Children in the Amazon River | Plan South America
Family & Sabbatical, Plan South America | Colombia | 17.05.24

A Family Holiday in Colombia

I have done many solo trips around South America but this year it was time to venture into the unknown on a family holiday to Colombia. With my husband and our 3- and 5-year-old daughters in tow, we were ready to discover what the Gateway to South America has to offer families.

This was our first, big family adventure. I had mapped out the parts of Colombia I knew were kid friendly: in Bogotá, the dazzling Gold Museum and Botero Gallery would keep them entertained for an afternoon. The cacao farm in the Coffee region was bound to be a hit. In Cartagena, they would be very happy with the colourful street art in Getsemani as well as the sandy beaches of Baru islands. Then Harry, PSA founder, threw in another idea: ‘What about the Colombian Amazon?’ Let me think about it, I said.

 

Bogotá

We landed in Bogotá in early May. Anyone with kids will know that cities aren’t the easiest places to explore but the key, we discovered, is to pace yourselves.

We stayed in Chapinero, a laidback residential neighbourhood with some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and cafes.

Our first day was spent exploring La Candelaria, the old town, buzzing with street markets selling colourful textiles. We had our first taste of Colombian food, ajiaco (traditional chicken stew with potatoes), empanadas and fresh tropical juice before popping into the Botero Museum where the girls enjoyed the famously rotund figures on display.

In the evening, just a short walk away, was Mesa Franca, one of Latin America’s top restaurants who were happy to have us and the girls for dinner. We enjoyed early cocktails and ceviche. The girls ate a specially prepared simple pasta then promptly fell asleep in their seats before a hasty retreat to bed.

Next stop: the green hills of the coffee region where we stayed at the gorgeous Hacienda Bambusa, the inspiration for the Madrigal family home in Disney’s film, Encanto.

 

Coffee region

An absolute Eden, the gardens at Hacienda Bambusa were filled with hummingbirds and butterflies, and the biggest bonus of all for little ones: a swimming pool.

There was something for everyone. The girls loved the bean-to-cup hot chocolate-making class. With our excellent guide Ana, we picked, toasted, ground and finally tasted the freshest hot chocolate, complete with some salty cheese (the Colombian way and a breakfast staple).

For the adults, a visit to the neighbouring coffee plantation where we learnt about the aromas and flavour profiles of coffee beans and the different ways of serving it, right on the farm where it’s grown and picked.

Horse riding here was breathtaking, but not for little kids so I set out on a solo ride with my lovely guide Jhon. We walked and cantered across prairies and up the rolling hills. We crossed two rivers, rode through bamboo forests, local farms and buffalo herds.

Cartagena de las Indias

The sultry port city on the Caribbean left us wanting more. Our girls enjoyed the horse drawn carriages traversing the walled city, they spotted a snoozing sloth and family of monkeys in the middle of the city park, ate ice cream as we strolled over into the colourful neighbourhood of Getsemani to check out the street art. Another day we took a boat to spend the day at the beach club on one of the most secluded beaches in Barú islands.

Harry’s Amazon suggestion had planted a seed. I spoke to Pierre-André Kruger, Founder of Nomad Lodges, who assured me that all activities and meals would be tailored to our family and that the children would adore every minute. Still, I had some reservations. How would our daughters cope with the intense humidity; the creepy crawlies and the mosquitos? Were we being irresponsible taking them somewhere so remote?

Colombian Amazon

We took a 2-hour flight from Bogotá to Leticia and as soon as we stepped off the plane, the heat and humidity hit us. Another 2-hours by boat down the mighty Amazon river and we arrived at a small village where the local kids came running up to greet us as they had heard some smaller guests were coming to stay. We had arrived at our home for the next 3 nights.

Nomad Lodges is situated just on the edge of the village so you can dip in and out of village life. The lodge itself is compact, with just one main Suite – aptly named the Cocoon – which was incredibly roomy and comfortable, and a smaller additional bedroom for larger groups. Kitted out with fans, electricity, plenty of purified rain water to drink and incredibly, wifi (provided by Starlink), these little luxuries were very welcome being so far from home.

Days here passed too quickly. We spotted pink and grey river dolphins on our boat trips, water snakes, monkeys, hordes of butterflies and some prehistoric-looking fish. We swam in a lake the same temperature as bathwater, villagers-cum-guides took us down jungle trails, we climbed trees in the sunken forest. In the evening we watched kids practise the traditional Ticuna dance in their front room.

We slept so soundly here, cocooned in the middle of the jungle, that one night despite there being an enormous thunder storm, none of us woke up!

My youngest played her first football match in a tropical downpour. My eldest swam in the river with her new friends. I marvelled at how much freedom they had within this small, tightly knit jungle community.

 

At the end of our travels I asked my eldest what her favourite part of the holiday was. “Swimming in the river with my friends” was music to my ears. I was a little apprehensive about this holiday but learnt how resilient our children can be. I’ll be far bolder about our travel plans with the girls now we now know they enjoy an adventure as much as their parents.

Tips for travelling with kids in South America:

  • Take snacks EVERYWHERE
  • Carry colouring pens and paper for mealtimes and airport waits
  • Include swimming pools as often as possible
  • Pack sick bags for bumpy roads and a change of clothes
  • Take a pram. They were fighting over who got to go in it
  • Be the tortoise, not the hare. Don’t try to fit it all in and make sure to factor in downtime
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