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Destinos: Villa De Leyva, Colombia – The Ultimate Colonial Retreat

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

Colombia is seemingly saturated with idyllic towns, places where time has barely made its mark.  If a prize could be given out for the most appealing one, Villa de Leyva could certainly be a top contender. Located just 150 km north of Bogota, this quaint town in the Boyaca department, is another oozing-with-charm, perfectly preserved colonial village that makes an excellent (albeit popular) weekend break for those escaping city-life.  It’s a truly beautiful, compact village with a population just over 12,000 and has been established as a National Monument for over fifty years.  One visit here and you’ll easily see why.

Destinos: Get Your Heart Racing In San Gil, Colombia

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

In part two of her story on the Santander Department of Colombia, which began last week with Barichara, our travel correspondent Joanna Marracelli takes us on a heart-pounding ride through San Gil.  Strap in and read up.  This one’s going to get bumpy!

By Joanna Marracelli

If your idea of a fun weekend is spent rafting, zip-lining, rappelling, spelunking, paragliding, hydrospeed or extreme mountain-biking (and that’s just scratching the surface), then listen up.  Self-proclaimed adrenaline junkies will be well-served by the small city of San Gil, dubbed an adventure sports paradise.  Sitting some 300 km northeast of Bogotá, with a population of about 50,000, this may not be the nation’s capital but it is certainly well-known as the center of heart-pumping titillation.

Destinos: Eating Big Ass Ants And Other Culinary Delights In Barichara, Colombia

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

This will be the first in a two part series due to the vast culinary offerings in the Santander department in Colombia.  This department lies in the Andino region of Colombia about 300 km north of Bogotá.  This Tuesday we focus on Barichara, a small, colonial gem located in Santander, declared a national monument in 1978 and perhaps the most picturesque place in the entire region.  It’s exactly what you think of when you visualize a quaint, small town in South America.  It’s so perfect, it almost feels like a movie set and indeed, many Spanish novellas have been filmed here.  Whitewashed homes with doorways painted in vivid shades of green and blue topped off with bright orange Spanish tile roofs are complemented by roads constructed of massive colorful stone, combine to set the stage for one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited.

The town is quite small with a population of only 9,000 which makes it easy to navigate.  Colorful mototaxis–the most comfortable I have encountered in Latin America–complete with seatbelts (!) are available if you are too tired to walk some of the hillier streets.  The central plaza in town serves as its focal point with the commanding Catedral de la Immaculata Concepcion looming over the tree-filled square.  This cathedral is the largest and one of the most beautiful I have seen in South America with its red stones that turn a golden orange at sunset and gorgeous Spanish-tiled interior.  There are several other churches located in town as well as the Casa de la Cultura, which sits on the main plaza and has some interesting artifacts and fossils from the Guane Indians.

Destinos: Exploring The Mountain Highs And Deep Seas Of Santa Marta, Colombia

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

The infectious vallenato music is thumping out from almost every corner.  An open-air party bus passes by the palm-lined street ,and the smell of the Caribbean Sea is heavy in the air.  It’s Friday night in Santa Marta and things are starting to get down.  Like many other places in Colombia, years ago this scene would have never existed. Drugs and prostitutes ruled the crumbling colonial streets here in the very same places where, today, vendors sell beach chairs and sarongs to tourists passing through.

Destinos: Mompox, Colombia Via The Road Less Traveled

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

Often times, the road less traveled proves to be the road with the greatest benefits.  Santa Cruz de Mompox, or simply Mompox (spelled also Mompos/Mompoj), could certainly be considered one of the roads less traveled and one that contains many treasures for those willing to seek it out. This historic city, which lies on the Rio Magdalena, is far removed from main roads, making getting here an adventure in itself.  The 16th century colonial architecture is extremely well preserved and earned the city a nod from UNESCO back in 1995. It was also in Mompox that Simon Bolívar once declared, “If to Caracas I owe my life, to Mompox I owe my glory.”  A plaque commemorating the famous war hero lies proudly in the center of town. This was in reference to his time spent in the city, gathering his troops to fight for independence against the Spanish.

Destinos: Drunk Like A Sea Wolf In Valdivia, Chile

By Patrick Hieger

[Patrick Hieger]

[Patrick Hieger]

As the craft beer industry in Chile continues to expand and dabble with interesting new flavors and brewing techniques, it’s important to remember that the industry has a long history that stems from a strong flow of immigrants making their way into the country.  To get a real taste (literally) of Chile’s craft-brewing heritage, a trip to the far South is of the utmost importance.  And if you’re looking for craft brewing ground zero, look no further than Valdivia, where you’ll find more than just a cold brew to keep you occupied.

Destinos: Gateway To Paradise | Colombia’s Tolu And San Bernardo Islands

By Joanna Marracelli

[image: Como Sur]

Ah, the Carribean coast of Colombia.  Palm trees sway in the gentle breeze to the beat of reggaeton, salsa and cumbia which blast from seemingly everywhere, sand and surf is always just a minute or two away, enticing offerings from the sea are served up fresh while the sun shines blisteringly overhead.  The beach rules here and it’s one of the main reasons why tourists, both Colombians and foreigners alike, come to the shores seeking to soak up the sun, sand and crystal clear waters.

