South America: Colombia

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We embarked to Colombia in South America the early part of January this 2019.  Recap, for the last three years we have voyaged.  Our little family has become our priority.  All others have fallen away.  Our gift each year is an adventure.  The years are flying by and the memories are adding up.  This one was lovely and so I share it here.

I personally have been trying what seems to be my whole life really to heal old wounds.  Obviously going on a vacation to a place that no one you know personally has traveled is not a cure-all for any emotional damage but it is a great start!  It is a great start because we get to practice our skills of love and understanding by gaining perhaps a new perspective.  We get to do this for a little over a week without our normal responsibilities and distractions.  With the good of me sharing our experience perhaps with tips that might be helpful, you will also get a little extra personal details (might be good or bad, but I can not share the story without my feelings).  I feel completely blessed to be able to gift our family this and I don’t want to portray that it isn’t tricky and something we have to mindful of all year (we have to sacrifice some little things because they add up).  I try with all my might to accomplish these adventures within the realities of our budget and time. 
BOGOTA:  We reside in Utah.  We flew in and home through the city Bogota (Utah to Atlanta to Bogota).  The extra 4 flights were domestic flights inside of Colombia itself. 

Trip Facts: Eight Planes this Trip, Four Backpacks, An Emergency Duffle, and Two Carry-ons including a Fanny, Colombian Pesos makes $50,000 more fun to spend. 

DISCLAIMERS: I am posting this to be an informational guide for families/travelers similar to us with budget/time.  I don't go into detail about the sights by posting about each location.  If you are curious about where we went simply search that (Bogota, Monseratte, Salento, Cocora Valley, Leticia, Amazon River, Cathedral Primada de Colombia) and you will find plenty of information.  I am just sharing an informational guide about cost/how we navigated/details that I had a hard time finding when searching other travel guides that would have helped me.  I have provided links to our accommodations/tours the best that I could.  I can confidently say that we sampled wonderful parts of Colombia.  I would take the same exact trip if I had to go back and pick all over again.  We got the same feedback while we were down there as well that it was a great sample.  A little additional input we received a few suggestions of extra places.  The extra places would have required more time to add locations in addition to where we stopped but for us we typically don't have more time (Cartegena, Cano Cristales).  There were a few more that I came across while researching spots but the logistics of each of them would have taken more time (The lost city of Teyuan, Santuano De Las Lajas). There is always the idea that we could revisit Colombia again one day so maybe.  

One of my favorite stops in Bogota was the Monseratte : This is where all the stress fleeted and embarrassment of not actually speaking Spanish was forgotten.  We slipped into a good mood and stayed there.  Enter Personal Note : We don’t always communicate the best especially when exhausted from travel.  We had a good few hours that we were completely frustrated with each other because some words were said when the irritation climaxed.  Yep, it happened but we experienced it and came up with a solution of understanding.  And we had a fantastic trip after and even including that experience (gotta take the good with bad).  
At the top of Monseratte there are plenty of places to grab a snack.  We picked the second one we came to, but then after the shopping we crossed many more options.  I thought perhaps we should have ventured a little further before we made a decision (I know you are hungry but just walk pass the vendors and you'll arrive at a bunch of options).  Alex was a little nervous about the ride up because he doesn't love heights, once we started up on our ride he didn't object.  He felt safe.
It really was the perfect place to get the absolute best vantage point of the city.  The cobblestone pathways were darling to skip up to the church.  Inside it was very pretty.  We do not practice religion but do appreciate the feeling that it gives others and the religious buildings are so beautifully constructed, preserved, and now appreciated by all including us.
We took a taxi from our Hotel.  We picked a hotel close to the El Dorado Airport because we had such early flights.  We thought it would be better to have a long taxi ride to where we wanted to go rather than an earlier morning getting to the airport.  Our plan worked perfect and I would do the very same thing again.  The taxi varied.  I am not sure how they came to the charge??  But you can expect $15,000 - 120,000 COP.  I know that is a large variance.  One time we did make two stops with the same taxi.  He waited while I shopped a quilting store.  They took awhile to get all the fabric cut.  We were more than happy to pay for him to wait for us before we ventured to the Cathedral.  It is definitely why we arrived at the $120,000, but otherwise it still varied quite a lot.  Our hotel provided taxis on call anytime and we were able to charge to the room (accepted credit card).  We hailed a taxi back to our hotel when we were finished exploring the sights which we had to pay in COP's.
Here are just some pics/video of the Funicular ride.  Tickets were $20,000 COP per person for a ride up and back down (accepted credit cards).  The Funicular ride is on a track moving up underneath those cables shown in picture.  Alex was worried the cars hung from the wires.  He was relieved when we learned it was on a track on the ground.  It is steep, about a 45-degree angle I would guess.

