Back in 1760 a Spanish scientist named José Celestino Mutis came over to travel Colombia to explore and document the native flora and fauna of this mysterious and majestic part of the Americas. In 1763 Mutis asked his motherland to sponsor his expedition and 20 LONG years later, the king gave him the OK. Olé!
Mutis travelled throughout Bogotá, La Mesa, Valle de San Juan, Ibagué, Falon, Mariquita, Honda, Ambalema and Guaduas and on my trip through Tolima with LivingCol I had the opportunity to travel through some of these regions, experience the flora and fauna for myself as well as the charming qualities of small towns and dense forests that inspired Mutis.
A half an hour flight from Bogotá and it seemed we had arrived in Switzerland. Rolling planes, mountainous valleys, cottages nestles into verdant greens. No we weren’t in Switzerland, but in the department of Tolima in Juntas just north of Ibagué. We walked along creek beds, spotted lush pockets of dense forests which scaled up steep mountains and ate trout and patacones with an unbeatable view at Hotel Iguaima Campestre.
A steamy town, Honda invited us warmly with candle-lit lanes, music-filled streets played by the local school kids and lots of dancing to folkloric tunes. Generations came together to introduce us to their town and we meandered gratefully to the sounds of Colombia’s beat. Honda was another one of the stops on Rutis’ map and we passed through to visit what the locals call Little Cartagena, the historical centre of the town. Think colonial and colourful, minus all the tourists. Nicknamed the City of Bridges, because there are 39 bridges which traverse the Magdalena River, Honda also features museums dedicated to the Mutis Route and elegant boutique hotels to rival even the best that Cartagena has to offer.
Another area explored by Mutis and where he discovered many different species of plant life. We visited the House of the Second Botanical Expedition which houses artefacts, taxidermied animals and a garden full of conserved Canelo trees.
One of the culture epicentres of the Mutis Route is Ambalema. A small town situated on the banks of the Magdalena river. We sailed along the most important river in the country and spotted birds and watched the trees sway in the distance.
Making the effort to get off the regular tourist path gave us an insight into the real beauty of Colombia – the regional music, the beautiful fauna and flora, colourful characters and the secret charms of small towns. A series of must-visit destinations when you travel Colombia.