A Travellerspoint blog

Colombian chaos, coffee and cathedrals

Bogotá, Salento, Popoyán and Ipiales

all seasons in one day 20 °C


After more than a week Medellin, it was time to say hasta luego and make way to the capital, Bogotá. Unlike little sister Medellin, Bogotá seems unfriendly, disorganized and well, a little shifty. But what we soon discovered is once you get to know him; he’s actually real interesting.

— Plaza de Bolivar.

Unfortunately the most interesting place to stay is also the dodgiest. ‘La Candelaria’ is the colonial quarter, just a stone’s throw away from all the top landmarks. Upon its cobblestone streets are centuries old buildings….and regrettably, bag snatchers. But we decided to take our chances.

For the grand price of zip, the tourist info centre offers free walking tours. Our tour took in Plaza de Bolivar and the monumental buildings that line it. We also visited the Presidential Palace, snapping pictures with the guards. We wondered past crumbling churches and climbed the steep cobblestone streets of La Candelaria, the whole time learning about the city’s history.

— The Presidential Palace or 'The Yellow House'



Once we had a good idea of the city at ground level, it was time to admire it from above. At 3200 metres, Cerro de Monserrate offers spectacular views of Bogotá. It’s a peaceful place where you can watch the frantic city below. The cable car to the summit is worth every peso, even if you’re only interested in a few gulps of fresh air.

— The capital of Colombia is home to 8.8 million.


At night, the city comes alive. The huge Christmas lights display in Plaza de Bolivar is switched on and thousands of families, couples and grandparents pour in. In the centre, the atmosphere is carnival like but around the edges it’s more sombre with people lighting candles and saying prayers.



Our neighbourhood of La Candelaria was just as atmospheric. On one particular night the residents threw a street party complete with a Mexican mariachi band and dozens of kids lighting paper lanterns.



Fifty kilometres outside of Bogotá lies the most interesting catholic church you’ll ever visit. Located 200 metres underground and fashioned out of an abandoned salt mine, the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá is really something special. What struck me was not just its haunting beauty but just how bloody big it is. As you journey deeper and deeper towards the main cathedral, you go by 14 small chapels representing the Stations of the Cross. Everything is exquisitely sculpted out of the mine’s salt walls and lit up with fluorescent lights. As we wondered through, breathed in the pure air and listened to the tranquil music we were captivated.

— Entering the Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá.

— It's not as claustrophobic as you might think. The church is so big, it can hold 10,000 people.

— It takes an hour to reach the main cathedral.

The town of Zipaquirá is also an attraction in its own right. The central square is really something...


After a few days wondering around, visiting museums and checking out the abundant street art we left the hustle and bustle of Bogotá and headed for the sleepy little town of Salento in the coffee country.

— Museo del oro, a museum all about gold.

— Bogota has an international reputation for its street art.




With its rolling emerald hills and cute and colourful town centre, Salento was a welcome hideaway after a few weeks navigating big cities. Equally as stunning as its mountain setting is the town's centre. It's so cute and colourful!



— Jeeps in every colour stand ready to transport tourists.

— On the back of a jeep.

To get back to nature we jumped on a couple of horses and toured the countryside. Our guide took us to waterfalls, through rivers and along the edges of cliffs. The entire ride took 6 hours!





Along the way we stopped at a coffee farm and discovered how a shiny red berry is transformed into a dark liquid drunk by billions. We were guided around by the farm's owner Don Elias who has been in the business for decades. This was not a Nescafe type set up. All the coffee is made the traditional way using very basic machinery.

— Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world.



— The tour ended with a cup of the world's best coffee


After our marathon horse ride, all we could manage during the rest of our stay was a wonder around the centre. The shops sell all sorts of amazing crafts and delicious everything...especially coffee. At the end of the main street you’ll find the lookout Alto de la Cruz, which offers a breathtaking view of the lush Cocora Valley.

— Calle Real on a busy Sunday afternoon.

— Sipping the local brew.

— It was 250 steps to the top but felt like 2500 thanks to our aching muscles from horse riding.

— Admiring the view of the valley.

After our coffee fix, we continued towards the Ecuadorian border. Our travels brought us to the sophisticated little town of Popoyán.



Popoyán is famous for its colonial architecture which is said to be the second most impressive in the country after Cartagena. It’s known as the "white city" thanks to the colour of the buildings in the historical centre.

— ‘La Ciudad Blanca’, founded in the early 1500s.

— Don't you hate being awoken from siesta by a parade? It's a real problem in Latin America!

Once again we were dazzled by some Christmas lights (Colombians really do Christmas well). The central square was transformed into a pink fairyland complete with… a police and military marching band.




The last stop on our Colombian adventure was the town of Ipiales. It’s an unremarkable border town with a very remarkable church. Sanctuario de las Lajas, is spectacularly built on a bridge over a river. It looks like something from a fairytale


— The Virgin Mary's face is believed to have emerged from one of the rocks in the 18th century - it's been popular with pilgrims ever since.


Sadly it came time to leave Colombia. We’ve been so impressed with this country. It’s so full of life, the sites are beautiful and the people unbelievably friendly. But we know there’s lots more adventure over the border in Ecuador.

Stay posted!

Posted by elyshahickey 21:39 Archived in Colombia Tagged architecture horses history city coffee colombia

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Brayden! You used to jump on your bed whenever you saw a cockroach, now your riding the countryside on horseback. It looks so amazing

by Darcy

You look so good on the horse I'm going to buy you one when you get home!

Lysh the places you organise to go and see are amazing. You guys look like you are on the amazing race
Around the world.

Always in our thoughts lots of love mum xx

by Fiona Dunlop

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