Day 4.

After a good sleep I headed downstairs for breakfast.

And then made the short walk to Parque El Poblado for the 7:30am departure for a trip today to Guatapé. Today's full day tour cost only 83,000 pesos or $25 and included both breakfast and lunch so I was a little skeptical at first but would turn out to be pleasantly surprised.

About 45 minutes out of Medellín we stopped at a roadside café.

And enjoyed an arepa with white cheese and a hot coffee.

After continuing we stopped at the town of Marinilla.

Our guide Carlos outside a monument to the heroes of Marinilla during the war for the Independence of Colombia.

We then wandered through the streets to the main town square.

Inside the 19th century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion. 73% of Colombians identify as Catholic.

After our brief tour we were free to wander about the town before hitting the road again to the Rock of Guatapé.

After a 30 minute drive we arrived at El Peñón de Guatapé.

Privately owned by a local family and was evidently quite a popular local attraction!

Climbing up the 740 step staircase after buying my ticket for 18,000 pesos / ~$6.

The rock was first climbed in July 1954 over five days using sticks fixed against the rock's wall.

And joining the throngs at the top of the rock. Before the construction of the seating area, viewpoint tower and convenience store, a new species of plant was found on the top of the rock by a German scientist.

The rock is surrounded by the Peñol - Guatapé reservoir, a 6,365 hectare lake formed in the 1970's after the construction of a hydro-electric dam.

Chico y chica.


It was an amazingly photogenic day with the bright blue sky and beautiful landscape.

Many people from Medellín have holiday homes here to escape from the city in the weekends.

The Rock reminded me of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

Looking down on the Rock and the crowds.


It was amazing to see something so beautiful and partly manmade.

The lakeside Hotel Los Recuerdos below.

Verde y azul.

I then began the 740 steps back down to the bottom.

We then headed to one of the restaurants at the base of the rock for lunch. After passing on some of the options I opted for a local dish, Bandeja paisa. Paisa refers to a person from the Paisa Region of Colombia and bandeja is Spanish for platter. Very tasty and filling and consisted of red beans, white rice, ground beef, chicharon (fried pork rind), fried egg, plantain, chorizo, arepa, avocado and tomato. Perfect after the climb up and down the rock!

After the tasty lunch we made the 3 kilometre drive to Guatapé.

Originally dependent on farming, the construction of the hydro-electric dam and the resultings lakes transformed the town with the growing area of recreation for citizens of Medellín.

Carlos then took us for a walk through the town. Guatapé is also a growing tourist destination for foreign travellers.

A lot of the town buildings had colourful tiles, called Zócalos, along the facade's lower walls in bright colors.

Many of the Zócalos are related to the buildings purpose. A Zócalo outside a school.

Outside a bar/club.


More of the colourful Zócalos. Guatapé was founded in October 1811 by the Spaniard Don Francisco Giraldo y Jimenez.


The bright and very vibrant Plazoleta de Los Zócalos.


The town with the Rock in the distance.

El Peñón de Guatapé.



Helado de Pistacho.

Parroquia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Guatape on the main plaza.

La Grosera.

Campo de futbol.

Scores of holiday leisure boats along the lakeside. Guatapé was a beautiful and delightful little town and a real pleasure to visit.

And buying a few fridge magnets to take home.

The drive back took a little longer as we joined the long queue of weekend traffic returning to Medellín.

Back in El Poblado where I grabbed a bite to eat at a street food stall.

And at a Starbucks in El Poblado where I attempted to order with my mangled Spanish. Although the largest single purchaser of Colombian arabica coffee, the first Starbucks didn't open in the country until 2014.

The barista must have been impressed and/or amused with my stumbled attempt at Spanish and left me a cute note on my drink (You are so handsome!).

Day 5.

I had another tour organised today but the start time wasn't until 9am so I enjoyed a leisurely sleep in this morning before heading down to breakfast.

And after a short walk I arrived at Toucan Café for my tour today to a coffee finca / farm. One of the things on my travel bucket list was to visit a coffee finca and Colombia seemed like the perfect place to tick this off.

After a ~90 minute drive south of Medellín we arrived at the coffee finca and met the farmer/owner, Javier. There were quite a mix of people also on the tour, including an Indian couple living in the US, a emergency medic from New York, a Frenchman taking a one year trip around South America and a couple from Switzerland.

Originally owned by the Austrian Consul-General in Medellín, the finca was called Los Alpes Café De Altura since the hills and mountains reminded him of the Alps back in Austria.

A cup of delicously rich hot chocolate and a bagel for morning tea.

After giving us a brief history of the farm, Javier asked each of us to introduce ourselves. Almost everyone in our group spoke fairly decent Spanish so I was a little intimidated. I had tried to learn some basic Spanish about a month before the trip, and this was my first use of it in general conversation. After a deep breath, I said my name, that I was from New Zealand but lived in Dubai and that I worked in an aluminium factory. To my shock and surprise everyone actually understood me!

Javier giving a brief explanation of the coffee growing and production process with ripe coffee cherries in the glass on the far-left and the final roasted beans on the far-right.

We then headed outside for a walk around the farm. Colombia is the world's third largest producer of coffee producing ~750,000 tons per year.

Javier showing how the coffee plants are first grown from seedlings in sandy soil and then selected based on the quality of their roots.

The seedlings are then replanted in fertile soil to further grow.

Looking over the coffee plants covering the slopes. Coffee growing in Colombia is concentrated in the Triángulo del Café / Coffee Triangle between the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío.

Javier explaining how there are two main types of coffee; Arabica and Robusta. All but one of the plants on the finca were Arabica. While Robusta is easier to care for, has a greater crop yield, almost double the amount of caffeine and is less susceptible to disease, Arabica are the higher quality beans with more pleasing flavours and aromatic properties and represent ~65% of global coffee production.

