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Secrets of Colombia Revealed

In 2020, in the midst of the economic disaster unleashed by the pandemic, a group of boutique hotels banded together to create the Secrets of Colombia network. The result is pure magical realism: Amazonian jungle, Caribbean Sea, vast plains, and mountain coffee plantations. All of this is served up against a backdrop of traditional architecture, refined service, and superb experiences.

Text and photos: Demian Colman
Video: Producciones Puente

 

The world stopped in March of this year, leaving us enmeshed in a bizarre reality that we could previously only experience through science fiction. While some people just complained about the economic disaster, a group of thirteen boutique hotels in Colombia banded together to support each other. They created a network that encompasses the country’s great diversity and now they are jointly promoting the hotels’ reopenings, in compliance with all the current health and safety protocols.

When Secrets of Colombia (secretosdecolombia.com) invited us to get to know them, we jumped to pack our bags, which included a good supply of face masks and hand sanitizer.

The Coffee Region

The Colombian Coffee Region spans the departments of Risaralda, Quindío, and Caldas. It is so extraordinary that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Landscape in 2011. As its name indicates, the economy revolves around coffee.

 

Hotel Sazagua

reservas@sazagua.com / Cel . +57 313 649 4579  Tel. 57 (6) 337 9895 / www.sazagua.com

Our first stop is Pereira, the capital of Risaralda, where we head for the Hotel Sazagua (sazagua.com). This former family home, which was expanded to accommodate the growing family, ultimately included ten bedrooms. Once the children had flown the nest, the house became a 16-room hotel offering a swimming pool, spa, and restaurant.

The garden around the house is the pride and joy of the owner, Natalia. The scenery and round-the-clock pampering provide everything you need to relax during your stay. For maximum comfort, the best room, the 538 ft2 Masinga Lodge, will make you feel like you have stepped in to your own private paradise. It features a sauna, Jacuzzi, and massage area, and it has its own garden, bordered by a river teeming with koi.

The hotels are not the only attractions Secrets of Colombia offers; you are also invited to enjoy the unique experiences available at each location. We set out for the La Mina estate, where Gabriel and Lilia await us with a delicious sancocho, the classic soup of this region. They recount the story of how they went from working as employees to fulfilling their dream of having their own farm, which now has 12,000 Castillo Naranjal Arabica coffee bushes. They give us a tour of all the stages of coffee production. We devote the following day to relaxing in the gorgeous Santa Rosa de Cabal hot springs.

 

 

Hacienda Bambusa

Cel. +57 300 778 8897 / www.haciendabambusa.com

Our time in Pereira comes to an end. As the new day dawns, we leave for Hacienda Bambusa (haciendabambusa.com), in the department of Quindío. This traditional colonial Antioch hacienda has eight rooms, each with a private terrace or balcony. Our guide, Camilo Escobar, is waiting to take us to the cacao plantations. Camilo is a biologist so he can tell us all about the cacao, the birds flying overhead (125 species have been identified on the estate), and the scientific underpinnings of the guadua bamboo ecosystem.

Waking up in our room (452 ft2), opening the balcony doors, and greeting the day amid this scenery inevitably calls to mind Gaviota, the main character in the popular Colombian soap opera “Coffee, with the Scent of a Woman.” The afternoon ends with a sunset that is positively impressionistic and we are invited to a picnic among the bamboo. We ease into night with a special chef’s candlelight supper; live music by Asdrúbal and Franklin is interspersed with the songs of crickets and cicadas.

The 445-acre estate also offers a spa and activities such as hiking, bird-watching, cooking classes, bike rides, and even hot-air balloon tours.

 

Barichara

Located in the department of Santander, Barichara is known as the prettiest town in Colombia. In the language of the Guane, the original inhabitants of these lands, Barichara means “place of rest” and that is precisely what visitors come here to do.

Casa Barichara

Cel. +57 312 586 5451 /Cel. +57 310 329 4380 / www.casabarichara.com

(casabarichara.com) has six rooms, a well-stocked library of books for reading in a hammock, and a pool with a view of the Oriental mountains that delights the eye. Owner and inveterate dreamer María Elvira, a very spiritual woman with a close connection to Mother Earth, has turned this place into a temple of meditation and healing. She is part of a network of female artisans and artists who see these lands as a meeting place and an inspiration.

The colonial-style town, filled with white houses and cobblestone streets, offers views of  magnificent mountainscapes. Visitors can stroll the 5.6-mile royal road to Guane, rest in the shade of the trees in the central square, or take a “tuc-tuc” (motorized rickshaw) tour with a driver/guide.

