DAY 1: MEDELLIN – ARRIVAL AND AN INTRODUCTION TO PAISA CULTURE
As each person arrives to Colombia at the international airport in Rionegro, a member of True Colombia Travel will be there to greet them and help carry their things. As you head out of the international airport outside the “City of Eternal Spring” you’ll be escorted you through a beautiful mountain pass and 1,000 feet down into the trendy and popular neighborhood of El Poblado.
We’ll give you a chance to settle before walking around and helping you set your bearings to the best cafés and restaurants in the area. But that’s just a warm-up! We’ll whisk you away to your private salsa-dancing lesson, complete with live band (when available). Dancing is an inseparable part of the local culture and gives a glimpse into the lively and warm souls of the “Paisa” people of this region. Learn some basic steps and twirls in-between sips of wine, beer, water and snacks. Or for the more adventurous, try a shot of the local liquor, aguardiente, which roughly translates to fire water!
Once you’ve worked up a hunger, we’ll move to a special treat, a dinner of typical Colombian food inside the home of a local family. The Paisas are some of the warmest people in the world, and after years of violence have retained their kindness and are ready to show it to visitors. We want to welcome you into a home to see the true and authentic lives of the people in Medellín.
Dinner Recommendation: El Cielo-This is an unforgettable culinary experience. The set menus of “moments” are a playful and sumptuous take on Colombian food and fusion. Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos changes his menu every season, often concentrating on one region of the country while showing flashes of Colombia as a whole in every meal. Each molecular-gastronomic dish features a story of Colombian culture while bursting with delicious flavor. Wine pairing recommended.
DAY 2: SAN CAYETANO – THE ORIGENS OF COLOMBIAN COFFEE
Welcome to historic San Cayetano, the origen of Colombian coffee. Over 120 years ago, the very first commercial coffee cultivations in Colombia were planted in this beautiful finca, which today produces some of the best traditional coffee in the country. Your personal tour will highlight the best of Colombian cultivation on an expansive property that spans various elevations and cultivates both high-land and low-land coffee. Take in breathtaking views of the central ridge of the Andes mountains and the Cauca River 3,000 feet below.
At San Cayetano you’ll have a chance to meet the chief roaster of the historic finca and smell, touch, and taste experimental blends of San Cayetano’s coffee. You’ll see every step of the coffee process from seed to cup, and pick and taste ripe beans straight from the tree. As we reach a wonderful viewpoint in the middle of the coffee fields, you’ll enjoy a freshly prepared tropical juice along with a delicious fiambre, the typical lunch consumed by farmers for generations.
Afterward, you’ll visit the processing warehouse to see how they de-pulp, wash, and dry the beans in both traditional as well as specialty methods, promoted by a coffee initiative established by True Colombia Travel. We’ll make you a fresh cup of San Cayetano coffee in a V60. Along the route you’ll meet and talk to pickers who work on the farm, see how they live, and visit a school constructed on the farm specially for the children of families that work in the fields. Afterwards, we’ll take you back to the owner’s private mansion, where you’ll have the grounds to yourself. Change into your swimsuit and bathe in the farm’s waterfall or take a dip in the infinity pool or Jacuzzi. We’ll bring you hors d’oeuvres, wine or beer, and appetizers as you watch the sun set on the valley below. Feel free to move over to the fire place, fed by coffee wood, and relax as we serve you dinner. San Cayetano is Rainforest Alliance certified for their consciousnesses treatment of the earth and UTZ fair trade certified for fair treatment of their employees.
Evening Talk: In preparation for the next two days we’ll have a wonderful talk with Laura Gutierrez, a professor and researcher at EAFIT University. Laura has created documentaries on the change in the barrios of Medellin, including the use of “hot spotting” as a form to combat violence. She’ll speak about her work in the barrios, her partnerships with local NGOs, and gaining community trust.
DAY 3: MEDELLIN – THE CITY OF ETERNAL SPRING, PAST AND PRESENT
In the morning, we’ll pick you up from your hotel and head over to the government center where we’ll begin an exploration of Medellin and its history starting from the industrial revolution to the dark days of the 80s and 90s. We’ll focus on the importance of architecture and transit in the city and the roles they’ve played in transforming Medellin into one of the most innovative cities in the world. You’ll begin to understand the role of government and community in the change of the city as we show you locations that used to be among the most dangerous in the world but our now beacons of peace and civic pride in Medellín.
