What To Do On Your Puente in Colombia

Monguí, Colombia


Colombia has 18 holidays a year, they generally fall on Mondays as something called ¨Puente¨ meaning bridge or in this case the holiday (bank holiday may be understood in English) that needs to be made up. With so many puentes Colombians get lots of 3 days weekends. I have been taking advantage of each one to explore more of Colombia, at least the ones calling my attention and possible within 3 days. One of the trips I have listed here was not a puente but a wedding and a quick one at that since it did´t fall on a puente. Puentes can also be called ¨feriado¨and are translated as holiday.

Below are a few places I spent my puentes between March and July. (in no particular order)

Pasto
For this puente I flew over to the border with Ecuador to see a few on the list items. First Las Lajas, a church where a vision of the Virgin Mary happened and the site of an amazing church built between a gorge on the very boulders where the vision took place. In addition I had seen pictures of a cemetery just across the border in Ecuador that seemed well worth a visit. I know I did church and cemetery….such an odd trip on my list. In reality in other countries you are almost always guaranteed a worthy visit both to churches and to cemeteries. Then as I was travelling I found more to see, not everything was gonna fit in so I chose one more stop on a lake named as the Little Colombian Swiss Town, definitely worth a stop, and yes it is pretty Swiss feeling confirmed not just by me but also a travelling Swiss couple I randomly met while there. This trip also had an unexpected stop in the White City, Popayán, after my return flight was canceled. Nothing to tell about the White City as I arrived at night, in the rain, on a Puente, nada que ver….

Transport: Flight (1 hour if not cancelled) Airport in Pasto gets cloudy and flights are often cancelled, also airport is about 1 hour from Pasto.

Tatacoa
This puente was spent some 5-6 hours South of Bogotá in an arid tropical forest, as they called it…also known as a forested desert. This was an extreme to the other trips since it was a colorful desert, hot and at lower altitude. Since I left on a Puente lots of trancón (traffic) to leave Bogota ensued. Once out of Bogota´s hills (1.5 hours) you hit hot temperatures and places with pools. It was my first time to the South, and being a foreigner it made me understand why the Sur de Bogota is the sur…literally we were heading South…can´t believe it took a trip to understand and believe this cardinal direction. Ha ha Anyway from Neiva it is pretty easy to get to the desert by bus and once there you can find tours of the desert, astronomy tours at night, horseback riding , bike rentals, a pool and plenty of down time. You can stay out in the desert for pretty cheap in hammock, tent, dorm or private rooms (or bring your own tent and set up camp). Food is available as well. I do not suggest the tour since the desert is pretty easy to wander around from the lodges and there is no fee…The pool is kind of far away but you could walk over early, take a horse, hitchhike or bike but yes they serve cold beer and yes it is worth the visit (earlier is better before tour groups arrive). In general there is nothing to do midday except read, sleep or lounge around as it is hot, hot, hot…though I did see some people on horse tours so I guess you could brave the heat too. I did go for a run here and it was quite a fun way to explore the desert. Another highly recommended visit is to the observatory, great explanation (in Spanish…probably still cool if you don´t understand since they use a cool laser pointer), and great starry nights.

Transport: Bus 1 Bogotá to Neiva, Bus 2 Neiva to Villavieja. If you continue, jeep taxi to desert.

Boyaca
Such a last minute trip decision for this puente. I went out far and traced back though various little towns. Boyaca is well known as Bogota´s holiday spot although most go to a place called Villa de Levra….it´s probably just as cool as where I went but I didn´t want touristy plus it´s a preferred trip to take when I have visitors. Boyaca first off is an excellent place to travel to because the people in this department really make everything extra special. They are so friendly, welcoming, helpful, trusting and relaxed. I was shocked by the hospitality and friendliness and will go back, not just to see more but to surround myself with these lovely people. As I mentioned, I went out far for this trip, first to the largest lake or lagoon in Colombia, one with natural white sand beaches….cool. From there I made it to a tiny town called Monguí, seriously one of my favorite Colombian towns so far. Once here, I just stayed. This town has it all, it is gorgeous first off, it is laid back, it is where original leather athletic balls are made, there is a Paramo up the hill and it is absolutely gorgeous. The Paramo is worth it, it is a 7-8 hour hike, I got lucky when I went as it was , sunny, sunny. Paramo Oceta was my first Paramo in Colombia, I loved the many contrasts and the amount of amazing scenery offered. I did make a few other stops to Iza, dessert capital and very cute town; to Sogamoso, city of the sun, has a cool stairway to the right of the cathedral, good views up there, might not be safest place…on the other side of that hill is the Sun Temple and Musica Museum…good history and cultural deep dive.