Other must-sees include the paper workshop, the handicraft shops, and the school-workshop, which is attempting to revitalize traditional trades.

 

Casa Yahri

Cel. +57 318 659 5074 / www.yahri.com

Barichara is home to another member of Secrets of Colombia, Casa Yahri (yahri.com), which is located a few blocks from the central square. Not so much a hotel as a home, Casa Yahri has just four rooms, making it the ideal place to pay tribute to the spirit of Barichara. From here, the town feels far away, and the addition of a pool makes it easy to settle in and not go anywhere. Before bidding farewell, we savor a delightful breakfast —scenery included— and we depart feeling as though we are leaving our own home.

 

Bogotá

Secrets of Colombia has a presence in the capital, which boasts the country’s greatest variety of gastronomic and cultural options. It has lately made international news as a tourist destination just waiting to be discovered.

Casa Legado

WhatsApp +57 310 754 9150 / Carrera 8 n. 69-60, Quinta Camacho / www.casalegadobogota.com

(casalegadobogota.com) is a boutique hotel that incorporates two former homes in the traditional neighborhood of Quinta Camacho.

Helena, the owner and interior designer, has dedicated each room to a different member of her family. Her exquisite designs are accompanied by works of art that exude a peaceful air amid the chaos of the city. The gardens and the home theater are all you need to see this complex cosmopolitan city from a completely different perspective. If you find the art in the house so captivating you don’t want to leave it behind, Casa Legado is also home to a gallery, where you can purchase all the decorative items on display.

Cartagena

Our last stop is a well-kept secret: the only two hotels in Colombia certified by “The Leading Hotels of the World” are in Cartagena. The association, founded in 1928 by some of Europe’s most influential hotels, now counts 400 members around the world. A hotel must meet certain standards of architecture and comfort in order to be certified.

Casa San Agustín

Tel. (5) 6810067 / Cel. +57 321 518 9358 / www.hotelcasasanagustin.com

(hotelcasasanagustin.com) sits in the center of Cartagena’s historic quarter, inside the walled city. It occupies three traditional 16th century colonial mansions, which sat abandoned for many years before being lovingly restored. Its walls ooze history, and the rooms, staircases, and library reveal the period architecture and the original frescoes.

The centrally located pool, for example, is framed by an original wall that reflects the hotel’s identity. Its 31 rooms and suites strike a balance between period style and modern comfort. There is a good reason the hotel is a haven for global celebrities.

 

Hotel Las Islas

Tel. 57(1) 344 2704  / www.lasislas.com.co

Lastly, we come to the Hotel Las Islas (lasislas.com.co), located on the island of Barú. The hotel is set amid white sands on the shore of the turquoise Caribbean Sea. It offers bungalows at sea level or among the treetops, along with a perfect blend of adventure and comfort. Great care was taken to protect the surrounding mangrove forest during construction.

The hotel has its own private island (Isleta). You can arrange departures from the seaside lobby, where you can also choose from a seemingly endless list of amazing activities to experience during your time in the Colombian Caribbean. We grab beach loungers and prepare to spend our last day drinking in the blue of sea and sky.

MORE SECRETS

This article was made possible through the support of ProColombia

www.procolombia.co

 

OTHER HOTELS IN THE NETWORK

Amazonas

Calanoa Amazonas

www.calanoaamazonas.com

Experience the Amazon in comfort and get a unique and profound sense of all the scents, flavors, and songs of the world’s most biodiverse jungle. Eight cabins.

TED Talk

https://youtu.be/FYse1r6crg8

 

Antioquia

Cannúa

In the heart of the Colombian Andes.

www.cannua.com

 

Cartagena

Quadrifolio opera

En una construcción colonial del siglo XVII en el centro amurallado, restaurada con un estándar de lujo único. Ocho “suites”.

www.hotelquadrifolio.com

Tel. +575 664 6053

 

Sierra Nevada

Casa Oropéndela

Located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, 4,900 feet above sea level. Four rooms.

www.casaoropendola.com

 

Caño Cristales

La Manigua

Connect with nature while discovering one of Colombia’s best kept secrets: La Serranía de La Macarena.

www.lamanigualodge.com

 

Tayrona

Villa Playa Tayrona

Just 1.2 miles from the main entrance to Parque Tayrona. Offering ocean, beaches, rivers, jungle, and gardens. Six suites.

www.villaplayatayrona.com