The Botanical Gardens in Quindio, Colombia is small and special. The entire space covers 15 hectares (36 acres) of which only 3 hectares (7.2 Acres) are open for public visits. This is a lovely theme in Colombian parks. Their main goal is to conserve, such that a large portion of parkland is set aside and not available for public access.
Walking the winding paths through the forests one can identify (with the help of the cheery, knowlegable guides) many species ofpalm trees. Colombia has the second largerst diversity of palms in the world with 235 known varieties. At the garden in Quindio, you can enjoy 150 of these species spread though the forest.
Another Botanical attraction is the wide assortment of ferns, giving the park its Jurassic feel. Ferns are the most ancient of plants on earth; so old that they predate seeds, and reproduce with spores. They are everywhere at the botanical garden from smaller ground dwellers to the arboreal, tree-like, ferns. The Heliconias or birds of paradise, is another species demonstrating its wide variation, with 71 species are on display.
The main selling point of the garden is the Mariposario – or butterfly house. This net structure is built in the shape of a butterfly and is home to an array of surprisingly friendly butterflies. If you go slow and gentle, you can easily have one of the large Owl butterflies as your ride-along companion.
What makes this particular garden wonderful is its mix of accessibility and wildness. The paths are clear, but minimal, outlined with Guadua taken from the fallen stalks that decorate the forest. The local Guadua – a species of bamboo native to the region and the strongest in the world – has its complete life cycle on full display. With visible specimens ranging from young sprouts to full adulthood. Interestingly, The Guadua achieves its full high within the first 6 months of its life and can vary between 5 – 30 meters in height and a diameter between 2 -22 cm. As the the guadua reaches towards its full height, it sheds its a paper-like skin along the way. As they age, the stalks slant over and decompose creating a geometric pattern throughout the forest. The guadua also performs an amazing water purifying process. Each morning it absorbs water from its surroundings and then releases it purified and perfect that at dusk!
Other interesting spots adorn the park, such as the small, camouflaged bird-watching cabin; with simple seating and one-way glass, overlooking a beautiful garden where fresh fruits attract the colorful local birds. There is also a fun suspension bridge over a deep gully, a mini-maze and one of the region’s popular lookout towers.
Entering the Suite #1 at the Hotel Agua Baru is crossing into a separate reality. Your world shrinks and its horizons expand. Cross the threshold and let your clothes fall to the floor, you will not need them again till you leave. The entire Hotel was created by interior designer Gustavo Pinto four years ago.
Reaching the island brings you out the bay of Cartagena, past the old Spanish guard towers with their ancient chain winches, and past miles of mangroves. You can take a public boat to the town of Baru and then local transport, or you can spring for James Bond Speed Boat. There is nothing quite like relaxing on the padded bow and speeding across the blue waters with the sun shining high, the wind in your hair, and the world slipping past. At 250,000 per person, it is not in-expensive; but then if you are heading here saving money is not your priority.
Yes you can leave the room … but why? The bedroom and veranda give stunning views to the Caribbean down the long slope leading up to the top of the island where the cabaña is located. It is a good 10 min walk up a wooden staircase that winds through a garden. The private infinity pool is constantly refreshing and totally secluded from view. As the sun bakes your naked body, you find yourself plunging in many times a day.
If you wish to put on clothes and dunk in salt-water, Agua Baru offers free boat trips to a private, but not exclusive, beach across the bay. There you can play in the crystalline waters, but you will have bathers from other hotels and the ever-present beach vendors to share it with. You can also hire the hotel boat for a tour of the islands or a visit to the town of Baru.
If there is a weak point in the whole experience, it is the restaurant. It is pretty much your only option, you have to set your menu prior to arrival (as your ingredients travel via the same boat) and the quality is not the finest. The breakfast is a nice continental spread, and then the suggestion is to stick to local fare: Seafood, Ceviches, etc. Have all your meals brought up to the room, while the dining room is stunningly designed in bamboo and decorated by the owner of the Hotel, interior designer XXXX Pinto; you can marvel at it on your way in and out of the hotel. Dining on the veranda overlooking the sea in your robe is a much nicer experience!
We highly recommend the suite #1 due to its superior privacy and high altitude views (a seating area is built on the top of the room to give you a 360º view at the highest point on the surround isles). This just may be the best hotel room in the entire country of Colombia!
Case Blanca is an adorable guest house created by interior decorator Carlos Cubillos. Who’s loving touch can be seen in all aspects of the design. His ambiance gives you the feeling that you live there; One doesn’t feel like a guest, so much as a part of a larger family. The family of whomever is there at the time- be they staff, patrons or Carlos himself.
The building resides in the ‘San Diego’ district of the old city. Just outside the tourist path, but close enough to be a short walk from everything. It consists of 4 guest rooms, a small pool and roof deck. Adorned with paintings and works by the superbly talented and poignant artist Pedro Ruiz, Casa Blanca becomes a refuge from the heat and bustle that is Cartagena. There are many days that we forwent the outside world and whiled away the day in a hammock- just being.
The key to this family is the staff. They take care of you and give the feeling of welcome with their ever-present positiveness. The day starts with the included breakfast, some warm sun, lounging by the pool — just writing about it now, I pine for that feeling of purity.
The Hotel Sochagota in Paipa, Boyoca (just 2.5 hours outside of Bogota), is a piece of 70’s architecture that feels lifted from one of the Sean Connery era Bond films. It’s long, low ceilinged structure cries out for a renovation (and super villains), but you don’t come to Paipa for the architecture – You come for the stunning landscape and the healing mineral thermal waters.
The Hotel Sochagota is situated on the edge of the Sochagota lake. A large, conspicuously round body of water surrounded by rolling green hills dotted with trees. The department of Boyaca can be quite deceiving at times- often times tricking your mind that you are in the Swiss Alps, when in fact you are still in Colombia!
The Hotel offers a Standard Room which hasa balcony with lake and garden views. Or, as we recommend, you can opt for a private cabin which has 2 sleeping rooms, terrace, fire place (as for wood at the front desk) and, most importantly, a private thermal bath! This is quite convenient as the main pool closes early, and … it’s private 🙂
The key to Paipa is the water. It is heated by deep underground volcanic vents which infuse it with minerals. This makes for a highly rejuvenating bath that soothes away pain and ache. Being devotees of bath culture from Budapest to Japan, we say that Paipa offers some of the best water to be found. We highly recommend the private cabin and a day and night of solid soaking!
Hotel Sochagota natural hot thermal water pool
Hotel Sochagota can organize a horse back riding tour of the surrounding area; or you can relax at the spa treatments or take a lovely walk in the forest. We didn’t look into it, but we saw people sailing, water and jet-skiing, etc on the lake and I’m sure you could do any of those.
The menu, like the architecture, is also stuck in the 70s; only eat at the hotel in a pinch. There are a bunch of local restaurants on the road to town. We frequented the little roadside gem, Frutilandia! They saved us from our hunger with addicting Almohabanas (a pastry typical from the region); Changua (milk soup with poached eggs cilantro cheese and scallions- see photo below) and Cuajada, a soft white cheese similar in flavour to cottage cheese and usually served with caramel on top (you can order it plain and it is very good with olive oil and salt).