down a dirt road to find a place to camp and ended up parked next to a cattle ranch (with permission from the owner) where it was 102 degrees at 10PM and we fell asleep to the clink of cow bells. We could not wait to start getting some elevation the following day, we were done with the heat!
Canon del Chicamocha
This is the Grand Canyon of Colombia, but actually deeper (2000 meters) with a cable car that crosses it. We stayed in the National Park parking lot for the night, rode the cable car and had mixed feeling about the experience. The Canyon is lovely, but the park is a totally strange mix of monuments, ostrich farms and bungee jumping. It was a little over the top for us, but the canyon, especially the road of switch backs up to the park, was spectacular.
We visited San Gil which is a jumping off point for adventure sports (rafting, rappelling, bungee jumping), but we just ended up doing laundry and a big grocery shopping. We are hard core that way. =) What I will remember about San Gil is the trees dripping with Spanish moss. They were everywhere and were really beautiful.
We LOVED this town. It was so picturesque we started day dreaming about settling there one day until we found out the average home was over a million dollars! It is a favorite of the Colombian upper class. I guess I don’t blame them; the white washed buildings with the red tiled roofs overlooking idyllic green valleys was picture perfect.
We stayed in the area for a few nights and camped and hiked the backroads of this relaxing and gorgeous area.
Juan Curi waterfall
Our last night in the Santander area was spent hiking and camping at the Juan Curi waterfall. Colombia was having a horrible drought while we were visiting, so the waterfall was a little less spectacular than it is when there is more water, but it was not a bad place to spend the afternoon and was a peaceful campsite aside from the MEOW of peacocks all night.
From here we headed up to spectacular high altitude Park National El Cocuy!