I am always happy with Captain Choice tours, they satisfy all my needs of a traveller - different places than normal, better quality of service and hotels, all pre travel arrangements taken care of - what more could one want other than to travel all the destinations.
Maria Townsend, Trans-Siberian Express by Private Train
We are headed to Latin America, flying first to Dallas, then on to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. We land late this afternoon and are immediately driven to the JW Marriott Hotel, our centrally located home for the next three nights.
Set high on an Andean plateau, Bogotá is a bustling city of seven million. In La Candelaria, the old town, public buildings in a grand neoclassical style are mixed with cobbled streets of terracotta-roofed colonial terrace houses and art deco ones. We begin the morning with a tour of its most important sites, visiting the Presidential Palace, Catedral Primada on Bolivar Square, the Cardinal’s Palace, and the churches of El Sagrario and San Agustin. Our overview of the city complete, we stop for lunch at Andrés DC, a raucous experience that’s equal parts circus and restaurant.
This afternoon, we visit the Gold Museum. Here you’ll find over 55,000 Pre-Columbian artifacts and sacred objects made of gold and other precious materials. This evening, we toast the start of our journey with a welcome dinner and reception at El Origen de la Comida, where everything served is organic, sustainable, grown locally and utterly delicious.
Today, we drive to Zipaquirá, a town under an hour away from Bogotá. Our destination is the unique Salt Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church built underground, inside a salt mine. Later, we take a walk through town, admiring the whitewashed houses of Spanish Colonial style. Back in Bogotá, the district of Usaquén beckons with its small-town charm. Quiet streets with bougainvillea in the windows, second-hand bookshops, handicraft stores and wafting incense make for a bohemian air.
Should you want to spend the day at your leisure, there are numerous local markets to visit in Bogotá. The Paloquemao Market, with an exhaustive array of produce and an always-busy air, is a true Colombian shopping experience. Or try the Pasaje Rivas Craft Market, which is far from tourist areas and offering everything from authentic Colombian ponchos and bags to straw hats. This evening, choose from a selection of Bogotá’s best restaurants.
Coffee is one of Colombia’s most renowned exports. This morning we fly to Pereira, the heart of coffee-growing country. It’s late morning when we land and a short drive takes us to Buenavista town, home to Hacienda San Alberto, where the country’s most award-winning beans are grown. We tour the plantation, witness how coffee is processed and roasted then taste the brew.
Our residence for the next two nights is the country house-style Sazagua Hotel. Tonight, we indulge in a true Colombian barbecue.
This morning’s tour takes us to Valle de Corcora, home of the rare wax palm, once almost extinct. Here, slopes of the deepest emerald are dotted with the palms’ unusually tall, slender trunks reaching for the sky. We have the option of riding horses through the valley. Afterwards, we can each plant our own palm, contributing to ongoing conservation efforts. At lunch, we indulge our tastebuds with the local delicacy of trout.
The afternoon is spent visiting the historic town of Salento. Homes with façades in primary colours line the streets, and locals walk around in gaucho attire. It is also home to an array of craftsmen, who offer their unique wares in quaint shops all over town. Fall in love with the exquisite pieces and bring some home. We then stop at Los Amigos bar, not just for a drink, but to be inducted into Tejo, the distinctly Colombian bar sport that involves a metal puck and excitingly, gunpowder.
This morning take in the amazing Colombian countryside on a scenic day trip through the mountains to Medellin. Known as the ‘city of eternal Spring’ due to its temperate weather, the landscape around the city is always a lush green.Arriving in Medellin we are taken to the Medellin Royal Hotel. Situated just 15 minutes from the Museum of Modern Art, the hotel is decorated with sculptures and artwork.
We spend a full day touring Medellin, taking in the city’s famous and infamous history. The tour starts with a trip to El Poblado, where we learn about Medellin’s most notorious criminal, Pablo Escobar. We also hear about the cocaine trade’s dramatic impact on Colombian society, some of which borders on the unbelievable. In downtown Medellin, we visit Plaza de Botero, with 23 stunning sculptures donated by the artist. Fernando Botero is renowned for depicting people with exaggerated proportions, and to be able to see so many of his works in one place is a true treat. At the Museum of Antioquia, see the evolution of Colombian art, from pre-Hispanic times to modern day, including a large collection of Botero paintings.
We finish the day’s activities by travelling on the Metro Cable, a gondola lift system that allows us sweeping views of the Santo Domingo Savio neighbourhood below. During the Medellin Cartel’s reign of terror, it was virtually a war zone. Today, the streets are safe, and the community has once again found their innate relish for life. Tonight, we dine at Hatoviejo, discovering traditional Colombian flavours in a space designed to evoke the pre-Columbian era.
We board a late morning flight to Cartagena, one of Latin America’s most historic cities, set on the breezy Caribbean. There we check into the boutique Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa for a three-night stay.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 and served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. Enjoy a free afternoon wandering the winding streets of this amazing World Heritage-listed city. Visit the Palacio de la Inquisicion. If you’d prefer to shop, visit one of the city’s many markets, you’ll find the local handicrafts inexpensive, fashionable and sophisticated. For dinner, choose from the hotel’s delightful offerings. At Harry Sasson Restaurant, the eponymous chef tantalises with lively Caribbean flavours, while La Terraza on the rooftop is the perfect place to while away a warm evening.
This morning begins with a guided city tour, taking in La Popa, a convent set high on a hill overlooking the city. Cartagena was where the Spanish stored treasure plundered from the rest of South America, and therefore, was a target for pirates. We visit San Felipe Fortress, which was built to dissuade these bandits.
