Encounter colonial history and tropical vibes in Cartagena, northern Colombia's charismatic city on the Caribbean coast. Founded as Cartagena de Indias in 1533, its 16th-century architecture endures inside fortifications built to thwart pirates. The city became the Spanish Empire's prized port for Peruvian silver exports and was celebrated centuries later through the words of the late Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez. Known affectionately here as "Gabo," his novels of magical realism often were inspired by this colorful home turf. Today, Cartagena is a coveted seaside destination for sunsets and salsa dancing. Upon arrival, transfer to our luxurious lodging inside the city’s Old Town. Cartagena’s historic center is laced with intriguing alleyways and packed with museums, churches, plazas and domed cathedrals that have earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. Join our Expedition Leader and traveling companions at a welcome dinner this evening, anticipating the uncommon nature encounters ahead.
Day 2: La Boquilla Mangroves Tour / El Ceibal Nature Reserve
Leave the walled city early this morning for the small fishing village of La Boquilla, where we explore the mangrove forest by boat and learn about its fragile biodiversity. Along our watery route to Cienaga de Juan Polo lagoon, wind through natural mangrove tunnels as we seek out crabs, herons, kingfishers, cormorants, plovers and maybe even green parrots on the shore. Next, we head for the tropical dry forest of El Ceibal Nature Reserve, a conservation area protecting critically endangered cotton-top tamarins and the forest habitat that shelters the last wild population of this New World primate. On a guided nature walk, learn about the plight of this squirrel-sized monkey that sports an outrageous poof of white fur on its head and communicates with some 38 different vocalizations. We'll also seek out other native Colombian wildlife, including howler and capuchin monkeys. Hear about community conservation initiatives and meet the women artisans of Los Limites, who won the United Nations' Equator Prize for their local efforts, generating income through artisanal recycling of plastic bags and other means while raising awareness of the threats to cotton-top tamarins. After lunch in El Ceibal, return to Cartagena for a walking tour of the historic city center, discovering the fascinating stories behind the colonial plazas and sprawling mansions, and how the city changed over centuries.
Day 3: Colombia's Coffee Region—Barbas Bremen Nature Reserve
Rise early for our morning flight from Cartagena's golden coast to the verdant hilltops of the Zona Cafetera, Colombia's renowned coffee-growing region in the Central Andes. Winding up through the working landscape, where lush farms grow 100% arabica beans, we reach Barbas Bremen Nature Reserve. Split between two legendary coffee districts, the reserve protects a clean supply of water for both watersheds and is a haven for myriad wildlife, including howler monkeys, armadillos, condors, white-tailed deer and foxes. Explore this Andean rain forest on walking trails along the Barbas River Canyon, revealing giant trees wrapped in fat vines, a striking waterfall and more than 200 bird species. Continue deeper into the heart of this agricultural region to arrive at Hacienda Bambusa, a working finca (farm) with more than 500 acres planted mostly in cacao, and our base for the next three nights.
Day 4: Salento / Los Nevados National Park—Cocora Valley / Cacao Farm Tour
Quaint Salento with its brightly painted main street is one of the coffee region's oldest villages, and the jumping-off point for our daylong discovery of the surrounding wilderness. In view of snowy Andean volcanoes on the horizon, enter the Cocora Valley, a spectacular section of Los Nevados National Park set aside to preserve Colombia's national tree, the Quindio wax palm, along with other endemic species that depend upon it. This is the planet’s tallest palm, growing up to 200 feet high, and we'll get to help plant more of these trees inside the reserve. We also hear from a local expert on the Andean condor, the world's largest flying bird. With a 10-foot wingspan, it glides on mountain air currents—and if we’re very lucky, we might spot one soaring overhead. Late this afternoon, tour the farm at Hacienda Bambusa to learn how cacao is grown and processed from crop to cup. Cacao is the essential ingredient in one of Colombia’s most beloved traditional drinks: hot cocoa, accompanied by fresh cheese. Along the way, keep an eye out for more than 160 resident bird species including spectacled parrotlet, buff-necked ibis, rufous hummingbird and fork-tailed flycatcher.