Walk through the brilliant Parque de las Luces and hear about the importance of education in urban development, and then head to Parque Berrio/Plaza Botero to explore both the world-famous sculptures of Fernando Botero in the plaza and walk through the Museum of Antioquia, full of sculptures, paintings, and drawings donated by Botero himself to his home city. As we move on, browse traditional handicrafts and souvenirs at a local market as we pass flower-lined walking streets and parks. We’ll then head to lunch at one of Medellin’s top “hidden” local restaurants. Time permitting afterwards, we’ll also visit La Casa Museo de Las Memorias to gain a visual image of what the city was like before experiencing change and violence was rampant.
In the afternoon, you’ll gain an incredible experience that few foreigners and no tourists have been privy to: in the early 90s the government started a program to take children from high-risk areas and teach them to play instruments. These children formed a ground-breaking and extremely talented orchestra that toured the world, even playing for the Pope in the Vatican. We’ll head to La Escuela de La Nieve where one of the
original orchestra children is now director of the section of the program focused on teaching string instruments and choral. Take a tour of the school and hear a beautiful performance from the kids, gaining first-hand knowledge of their training.
We’ll then head to another location for a conversation with some of the original orchestra members and hear their stories about being in the program and how the program’s expansion has saved hundreds of young lives. The speakers will then perform a private show for the group.
Dinner Recommendation: Osea-True Colombia Travel will reserve a restaurant space for this event, likely at Osea Medellin. Traveler may elect their own dishes from the menu.
True Graffiti doesn’t just take you on a path through central destinations for representative street art, but takes you through the rarely visited and extraordinary Comunas 1 and 3 located in the northeast of Medellin. The experience is created and lead by the head of a youth collective or artists who are from and create art in these very neighborhoods, and it is 100% exclusive to True Colombia Travel. True Graffiti is the next generation of Medellín cultural experiences.
Begin in the center of the city where we’ll visit the workshops of the University Bellas Artes where our featured artist is honing his artistic and academic skills. Here, the leader of the Comuna 1 youth collective Klan Ghetto Popular (KGP) will give us the opportunity to discover how academics and art are colliding in the streets to change graffiti art. From there we’ll walk to see some works of street art representative of the region. After exploring the center we’ll move on vía metro cable, the city’s innovative gondola system to the Comuna 3 where we’ll visit the sector of Moravia and see art created for the last local graffiti festival, killart.
Snaking through this hillside favela neighborhood we’ll move on to Comuna 1 and the sectors of Santo Domingo and Popular 1 where we’ll have a traditional lunch with a local family inside of their house. After lunch we’ll take a walk through the neighborhood where the youth collective will explain to us the significance of the areas murals, discuss the change and development of the sector, and how both the neighborhood and art evolved together. From here you’ll get to enjoy a private show of the areas art including free-style hip hop and rap, music, and break-dancing, all telling the story of violence, change, family, and love in the community. The experience will finish with a short lesson on stenciling where you’ll get to create your very own souvenirs and memories from the trip.
Evening Talk: While we are eating, we’ll meet and speak with Alex Sultan-Khan, who works with the international Red Cross in former FARC controlled sectors of the country. He’ll speak about his work in victim recovery trying to find the bodies of slain victims, his relations with former FARC members, and will give a first-hand perspective on the newly signed peace process.
Dinner Recommendation: Home of Colombian Family or Private Chef During Talk Our treat! We want you to experience this unique cultural and gastronomic opportunity. *Alternative restaurant recommendations available if preferred.
DAY 5: CARTAGENA – THE HEROIC CITY OF THE COAST
As the sun rises over Medellin you’ll have a lovely breakfast before heading back toward the international airport for a short flight to the Caribbean coast and your final destination: Cartagena. We’ll greet you at the gate and take you right to the famous “ciudad amurallada,” the old walled city of Cartagena. Here you’ll encounter enchanting streets and plazas lined with gorgeous bright yellow and blue walls of buildings that define the colonial architecture of this 500-year-old city. Head to your boutique hotel to settle and change into something more comfortable to walk around and adapt to the heat and humidity.
