hidden colombia by rail
September 2-14, 2019
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. We visit and travel on significant parts of the system, where possible using all of the operating steam fleet. One of the highlights 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 also visits the exquisite heritage towns of Villa de Leyva and Barichara 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 a hotel with a hot springs pool and will be our base for one night.
Day 1 Monday September 2: (D)
Arrive in Bogota by mid afternoon and transfer to our Girardot hotel for dinner.
Day 2 Tuesday September 3: (B,L,D)
We commence our tour in Girardot where, across the river was the Flandes workshops of the Colombian Railways. Now all that remains is the magnificent 1930-built steel railway bridge high above the Magdalena River and a solitary locomotive. After our visit we transfer to El Ocaso to ride with rail maintenance vehicles to Zipacon, where we transfer to Facatativa to board a conventional loco hauled train into Bogota.
Day 3 Wednesday September 4: (B,D)
We commence our visit to Bogota with a ride to Monserrate on the funicular railway from where fine views and an 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, then afterwards, we take a leisurely guided tour of La Candelaria, the old quarter of Bogota, followed by some free time where one of Bogota’s many renowned museums such as the Museo de Oro, Bogota’s most famous museum and one of the most fascinating in all of South America, containing 55,000 pieces of gold can be visited.
Day 4 Thursday September 5: (B,L,D)
We make a leisurely start, visiting locomotives at the Chidren’s Museum and the Ferroviarios Club. Our lunch will be at the Sabana terminal railway station followed by a visit to the station and workshops where there are 5 operational locos, and where we have asked for 2 or 3 of these to be in steam for photos. The station also holds a 1905 British built steam crane. After photos, we relocate to the north of the city, some 10 miles distant by steam-hauled train from departing from Sabana Station.
Day 5 Friday September 6: (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.
Day 6 Saturday September 7: (B,L,D)
We return to La Caro junction by bus where a 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 much more interesting as we proceed past Suesca where we plan to make good use of the photo opportunities hereabouts. At Villapinzon, we will say goodbye to our steam locomotive and continue our journey by 1960s railcar towards Tunja for more scenic running and halts at a viaduct and tunnel. We plan to alight at a remote road crossing and transfer to Villa de Leyva, one of the colonial gems of the continent, with its enormous central square.
Day 7 Sunday September 8: (B,L,D)
There is an early opportunity to visit an old station, complete with preserved locomotive at Chiquinquira and then return to Villa de Leyva. After departure, we visit a site known as the Stonehenge of Colombia having many large rocks carved to resemble phallic symbols before continuing our rail journey to Paipa and our hotel, once used by Simon Bolivar and complete with a natural hot spring – take your bathing outfits to relax at in the spa waters!
Day 8 Monday September 9: (B,L,D)
An early start is required as we plan to photograph the outward mixed coal/ore empties from the Belencito steel complex en route to Paz del Rio and then ride in the passenger car of the early afternoon return as it makes its way through a spectacular gorge on this workaday electrified railway. Following our arrival we plan a visit to the complex to focus on the rail activity and also visit the museum where a steam locomotive is preserved before returning to our hotel.
Day 9 Tuesday September 10: (B,D)
We have a fairly lengthy transfer to the exquisitely preserved small colonial town of Barichara, which will be our base this evening. It is said to be the kind of town that Hollywood filmmakers dream about, a Spanish colonial town saturated with atmosphere and we will have free time there in the afternoon. After our dinner we can play the traditional game of Tejo, where a metal puck is thrown at packets of gunpowder to see if we can make it explode!
Day 10 Wednesday September 11: (B,D)
We make our way north to the Parque National del Chicamocha and take the aerial tramway into the spectacular canyon and out again on the other side to connect with our bus, which will take us to the colonial town of Giron for a lunch break. In the afternoon, we transfer to Barrancabermeja on the Magdalena River for our overnight stay.
Day 11 Thursday September 12: (B,L,D)
Today we take a most interesting and scenic journey by chartered railcar southwards for over 60 miles from Barrancabermeja to Puerto Berrio. This section of the railway sees no freight traffic, just a scheduled passenger service operated by the local bus provider. Our rail journey is completed by the crossing of the Magdalena River over a large road/rail bridge. After a viewing of the preserved locomotive and other rail facilities we transfer by road to Cisneros following the route of disused rail. Our accommodation tonight is a very simple but clean facility.
Day 12 Friday September 13: (B,L,D)
From Cisneros we continue by rail using some locally manufactured rail machines on a particularly scenic section of track past Santiago to Porcesito, where again we take to the road to complete our journey to Medellin. In the afternoon we can take a Pablo Escobar Godfather tour or ride the overhead Metro system and perhaps some of the connecting gondolas.
Day 13 Saturday September 14: (B)
This is our day of departure from Colombia. You may either take free time in the morning or visit the 4 preserved locomotives in the City. Option to a Panama add-on. Ask for details.
ALL PRICES ARE PER PERSON
DOUBLE ROOM OCCUPANCY$5,775
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$995
DEPOSIT TO HOLD SPACE CONFIRMED$2,000
FINAL PAYMENT DUE BY JUNE 2, 2019
TOUR CONDITIONS FOR 2018 **PLEASE READ CAREFULLY**
Tour Price: All tour prices are subject to change without notice, at any time. All prices based on double room occupancy. Those people that use a credit card for payments a 3% conveyance fee will be added to the tour price. We reserve the right to change tour prices if necessary without prior notice.