Our second stop was Armenia to Salento.  Salento is Coffee Region of Colombia.  We toured a plantation the first day.  Take Away from this spot is the lush green beauty at every glance and each and every angle.  It was gorgeous.  Absolutely Gorgeous!
We stayed at La Serrana an Eco Farm just outside the city center of Salento (accepted credit cards).  It is a very quick walk into town.  We did that each time we went in and out.  There is a walking bridge you cross on a straight route to help from not getting lost.  Before we left for this trip I had a list of things I was worried about.  First thing was that we might have too much time without anything to do.  This wasn't the case.  Even though the nights were early, we were legitimately tired so sleep was welcomed.  Between getting food three times a day, some of which involved long walks, and our activities, we were kept just busy enough.  As a mom I think about the "I'm bored" comment of course attempt to avoid it as well.  I didn't hear it once.  However, I will mention that Alex was curious about what we were doing and how we were going to get to and from (so that was a small version of I need to be entertained?).  We had to tell him to relax and soak in the surroundings to help him understand that was apart of the activities that we were doing.  I really do believe it was more an age thing (they just have so much energy when they are young and need to burn off more than adults).  We weren't moving from thing to thing without time to relax.  I think it was a good experience for him to let loose a little and just take things a little slower.
Was there a communication gap?  YES!  We only know a tiny tiny bit of Spanish which did serve us well.  We acquired quite a lot while there, but we just had a hard time explaining all the details/gathering all the details.  I read the entire La Serrana website.  When asking questions about dinner and tours I assumed what was on the website dictated what they offered.  There were little things that we discovered while there : Dinner wasn't available upon reservation while we were there even though it does say on website it is.  I assume if there were many people interested in a dinner before 4:00 pm, dinner would be made available, but in our case there wasn't.  Problem Solved: We walked to town each evening to order out and walked back to eat at the provided tables in the courtyard (we had to pay in COP's some of the time and some of the time they did accept credit cards, our dinners averaged for a family of four $35,000 - 50,000 COP).  It worked out perfect (we were a little nervous being out late so we managed this all before sundown).  The next thing we encountered is how the tours were readily available but not offered directly through La Serrana.  We walked to the Coffee Plantation just by following signs.  It was very simple, but had to figure it out independently.  For those who are interested : Turn left and walk a few miles down the dirt road, follow the signs.  It was a gorgeous walk!  It dropped down a canyon to the plantation.  Once there, the tours were clearly described, available on the hour.  It was a piece of cake to pay, they did accept credit cards.
El Ocaso Coffee Plantation  : Was FANTASTIC!!!  Our tour guide spoke English for all travelers.  They did offer Spanish tours two times a day but other than that they are all in English.  In our tour alone there were people from Asia, Europe, and North America.  We learned so much!  It was fun!  It was the perfect amount of time (an hour)!  The tour included a cup of Coffee (Tour was $20,000 COP per person).  I know I mentioned we had difficulty getting the details because of our communication gap but that doesn't mean that there weren't many that spoke English well.  We had taxi drivers, vendors, restaurant staff, airport personnel, people we met that did.  So you will cross paths with people that do just so you are aware.  In those situations we had a bundle of questions to ask about the area which they happily shared.  In those situations we learned!  We learned so much being able to ask quick questions with follow up questions.  They had so much wonderful information to share.
The Plantation also has a Cafe.  We had the Lasagna and by golly it was one of my most favorite meals in Colombia!  Delicious!

