HIDDEN COLOMBIA BY RAIL
SEPTEMBER 15-29, 2017
Starting in Cali and ending in Santa Marta, this is a south to north tour of Colombia taking in Salento, Giradot, Bogota, Zipaquirá, Villa de Leyva, Barichara, and Cartagena. Colombia once considered off-limits, five decades of conflict have now ended in what is Latin America's oldest democracy. A three-foot gauge railway system once linked this mountainous country from Buenaventura on the southern Pacific coast to Santa Marta on the northern Atlantic coast before decay and virtual closure. Now, as part of a strategy to remove damaging heavy freight traffic from the roads, the government has awarded rehabilitation contracts for sections that have remained mothballed since the 1980s. During this moribund period, the sections at either end, together with that in the center serving a steelworks, continued with freight traffic. Whilst within and to the north of Bogota, a university passenger service has proved extremely popular in an otherwise gridlocked city. Here too, weekend excursions have increased in popularity such that the four preserved steam locomotives struggle with overloaded ten or more coach trains. We visit most of the operational parts of the system riding the rails from south to north, where possible using all of the operating steam fleet over 3 days through dramatic scenery. The functioning railway workshops in Bogota are also a sight to behold. One highlight will be to ride the daily 'mixed' on the electrified coal and iron ore branch through a spectacular gorge from Belencito to Paz de Rio.
Our tour visits the exquisite heritage sites of Salento, Villa de Leyva, Barichara and Cartagena together with La Candelaria, the historic neighborhood in downtown Bogota. Several exceptional buildings associated with Simon Bolivar who was largely responsible for creating Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule are visited too. One of these is now an hotel with a hot springs pool and will be our base for one night. The tour will appeal to both the dedicated and casual railway enthusiast together with those intrigued by the fascinating colonial towns we visit as we deliver a Colombia to you that most have never been aware of. On rail we travel with diesel, steam and electric traction, significantly with our own chartered trains, excepting one public 'mixed'. Come with us on this adventure as we explore new parts of the world's railway heritage.
Day 1 Friday September 15 (D)
We arrive in Cali Colombia and transfer to our hotel for dinner
Day 2 Saturday September 16: (B-L-D)
We make a leisurely start on our first morning as we visit the transportation museum which contains both steam locomotives, airplanes and a giant model railway. We lunch here too. In the afternoon, we plan a visit to Yumbo, the Bogota rail base for the line towards Buenaventura and plan a short rail journey in one direction or the other, hopefully heading up the pass to La Cumbre, before we transfer back to our city hotel for dinner.
Day 3 Sunday September 17: (B-L-D)
We transfer to the Palmira railway workshops for a brief visit prior to joining our chartered train, using the President's coach, and head east, then north, halting at the municipality of Buga. Here we break for lunch and join with pilgrims visiting the very significant Basilica del Señor de los Milagros, which houses an image of Christ called el Señor de los Milagros (the Lord of the Miracles). After lunch we continue by road for our overnight halt in delightful Salento, one of the major tourist attractions of Colombia.
Day 4 Monday September 18: (B-L-D)
We start our day with some free time to wander the main square and streets of this captivating place where your time will not go unrewarded. After departure we make for one of the plantations in this traditional coffee region where you can observe the biodiversity of the crop in stunning surroundings before we enter the Parque del Café. This is in fact a theme park and our purpose in entering is more for the rail journey on offer. Regrettably their steam locomotive is 'out of ticket' as they say. By mid afternoon, we need to head further east towards our overnight at Ibague.
Day 5 Tuesday September 19: (B-L-D)
It is but a short journey this morning to Girardot and across the river is Flandes. The latter was the location of the main workshops of the Colombian Railways, but now all that remains is the locomotive park and the magnificent 1930-built steel railway viaduct high above the Magdelena River. We plan to walk over it, ride over it on rails using a maintenance vehicle then sail under it on a river boat ride. We also lunch in Girardot. Early afternoon, we will depart for our 2-night stay in the La Candelaria area of Bogota.
Day 6 Wednesday September 20: (B)
We commence our visit to Bogota with a ride to Monserrate on the funicular railway from where fine views of the orientation of the capital can be obtained. On descending, we walk over the road to the Quinta de Bolivar, which served as a residence to Simon Bolivar after the war of independence. It is now a museum dedicated to Bolivar's life and times. We plan to use an imitation streetcar for our journey back to the central area for a free-time lunch. After lunch we visit the Museo de Oro, Bogotá's most famous museum and one of the most fascinating in all of South America, containing 55,000 pieces of gold from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. Then there is free-time for another of Bogota's many renowned museums such as the National or Botero Museums. The evening is free for a dinner of choice such as perhaps at the nearby premises of the notable Bogota Beer Company (BBC) where a selection of ales are offered, or perhaps back at Monserrate, accessed in the evening by cable car.
