For the past several years, I’ve taken a big trip in the fall and another in February. Last year, that was New Zealand and South Africa/Namibia; the year before was South Korea/Taiwan and Brazil. But with my change in jobs, I have less vacation days, less holidays, and less money. So, I decided this year I would combine the two trips with one in January, around Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In thinking about where I was going to head, I knew I wanted somewhere warm (a super smart idea now that I’m in the middle of a polar vortex). I’ve heard lots of great things about Colombia, and was particularly interested by the fact that the country has such a vast variety of landscapes, climates, and sorts of destinations. It also is a major hole in my travel map, as I’ve been to Panama to its north, and Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. There are so many places you can visit in Colombia, but I settled on 3 nights in each of three cities: Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city in the Antioquia province; Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast; and Bogota, the capital.
As a bonus, travel time isn’t that long. The true miles/points elitists may note that there’s no luxe way of flying to Colombia from the Eastern US, since it’s almost all narrow body service, except for one daily Avianca JFK service on an A330. But that’s because it’s just not a long trip.
There are often cheap flights into Cartagena or Bogota, given that how many US carriers fly there, including Spirit and JetBlue. But none of the cheap fares for the few months I was looking worked datewise. You’d think it would be a good use of AA miles, given its own service from DFW and MIA, and LATAM’s service from MIA, but nothing was available for months. So, I went to my stockpile of Avianca miles (the national carrier of Colombia anyway). There was availability in business class on my preferred date from Washington-Dulles to Medellin, through the old TACA hub in San Salvador. Both legs are on A319/20s, so it won’t be super fancy but I’ll work a half day, leave Dulles at 3, and get into Medellin by midnight for 35,000 Avianca miles. On the way back, from Bogota, my options were a connection through Panama City on Copa into Dulles in Business, or Avianca’s nonstop from Bogota to Dulles in coach for 17,500 miles. That was an easy decision for me, given that it’s only a 5-hour flight. If I could do Sydney to L.A. and Abu Dhabi to Dulles in coach, this should be fine. In between, I’ll also be heading to Cartagena for some Caribbean time. Oddly, for the internal flights, business class was cheaper than coach, so I’ll be flying Avianca business class from Medellin to Cartagena, and Cartagena to Bogota.
The path will entail a little bit of zig-zagging, but the internal flights are both very short – 295 and 405 miles.
For my first stop, Medellin, I got a very cheap hotel for my first night – the Ibis Medellin – since I won’t arrive until midnight. It has good enough reviews and was available for $28 including breakfast. I plan on spending the following day exploring Medellin, and checking into the Intercontinental Medellin, where I’ll be using my annual BOGO Ambassador certificate (not the highest value use I’ve had, but oh well). I think I’m going to head to the town of Guatape on day 2, and climbing the Piedra del Penol. (I’m not sure if I’ll just do public transport or a daytour, if anyone has suggestions let me know!)
I was supposed to leave Medellin late in the afternoon on day 3, but a schedule change has me leaving earlier. I’ll have a half day to explore Cartagena after checking into the Intercontinental Cartagena on Bocagrande, the beach area. (I know, lots of folks have suggested I should stay in the walled old city, but I don’t want Airbnb and I like a nice hotel. And the Sofitel in town was super-expensive.) I’ll have a second day in Cartagena and then on day 3 I plan to do a daytrip to a resort in the Rosario Islands, specifically on Isla Baru. That night I’ll switch to the Hyatt Regency Cartagena, also in Bocagrande, using my annual free Hyatt Visa night.
Then in Bogota, I’ll be spending two nights at the Artisan D.C., my first stay at a Marriott Autograph Collection property, in the financial district – one using my annual free Marriott Visa night, and one with cash. I have no idea what I’m doing in Bogota, so, do tell. For my last night, I got a very cheap rate using Club 1 Hotels – the only time I’ve found a very cheap rate using that site — for the nearby Bogota Hilton. My flight out of Bogota leaves early in the morning, so I don’t really care much about getting elite benefits.
So, any tips for Colombia? Please share! I don’t have much in my mind for what I’m doing/seeing/eating in any of the cities.