We have traveled to foreign countries with kids in tow.  Everything that I share here we have experienced with kids ages 11 to 14.  They are able to keep up and enjoy each activity.  Our other vacations in previous years they are just a step down in age.  Our experience in Colombia is most activities are pretty much the same cost as an adult.  In London/Paris we received a huge discount for the kids (usually half the cost of an adult admission).  In Japan I think there were slight discounts for Alex being the younger child, but for 12 and older you are paying an adult price).
The cherries ripe for picking are red or a bright yellow.  I only picked one the right color.  Alex managed to get all five of his cherries perfect, so if ever we need a cherry picker Alex would do us proud.  After the tour you could wait for a Jeep to take you out of the canyon.  We opted to walk.  It was a good challenge.  It is steep in some places but doable, helped us sleep a little sounder.  Great Exercise!
The accommodations in Salento at La Serrana were wonderful.  The views were breathtaking.  We found ourselves just in awe of every view through out the property.  It appears they have remodeled changing things around, so the pictures on their site aren't exactly what they property looks like today.  However, it is very similar.  They have created a large kitchen with many tables for all guests that would have been a shared living space just for our rooms.  If you want to lounge on couches you now have to walk down to the Main building to do that.  With all of that extra information, I just want to reiterate that it was wonderful!  Completely Wonderful.

Second Day in Salento : Cocora Valley.  This day was stupendous because it isn’t everyday that you ride a horse while trotting up a mountain covered in Wax Palms.  And also worth mentioning that I could become solely a fruitarian.  I really could.  The mango with leche confirmed it at our home in Salento – La Serrana that morning.  So I’ll take that home with me.  Come cover to mi casa for some smoothies. 
Take it from me that 1 1/2 hours of horse riding will be more than enough.  We underestimated the amount of COP's we needed to pay for the tour via horseback through Salento.  Originally I had thought we wanted to do two legs of trails but that would have cost double what we paid and we didn't have that much.  We then of course just did one leg which was more than enough.  So it worked out us compromising based on what money we had for the best.  We had more than enough for one horseback trail ride but not enough additionally for a full meal up in Cocora Valley.  Our horseback tour exceeded any expectations I had, it was amazing ($225,000 for our family of four, had to pay in COP's).  We thought it would be about $160,000 and then we would have plenty for food (We were off a bit).  We took a taxi up $35,000 COP and a Jeep Back $16,000 COP without food in our bellies.  We could have saved a little if we found the Jeep to come up but for sakes of time and misdirection we just took a taxi.  Sometimes a few extra COP's save you some hassle and it is worth it.  We felt throughout Bogota that it was just worth getting a taxi as well rather than taking a bus which wasn't the case in London so every place is really different.  Keep that in mind.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous riding up because of my unfamiliarity with horses.  I haven't spent anytime in my life riding them and for that reason it took me a bit to feel at ease.  Alex cracked me up because he said that he fully trusted his horse from the very beginning.  This is the same person that refused the funicular ride until we demanded him to go and then had huge reservations about riding horses and was attempting to refuse one as well.  He trusted his horse completely.  Oh Alex, you cute thing.  We love you.  It was completely safe.  The horses are well traveled up the trails.  My horse in particular preferred to lead.  He didn't like going all the time but then wouldn't let other horses pass him so there were some awkward moments when our guide had to intervene (I should mention that our guide walked behind us the whole way! What! He was amazing in his hiking skills, it was dumb-founding how well he could walk up, we are talking thousands of feet in incline).  My horse was sure on his feet picking the best route up a steep steep incline.  BTW, we just picked the first horse stand on the left hand side of the road.  I know we aren't exactly picky.  It worked out perfect though.  Our guide couldn't have been more suited for our family.  We sure appreciate the great time he extended to us.
DOGS, and CATS.  There are a lot of them.  In Salento there were dogs everywhere and they were adorable.  They appeared to be strays and pets mixed.  This one in particular seemed to be a stray.  In Leticia there were more cats.  I think they could all tell that we were a Dog/Cat family and came over to hang out with us typically.

