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In Colombia, coffee is king

IMG_1374In Colombia coffee is king. For decades it has driven the country’s economy through exports of its top grade Arabica beans. But increasingly it is also important toIMG_1378 tourism as visitors flock to the beautiful key coffee growing area, now designated a UNESCO world heritage landscape with the lush green foliage, angular geometric contours and quaint historical villages. So it comes as something of a shock when travelling throughout Colombia to hear a constant litany of complaints about the brew served up in many of the cafes and hotels. Happily, all that is changing. Driven by the increasing influx of visitors who are used to drinking perfecto Colombian when at home, and the number of South Americans travelling overseas and finding out what heavenly cups of coffee are available, a western coffee culture is developing.

IMG_1362Pereira is right at the heart of the main coffee “triangle” made up of the cities of Cali, Medellin and Bogota. Once off the main highways, the whole vast area is a network of narrow switchback roads that offer staggering views at every turn; neat rows of coffee stretching off into the distance and beautiful little villages like Salento, Armenia, Palestina, Filandia and Chinchina. Although there are some magnificent Haciendas with vast

Visiting Colombia’s underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira


The entry has a utilitarian, slightly industrial feel, appropriate for the working mine it once was. It is mid-week and the car park is almost empty. We walk past old machinery, like modern works of art, testimony to its heritage and a small café and its two lone customer sitting at one of the outside tables drinking coffee.

Then we gently descend, the path becomes a tunnel. We move out of IMG_1156the sunshine. Out of the warmth. And into the cool, dark, entry to Colombia’s Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira, the Roman Catholic salt cathedral about 50kms north of Bogota and some 200 meters underground.

The rich deposits date back to when the earth shrugged 250 million years ago and created the Andes. Since pre-Colombian times the local Muisca society had mined the salt providing them with an important IMG_1152source of economic exchange. Today it is still a functioning church, with thousands attending the Sunday services, more on special celebrations like Easter, Christmas and saint’s days.

The entry tunnel takes visitors through the 14 Stations of the Cross, each with a small chapel comprising of a large cross and individual kneelers, all carved out of the rock. An eerie blue light emanates

Museo del Ora in Bogota spectacularly showcases Colombia’s golden history


The golden face, its piercing eyes commanding your attention with unsettling power,IMG_1112 seems to float in the subdued lighting, an exquisite symbol of mystery and mysticism created by master craftsmen more than two thousand years ago. It alone would be worth the visit to the Museo del Ora in Bogota, Colombia. But it is just one of thousands of priceless items on show, and that is only a small part of an unrivalled collection of 35,000 items of gold Pre-Hispanic treasures. There are also about 20,000 beautiful and pottery, wood, shell and textile artefacts including some wonderfully evocative pottery figures.

Muisca_raft_Legend_of_El_Dorado_Offerings_of_goldThe series of artfully lit glass displays reveal a wonder of masks and figurines, ornate breast plates, jewellery and ornaments, strange creatures that are half man-half beast, tiny impish figures, carved ceremonial containers, playful representations of animals like the jaguar and the eagle. Probably the most famous and precious exhibit is the Balsa Muisca an unbelievably detailed miniature model of a raft being used as

A walk around Bogota’s historic La Candelaria

IT’S not yet properly daytime, the reds and yellows of dawn are still colouring the IMG_0987dark sky, but already there is activity on the narrow, cobbled street in Bogota’s historic La Candelaria area. At one end there is a roadblock. Armed men in military and police uniforms are waving away traffic seeking access to the vast Plaza de Bolivar. Only pedestrians, mostly locals already on their way to work, get through.

As the morning proper arrives, from our window in the historic Hotel de la Opera we watch a stream of official black cars with heavily tinted windows squeeze up the narrow street and park outside the elegant San Carlos Palace, famous as the site of an assassination attempt on Simon Bolivar and now a government building. The smartly dressed drivers are attentively standing by their vehicles. Now, we can hear, in the distance the sound of military bands and a cavalcade of mounted soldiers clatters along a nearby street. Something is definitely going on.

IMG_1001But venturing out we have a quick conversation with one of the cheery soldiers on point duty who reveals nothing alarming in the sudden show of force. Instead, it’s a formal event in honour of the out-going police chief. Medals are being handed out. Crowds are enjoying the spectacle. It’s a new day. The events of the past still cast long shadows over modern-day Colombia; but they are fading fast. Today, the spotlight is


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