We then embark on a walking tour around the streets of the old walled city. One of Cartagena’s most impressive sites, it is surrounded by thick walls that took over two centuries to complete. On the walk, we see many of the city’s historical sites, including the church of San Pedro Claver and the Navy Museum. Interestingly, the museum’s building first served as a school for the Jesuit order, who were later expelled by Spain. A late afternoon cruise around the bay is followed by dinner in a most unique location. Club de Pesca has been Cartagena’s favourite seafood restaurant for nearly 60 years. Delectable cuisine aside, its al fresco tables within Fort Sebastian del Pastelillo take in panoramic views of the water and the city.
Delve deeper into Cartagena’s delights with these Your World experiences today.
Throughout history, the narrow strip of land that is Panama has been coveted as a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This ambition culminated in the Panama Canal, the focus of our visit to Panama City. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before choosing from one of these Your World experiences.
Later in the afternoon, we check into the American Trade Hotel, located in Casco Viejo, the old town. This evening, we can choose to dine at two of the city’s best restaurants. At Madrigal, discover little-known local ingredients and at Donde José, taste your way through Panama’s culinary history.
Today we immerse ourselves in the engineering wonder that is the Panama Canal. Unlike a typical traveller who will observe it only from land, we board a boat to transit the canal and experience the locks first hand. We travel from Gamboa on the banks of Gatun Lake, the highest point of the canal, to the Culebra Cut, a channel dug with superhuman effort through a mountain ridge. The boat passes through San Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks, losing elevation each time, before exiting the Port of Balboa into the Pacific Ocean. At dinner, we again select from a handpicked list of the city’s most indulgent restaurants.
The crumbling grandeur of Cuba calls to us. Today we fly to Havana before driving on to Cienfuegos, affectionately known as the Pearl of the South. The city was founded in 1819 by French and Spanish settlers, and was previously a haven for pirates and privateers. It is now one of the chief seaports of Cuba.
Upon arrival we check into La Union Hotel. There we enjoy dinner or, if tastes lie elsewhere, indulge in seafood at La Vista restaurant.
The morning is spent sightseeing in Cienfuegos. We visit its most exclusive neighbourhood before taking in the colonial core of the city, recently declared a World Heritage-listed site. Alternatively, we have the option of reliving the tension of the Cold War with a tour of the Bay of Pigs. It was here that in 1961, President Kennedy launched a failed invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro. We complete the experience with a visit of the Naval Museum for fascinating detail of the invasion and other curiosities of Cuba’s maritime history.
After Cienfuegos we continue to Trinidad and check into the Iberostar Grand Hotel for a two-night stay. That afternoon, we can choose to explore the breathtaking architecture and exhibits of the Museo Romantico and the Museum of History. Both are set in lavish mansions once belonging to Cuba’s elite. See 18th and 19th century antiques, as well as relics of wealthy slave owners.
The morning begins with a walking tour of Trinidad, taking in the Plaza Mayor, the Holy Trinity Church and finishing with a climb up the tower of La Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, located right in the middle of town. In the afternoon there are two Your World experiences to choose from.
The evening is spent dining at Guittara Mia restaurant followed by dancing at Casa de la Musica.
Our overland journey continues as we travel north to the Sugar Mill Valley and the city of Santa Clara. The tour visits the Che Guevara Monument before we embark on a journey through the city. En route we stop in the strangely named town of Australia. While origins of the name are lost to history, the sleepy town that was formerly dominated by its sugar mill played host to Castro while he planned Cuba’s defence of the Bay of Pigs. After the brief sojourn, we drive on to Havana and check into the Saratoga Hotel, where we stay for the next three nights.
Today, we witness the juxtaposition of peeling paint and indomitable spirit in Havana. Our walking tour begins at the Plaza de Armas and winds its way through Old Havana, where life spills out from living rooms onto the streets. For lunch we visit Ivan Chef Justo, set in an 18th century building with eclectic interiors and a menu featuring only the freshest market offerings of the day. In the afternoon, we visit Plaza de la Revolución, the square from which Fidel Castro regularly addressed Cubans. At the Museum of the Revolution, we learn more about the revolutionary war of the 1950s. From there, we continue to the fortresses of El Morro and La Cabaña, built to guard the entrance to the port. In the evening indulge in a selection of Havana’s most interesting paladars - private restaurants that have emerged since the government’s economic reforms.
There are a number of Your World experience options on offer today.
This evening, prepare for a spectacular farewell dinner at Café del Oriente, a Havana institution which, at the height of communism, was Havana’s only luxury restaurant. Double height ceilings, marble columns and furnishings recall a more genteel, colonial era.
All great trips must come to an end. After a leisurely morning we board a lunch time flight from Havana to Panama City. Once there we take a connecting flight to Los Angeles then on to Australia, losing a day due to crossing the dateline. As we relax into our seats, we replay the enthralling contradictions of Latin America, where the grand and the earthy exist side by side.
Sometimes travelling can be a chore, distracting you from the fascinating places you are in. That’s why everything mundane has been moved behind the scenes. You will never have to carry a map, luggage, small change for tips or bargain for a taxi fare.
There are no hidden costs. Everything is included – flights and other travel arrangements, luxurious accommodation, travel insurance, all dining and drinks, and even sightseeing trips - including those by helicopter or reindeer sled. Even the Your World experiences within your itinerary and internet access when available.
Fares include Qantas flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Dallas Fort Worth, returning from Los Angeles. Per Person, Twin Share. Prices from other cities available on request. Economy and Premium Economy Class guests fly Economy Class from Dallas Fort Worth to Bogota. All other flights are in Economy Class.
Solo pricing includes supplements for single hotel rooms. Solo availability at the above price is limited.
Land Only Guests join the tour in Bogotá for dinner on Day 1 and depart Los Angeles on Day 19.