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Destinos: Discover Colombia’s White City In Popayan

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

Close to the border of Ecuador sits an exquisite, white colonial city which just happens to have some of Colombia’s best food.  Popayan, capital of the Cauca department, is not as visited as some of the country’s bigger cities perhaps due to its southern, almost out of the way location.  Sitting about two hours south of Cali, unless you are en route to Ecuador, it can seem a bit far to reach.  But as is often the case, a little effort has a big payoff.  Like Arequipa in Peru and Sucre in Bolivia, Popayan is known as the ‘ciudad blanca’ and the white façades found all over the city are indeed impressive and give the city a distinct character.

Popayan was a seat of power during the Spanish colonial years and this is the primary reason why the city is so rich in stunning, colonial architecture. It’s only second to Cartagena in terms of architectural splendor.  Unfortunately, much of this was rebuilt due to a severe earthquake striking the area back in 1983.  The city took almost twenty years to rebuild itself and many important landmarks suffered great damage.  The town is an important religious center and thus there are numerous impressive churches.  Popayan is world-renowned for its celebration during Semana Santa (the holy week).  It’s second only to Seville, Spain for its nightly processions and elaborate religious celebrations.

Destinos: Worshiping Beer and Jesus In Buga, Colombia

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

A town most noted for its religious pilgrimages, Guadalajara de Buga-as it’s officially known, sits about one hour north of Cali.  This small town is one of the oldest in Colombia, founded in 1555.  In addition to its importance in religious circles where people flock from all over to see the black Jesus, it is an area of rich history and culture.  Situated in the Cauca valley, the town enjoys a warm climate all year round and the region is known for its agricultural production including sugar cane and cattle raising.  Buga sounds like a word used to scare off little children but is instead a quaint colonial town with an old world feel.  It makes a nice stopover from Cali enroute to the Zona Cafetera in Colombia.  There is plenty to keep you busy both in Buga and its environs.

Over a million people come to this small city every year to make the pilgrimage to see the Cristo Negro (black Jesus) at the Basilica Señor de los Milagros (church of the miracles).  It truly is a fantastic and very distinctive church. Made of red brick topped off with silver, the entrance from La Plazoleta (the pedestrian walkway) is truly majestic and awe-inspiring.  The inside is just as striking also with silver, gold and paintings but its crowning glory is the black Jesus which you can get a glimpse of in the back of the alter.  To see it up close, one must go behind the alter up along the stairway.  There you can get a close up look.

Destinos: The Brightest, Most Cheerful Town In Colombia, Guatapé

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

Picture a colonial town that has seemingly been plugged in to a socket, where colors have come to life and 3D detailed frescoes delight much like a pop-up book.  Then mix all of this with locals who seem as cheerful as the vibrant shades and surround it with sweeping lake views, you might get a town like Guatapé.  I don’t think I have ever seen a place quite like it in all my travels.  I dare you to try to be in a bad mood here.  It’s virtually impossible and you are likely to be swept away by not only the colors, but the surrounding vistas as well.

Unlike our last Travel Tuesday piece about quiet, undiscovered Salamina, this town is a favorite weekend retreat by neighboring Paisas from Medellín.  Just a short, two-hour bus ride east will find you smack dab in the mountains, surrounded by gorgeous, steel-blue colored lakes.  Buses run frequently all week long but for a quieter experience, I suggest you visit during the week because weekends are packed out with Colombian families looking for a city getaway. The compact size of Guatapé make it easy to get around by foot or you can take one of the mototaxis which line up in the plaza.

Destinos: It’s All In The Details In Salamina, Colombia

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting new people.  Whether they are other travelers like myself or (as in this case) hostel owners, it’s nice to be able to connect with others while in a foreign land.  In addition to sharing stories and learning new things, it’s helpful to receive recommendations from those that have been there or done that.  Recently I had the pleasure of staying at ‘The Secret Garden’ in Manizales, Colombia, and it was there I met the kind and welcoming owners Daniel Buitron Jaramillo & Eliesha Lovell (who also run highly recommended Colombia Eco Travel.