Unripe coffee berries on a bush.

From flower to final ripe coffee cherry.

Some of the farm mules, or as Javier jokingly refered to as Colombians 4WD's.

Following Javier through the plantation.

Some coffee cherries beginning to ripen.

A farm worker with a machete used to prune the coffee bushes.

After the walk through the plantation, Javier took us to where the beans are processed.

First the coffee cherries are pressed to remove the skin and some of the pulp. Then the remainder of the pulp is removed by breaking it down through fermentation and then washing with large amounts of water.

After the pulp has been removed the bean is surrounded by two additional layers, the silver skin and the parchment.

The beans are then dried out in the sun. Javier said that most of their green beans are sold to a customer in Canada.

The moisture content is reduced down to ~12-13%.

The beans are raked every six hours to allow even drying and prevent the growth of mildew.

Javier with the dried beans covered in parchment.

The beans are then further dried down to 10% using a machine fuelled by the bean parchment.

After the very interesting and educational morning, we head back to the farm house for lunch on the patio. Starting with a hot soup and then adding ground meat, rice and other ingredients together with a chilled glass of cold coffee.

After lunch we went to see the final roasted beans. Although the bulk of the beans they sell are green for wholesale, they roast some for their own coffee brand.

Coffee beans roasted to three different levels.

Javier's wife then led us through some coffee tasting. Included was some cheaper varieties as well as instant coffee and it was interesting trying to pick which was what. Luckily my taste buds didn't fail me too badly and I could definitely taste the difference of the more expensive coffees.

At the end of the tour where I bought a few bags of beans to take home back to Dubai. A great experience that was very enjoyable and left me slightly wiser on all the work that goes into a cup of coffee.

Back in Medellín at dusk.

For dinner I went for a fix of Colombian junk food at Hamburguesas El Corral, a Colombian burger chain that is bigger than McDonald's in the country.

Day 6.

After a final dose of empanadas for breakfast I checked out and called for an Uber for the ride to the airport.

And about to check in for my 9am flight to Cartagena.

After security with my boarding pass and some bacon snacks I bought after the 30 minute delay.

The Avianca A320 after its delayed arrival from Cali. I noticed my suitcase being set aside when they were loading the plane. When I went to board I was asked to go down the stairs to open my suitcase. After a quick check the secuitry officer was ok though and I was then able to board.

Taking off after the slight delay.

Just a simple drink service for the short flight to Cartagena.

Reaching the coast and the Caribbean Sea beyond.

Mount Popa and the barrio of La Maria visible out the window on finals.

And disembarking at a very humid José María Córdova International Airport.

After a short taxi ride I arrived at Plaza de Los Coches in Cartagena's Ciudad Amurallada (Walled City).

A short walk away at Hotel Boutique las Carretas. It was too early to check-in yet so I left bag and went out to explore.

Plaza del Reloj just outside the Walled City. Cartagena was founded in June 1533 and named after the city of Cartagena in Spain (which was in turn named after Carthage in Tunisia). The historic centre is surrounded by 11 kilometers of defensive walls built from 1586 to protect the city from attacks from English, Dutch and French pirates.

Iglesia Tercera Orden.

And more of the Spanish Colonial architecture inside.

Back inside the bustling Walled City. Since 1984, the Port, Fortresses and Monuments of Cartagena has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site

For lunch I headed to a café and had the prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich.

At 2:30pm I headed back to Hotel Boutique las Carretas. Situated in the middle of the Walled City and for $85 a night including breakfast I was perfectly happy.

In the late afternoon I headed out again to see some of the city. Looking down on the Walled City with Plaza del Reloj and Plaza de Los Coches on the far-right.

Multiple breakwaters jutting out from the coast along Avenida Santander.

Looking east with Monumento Santander in the middle of the roundabout and the Port of Cartagena in the distance.

Bocagrande stretching to the south. It was interesting to see such a modern skyline only a stone's throw from the historic Ciudad Amurallada.

To the right is the Estelar Hotel, the second tallest skyscraper in Colombia.

Bocagrande is the upmarket wealthy neighborhood of the city.

The Costa del Sol beaches facing the Carribean below with the exclusive Castillogrande residential district in the background.

Prayers. I then went for a stroll through the Walled City.



At 4pm I headed to Camellón de los Mártires for the meeting point for the Beyond Colombia Cartagena Walking Tour. Our guide Diego was also a part-time taxi driver and definitely had the gift of the gab!

Two ladies posing with a statue of Saint Peter Claver, a Spanish Jesuit priest who became the patron saint of slaves.

Outside the Museo Naval Del Caribe.

The Walled City reminded me of the architecture of Old Havana, although in slightly better condition.

Outside the Museo Histórico de Cartagena Casa de la Inquisición. Built in 1610, the Palace was used during the Inquisition to try Jews and other non-Catholics with about 800 people publicly executed there.

Next stop was at a Colombia chocolate shop where there were plenty of free sampling.

And I couldn't resist buying some to take home too.

Artwork including a Botero-esque Mona Lisa outside the Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría.

Casa Drake, where Sir Francis Drake lived for two months after capturing the city during the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1586.

People posing with the Botero sculpture, La Gorda Gertrudis in Plaza Santo Domingo.

And finishing the tour in the splendid Centro de Formacion de la Cooperacion Española.

For dinner I headed to Alquimico.

Located in a beautiful building within the Walled City.

For the main I indulged in the stuffed arepas with pork belly, corn, avacado and cilantro with spicy hogao.

And couldn't resist having the chocolate cake with 70% Colombian cocoa, passionfruit infused rum and vanilla ice cream. A sweet and satisfying end to a great first day in tropical Cartagena.

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