Day 7 Thursday September 21: (B-L-D)
Our morning comprises a leisurely guided tour of La Candelaria, the old quarter of Bogota. We then plan on taking a light lunch at the Ferro Club, which has preserved, Colombia's oldest locomotive from 1878 when lines in the Bogota area were metre gauge. Then we relocate to the Sabana terminal railway station where we take afternoon tea in the small museum. No time should be lost by rail enthusiasts in examining the station and workshops where there are 5 operational locos, and of which we have asked for 2 to be in steam for photos. One would normally be under repair. The station also holds a 1905 British built steam crane. After we conclude, we plan to relocate to a new hotel adjacent to Usaquen station some 15km distant by steam-hauled train from Sabana Station. In the evening we visit one of the Andres Carne de Res restaurants in Zona Rosa, near our hotel.
Day 8 Friday September 22: (B-L)
We continue our journey northwards from the adjacent Usaquen Station with a steam-hauled train using one of the other locomotives. We will proceed to La Caro Junction, from where we take the line to Zipaquira, halting for photos en route. At Zipaquira, we walk the short distance to the attractive town square for a late lunch. After lunch it is but a short transfer to the unbelievable underground cathedral carved within what was formerly a working salt mine. We will have a guided tour of the complete complex before retiring to our hotel. The evening comprises free time to enjoy the many restaurants and bars in Zipaquira.
We return to La Caro junction by bus where yet another steam locomotive awaits then we relax and watch the Colombian landscape pass whilst we enjoy lunch on the train as we make for Villapinzon. The scenery gets more interesting as we proceed past Suesca where we plan to make good use of the photo opportunities hereabouts. At Villapinzon, we will need to say goodbye to our steam locomotive and continue our journey by 1960s railcar towards Tunja for some scenic running and halts at a viaduct and tunnel. We plan to alight at a remote road crossing to transfer to Villa de Leyva, one of the colonial gems of the continent, with its enormous central square.
Day 10 Sunday September 24: (B-L-D)
Our day commences with a guided tour of the main sights of our base, followed by free time. After departure, we visit a site known as the Stonehenge of Colombia having many large rocks carved to resemble phallic symbols and also a museum hosting a significant dinosaur fossil. After is lunch taken nearby, we make our way to Paipa for an early check-in to a natural springs hot-spa hotel once used by Simon Bolivar – take your bathing suit to relax at in the spa waters! For railfans, per chance, there may be a freight working from Tunja to Paipa to ride. There is also the possibility of a visit to Belencito, where a small museum contains a preserved steam locomotive. Dinner is planned at our hotel.
Day 11 Monday September 25: (B-L-D)
A very early start is required this morning for those wishing to join us. We plan to ride in the passenger car of the 7:30am mixed coal or ore empties from the Belencito steel complex as it makes its way through a spectacular gorge, reminiscent of Colorado, en route to Paz del Rio at the end of the line. We hope to have a photo stop or two on this workaday electrified railway. We have time at the terminus for photos of both the electric loco and the local diesel pilot before our bus returns us back to the hotel to wash the coal and ore dust away prior to a late morning check-out. We then commence a journey through the mountains to Barichara, another of the exquisitely preserved small colonial towns which will be our base for this evening. It is said to be the kind of town that Hollywood filmmakers dream about, a Spanish colonial town saturated with atmosphere.
Day 12 Tuesday September 26: (B-L-D)
The first part of the day gives us the opportunity to explore Barichara, initially with our guide, then using free-time. We have an evening flight to catch from Bucaramanga to Cartagena but, before this, we make for Parque National del Chicamocha where we take lunch on arrival. In the afternoon we take the aerial tramway over the spectacular canyon of the National Park to where our bus meets us on the other side. Our short evening flight should soon see us in Cartagena and to our central hotel for 2 nights.
Day 13 Wednesday September 27 (B-D)
The day is spent in Cartagena, a Unesco World Heritage site and a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stone walls. In the morning we take a leisurely guided tour until lunchtime. The afternoon comprises free-time in this undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast.
Day 14 Friday September 28 (B)
Our day of departure, when we take transfers to either Santa Marta or Barranquilla airports depending on which international flights you take.
all prices per person
DOUBLE ROOM OCCUPANCY$5,698
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$798
DEPOSIT TO HOLD SPACE CONFIRMED$2,000
FINAL PAYMENT DUE ON JUNE 14, 2017
** 33 MEALS
** FULLY ESCORTED
** DOMESTIC FLIGHT ON DAY 12
** ALL TRAIN RIDES PER THE ITINERARY
** ALL BUS TRANSFERS PER THE ITINERARY
** 13 NIGHTS LODGING IN GOOD TOURIST CLASS