Day 5: Pijao—An Immersion in Colombia's Coffee Culture
Travel deeper into the emerald-green mountains today to discover an authentic coffee village in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage area known as the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. Coffee is a sensitive crop that thrives in Colombia's steep, mountainous terrain, plentiful rain, ample sunshine and mild temperatures—ideal climate and geography enhanced by a local commitment to meticulous hand-picking of beans. Sporting brightly hued buildings, humble Pijao exemplifies Colombia’s tradition of sustainable coffee production. Settled in 1902, the small town has seen a resurgence of hope and opportunity since peace returned to Colombia. In this untouristed region, meet local farmers and baristas who cultivate single-origin beans, taste their brew, learn about its delicacies and intricacies, and expand our knowledge of Colombia's most important cultural and agricultural product. Aboard a local 4x4 vehicle, we follow rugged dirt roads on an immersion in a typical coffee-growing operation. Share a traditional homemade lunch on the farm, then watch how coffee is transformed from bright red cherries to a steaming beverage in your cup.
Day 6: Armenia / Yopal / Los Llanos
Leaving the finca this morning, we make a short drive to Armenia, capital of the coffee-producing state of Quindio. From here, board our flight to Yopal, a leafy city in eastern Colombia on the edge of Los Llanos, a vast tropical plain at the base of the Andes that's rarely visited by tourists. These expansive grasslands are home to cattle ranches and plantations that grow rice, corn, sugarcane, beans, plantains and citrus fruit. On an overland traverse of this diverse landscape, we cross wetlands, savanna, rivers, palm groves and gallery forests that harbor abundant wildlife, making our way to remote Corocora Wildlife Camp. Our private base for exploration over the next few days, this intimate tented camp is named for the scarlet ibis (corocora in Spanish) that frequently flies overhead. After lunch on arrival, we take an immersive nature walk before returning for sundowners and dinner.
Days 7–8: Los Llanos—Private Corocora Wildlife Camp
The remoteness of Los Llanos, Colombia's eastern plains, fosters a natural and cultural setting distinctly different from anywhere else in the country. The local llaneros, Colombian cowboys, express their love of the land through cattle ranching, wildlife tracking, poetic chants and traditional music. This vast, wild landscape pocked with waterholes is home to an array of birds including red-bellied macaws, roseate spoonbills, jabirus, wire-tailed manakin, chestnut-eared aracari and scarlet ibis. Experience life on a working cattle ranch alongside the llaneros, and seek out caimans, howler monkeys and more than 270 bird species with an expert naturalist.
The camp, which is ours alone, is our base for full days of discovery. Assist with conservation initiatives as we visit and monitor wildlife camera traps, and learn about tracking systems to study native wildlife. Walk the reserve in search of deer, capybara, giant anteater and iguanas. Travel by 4x4 into the most remote reaches of the reserve, then walk into otherwise inaccessible areas, like the dense gallery forests that line the wetlands. Take a nighttime safari drive in search of caiman that prowl the dusky waterways. Those who wish can spend a half-day on horseback in search of wildlife with a local cowboy and a naturalist guide. Along the way, learn about traditions like barefoot horseback riding, herding and corralling using a lasso, and singing to call the cattle. We’ll come to understand why llanero chants were declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Days are apt to end with a traditional parrando, consisting of a bonfire dinner, live music, the twirling Joropo dance, and cowboy songs that honor adventure, love and nature.
Day 9: Yopal / Bogota / Depart
Our journey into Colombia’s extraordinary nature and culture comes to a close as we leave our wildlife camp for the return drive to the airport in Yopal. From here, we fly to Bogota, Colombia's high-altitude capital that blends cobblestone streets and well-preserved colonial buildings with urban sophistication and world-class museums. On arrival at the Bogota airport, we transfer to a hotel just minutes away where comfortable day rooms await. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport in time for evening flights.