Knowing that I am fond of off-the-beaten track destinations, colorful colonial architecture and smaller towns with a quiet, relaxed vibe, he urged me to visit a small city called Salamina which lies just two hours north of Manizales.  Not every place recommended to me ends up as my own destination due to either time or money constraints.  In addition, sometimes I worry the hype won’t live up to the actual place or that the person doing the recommending values things that differ from what I do.

Destinos: Coffee Highs And Low Valleys In Salento, Colombia

By Joanna Marracelli

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

When most people think of Colombia, they think of coffee.  The country is practically synonymous with the bean.  Most of the coffee grown here comes from a specific region known as the Zona Cafetera.  This area lies about 300 km west of Bogota and 250 km south of Medellin.  The elevation, temperature, and rainfall all contribute to helping make it an ideal place for the plants to grow.  For tourists who are interested in learning about the production, there are several towns which you can base yourself from.  A good place to start is Salento, Colombia.

Salento lies in the Quindío department and is easily accessed from nearby cities of either Armenia or Pereira (to the south and north, respectively).  Both serve as good bases to explore this quiet, sleepy town with frequent, inexpensive bus service.  The town’s main plaza has many buildings painted in bright, cheerful colors.  Founded in 1850, it’s one of the oldest towns in the region.  Salento also sits just outside the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados and is one of the most popular places to see the wax palms at Valle de Cocora.  During the weekends it gets quite crowded with Colombian families and foreign tourists as well, so best to visit off-season, during the week for a more subdued experience.

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: 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: Get Away With Your Favorite Chefs In Costa Rica

By Patrick Hieger

[image: Doce Lunas]

[image: Doce Lunas]

If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to vacation, cook, and hang out like a chef, starting this June, you’ll have your chance to do all three.  Acclaimed chef Norman Van Aken, known for bringing a wealth of Latin Flavors to the United States, has paired with Costa Rica’s Doce Lunas hotel to start a series of chef retreats dubbed “Norman Van Aken and Friends: Costa Rican Culinary Adventures,” that will give guests the chance to hang out and cook like a chef for a week.  Slated to begin late this coming June, this retreat series will pair some of the world’s best chefs with the developing culinary scene in Costa Rica.

The list of invited chefs hasn’t yet been released, but program co-founders Jon Hochstat and Doce Lunas founder Chris Danko tell us that it’s worth waiting for.  Van Aken himself will kick off the series in late June.  “A hotel located on the edge of the Costa Rican jungle in a beach town; what could be better?,” says Van Aken. “The area is both tropical and rich with produce, making it the perfect canvas for chefs like myself to create.”

Van Aken’s kick-off event will run from June 25 to June 30.  The five day package, which runs just around $2,000 US, will include three exclusive dinners, two of which will be reserved exclusively for those on the retreat.  Guests will also attend two cooking classes given by Van Aken, and the chef will accompany them to local farmer’s markets, and on a variety of scheduled tours throughout the area.  For more information on the inaugural event or to book a spot, you can contact the Doce Lunas resort.

What separates the “Norman Van Aken and Friends: Costa Rican Culinary Adventures” tours from other celebrity chef events is the proximity that guests will have to the actual chefs.  Chefs will be sourcing their ingredients locally, from local fishermen and farmer’s markets, and guests will get to take part in the entire process, from sourcing to cooking.  And, given that Costa Rica will provide the setting for the retreats, chances are good that some interesting discoveries will be made with each new chef.

We’re just as eager to find out who the invited chefs will be, but given Van Aken’s pedigree, his time spent in the business, and the numerous friends he’s made across the world, the chances are good that each scheduled retreat will be better than the next.  If you’d like to keep tabs on the latest news surrounding the retreats, follow their Facebook page.  Or, book your spot at the inaugural June event and get the information straight from Van Aken himself.  Trust us, that’s way more fun than just reading it.  Happy cooking.