Have you ever been told that some places in the world are magical? Some may say, "What is so magical about Colombia?" South America was never on my radar when planning a golf destination experience, let alone the Country of Columbia. My vision of a Country that was in unrest just a decade or two ago, made me a bit uneasy. But how could I let this once in a lifetime opportunity pass me by? With a bit of research, my nerves were calmed and I committed to embark on a journey alone. Colombia is one of the largest South American countries, where many adventure-filled activities are offered among spectacular landscapes. Colombia has many multi-climate regions with bio-diverse terrains (including RAMSAR declared wetlands), UNESCO parks and reserves, a large variety of wildlife; and, the waters of the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean create some of nature’s most incredible showings, including the seven wonders of the world. The regions of the Central Andes, Caribbean Coast, Pacific Coast, Southwest, Eastern Plains, Amazonia, and Antioquia / Coffee Region are eco-diverse and a unified multicultural, predominantly Spanish-speaking nation. From the best coffee, flowers, and exotic fruit plantations in the world to top source for Emeralds, Colombia’s prosperity also includes tourism, manufacturing, textiles, and agri-business. I experienced the region cities, Bogota and Cartagena, of the Central Andes and the Caribbean Coast, which are two very diverse regions in comparison. The Central Andes cities are at high elevation and the Caribbean Coast cities sit next to the ocean which are two opposite climates, offer golf and activities in different terrain, and the people and cultural experiences are quite unique as well.
The Central Andes, where Bogata, the District Capital city of Colombia sits at 8,675 feet above sea level, is one of the busiest cities in South America with a population of over 8 million. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the city deter you from spending time in this historic city. It is advisable to acclimate before indulging in strenuous activities, therefore take a day tour in Bogota to explore historic and cultural hot spots. The untold stories that lie within the sixteenth century old city square are displayed in the architecture of the houses, buildings of the La Candelaria neighborhood, the grid formation of stone streets, and museums containing art depicting the struggles of yesteryear – especially the Fernando Botero collection in the National Museum of 1823 (oldest museum in South America). Famous artist, Fernando Botero is known for highlighting robust proportions of his characters, and many of his paintings tell the story of colonization by the Spaniards from 1538 – 1539, the arrival of the English shortly after, which resulted in a battle for Colombian independence. In the Botero Museum, which is in the building next door, there are collections of paintings from Botero along with other famous artists, including Pablo Picasso. Other showings of Colonial style period pieces to contemporary works of art are also prevalent in the La Casa de Moneda (Currency Museum). This museum is considered a National Monument that houses a complete collection of banknotes and coins, antique currency manufacturing equipment, and art dating back to the colonial to contemporary periods. Trek from the historic city square to one of the oldest sanctuaries atop Monserrate Mountain. Chose to capture the beautiful scenery of Bogata by taking the funicular (established in 1928) or cable car (installed in 1955), instead of climbing by foot. The Santuario de Monserrate was built in 1640 and attracted a plethora of pilgrams in search of miracles and healing. Today, thousands still flock from all over the world to visit and attend Sunday mass. The sanctuary was renovated in 1951, and the surrounding grounds is home to the beautifully wooden sculpted piece called the Senor Caido (Fallen Lord) and many sculptur
es imported from Italy. Enjoy lunch at the San Isidro Restaurant in the Santa Clara House, which was built in the 1900’s. They serve traditional Colombian-style foods including "Aroseles" and fried plantains. Complete your day of culture by touring the Gold Museum containing over 35,000 piece of jewelry and learning about the indigenous tribes that are reflected in them, which are comprised of gold and “tumbaga,” which is the Spanish word for low quality alloy of gold and copper. Taste the top exported coffee of Colombia by arranging a coffee tasting in advance at the museum with the San Alberto Coffee experts. While their estate is in the Armenia region, the education and tasting is worth the advance reservation to have at the museum. San Alberto is award-winning due to their five-step selection process that involves picking the “cherries” beans at their ripest; selecting only the top quality; top selection after drying; top selection after the threshing process; and finally, top selection after batch roast. San Alberto Coffee is available for purchase at their kiosk in the Gold Museum (which I recommend, as other locations, especially the airport have higher prices).
While savoring a hot cup of aromatic bold roast Colombian coffee, I learned that golf in Colombia is a sport considered for the top tiers of their socio-economic population, and the many golf clubs are private member-only clubs. Therefore, it is advisable to seek a reputable golf tour agent to arrange transportation to/from, tee times and caddies, if needed. One such club, Country Club of San Andres is just a 20-minute drive to Funza from central Bogota. This exclusive gated-property includes tennis, equestrian, bullring, swimming pool, two squash courts, and one of the oldest 18-hole golf course in the area. The 72-Par, 7,145-yard course was built on rich agricultural land in 1945 by Architects Stanley Thompson and Robert Trent Jones. The team imported seed from Canada, which took to the lush soil, and they created a parkland type course with wide tree-lined fairways. The golf club opened in 1947, and over the years, the original course design has been maintained despite unpredictable weather, although now with mature trees and additions to the original clubhouse. PGA groomed grounds and greenkeeper, Camilo said, “The land the course is built on was one of the largest producers of potatoes in the area, and that the San Andres (St. Andrews in English) 67-year-old Colonial-style club house that was established by the English and is the original building, despite upkeep and maintenance.” One of Camilo’s favorite holes is hole 6, a par 3, and as he states, “is a beautiful hole with water to the front, and sneaky bunkers on the back side.” A play to the front of the water with a concentrated chip to the green is recommended. Some of the most scenic holes and water challenges are well established on the back nine, especially hole 11, a par four, where the fairway runs along an irrigation canal. Water runs left from tee to green, therefore play to the right will be the safest option sans strategically placed bunkers. Of the back nine though, Hole 13, which is a Par 3, tees off with landing over the water. Play on this older course is a perfect warm up for the golf days that lie ahead. Future club plans involve a new housing / hotel development toward the back nine for those members and guests that would like to make a weekend of it.A free afternoon is perfect for a countryside drive to the town of Zipaquirá, where an ancient salt mine is located within the hills. Centuries old mystical salt carvings, including a majestic 16-foot-high cross located behind the main altar of the Salt Cathedral, are located 80 meters below the surface. Over 1600 meters of tunnels lead to caverns containing crosses carved of salt and sculptures of Italian marble. Tours are available in different languages, a gift shop and café are also available at 80 meters below.