TRIP REPORT: Colombian adventure from Slovenia
TRIP REPORT

Written by Matjaž Nose

Many years have passed since I last travelled to South America, back then with my backpack heading down to Chile, Peru and Bolivia for one of my best trips so far. Back then, a Lufthansa B747-400 aircraft flew me to Santiago via Buenos Aires. A very common aircraft type twenty years ago is now becoming an increasingly rare bird in the skies worldwide.
This year I headed to Colombia. Lufthansa was the best option this time again, and the aircraft type they use on the Frankfurt – Bogotá route was an oldtimer and one of the most beautiful airplanes for me, the mighty A340-600. At the time I booked my flights to Colombia, all offers out of Ljubljana or Zagreb were priced at around €1200 for a return flight, including Lufthansa, but I managed to find a good deal for the flight departing from Venice, which was also acceptable for me. I try to fly out of Ljubljana or Zagreb if possible but this time I opted for Venice as the flight was about €400 cheaper compared to Ljubljana/Zagreb departures. For €814 (economy class with 23kg check-in baggage) I managed to book the Lufthansa flights with good connecting times and the interesting aircraft type on the Frankfurt – Bogotá leg. Initially, the planned aircraft type was an A340-300 but due to high demand it was later upgraded to A340-600. There are few carriers worldwide that still operate the Airbus A340 jets, so I was really happy to be on board the type again, maybe the last time before they are phased out. Due to Covid related consequences for the airline industry, Lufthansa grounded their entire A340-600 fleet. With increased demand for travel after Covid measures eased, they decided to bring back their complete A340-600 fleet for a total of 10 aircraft. Some of them are now stationed at Frankfurt airport, while the remaining ones are based at Munich airport. The routes with highest first class demand were selected to be operated by this aircraft type which comprises of eight first class seats, and in case of Frankfurt, the winners are: New York (JFK), Hong Kong (HKG) and luckily my Bogotá (BOG). In case of Bogotá I suppose it was very important that Avianca, the national carrier of Colombia, is also part of Star Alliance, same as Lufthansa, and many passengers flying to the Colombian capital transfer to their regional flights. My flight from Frankfurt to Bogotá was delayed so many passengers missed their connecting flights. If you want to find out what happened, keep reading.
But let us go back to the beginning. It was an early summer Saturday of July 22 when I boarded a GoOpti van at Ljubljana bus station heading to Venice Marco Polo airport, about a two-hour drive from the capital of Slovenia.
Marco Polo airport is perfect, not too big, not too small. I usually try to check-in online as soon as it is possible so I can choose my seat, which is an aisle seat for longer flights. In case of Lufthansa, the online check-in was opened 23 hours before departure. When I started my online check-in, I was offered certain seats, which you can confirm or either select other available seats free of charge. I ended up with an emergency exit seat on the Venice – Frankfurt flight and an aisle seat on the second and final flight from Frankfurt to the capital of Colombia.
The airport was not crowded so I did not spend too much time dropping my bag at the check-in counters and passing the security check. Similar to other airports, Marco Polo airport also offers plenty of shopping opportunities, good food options and, of course, good coffee as well. If you want to sit outside once you have already cleared the security check, you can go upstairs near the boarding gates where you will find a nice bar to sit down and enjoy a coffee or a glass of beer on a terrace overlooking the tarmac.
An Airbus A321neo (registered D-AIEA) was scheduled to operate the Venice – Frankfurt flight. It was an uneventful flight departing more or less as scheduled at 10:45 and landing at Frankfurt airport about an hour and twenty minutes later. I had plenty of legroom due to the emergency exit seat. During the flight, we were offered a bottle of water and a small chocolate wrapped into a yellow decorative paper sleeve with the Lufthansa logo.