Transport: A 3-5 hour bus ride depending where you go. If you go to Cocuy it is like 15 hours so I am really only talking about my trip. I took this bus from Portal Norte, yup just off the Highway will do, all kinds of buses pass by with seats available.

Guadalupe
This trip was not for a puente but rather Semana Santa, Holy Week, or as us gringos might call it Easter Week. Here in Colombia many of the days during this week are holidays, I think only 2 are not official holidays. My work gave everyone the whole week off, yeah!…not, I actually had to work but I still managed to sneak away the first weekend for what I would call a puente (monday off). I went to explore the Department called Santander, beautiful and full of adventure and many little towns. Again I headed out far and made my way back. Most head to San Gil, the adventure town with rafting, ziplining, downhill biking, canyoning, caving, etc. I too headed there but not for adventure, not this time, instead I passed through to see the town of Barichara, said to be one of the most beautiful in Colombia, while on my way to my main stop. In San Gil my only adventure was a long run for marathon training, I know, super exciting. The town of Guadalupe was the main reason of my trip, a place I recently learned about online and it´s main attraction, natural pools, something like Caños Cristales (if you have heard of that place, look it up, it is pretty cool) but its available year round…was definitely not the town´s only charm. Comparing it to popular Barichara, which was excellent, Guadalupe is the smaller version of it, way less tourists, more nature, excellent scenery and again great people, I absolutely loved Guadalupe. Oh I also did the hike from Barichara to Guane, a hot and decent hike, the town of Guane was cute but the best was the Chiva ride out of it…go early if you do this hike, it is about 2.5 hours on an original old stone path.

Transport: This was about 7 hours by bus to San Gil. You could probably catch a bus at Portal Norte, although I did not.

Tyrona National Park
Another last minute trip that I flew out for after my family visited. Flight into Santa Marta, direct to bus toward Palomino to get to park entrance. This trip is good if you like walking because it is the only way into the park (horse is an option too). Of course a puente and high season means lots of people and lines…probably my biggest complaint about the park…but it was worth the visit and you still felt like there were not soo many people except for the lines (especially in Cabo). Upon arriving, I met some fellow travelers in the line to pay (it took forever as the systems shut down, do you see similarities on this trip), we became friends and stuck together the whole weekend. We stayed the first night in Arrecife, the first beach stop (there is beach access but you can´t enter, it is dangerous, but beautiful, so go check it out) Instead you must walk 1 hour to the other beaches to cool off. Sunsets are magical in the park, find a good seat and just chill. If you stay late like us and it´s dark make sure you have a headlamp/flashlight…it is incredible dark on the way back and kind of freaky as there are a lot of sounds, usually from the many blue crabs but we freaked out about possible snakes…also we got a bit lost so try to remember the route. The second night we stayed in Cabo so no problem with return voyage…ja ja We tried to get the hammocks on the rocks but the spots were won over by a couple that reserved a spot for a family..they were given the evil eye the whole stay. Either way I think the hammocks on the rocks are probably freezing at night with the breeze, since on the beach we got cold. The benefit up there is sunrise, you just look from the hammock. There is food and beer/wine available in Tyrona…the place in Cabo has long lines and is slow but decently priced and has decent food. There are a few bakeries from Arrecife to Cabo that have good cheap meals and delicious Pan de Tayrona (its like a chocolate crossant but local). I ran in the park, it was lovely, I ended up on the last beach (i think it is a nude beach)…the trails are great for running in the park, so if that is your thing, enjoy. I also did the trek to Pueblito, I absolutely loved it, it is all uphill through the tropical arid jungle….the ruins at the top are nothing great but if you like nature, this trek is 1.5 hours and very worth the time (access if from Cabo behind campsite, on right)….something I did not think about is that from Pueblito you can hike another 1.5 hours out to the main road…I instead hiked/ran back down and hiked out the way I came in…don´t make my mistake…bring your bag if you are headed out of Tyrona…worth your time.

