This week’s dream
The wonders of southwestern Colombia
The treasures of rural Colombia are forbidden no more, said Elizabeth Zach in The New York Times. “Eager for tourists” after five decades of war, the South American nation is gradually opening up, revealing to visitors a remarkably varied landscape and some of South America’s “most compelling” archaeological finds. Recently, I hired a guide to tour a southwestern pocket of the country where you can pass from desert to jungle to alpine conditions all in one day. I was determined to see the ancient stone sculptures outside San Agustín, my guide’s native town. But Juliana showed me much else that I was glad not to miss.
Popayán, the city we set off from, was not touched by the war, such is the reverence in which it’s held. It’s nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca because every street is lined with whitewashed colonial facades, and I spent my one night there in a grand former Franciscan monastery. Other area towns were spared because they’re populated by the indigenous Guambiano, who remained neutral in the war. In Silvia, which lies in a small mountain valley, we pulled into the main square and “colors flooded my eyes: finely woven purple skirts and jackets, open-air buses painted every color of the psychedelic spectrum.” Wandering the market, I admired handmade jewelry and purses and passed sacks overflowing with quinoa, coffee, marijuana, and coca leaves.
Our drive into Puracé National Park took us through groves of the world’s tallest palm trees and then high into the Andes, past an active volcano. Stopping at a small restaurant to warm up, we ordered bowls of hot sugar cane juice, then pushed on. After a night at art-filled Akawanka Lodge, we wandered San Agustín’s archaeological park, a UNESCO site, where 5,000 years ago two vanished tribes created a series of stone figures, “some with fierce expressions, others conveying delight.” We rode horses to reach three colossi near the Magdalena River. But in truth, “the view there was just as mesmerizing as the figures, which look out onto a misty, magnificent gorge.”
The writer’s guide, Juliana Chávez (email@example.com), offers tours for about $450 a day, including hotels and transportation.