Our stay at Casa Galavanta in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
Sometimes it is the raw natural beauty that makes somewhere special; at others, it’s the elegant and spectacular remnants of cultures past. It can be hard to narrow down what makes memories resonate but Casa Galavanta, surrounded by lush forest and endless coffee plantations, is just such a place. Loved by all that visit and a real highlight of any trip to Colombia, it is a “home from home, nestled in the clouds”. There is a range of wildlife and breathtaking natural viewpoints here, which will replenish the spirit and nourish the soul. Having heard such wonderful things about this place, we decided to head to this villa in the sky to see it for ourselves and discover what makes it so unique.
It is a four-hour drive from Cartagena, or an hour hop by air, to Santa Marta, followed by an hour-and-a-half drive to the lodge. Arriving in Santa Marta, we were met by our charming and delightful driver, Regi, and Valentin, our host. Given that the people you’re with so often shape the experiences you have, this was a promising start. Time flew by as we zoomed along the coastal highway and then ducked off the road onto the bumpy track that leads from the small town of Minca – at the entrance to the Sierra Nevada mountains – up into the hills.
After some 45 minutes of bouncing from side to side, winding through plantations and then up into the clouds themselves, we finally spotted the house. Casa Galavanta sits at one of the highest points in the region and even as it appeared through the mists of swirling cloud, you could see how extraordinary it is.
As we pulled up, we were greeted by Carmen, the housekeeper, and Sergio, the chef. Carmen, with a big, welcoming grin and friendly yet soft manner, made us feel instantly at home, and Sergio greeted us with some sumptuous snacks and a refreshing drink. The property speaks for itself and words cannot do a better job than pictures. In short, it is elegantly simple yet rambling, and spacious yet cosy.
What is harder to do justice to in pictures is the surrounding area. From the terrace, you can see over the clouds and down to the coast. On our arrival, this view was restricted by cloud cover, but within minutes, the weather shifted (as it does) and revealed before us one of the most jaw-dropping vistas I have ever seen. A few light, wispy clouds remained, some way below us, but through and over these, we saw a rolling floor of textured greens and dabs of bright colours in flowering bushes and trees. Here and there, neighbouring houses and plantations also appeared among the tree line. Beyond, you could see where the green meets the coastal plateau, and then where it hits Santa Marta and the ocean.
Sitting there, watching the weather change below us, sipping my cocktail and nibbling Sergio’s hand-fried plantain chips, I was awestruck. Meanwhile, Valentin lit the firepit and chatted to us about this and that, but my eyes were glued to that epic vista. Bathed in the warm glow of the sunset, the colours flickered and morphed as the light shifted. It was quite an arrival!
In the coming days, we undertook some amazing walks through the cloud forest to hidden waterfalls and enjoyed swims in the pools beneath. We had a brilliant cooking lesson with Sergio, where we learnt to prepare pork tenderloin in a coffee-and-chilli rub, patacones (fried green plantain) with an assortment of toppings and sauces, and then the pièce de résistance – his ajiaco (a Colombian soup) – which blew us away. The man was a marvel in the kitchen. With varied gentle activities, such as cooking, yoga and an incredible photography lesson from Valentin, time passed quickly.
In the end, our conclusion was that everything about Casa Galavanta was pretty marvellous – from the beautiful rooms and the delicious food to the great hosts and bewitching local forest. But if I had to pinpoint what makes this house so special, that view has to be the reason. Drinks and nibbles at sunset is always one of the greatest experiences, but this one reached new levels.
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