Catley and Weston's horses were more spirited than Alex and Mine's.  Therefore they were in the rear with the hand of the guide close by.  Alex and I were usually out of ear's reach but we could hear when Weston and Cately's horses were having little races, flirting, or something?
Below is a pic of a night of take-out and our entrada of La Serrana.  Gorgeous right!
On our last night we traveled into Salento to enjoy a happy Saturday drinking juicy drinks and eating a yummy sit-down meal.  This picture just sums it up!  Weston is going to be forever chasing that coconut lime leche just like I am going to be chasing the mango leche.  
La Serrana had breakfast included just like every other place we stayed while in Colombia.  Well, breakfast is AMAZING in Colombia!  Eggs and Rice and Pan and FRUIT!! and Leche and Bacon, and Yogurt.  I know it sounds like regular things that we have in the USA but I have to tell you that it is enhanced.  The freshness and the unique taste of even their hot chocolate is delicious.  It just has a different aftertaste.  Something that is just different.  They were very plentiful but that didn't stop us from still eating three times a day.  I promise to do just a food post of Colombia and I will link it as soon as it is up.
Colombia, Peru, and Brazil.  Our third drop was Leticia which borders two bonus countries Peru and Brazil.  Cately is the bravest and most adventurous in our little bood.  She jumped in for a dip along the Amazon river.  I got splashed on in the river boat, so I counted that.  Another plug for the rest of us – We sampled the mystery fruit in addition to Cately.  Cately, Alex, and Weston fished and kayaked.  I took pics, videos, and just soaked up the rainforest from a hammocks view.  It is beautiful.  There are Challenges Living in this part of the world as with every version of existence.  In this part of Colombia I could appreciate living near all the water but I could also see the challenges.  
In Leticia, we stayed at Utuane.  Our stay there included delicious breakfast too (the most perfect cooked eggs). And this hotel included tours.  They were easy to pick from and the staff was very helpful.  We had a much easier time getting all the details.  I am not sure if it was because our Spanish Vocabulary had increased ten-fold?  Having the tour available through the hotel saves a lot of worry about being in the right place at the right time for people that speak limited Spanish.  That helped tons!!!  We were connected to the tour service in town through our Utuane taxi.
Our tour took us to the two bordering countries of Leticia, Colombia.  They were Peru and Brazil.  We rode along the rivers in a small boat (we had a good deal through Utuane for $140,000 COP per person for the Zacambo day tour, this tour was charged to our room which we could pay with a credit card).  We visited the other two countries with city tours.  The city tours were some of the most vastly different way of life that I have experienced.  As I mentioned above, there are challenges living in this part of the world as with every version of existence every where else in the world. During all of our adventures my mind wanders to imagine the details of the people's lives that we cross.  Physically seeing how they cook, eat, play, travel, work, learn.  This time it had so much contrast from anything I have experienced in Utah.  One of our stops where Cately had a swim and the three of them kayaked/fished, we happened upon a sloth in the wild.  He was C-U-T-E.  So cute.  We have a bajillion pics/videos just of him.  We agreed we could watch him all day.

Now in the USA we are schooled in so much.  I will say that some of which just doesn't apply down there because it just isn't available.  We got immunizations to travel down to Colombia as a precaution.  In our International Clinic our nurse educated us about certain hazards that we might encounter.  There were times when we were offered things and we participated but all the while with the cautions running through our minds.  I think that it is always better to be safe than sorry and at the very exact time we have to live so somewhere in the middle was the right place for us this trip.  Luckily so far we came back intact.  I ate so much fruit that I couldn't stand it and I did eat some without a thick peel.  I did not have any digestion problems what-so-ever nor did any our little family.  We did drink bottled water.  It was clearly marked in our hotels they did not have potable water outside of Bogota.  These hotels were fully stocked with bottled water.  The food was delicious and we fully enjoyed everything without consequence.

In all of our accommodations we purchased two rooms.  In La Serrana the beds in each room were a queen.  In Utuane the accommodation included a two-story family stay with a queen on main level and four bunks for the upper level.  In our hotel in Bogota two kings in two separate rooms.  It was heaven.  On our previous vacations we stayed in the same room squeezed into what felt more like full beds.  We just got exhausted.  I realize that it might not always be easy but after enjoying the extra space it was nice to be well rested and recharged for each day.  The initial reason for this though was that I didn't find hotels that we are use to in USA to accommodate four people with a large room. In each situation I felt completely at ease with how they had it set up.  The Utuane two-story was a treat.   It was such a cute design and we loved it.  Now we have been spoiled and it will be hard to choose any different.  Colombia...

