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2021 Road Trip

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How is it possible that it’s already November? Seems like yesterday that we wrapped up our epic road trip through southeastern Colombia. Through the month of August, we drove almost 2,500 km primarily through Santander and Boyacá departments, with additional stops in Cundinamarca and Tolima. We spent several days each in Barichara, Monguí, Villa de Leyva, and Honda – four of Colombia’s most beautiful and well-known Pueblos Patrimonios (officially designated heritage towns). So many other picturesque Colombian towns and villages caught our attention, even if we were just driving through or making a lunch stop. Here are just a few. USUAL NOTE: Most of our photos are in galleries. Just click on the first one to click through larger versions of each. Zapatoca: The Quintessential Colombian Town Heading south from Bucaramanga, we reached Zapatoca after a morning drive through a northern reach of the dazzling Chicamocha Canyon. (We visited the Canyon…

The Rio Magdalena is not just the country’s main artery; it’s the reason Colombia exists as a nation . . . the Magdalena is both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry, and prayer. Wade Davis, “Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia” The mighty Magdalena from a high bluff a few miles out of Honda. With this glimpse, we had come full circle. After our visit to the fabulous Salt Cathedral near Bogota, we headed northwest to Honda in the department of Tolima. Situated on the banks of the Magdalena River, Honda was the last Pueblo Patrimonio (officially designated heritage town) we would visit on our epic August road trip through southeastern Colombia. On the way, we made a lunch stop in another interesting heritage town, Guaduas. (We’ll cover Guaduas in a future post about other cool towns and places…

The upper view of the massive main cathedral After Villa de Leyva, our epic road trip through eastern Colombia began to wind down. We had two more heritage towns to visit: Guaduas and Honda. But first, we made a two-night stop in Zipaquirá near Bogotá to see one of Colombia’s most famous attractions: the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral). Salt Cathedral Facts The cathedral is built into the world’s largest deposit of halite (rock salt). Mining activities date back at least 6 centuries, when the ancient Muisca indigenous people first began excavations. In fact, these salt deposits played a key role in the Muiscas’ creation of one of South America’s most prosperous pre-Hispanic societies. Centuries later, the mines helped finance Colombia’s drive for independence from Spain. Fast forward to the 1930s, when the miners built a small chapel in which they could pray to the Virgin of the Rosary of Guasá, their…

Villa de Leyva’s vast plaza is the largest in Latin America. The main church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (at right) is more unassuming than some of the other monumental churches we’ve seen. A High-Desert Treasure Traveling from Monguí, we had a new experience: a fast, easy trip on modern highways! In a single morning, we descended almost a thousand meters to the postcard-pretty town of Villa de Leyva. This Colombian Pueblo Patrimonio (officially designated heritage town) is best known for its vast and open main plaza – billed as the largest cobblestoned square in all of South America. The town was chartered in 1572 after the Spanish overcame the Muisca people, who had inhabited the area for centuries. (You’ll hear variations on that sad history, over and over, throughout Latin America.) Later, the town played a key role in Colombia’s independence from Spain; in fact, the first Congress of…

The Basilica of Our Lady of Monguí and adjacent convent, which now houses a museum. On our way to the heritage town of Monguí, we found ourselves once again on an unpaved road. It turns out Waze really doesn’t know the back roads of Colombia very well. Who knew?? We headed out early from the small town of Guadalupe on a paved rural route through the rolling landscape of Boyaca, with field after field of potatoes, peas, beans, and onions (lots of onions!) against a distant Andes backdrop. Upon reaching the highway, we had a choice: keep going south, or take a shortcut recommended by Waze. Of course we took the shortcut, even though we lost the pavement pretty soon after leaving the highway. The road added two hours to our trip, but the day was far easier than our journey to Barichara more than a week earlier. And the scenery…

We worked hard to get to Barichara! From Bucaramanga, we traveled south through a magnificent canyon carved by the Rio Sogamoso to the scenic town of Zapatoca (we’ll say more about Zapatoca in a future post). After lunch and a visit to explore a nearby cave, we set out on a challenging unpaved road that we hoped (!) would bring us to Barichara. After almost SIX nail-biting hours covering the 37-mile distance, we arrived – more dead than alive – at this lovely, cobble-stoned village. (Note: Barichara can be reached a lot faster from Bucaramanga via a modern highway, but we would have missed Zapatoca and some breathtaking scenery. It was worth it!) Barichara is often called Colombia’s most beautiful town, and for good reason. “The most beautiful town” became somewhat of a running joke on this trip, since many of the other pueblos we’ve visited have made the same claim.…

The view from atop our hotel From the picturesque village of Doradal, Colombia’s own Santorini, we traveled north – following the Magdalena River for quite a while on a schizophrenic road that alternated between a fast and modern four-lane highway and a bumpy two-lane track that was choked with truck traffic. In late afternoon, we fetched up in Bucaramanga, Colombia’s sixth largest city and the capital of Santander department. Bucaramanga is known as the City of Parks, for good reason. We might add that it’s also a city of beautiful churches. After a couple of days exploring on foot (our favorite way to experience a place), we had seen many beautiful parques y iglesias. We also enjoyed visiting the city market and the outlying heritage town of Girón. San Juan de Girón Situated on the southwestern outskirts of Bucaramanga, Girón was the first Pueblo Patrimonio (officially designated heritage town) we encountered…

WE BE TRAVELING!! As we’ve mentioned before, we’ve decided to see as much of Colombia as we can while international travel is still “iffy.” Last Friday, we took off on a month-long road trip to eastern Antioquia, Boyacá, and Santander and then parts unknown. The overriding goal: to see as many of Colombia’s “Pueblos Patrimonios” (designated heritage towns) in these departments as we can, together with all the sights in between. Our first stop was Doradal, Colombia’s take on Santorini, Greece.  About a three-hour drive east from Medellín, Doradal is a rather gritty and nondescript little town that had a unique makeover back in the 1980s. Something about the geography of Doradal – part of it sits on a rise with a lovely countryside view – caught the eye of the notorious criminal whose name we don’t use in this blog, but whose initials are PE. Since PE was spending about…

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