Once you’ve changed, we’ll take you on a private tour of some of the key landmarks in this city that was a key hub in Spain’s inter-continental empire and later instrumental to Colombian independence. You’ll walk through neighborhoods like the one Gabriel Garcia Marquez lived in and feel the atmosphere that helped inspire his magical realism. Head to the monastery La Popa atop the only hill in Cartagena. Here, learn about the clash between the missionaries and the indigenous peoples after Padre Alonso García de Paredes was murdered along with five Spanish soldiers. Explore the building’s beautiful flower-filled patio and walk along the outer wall to take in wonderful views of the entire cityscape below.
Afterwards, head over to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, one of the largest Spanish colonial fortresses ever built. As you walk the walls and tunnel systems of the fort you’ll gain an understanding of why, despite several attempts by outside forces, the Castillo de San Felipe was never taken and always successfully defended. You’ll see ingeniously designed pathways, acoustic passages, and even false plazas created to confuse the enemy.
After a chance to catch your bearings you’ll have free time to wander the romantic streets, walk by the pier, or head up one of the ramps to walk along the wall and enjoy a drink as the sun slips behind the Caribbean.
Dinner Recommendation: Carmen-For those looking for more varied flavors, Carmen is a spectacular option. Carmen originally opened in Medellín and featured flavors of the Andes but chef Carmen decided to expand to Cartagena. High-end and creative, Carmen is where guests to Cartagena can enjoy fine flavors and sometimes catch a glimpse of celebrities at the table in the corner.
DAY 6: PEACE CORPS SITE VISIT
Dinner Recommendation: Coco Social Club-Coco is a wonderful restaurant serving Colombian food with a French flair. From inventive appetizers to delicious entrees and cocktails, and a great ambience designed by the owner and his wife, Coco offers a great final experience in Colombia. The upstairs room is furnished with antique furniture the couple received and restored from their parents. Coco is a fun way to round out your trip.
DAY 7: BOCA CHICA – THE DEFENSE OF CARTAGENA
Once you’ve had breakfast you’ll head off to the bay of Boca Chica. Cartagena was the most important colonial port in Colombia, and her defense was vital to the Spanish and later to the Republic. Although the Castillo de San Felipe was the city’s main defense, the Batería del Angel San Rafael was key to the victories that kept Cartagena safe from both the French as well as pirates. Explore both the fort as well as the island of Tierra Bomba where the fort lies. Your guide in Cartagena runs a non-profit on the island to help teach water sports to children from single-mother households. With him you’ll gain terrific access to the community and hear about how he is supporting education on the island. You’ll also gain insight into the local life in both Cartagena and the surrounding islands as you venture through Tierra Bomba and explore the coastline usually only seen by boats passing out on their way to the outer Islas del Rosario.
Although the island of Tierra Bomba only lies about 10 minutes by boat from Cartagena, the inhabitants live in abject poverty in comparison to their neighbors on the mainland. The island is more or less neglected by local authorities and we’ll have a chance to help out. Amigos del Mar offers several workshops for volunteers with the local community including helping out in local grade schools reading to children, interacting with and teaching youth, offering classes on manual labor and recycling, helping to construct local structures and houses out of recycled bottles, and offering private tutoring to kids without the resources to attend high school. For a few hours, we’ll have the chance to revisit what it’s like to be a part of Peace Corps! Afterwards we’ll head back to the walled city for free time and dinner.
Dinner Recommendation: Candé -The perfect complement for a day exploring the history of Cartagena is a night exploring the gastronomy of Cartagena. Candé serves exceptional, gourmet-quality coastal food giving you the best highlights of traditional flavors and dishes in Cartagena. Wait staff usually dresses in traditional clothing and there is often live dancing that expresses indigenous folklore. A true treat not to miss!
On your final day, wake up early to enjoy your last morning in Colombia. Walk around the neighborhood, explore the old city walls, and enjoy some final bites of local cuisine. Explore Cartagena’s artisanal shops as we explain some of the traditional Colombian goods such as the “mochila” bags, a product hand-stitched by the indigenous peoples of the coast. Grab any last souvenirs or goods before we head to the airport and back home.