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, is one of the most visited cities in all of South America. Often referred to as the jewel of the country, the classic colonial architecture will seduce you with its vibrant colors. Several years ago, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city oozes charm from each one of its sunny cobblestoned streets which boast numerous open-air cafes, friendly costeños, horse drawn carriages and an infectious charisma all its own.  But along with all of this beauty comes the usual suspects.  Namely, hordes of tourists which tend to ruin some of the atmosphere.

Fortunately, there is a place where one can have all this charm including sea and surf but without crowds, provided you go at the right time of the year.  Tolu, Colombia, a mere two hour bus ride away, provides the gateway for the lush San Bernando archipelago (there are 11 total islands) which along with the Islas Rosario, forms the Parque Nacional Natural Corales. The secret hasn’t been let out of the bag for foreign tourists yet but it does draw large crowds of vacationing Colombians during the high season. Thankfully, the high season is fairly short-lived and thus easy to dodge.

[image: Como Sur]

Destinos: Boutiquing At Buenos Aires’ Fierro Hotel

By Patrick Hieger

Though Buenos Aires has seen its fair share of economic ups and downs in recent years, the gastronomy and travel industries have forged ahead, delivering some truly remarkable new restaurants, chefs, and places to stay.  One neighborhood pushing both the travel and gastronomy industries ahead in Buenos Aires is Palermo Hollywood, named for its long history of radio and television studios, as well as the not-infrequent celebrity sightings.  As Palermo Hollywood’s reputation and profile have continued to grow and expand, so has its cultural offering.  With a growing landscape of restaurants, bars, hotels, and more to do, knowing how to separate the good from the great isn’t always an easy chore.  However, one boutique hotel in the heart of the neighborhood has been continually upping their game since opening in 2010, and now boasts 27 of the most coveted beds in town, as well as a restaurant that has–deservedly–gained a considerable amount of both national and international attention in the last year.

[image: Fierro Hotel]

[image: Fierro Hotel]

As with the restaurants, bars, and so on, there a good deal of new, up-and-coming boutique hotels scattered throughout Palermo Hollywood, but there’s only one Fierro.  Opened in 2010 by Martin Rosberg, a professional hotel and restaurant manager who has worked throughout Europe and Argentina at such locales like Nobu London and the now defunct Talaia Mar in Barcelona, the pedigree that the Fierro hopes to achieve is preceded by one that is truly world-class.  The Fierro isn’t just for sleeping, though.  No, once you enter the sliding doors and enter the modernly-appointed waiting room, a one-of-a-kind getaway awaits.

Upon entering, you can’t help but notice HG restaurant at the back of the main floor.  Voted last year as the #49 restaurant on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, HG is no ordinary hotel dining experience.  Each morning, guests are treated to a sampling of fresh breads, fruit, freshly-squeezed juices, house-made granola, and more.  And that’s standard.  Lunch and dinner are open to both hotel guests and the public, and offer multi-course tastes of chef Hernán Gipponi’s Mediterranean-inspired creations.  If you happen to be around on a Monday night, be sure and book a seat at One Table, the weekly dining experience where Gipponi himself cooks tableside for guests who, wisely, have booked far in advance.  As a jumping off point into the booming gastronomy scene that Buenos Aires has to offer, you won’t find a better space than HG.

[image: Fierro Hotel]

[image: Fierro Hotel]

Pull yourself away from the wealth of culinary possibilities that the Fierro has to offer, and you’ll find an equally-enticing experience awaiting you in your room.  Three different room options are available, from the “smallest” superior suite, to the top floor terrace suite, complete with its own jacuzzi, wooden terrace, and a spectacular view of the city.  No matter which of the rooms you choose–all quite affordable given the current blue market exchange rate–luxury is the only thing that will be waiting for you.  All rooms come standard with a king-sized bed, a sofa, TV and cable, high-speed internet, and the other amenities you’d expect from a hotel of this caliber.

[image: Fierro Hotel]

[image: Fierro Hotel]

What you might not be expecting, however, is the in-room beverage options, that include wine service as curated by hotel owner Martin Rosberg’s brother, Andres Rosberg.  While the in-room wine options are fantastic, the rooms comfortable and the restaurant below world class, the biggest problem with the Fierro is that you might not want to leave.  When that much decadence is literally at your fingertips, going out exploring can seem like more of a chore than a vacation.  That is, until you realize that the Fierro is located in the heart of one of Buenos Aires’ best dining / shopping / drinking / sightseeing districts.

Head out of the Fierro in either direction, and some of Buenos Aires’ hottest new dining spots are within a couple of blocks.  From brunch at Oui Oui, late-night ramen at Fukuro Noodle Bar, expensive decadence at Tegui, or what some consider the best pizza in Buenos Aires at Siamo nel Forno, there are definitely dining options outside of HG.  There’s shopping, too, from handmade / recycled bicycles to the latest in modern design and Porteño fashion, Palermo Hollywood has it all.  Just ask the friendly, bilingual staff at the Fierro, and they’ll point you in all of the right directions.

[image: Fierro Hotel]

[image: Fierro Hotel]

Rooms at the Fierro start at around AR $2800 per night, and go up from there.  If you’re paying in cash (i.e. you absolutely should be paying in cash), the nicely appointed, spacious Superior Suites go for around $260 US, a bargain given the area, the amenities, and the quality of the hotel.  For more information, or to book a room, visit Fierro’s website.  For your next stay in Buenos Aires, make Fierro a must-stop.  From food to drinks to where to lay your head, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better boutique experience.