At our Utuane stay we were rooming right next to a family of four from Colombia.  Their kids matched our kids ages.  Each night they swam in the pool together playing Marco Polo.  The kids could speak fairly good English.  They were incredibly friendly! but not in an imposing way.  It was a heartwarming experience that each set of parents enjoyed.  The first night we visited with the kiddos and asked tons of questions and shared.  The second night their parents did the same with our kids. It was a darling exchange.  I could have matched Alex up with their Stephanie and they would be so cute together.

Cathedral Primada de Colombia : Our last full day we made it back to Bogota.  I think it is best wrapped up with some tourist pics in front of beautiful buildings.  I basically ate everything in Colombiea and I loved it!  Yummy!  We love to eat Emapanadas, Carnitas, Ensaladas de Fruitas, Lulo, Coffee, Fruit, Fruit, and more Fruit!  Near the Cathedral we ate in a small restaurant.  Weston got the spotlighted entree.  It had an Avocado on the side, can we yum!  I ate half of it because he has a small reaction to Avocado needless to say it didn't stop him from eating the first half.
It always seems a must to visit the landmarks of the city when visiting a new place.  The nice part about that is yummy restaurants have popped up in close proximity and vendors are out selling trinkets to take home.

We shopped a little bit more than usual which for the record is very little.  It was good that for the first part of my life we brought home a memento from all of our trips that I much regretted to a certain extent.  Because now that we are exploring out of our USA with limited space we just don't worry about "bringing" something home with us more than memories.  Take for example t-shirts that say where you visited (they aren't really that great, the quality tends to be lower than the clothes we typically wear and they just get grown out of, so for a higher priced low quality t-shirt, I take a hard pass from experience through the years).  Here though, our US dollar is very strong.  It makes it a little easier to pick up an item or two because they aren't that expensive.  We still kept in mind to be frugal and not to take more "things" into our lives.  We did buy some crossover bags called Mochillas.  I bought some fabric to add to my stash (some cute coffee bean fabric to share with mi amigos).  The kids picked out some coffee chocolates and that is all.

We take a lot of pictures.  I take the most because I enjoy photography.  It is a hobby.  I would say that we confidently improved our selfie game.  Strong Selfie Game now.  Especially Weston and Cately.

Entitled Section: Do Not Touch the Animals!

We were warned to wear insect repellent and to not touch the animals and I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn't see a spider but none of these things went to plan except for wearing the repellent.

The kiddos are suckers for dogs.  These dogs were pets and they were just so darn cute.  They made us happy on our walks to town.  We named one Hector.  He is the one by Alex.  The cats are so slinky down there.  They are lean and perhaps are more adapted to this region so they look different from our kitty at home.  They were fun to watch.  At Utuane they had two that hung around.  They liked a good side rub on your leg.
The animal that I am the least enthused about is the arana's/spiders.  I do not like spiders or creepy crawlies.  I knew that we would encountered some down in this area.  The first night in Leticia we were exploring the surroundings.  We walked behind our Dephin Hut on a walkway.  Cately is our eagle-eyed animal spotting wonder.  She spotted it right away and I matched her gaze.  Yep a tarantula.  I guess it is because I am almost 37 now that I have wielded my initial reaction to a calm exterior with a gut-wrenching interior.  But let me tell you it feels the same inside since as long as I can remember.  Then we spotted another camped out in our doorway.  It took a quick jump for me to get through the door each time.  Visualization is a strong when I picture the spider falling on me each time.  Yuck!  But as far as I know I wasn't touched by a tarantula while there.  So Fear adverted.
To wrap up our little vacation I will say that we thoroughly enjoyed this trip to Colombia.  We learned a little more about ourselves and a little more about Colombia.  I am always so surprised at how much a person can grow in such a short time.  I look back now that we are back and I know we have changed.  

We hope to share more adventures, check back soon and/or click Travel tab for one's you might have missed.  Loved this adventure and it was a treat to share.  

Te Amo & El Fin : It isn’t the end though, it is just a blink.  

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