Luciérnaga Hostel was the type of place where you arrived and immediately booked another week. A modern and sleek building set on a serene hillside with views over rolling green hills, this was more boutique retreat than backpackers’ hostel.
We checked into our private room (at £20 per night and one of the cheapest in South America) and gawped at the views as cowboys trotted by on horseback. The whole upper floor was provided with a veranda filled with plush garden furniture including rocking chairs, and was a great place to enjoy a sunset drink. Managing to squeeze in only four nights before our flight back to Mexico, we were so glad to have discovered this incredible place to enjoy our last moments on the continent.
Our first night in Salento was spent in the stunning hostel bar, which was more five-star ski resort than Colombian coffee region. The bar held nightly live music, drawing a big crowd. Due to the elevation, the nights were cooler and so we were able to sit around a modern indoor open fire. Gin and tonic bowls and a huge plate of nachos couldn’t have gone down better, as we played cards with other travellers. Again, we were joined by Caro and Ammenik, who we had met back in Santa Marta.
On our first full day, we went out to explore the small town, which is a picture-perfect example of the Colombian coffee region. Multi-coloured wooden shutters hang from every whitewashed building begging to be photographed! Behind the shutters you can find hundreds of high quality boutique souvenir shops selling jewellery and artwork. Colombians have a great design flair and we saw some interesting ideas!
Tripadvisor lead us to ‘Brunch Café’ where we could only half-finish a gluttonous lunch of lasagne (me) and burger (Rob). After climbing a few hundred steps, we nearly missed the town’s main viewpoint due to a lack of signposting. Fortunately, a hyperactive dog was pleased to show us the way, and lead us to the real viewpoint, which was breathtaking.
Evenings planned out for the rest of our stay, it was back for Bailey’s and more cards on the veranda. The following day, we were off to the Valle de Corocora, which is another typical postcard photo scene of Colombia. The Valle de Cocora is famous for having the tallest palm trees in the world (with some reaching over 60m). We took a Willy’s Jeep from the main square for the 30 minute journey, and were dropped off to take a small hike to the valley.
We had been experiencing a bit of rain in this area, although were lucky when the sun came out and we were able to see the trees against blue skies. The trees were absolutely huge, and you could only really appreciate their size when seeing some that had fallen. This area is incredibly scenic and impossibly green, and at this point in time still unspoilt (although no doubt this will change with more tourists visiting year on year). It was an amazing experience to be able to walk amongst the trees without seeing another person. We spent a few hours in the valley before succumbing to the rain and enjoying fruit smoothies with a view. We fortunately made it back to the hourly Jeep into town with not a second to spare, although this meant Rob riding on the back with a few other guys like a true explorer!! He actually got drenched and was begging to come inside under the tarpaulin before long though!
On our final day, we first went shopping for Rob’s standard haul of trinkets, before meeting Caro and Ammenik for a drink in an Israeli bar. We were going to play pool in the local pool hall which was filled with men in checked shirts and Stetsons. Whilst it looked intimidating in the smoky timber-clad tavern, the local people were welcoming and invited us in. However, we were drawn away by some other locals who encouraged us to instead play a game of Tehoe.
Tehoe is a traditional Colombian game, which involves throwing heavy metal pucks at gunpowder-filled paper triangles. The paper triangles are balanced on a metal frame embedded in clay. If your metal puck connects with the metal frame, catching the triangle, there will be a spark (and frightening bang!) and you score points depending on where you make contact with the frame.
We spent the afternoon playing, although I lost interest as I was abysmal and only managed to get one spark. It seemed like a bit of a flukey game, as even the locals were hit and miss. However, the game is a real casual affair and is enjoyed over several beers in a huge clay-filled barn. In the evening, we said our goodbyes as we were heading back to Bogota the following day.
We decided to take the tourist minibus once again through the winding roads. A distance of 100 miles as the crow flies, the whole journey took around ten hours. Having dropped an older English man at the airport in Periera just one hour into the journey, we had thought it hardly seemed worth the effort to bother with flying. Just halfway into the journey I was eating my words, wishing we got that flight.
Arriving into Bogota around 9pm, we were off in a taxi to our hostel in Chapinero, where we would spend our final night in the city. We quickly showered and were off out again to meet Klaire and Aine for a last night on the tiles. This time, we took a taxi over to the Zona Rosa/ Zona T area of the city… and what a surprise! This place was absolutely buzzing, with hundreds of modern bars and restaurants comparable to the El Poblado area in Medellin. We were pleased to have seen another more positive side to the city after our first experience.
On our final day, we were greeted with a great omen of finding a brand new copy of the Mexico Lonely Planet which Rob bagged before even asking if it was a book exchange. We were also greeted with the blackest of storm clouds and flash flooding on the way to the airport, which always fills you with confidence when flying out of a mountainous region (where there was the devastating Chapecoense crash just last year).
However, we were up in the air in a clear spot, and making friends with the air hostesses, we were given about a litre of vodka! They kept insisting on filling our plastic cups right to the top with pure vodka (so we decanted into coke bottles- savvy!). The flight was beautiful, as we flew through a pink sunset and were able to recognise some of the volcano formations that we had visited earlier on in our trip, poking through the clouds. Great photo op!
Despite a bit of a bumpy start (due to a lack of planning) we had a great time overall in Colombia. It turned out to be a country which offered many varied highlights and boozy nights! A lot of the highlights were socially orientated as opposed to sights and attractions, although this contrasted well with the other countries we had visited in South America and made for a great end to our time on the continent. Yes there are still some danger issues, but you have to consider the distance that the country has come in such a short period of time. The welcoming attitude and positivity of the locals is infectious and you really feel honoured to have been able to visit the country before mass tourism takes over.