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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…

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.…

Two important and very great things happened in our adopted country of Colombia on Friday. FIRST, the city of Medellín finally demolished the Monaco building, the former home and fortress of this country’s most notorious narco terrorist. (I’m sure you’re thinking his name right now, but we don’t say it out loud here.) In its place will be a memorial park that honors the victims, far too often overlooked given PE’s mythical status. Understandably, there’s a lot of jubilation about this landmark event. Most citizens see it as a big milestone in Medellín’s miraculous rebirth after that dark and violent period that, sadly, put this city on the map for all the wrong reasons. Although abandoned and derelict in the years since PE’s death, the building had become a tourist attraction and a regular stop on the “PE tour” circuit. Yes, you read that right, there are actually organized tours of…

IMG_5564John and I love public transportation and always make a point to use it, wherever our travels take us. One of the things that blew us away about Medellín, Colombia is its dazzling transit system. But there’s a lot more going on here than just a clean and efficient metro rail, a network of cable cars, and escalators snaking up the hillsides.

During our recent visit we were able to spend a morning in one of Medellín’s most interesting and visually striking neighborhoods, Comuna 13. This area was once extremely dangerous and violent, especially when Medellín was in the grip of the drug cartels and paramilitary warfare. Residents living in this hillside neighborhood were forced to climb thousands of steps to reach their homes after a long day’s work, and most vehicles weren’t able to manage the steep roads. The result was gang warfare, isolation, poverty, and hopelessness, especially for young people and the elderly and infirm.

On our first full day in Medellin, our tour guide, Mauricio, had bad news and good news. “The bad news is that the schedule got a little messed up and we won’t be going for that hot air balloon ride. The good news is that I’m taking you paragliding!” Before we had time to really think about it, much less chicken out, we were airborne. And what a spectacular ride it was! After it was over, Mauricio asked, “Now, would you rather have done that, or gone up and down in some boring hot air balloon?” No-brainer. I can honestly say that it’s the best thing we’ve ever done at 9,000 feet that didn’t involve an airplane! And best of all, at least as far as this blog is concerned, is that the outfitter gave us each a GoPro mounted on a selfie stick. Not only did we each record videos of…

Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, has been on our South American bucket list for a while. We finally made a whirlwind trip there last week, and my goodness, what a fabulous place. We crammed as much as we possibly could into four days, so much that I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one blog post. Here’s the first of a few installments about our visit. To many people, the name “Medellín” conjures plenty of negative and downright scary associations: the Pablo Escobar drug cartel . . .the FARC guerilla war . . . the hopelessness and violence that come with poverty and isolation. Not so long ago all of those things applied; in fact, at one point Medellín had a reputation as the most violent city in the world. What a difference a couple of decades can make. The Medellín Cartel is gone, and since the late 1990s the city’s homicide rate has decreased…

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