Secrets of Colombia revealed
The Secrets of Colombia boutique hotel network provides unique experiences for those who want to discover the best kept secrets of the country.
By Demian Colman
Photos: Demian Colman y Getty Images
The world stopped in March 2022r, leaving us enmeshed in a bizarre reality that we could previously only experience through science fiction. While some people just complained about the economic disaster, a group of thirteen boutique hotels in Colombia banded together to support each other. They created a network that encompasses the country’s great diversity and now they are jointly promoting the hotels’ reopenings, in compliance with all the current health and safety protocols.
When Secrets of Colombia invited us to get to know them, we jumped to pack our bags and get our flight tickets to Colombia.
Our first stop is Pereira, the capital of Risaralda, where we head for the Hotel Sazagua. This former family home, which was expanded to accommodate the growing family, ultimately included ten bedrooms. Once the children had flown the nest, the house became a 16-room hotel offering a swimming pool, spa, and restaurant.
The garden around the house is the pride and joy of the owner, Natalia. The scenery and round-the-clock pampering provide everything you need to relax during your stay. For maximum comfort, the best room, the 538 ft2 Masinga Lodge, will make you feel like you have stepped in to your own private paradise. It features a sauna, Jacuzzi, and massage area, and it has its own garden, bordered by a river teeming with koi.
Our time in Pereira comes to an end. As the new day dawns, we leave for Hacienda Bambusa, in the department of Quindío. This traditional colonial Antioch hacienda has eight rooms, each with a private terrace or balcony. Our guide, Camilo Escobar, is waiting to take us to the cacao plantations.
Waking up in our room (452 ft2), opening the balcony doors, and greeting the day amid this scenery inevitably calls to mind Gaviota, the main character in the popular Colombian soap opera Coffee, with the Scent of a Woman. The afternoon ends with a sunset that is positively impressionistic and we are invited to a picnic among the bamboo. We ease into night with a special chef’s candlelight supper; live music by Asdrúbal and Franklin is interspersed with the songs of crickets and cicadas.
The 445-acre estate also offers a spa and activities such as hiking, bird-watching, cooking classes, bike rides, and even hot-air balloon tours.
Located in the department of Santander, Barichara is known as the prettiest town in Colombia. In the language of the Guane, the original inhabitants of these lands, Barichara means “place of rest” and that is precisely what visitors come here to do.
Casa Barichara has six rooms, a well-stocked library of books for reading in a hammock, and a pool with a view of the Oriental mountains that delights the eye. Owner and inveterate dreamer María Elvira, a very spiritual woman with a close connection to Mother Earth, has turned this place into a temple of meditation and healing. She is part of a network of female artisans and artists who see these lands as a meeting place and an inspiration.
The colonial-style town, filled with white houses and cobblestone streets, offers views of magnificent mountainscapes. Visitors can stroll the 5.6-mile royal road to Guane, rest in the shade of the trees in the central square, or take a “tuc-tuc” (motorized rickshaw) tour with a driver/guide.
Other must-sees include the paper workshop, the handicraft shops, and the school-workshop, which is attempting to revitalize traditional trades.
Barichara is home to another member of Secrets of Colombia, Casa Yahri, which is located a few blocks from the central square. Not so much a hotel as a home, Casa Yahri has just four rooms, making it the ideal place to pay tribute to the spirit of Barichara. From here, the town feels far away, and the addition of a pool makes it easy to settle in and not go anywhere. Before bidding farewell, we savor a delightful breakfast —scenery included— and we depart feeling as though we are leaving our own home.
Casa San Agustín sits in the center of Cartagena’s historic quarter, inside the walled city. It occupies three traditional 16th century colonial mansions, which sat abandoned for many years before being lovingly restored. Its walls ooze history, and the rooms, staircases, and library reveal the period architecture and the original frescoes.
The centrally located pool, for example, is framed by an original wall that reflects the hotel’s identity. Its 31 rooms and suites strike a balance between period style and modern comfort. There is a good reason the hotel is a haven for global celebrities.
Lastly, we come to the Hotel Las Islas, located on the Island of Barú. The hotel is set amid white sands on the shore of the turquoise Caribbean Sea. It offers bungalows at sea level or among the treetops, along with a perfect blend of adventure and comfort. Great care was taken to protect the surrounding mangrove forest during construction.
The hotel has its own private island (Isleta). You can arrange departures from the seaside lobby, where you can also choose from a seemingly endless list of amazing activities to experience during your time in the Colombian Caribbean. We grab beach loungers and prepare to spend our last day drinking in the blue of sea and sky.