Less than five hours by air from NYC, Colombia is beautiful country in the northwest corner of South America with soaring mountains, pristine coastlines on the pacific and Caribbean, and some of the lushest countryside you'll ever see. No disrespect to Ireland, but there’s a lot more than forty shades of green!
And then there's the coffee. Colombia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world, and arguably grows some of the best tasting stuff on the planet. It's all arabica, more flavorful and less bitter that the robusta bean grown elsewhere. In these parts most of it is still grown the old fashioned way on small family farms pitched on steep mountain hillsides and picked by hand. The image of Juan Valdez and his trusty mule loaded down with sacks of coffee is part of everyday life here. In the mountain towns men with dusty boots, cowboy hats and machetes strapped to their sides are the norm. It's a place where tradition is important and people help their neighbors.
Our most recent group trip there was nothing short of spectacular. We spent a week in Colombia's coffee country, high up in the eternal spring of the Andes, a place known as the coffee triangle. A day in Manizales gave us a taste of the big city life here. The main drag runs along the ridge of the Cordillera Central, one of the ranges that constitute the Andes mountains. At 7,500 feet above sea level, the cross streets fall precipitously away on either side, making for amazing vistas and white knuckle taxi rides. For only 1,500 pesos (about 60 cents) you can glide over the city from ridge to ridge in a cozy enclosed cable car and take in the sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and the city below. A five minute ride on El Cable can save a 40 minute drive through the city's twisty jumble of insanely steep streets. It's an amazing piece of modern efficiency that almost seems out of place in a city where you can still see cows grazing in people's yards.
While Manizales offers some great restaurants and cultural experiences, the true allure of the region is all about getting out into the countryside. It is absolutely stunning. Crazy single track mountain biking, killer hikes through the cloud forest studded with 200 foot tall palm trees, horseback riding, swimming in waterfalls, hot springs and mud baths, zip lining and some of the best bird watching on the planet. We spent two days on a ranch with a volcanic hot spring fed swimming pool in the front yard and a 300 foot waterfall for a backdrop. Vanessa and Marta cooked our meals on a massive wood fired cast iron stove while Ernesto took us out horseback riding to see some of the other seven waterfalls on the property. It was heaven.
So is Colombia safe? Of course it is. People smile, say hello and are quick to lend a hand. I never felt the least bit uneasy. Even the cab drivers in the larger cities are friendly... Never once did they try to rip me off, and I look unquestionably like a gringo with a capital G. But far more than being safe, it's fun. Tourism is in its infancy here. Now is the time to go and have an authentic experience before the mainstream discovers it. And if you love adventure and the outdoors it's a no brainer.
Porterra Travel specializes in small group tours to Europe and the Americas. The next trip to Colombia is January 31 to February 7. We’ll stay at some amazing places along the Caribbean Coast. $1499 includes air, hotels and transportation. For more information and other Colombian adventures visit www.PorterraTravel.com or email Larry at PorterraTravel@gmail.com.