Cars will be shipped to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Founded in 1533, this city became Spain’s main port in the Caribbean. With
its walled city and imposing fortress, built to deter pirates, it has now become a fashionable resort.
Our hotel inside the old city wall is a carefully converted seventeenth century convent with its original cloister . A three day stay will allow time for
collection and preparation of the vehicles as well as a little sightseeing and relaxation.
Heading East, we cross the Magdalena River before turning South in front of The Sierra Nevada Mountains. The route follows the river valley to a small town where we stay in a simple motel, in contrast to the luxury of previous nights.
Soon after departure, the road starts climbing into the mountains before passing through the large city of Bucaramanga. It then winds beside the Chicamocha canyon, with its Parque Nacional, to the adventure sports centre of San Gil. A walk in river-side park here can be an other-worldly experience as the trees are festooned with glistening growths of old man’s beard. We turn off the main road here for a short climb to the beautiful small town of Barichara where we rest in a colonial mansion . For the adventurous, there is an ancient stone road to explore before trying the local
delicacy, roasted ants.
There are two stops on the way to Bogota involving short detours from the Panamericana. The Villa de Lleyva is a beautifully preserved colonial town with a huge central square of cobbles, and later there is the opportunity to visit the Salt Cathedral, constructed in an old salt mine close to the town of Zipaquira. With an 18 metre vaulted ceiling, it can hold a congregation of 8000. We continue to the chaotic and colourful capital of eight million inhabitants.
The morning has been left free for a visit to the city centre where the Gold Museum is a must-see attraction. After lunch we drive down to cross the Magdalena River again before climbing back up to Ibague.
We pass through coffee country on the way to Popayan for our first rest day. The road will be busy and the first section runs over La Linea pass where a huge tunnel is under construction, but sadly will not be completed until after 2013. The colonial city of Popayan has been carefully restored after a devastating earthquake in 1983, and will appear tidy and tranquil after the capital.
After another night in the mountains at Pasto, we cross the border to Ecuador. The huge local market at Otavalo may be worth a stop on the way to the capital city of Quito. At an altitude of 2850 metres, it sits in a valley surrounded by snowy peaks. It has a spring-like climate all year round and you will have had enough introduction to altitude to manage a walking tour of the old city or a trip to the statue of the virgin overlooking the metropolis.
We pass through ‘Volcano Alley’ which contains some of the World’s most active volcanoes, including Cotopaxi which has erupted on average 20 times per century, before overnighting in a hacienda. The next day, there is a break for a short visit to the historical site at Ingapirca which is sparse, but contains the most important Incan ruins in the country. We continue to Cuenca. There is time in the morning to explore this large city, which is blessed with beautiful old buildings and cobbled streets, before we head for our last night in Ecuador at Loja.
For the rest of the trip check out the pages below: