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  • Cartagena, Colombia | © unmillonedeelefantes /

Lonely Planet named Colombia the 2nd best country to visit in 2017. Read why Private Travel’s Alex Cancro rates it numero uno.  

TCS World Travel sent Alex Cancro, who works in our Private Travel department, to scout Colombia—a rising star in the world of travel—and report back on the experience.  

We sat down with Alex to learn how, when, where and why you should explore Colombia post haste.

Q: You loved your scouting trip through Colombia. Where would you suggest our guests begin their exploration?

A: As the largest city in Colombia—and one of the largest in the world—Bogotá offers an incredible amount of art, food and culture. Explore the Gold Museum, Museo Botero, Museo de Arte Colonial de Bogotá and the Maloka Museum. Try arepas—thick pillowy disks made using ground maize dough or cooked flour—which I ate every day for breakfast—patacones (fried green plantains), empanadas con queso and ajiaco—a very popular Colombian chicken potato soup. Ride the funicular to the top of Monserrate—a mountain that dominates the city center—and revel in breathtaking views, both on the way and at the summit. Explore Plaza De Paloquemao—a flower lover and foodie’s paradise. Don’t miss: tons of salsa dancing. 

Q: Describe some of Colombia's can't-miss experiences and destinations.

A: While in Bogotá, in addition to everything I’ve mentioned, check out the Fernando Botero Museum. Mr. Botero curated and designed the entire museum. Head to the mountains, specifically to Pereira, to experience Colombia’s legendary coffee production first hand. Ask us book to a private tour for you of Barichara, lead by Architect Santiago Rivera, who designed and built most of the town. Don’t miss Cartagena. Think: massive churches like Iglesia de San Pedro Claver or Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and numerous plazas. 

Q: What pleasantly surprised you about Colombia?

A: Regardless of where I went, or how many people were around me, I experienced a unifying sense of beauty, graciousness and enchantment. It’s the home of magical realism and birthplace of Gabriel García Márquez. At one point I was with 11 other travelers in Cartagena. I bought a cup of fruit from a woman next to Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, and without a word she graciously gave me three more cups free of charge so there was enough to go around. While a friend and I explored Plaza De Paloquemao in Bogotá, a gentleman ran up to my friend, gave her a dozen roses, asked her to marry him, and then vanished.

Q: Where was your favorite stop?

A: Cartagena—it was my final stop, and my first experience in a walled city. With horse-drawn buggies roaming the streets, merchants hawking on every corner and fresh juice stands everywhere I went, I felt like I was in a Gabriel García Márquez novel. Somehow, among the timelessness, colorful buildings and ubiquitous flowers, luxury hotels and night clubs overflow with live music and salsa dancers. It’s a fairytale-like town.

Q: Describe some of your favorite food experiences.

A: I had an amazing meal at La Bruja, which is tucked away on a side street in Bogotá’s Candelaria district. We met the chef, and the owner translated the story of how La Bruja got its name, while we enjoyed seafood bisque, empanadas, a ginger/tomato salad, and drank frappe de fruta, a blended juice made from seven different fruits. While exploring Plaza De Paloquemao (also in Bogotá) my local guide—something we can arrange for you—passed me samples of maracuya (a milder and sweeter type of passion fruit), lulo (a type of citrus that yields green rhubarb/lime-flavored juice) granadilla (a softly sweet, seedy fruit), pitahaya (similar to dragonfruit), guanábana (a prickly-skinned fruit that tastes like a combination of strawberry and pineapple) and nips of aguardiente (a hangover-free anise-flavoured liqueur derived from sugar cane) in between.   

Q: If you needed to put together some destinations in Colombia for a guest who wanted to get away and relax, where would you send them and why?

A: Cartagena. I would recommend they stay in the walled part of the city and take short day trips to the beach. Either way, they would be able to relax in any number of four- and five-star hotels. There are copious amounts of old book stores, coffee shops, parks, crafts, open terraces, live music and delicious food. The city is old and filled with tradition, along with many nuances. A day trip to Villa de Leyva, known for its whitewashed walls and old colonial houses, is another way to take a breath and relax. While you are here, take a hike through the cloud forest or stroll through the cobblestone streets.

Q: Any tips you would give future travelers to Colombia?

A: Try to get there sooner than later. It felt like a country that was on the verge of being “discovered” by mainstream tourism. And, make sure to have Colombian pesos on you as there are many rural places that do not accept credit or debit cards, or have cash machines.

Did Alex's experience inspire you to plan a trip to Colombia? Email us at [email protected], call us at 800.454.4149 or visit our web page to request a custom independent journey of your own, or to request our catalog.