Hacienda Napoles, Colombia

our iconic Napoles photo

Owkay, it’s a massive tourist trap and not really something you want to remember Medellin for, but it was kinda cool to visit Hacienda Napoles, Pablo Escobar’s estate just outside of Medellin. And we promised the boys a nice day out after being confined in the car for 2 days on a crazy & dangerous road trip from Bogota to Medellin.

We decided to take highway 60 to Medellin and on the map it looked like 1 of Colombia’s main highways…. but little did we know …. It started out ok but the road became more narrow after every village we passed until it was nothing more than a soft and sandy mountain pass full of holes, rocks, trunks and the likes. We passed mud slides, man holes, waterfalls in the middle of the road, muddy forest trails, sketchy little villages nothing more than a few “houses” and some chickens, proud & evil looking roosters, eye-balling you while you pass -I was not going to get out of the car at that moment!-, landslides, … and it took us forever. Nature is overwhelming, nothing like I’ve ever seen before. High green mountains with fertile valleys full of flowers, fruittrees and meadows entwined by creeks & rivers. But there is nothing else. Every 3-4 hours you drive through a small village that has only 1 road & a few houses and then again … nothing. The deeper we drove into the mountains with our hired Renault family sedan, the more nervous we became of continuing this not so well planned trip. What if we have a flat tire ? What if it starts to rain heavily and we get washed off the mountain by one of the many land slides we encountered ? What if the cars overheats ? Do we have enough water ?

There is no GPS or mobile signal so if something happens, well, you’re on your own, you’re in the jungle baby. In the meantime the boys get bored in the backseat and start their usual drama. So we start looking for a place to spend the night, and end up in some kind of holiday hotel, colombian style. It has a pool so Twan and Gus are all thumbs up. Jos mentions it makes him think of the Hi di Hi – Ho di Ho resort from that tv show, with soft muzak gliding out of speakers throughout the compound. However, the heavily armed military guys walking around are a pbit out of place, and we realise we’re actually in the middle of guerilla infested territory in these hills. We have dinner and a few beers and go to our room. After Gus somehow manages to rip the sink out of the bathroom wall and break it into a hundred pieces, we go to bed and drift off into a strange kind of sleep … In the morning we have breakfast next to the corpse of a snake with it head bashed in by one of the hotel staff, and we’re on our way again …

We’re completely exhausted but very happy when we finally drive out of the mountains, onto a ROAD, halleluja. We haven’t seen a paved road for 12 hours or more.

So after our little venture it was time for some easy entertainment and who better to provide than Pablo ! Not much is left from his estate but a theme park, the villa & crooks are gone but the hippos stayed. In fact, the imported african hippopotamus felt so good in Colombia, they started to wander around, escaped the premises and dove into the nearby Magdalena river where they reside still today and their numbers are growing … some have been found more than 100 miles downstream from Hacienda Napoles, all healthy and making hippo babies …

It was a fun day out, we now have our iconic “Napoles” photo and little reminds you of the violent days of the drug cartel. Let’s hope it stays that way !

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva is a beautiful authentic colonial town where all the rich Spanish families that lived in Bogota, had a holiday home. It’s filled with white villas with balconies and rich flower gardens.

The image of the cobbled street town hasn’t changed much over the centuries, only the houses are now filled with banks & ATM machines and modernized coffee houses and restaurants. Villa de Leyva is more focussed on tourism than Jerico and Jardin. It’s the Bruges of Colombia: very beautiful but it’s more about preserving and tourism than actually living there. I missed the laid-back vibe on the main square, the cosy chattering of locals, the horses riding into town, kids running around, the food stalls in the evening offering Colombian yummies, …

It’s nice but if you are looking for the authentic Colombian way of living, you might be disappointed.

Nevertheless, if you are in the neighborhood you shouldn’t miss out.

A lot of fossils have been found in the valley where Villa de Leyva is situated and the largest specimen is a nearly complete Kronosaurus Boyacensis, a very large marine carnivore. Very impressive. They have left the fossil where they found it and build a small museum around it. The museum has a large collection of other local fossils and, although not very large, is fascinating to visit – we turned ours into a school trip for our boys !

 

 

Bogota, Colombia

Plaza de Bolivar

Our first trip in Colombia was a great adventure and we are looking forward to exploring more: this time we fly to Bogota where we hire a car and do a road trip all the way to Medellin. Bogota is a world city with over 8 million -!!- residents and capital of Colombia. I was very skeptical before we left and only planned a visit of 3 days but again, I was very much surprised.

We only stayed in La Candelaria -the old city’s centre because of our timeline but next time, I will explore more of this interesting mix of old historic buildings with it’s young dynamic vibe. Bogota is much more bohemian than Medellin, more artistic & alternative and the city is filled with little gems hidden behind the sometimes plain walls but once you look inside, it’s a whole new world.

We love walking around in the historic city centre and going in & out old architectural beauties, shopping around for hats, watching people, visiting museums that are plentiful in Bogota.

The most known -and not to miss- museum is the gold museum. It’s a 4 level building full of gold artifacts from pre-Columbian history and on the top floor a huge walk-in vault with all the most precious pieces. It’s not only fantastic to see but is also very educational and Twan & Gus especially loved the stories of shamans dressing up and acting like animals to take over there strength & power.

We also had a great time at the military museum: full of canons, a complete range of guns from early 16th century until present, sables and daggers, military costumes, submarine bombs, tank ammunition, a helicopter and much much more. We were guided by a very knowledgeable luitenant that loved our interest so he decided to accompany us the whole way. It was all in Spanish & we didn’t understand everything but it was interesting nevertheless. The boys were very impressed and in the end they got to wear the helicopter helmet. The museum was free. We visited the Botero museum that had a beautiful collection from Degas, Dali, Miro, Picasso, Matisse and of course, Fernando Botero himself.

On Sunday, the larger part of La Candelaria was closed for traffic, leaving the street to cyclists, skaters and families with kids.

Bogota was a pleasant surprise and next time I would plan more days to explore the other neighborhoods.