Transport: Flight, again not the best of luck with flights, cancelled again, but this time because the tarmac lights were out…what? Isn´t Santa Marta a big city…guess not, no generators…I ended up staying in an airport hotel in Bogota instead (airline paid, I was lazy to go 1 hour back home then return again at 5 am)…Flight Is about 1:10 from Bogota. Tyrona is a bus ride away 1.5 hours then a 2 hour walk into the park…so keep that in mind when going. Tip: directly from the airport is a bus into central Sta Marta, I recommend it, you can taxi, Sta Marta is like 30 min away.

Choachí
This was my last trip during July, a mid week puente, yup a day trip. Choachí is 1.5 hours from Bogotá´s south. Well I never made it to Choachí and this was actually my second trip over there….I headed there to see Colombia´s highest waterfall, which lies just outside of Choachí. It is called La Chorrera…the first time I went Semana Santa….way back in March…the waterfall was dry…aka no water or fall…so I turned around with this still on the list. This time in July, rainy season, finally there was water. From the main road it is a 3 mile (5km) walk so instead I came prepared to run it because it is a fairly long walk (there is also the option of a jeep or tuk tuk should you not have time, physical abilities or too much cash to spend – no clue the cost). You park and then you must walk a steep hill to the campsite/entrance. La Chorrera is 590m or nearly 2000 feet! It is a 1.5 hour walk…you are supposed to go with the guide, I waited, and for waiting the clouds engulfed the waterfall…so my view was misty and foggy…I´ll have to go back. Basically you can go without guide, stay to the right, when you pass the pastures you come to a skinny cow trail, go left (there was a colorful cloth marker) and follow the trail. At the 2nd split, you can go left to see some stalactites and maybe the whole 590m waterfall on a clear day but to the base you head down to the right. It is an absolutely beautiful trek and I would even recommend it if the waterfall is dry. Bring food and water with you, there are places to eat, one is 15 min walk from the campsite/entrance where there is another waterfall called El Chiflón…it is bigger, not higher, worth a quick stroll on the loop…it is also the start of the trail to La Chorrera (you just go past El Chiflón entrance up the hill). Also make sure to stop at the campsite/entrance to pay the entrance fee…say you are going to La Chorrera otherwise you must pay again at the cloth marker.

Transport: I took Transmilenio to Tercer Milenio. Just past the Police Station, on the corner, is the bus depot. They leave frequently, it is about 9,000 pesos, tell them you are going to La Chorrera, this bus also passes the Virgin, a Paramo or two in case you also are interested in these as well. It is about 1 hour once the bus leaves. Followed by 5km, a steep hill and the 1 hr 45 min hike (15 is to El Chiflón) obviously.

Cheap flights around Colombia can also be had with Satena Airline, Viva Colombia (Viva Air), Wingo and sometimes even Avianca. Avianca is the second oldest airline carrier in the world (5 December 1919) and is usually cheaper to purchase in country at an office with cash, especially if you are a foreigner.

You can easily see that from Bogota there are many options for trips, each are relatively easy to access, cheap and have a wide range of scenery to offer travelers. From desert to high mountain  villages, hiking or relaxing and with heat and frio (cold) weather. You decide, but just get out there!

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The extra trip…

Guatemala
This is where I went for my friend Sofia´s wedding. Again I didn´t have much time here but I did enjoy seeing many friends since I know many of her friends from Boston, she made good friends with some of my Brandeis friends and well her family and I go even farther back. Needless to say it was the typical friend´s of Tarae wedding, only 16 countries represented not to mention those who live abroad. With such a mix you must wonder how the couple is: Sofia is Guatamalan but lives in the US and is very much adapted to the US or maybe even Boston, ha ha, but she is very international, very smart and always connected with her friends and family; Stephen, her husband is Korean American, also very international, smart and uber helpful. They met at university. With that background of cultures you know the wedding was excellent. I loved Stephen´s mom´s typical Korean dress and the great atmosphere.

P.S. I didn´t even mention but my family also visited in July…busy month, no? No trips but lots of exploring Bogotá. We did Colpatria Tower, Virgen de Guadalupe, Paloquemao market, Turistren, and many neighborhoods and restaurants. It was the first trip with my brother Gabe, and he arrived on Father´s Day, making the day extra special for our dad since it was the first time he had both children with him on that day…some fotos included.

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