Holiday in Colombia (1): arrival

My latest overseas visit is with my sister Silvia on a tour of Colombia organised by the company Cox & Kings. In my 70 years, it is the 73rd country that I have visited – the 13th in Latin America.  

Now, if you travel outside your own continent, there are bound to be challenges, starting with travelling time and time difference. So, for this holiday, the Avianca flight from London to Bogotá was 10 hours and the time difference between Britain and Colombia at this time of year is 6 hours, so we landed at 3 am local time, feeling somewhat less than fresh as a daisy. 

On this trip, another major initial complication is altitude: Bogotá is 8,660 feet (2,640 metres) above sea level or, as one local advertisement put it, nearer the stars. So we had to move slowly and carefully and the weather was cool and misty.  

At the airport, we met our first guide Armando and the remainder of our group of 12 (nine women and three men) and climbed into a coach. We set off north-west in dark and drizzle. At 6.30 am, we stopped somewhere between nowhere and anywhere for a light breakfast of something called arepa which is made of ground maize dough and is the Colombian version of tortillas.

Just up the road from this establishment, we made our first tourist stop at a location which was the scene of a decisive turning point in Colombia’s struggle for independence. The battle of Boyacá bridge took place on 7 August 1819 and we viewed a monument commemorating the battle and a museum with a 360 degree floor-to-ceiling mural of the war of independence. 

Next stop was Tunja which is the capital of the province of Boyacá. The town is known for its colonial architecture and we visited two splendid 16th century gems – the Museo Casa del Fundador and the Museo Juan de Vargas – as well as the cathedral (which was hosting Sunday mass), the church of Santo Domingo (which is an example of creole baroque style) and the main square (which was undergoing reconstruction).

We then descended down winding roads to our first hotel: La Posada de San Antonio in the town of Villa de Leyva. The charming hotel was created from three adjoining 19th century mansions and has cobbled, plant-filled inner courtyards, while the little town was founded in 1572 and declared a national monument in 1954. 

We reached the hotel shortly after 1 pm, some 10 hours after our aircraft had landed. What to do first? Unpack, wash, change, sleep? No, a refreshing lunch in a delightful place off the main square, the largest in Colombia.  


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