Venice Marco Polo Airport

Lufthansa A321 departure

Transfer at Frankfurt Airport

Our A340-600 bound for Bogota

After landing at Frankfurt airport, we disembarked through a jet bridge (on the way back home we used busses to board our A320neo for the Frankfurt – Venice flight). I had roughly two and a half hours to clear immigration and make my way to the departure gate for the flight to Bogotá. Enough time for a non-stressful transfer although Frankfurt airport is big and was also more crowded than Venice airport. The aircraft operating the Frankfurt – Bogotá flight was a 14-year old A340-600 named Leipzig (D-AIHZ registration). This four-engined jet had previously completed its Hong Kong rotation and was now ready to rise back to the skies again and fly to Colombia. I had a unique seat this time as you can also see on the photo. My seat was 32D which means there were some advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantage is the in-flight entertainment monitor which is not in front of you, but you have to look to your right as the front seat in front of you is shifted to the right (one row before mine, the central section, consisted of 3 seats only while my row had a standard 2-4-2 configuration meaning there were 4 seats in the central section of the row. The advantage on the other hand is better legroom. Besides IFE system, each seat was also equipped with a USB port, reading lamp, coat hook and electrical outlet (one for two seats). The entertainment system offered a decent selection of movies, music, TV shows as well as video games. It was also very responsive, so I have nothing to complain about. This aircraft offers 8 first class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, 56 business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, as well as 28 premium economy (2-3-2) and 189 standard economy seats.

There were no amenity kits given to economy class passengers, but at least there was a pillow and a blanket placed on each seat. On the way back from Bogotá to Frankfurt, which was a night flight, there were no amenity kits either, so bring your own toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth before trying to catch some sleep.
My seat

Seat 32D is unique

After checking previous departures of the Frankfurt – Bogotá flights, I noticed that almost all departures were delayed by an hour or more. Our flight was also delayed despite the fact that the inbound aircraft arrived from Hong Kong on time. We departed at 16:47 instead of 14:35 as scheduled. About half an hour later we were offered drinks and a small bag of pretzels. An hour after take off we were offered (late) lunch, followed by coffee and tea. For lunch, chicken and pasta were offered, I opted for the latter. On the tray I also found a small mixed salad, butter, some cheese, a bun and a piece of cake. It was an average meal with rather poor presentation but at least the food had good taste and pasta was not dry as was the case with many other carriers on my past flights. I opted for a beer to accompany this meal.
First meal

This flight was a daytime flight, so many passengers used the entertainment system to kill time during the whole flight which lasted about eleven and a half hours. Or they used Wi-Fi service offered in the price range of €9 (messaging) to €29 (premium full flight).
The flight, at least in economy class, was almost completely full as it was also on the way back when I returned to Europe. The seat was comfortable enough to survive this long flight and the crew was nice and professional too. Lufthansa’s A340-600 jets have very special toilets as they are actually located on the cargo deck so you have to go downstairs to reach them, but anyway still better going downstairs then outside..

Toilets are downstairs

Approximately an hour before landing we were served a rye-bread mozzarella sandwich, a yogurt and a Milka chocolate bar along with cold and hot drinks. After we consumed our minimalistic meals and trays were collected by the cabin crew, we started our descent towards El Dorado airport in Bogotá. Many passengers were not very happy as they had received information that due to the delayed arrival they would miss their connecting flights. So no Guatemala City, Santiago, Quito etc. for some of them this night but rather Bogotá. What I do have to say is that they were given the best possible support. As soon as we disembarked the aircraft, at the door they were given new printed boarding passes and also hotel rooms for a night (for those who were not able to fly out the same day) were arranged for them.
So, we have arrived. Bienvenido a Colombia / Welcome to Colombia signs had welcomed us inside the terminal before we passed through immigration control and collected our bags.
Pre-arrival snack

Finally in Bogota!

