Colombia, South America – granted it is more renowned for drug cartels than an idyllic holiday destination, however a country that was once a no-go zone for travellers is emerging as the latest hot destination. Concierge & Lifestyle Manager Anthony Laser recounts his experience of visiting the country at the northern tip of South America.
“Having travelled through Latin America extensively over 10 years ago, there was one destination that at that time, I was forced to skip over. At the start of 2000, Colombia was on a list of countries that the British Foreign Office deemed not safe to travel. You may recall the stories of westerners being kidnapped as part of the ongoing domestic issue. However over the last decade the country has transformed itself and is now emerging with the rest of Latin America economically, socially and importantly from a tourism perspective, is not only safe, but great to travel to. My whistle stop tour only allowed me to see two major cities, both in the north of the state, on the Caribbean cost.
If there is one place that is as an absolute must it is the City of Cartagena. This is the place most Colombians flock to for their own holidays (December / January) and from visiting I can see why – beauty, style and 30 degree heat are three major factors. The ‘Centro Historico’ is a walled historic quarter situated directly on the coast. The old streets have a plethora of churches and beautiful plazas all mixed with a hub of artists, street performers and horse drawn carts taking guests from trendy bar to fine dining restaurant. Cartagena has firmly established itself as very safe and welcoming city filled with spots of luxury and cutting edge design.
For the first stage of our trip we stayed at The Hilton, which was mainly down to its great location at the end of the peninsular, ensuring easy access to a glass of wine on the beach at sunset every night. The hotel pool area is also a great place to relax with all the modern convenience one would hope for during ‘the holiday’ part of our trip. Each night we experienced a great blend of Latin, Spanish and Caribbean cuisine from various establishments. Some particular highlights were certainly San Pedro, a fine dining seafood restaurant with a great bar and plenty of al fresco dining in the square it sits in. Another great find was Di Silvio’s Trattoria – an Italian set up in an old crumbling church yard in the Getsemani district, which is slightly more bohemian in style but again blends historic architecture with great bars and dining. I would also recommend a walk along the top of the city walls, passing the various cannons and viewing posts that no doubt kept the pirates at bay in a bygone era. It takes around an hour and if you time it correctly, I would highly recommend ending at Café Del Mar, a bar on the top of the wall where one can watch the sun set, sipping a Caipirinha in an Ibiza style setting.
The second leg of our journey took us on a four hour trip north, to the City of Santa Marta, whose main attraction is the Tayrona National Park. The park is a truly tranquil escape that combines rainforest and numerous idyllic beaches – personally a highlight of the trip. The paths and routes are very well mapped out so no guide is required. Head to Cabo, the final beach on the walk for a great place to kick back and relax. For accommodation I would also highly recommend La Case Del Aqua, a boutique guest house in the centre of Santa Marta. With a small swimming pool in the centre of the building the residence has a roman spa feel to it. The owner has individually designed each room in a style that would make Laura Ashley herself proud. We flew United Airlines via New York, with a short stopover in Panama. For further details of the hotels, restaurants or excursions please enquire into our Travel Advisory Service.