For those who are only interested in the Lufthansa flight review this is the end of this trip report, for others, I will add some additional lines on the internal flights I took and Colombia itself.
The two main carriers in Colombia are Avianca, which is also the second oldest airline worldwide (only two months younger than KLM) still in operation, and LATAM Colombia. LATAM Group has its headquarters in Santiago de Chile actually and also all the airplanes I took had Chilean civil aircraft registration country code prefix (CC). Both airlines use almost exclusively A319/A320 jets for Colombian domestic flights and ticket prices are also similar. After exploring the capital for two days (Gold Museum is fascinating and the views from Monserrate hill down to Bogotá are fantastic) I headed down to the Amazon region, to Leticia. LATAM’s A320 jet (CC-BFE) brought me there in about one and a half hours. Depending on your needs, you can select different fare options from Basic to Top (Premium Economy). As Premium Economy was only few euros more expensive than standard economy with checked luggage, I decided to buy a premium economy seat where the middle seat is blocked, selected seat 1A and paid around €85 for the flight (ticket bought in December 2022).
During the flight we were served potato chips, cereal bar and drinks. I was exploring Leticia and the three-border area for four days before flying to the north, to Santa Marta. Brazil and Peru are nearby and you can simply walk to the Brazilian border town of Tabatinga without any immigration control checks, which I also did and enjoyed my first Brazilian dinner and their cold Antarctica beer the first day I arrived to Leticia.
Back to El Dorado for my flight to Leticia

First row

There are no direct flights between Leticia and Santa Marta, so I had to transfer at El Dorado airport. For these two flights I also chose LATAM and paid €164 for premium economy class ticket this time. Both of the afternoon flights (LET-BOG and BOG-SMR) together with waiting time at BOG took around five hours. The first flight from Leticia to Bogotá was delayed due to late arrival but I managed to catch my connecting flight without a problem. Both flights were uneventful, service was similar to the one I had from Bogotá to Leticia.

Check-in for my LET – BOG flight

Flight LET – BOG was full

We overflew BOG airport first before we landed

Boarding the BOG – SMR flight

Bogota at night

Arrival at SMR airport

I disembarked a hot and humid Santa Marta’s Aeropuerto Internacional Simón Bolívar. The aircraft utilised for the two flights was an Airbus A320 jet. My main purpose for visiting Santa Marta was a 4-day trek to The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida). This is an archaeological site of an ancient city in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta founded around year 800 by Tairona people and abandoned in the 16th century. I can highly recommend this trek although it is not a very easy one.
After the trek, I took a bus to Cartagena, one of the most beautiful and known Colombian cities, on the northern Caribbean coast of the country. It is really a great and a colourful city where you can easily spend a few days relaxing by the Caribbean Sea, sipping cocktails and enjoying the local music. After a few days, time had come to take my last domestic flight, destination was Medellín, the capital of the Antioquia department. Of course, I had to choose Avianca this time. I bought a standard economy class ticket with 23kg checked luggage included two months in advance and paid €93.
An A319 jet (registration N751AV) was used for this one-hour flight. Seat 22K was mine. This aircraft also had an in-flight entertainment system which is not a surprise as Avianca massively uses its A319/A320 jets for international flights all the way to New York or Buenos Aires for example. No free drinks or food were served but there was an on board menu so you could buy some food or drinks if you were not able to survive one hour without them. Overall, it was a pleasant flight. We touched down at Medellín’s José María Córdova (MDE) airport at about half past nine in the morning. The airport is located 20km south-east of Medellín and is the second largest airport in Colombia with direct flights to Europe as well (for example Madrid, Barcelona). There is another active airport even closer to the centre of Medellín, the Olaya Herrera (EOH) airport. Some smaller Colombian carriers such as Clic (EasyFly) and Satena using ATRs and ERJs link it with smaller domestic airports but also with Bogotá (BOG).

Cartagena Airport

Boarding

Avianca A319 jet bound for Medellin

Approaching MDE Airport

Arrival at Madellin

Medellín used to be a very dangerous city a few years ago, but now it is one of the best cities in Colombia (the only one with a Metro). I stayed there for three nights, visited the main city sights like Botero park and Comuna 13 and also visited the area around the city (Guatapé). After visiting Medellín, I took a bus to Bogotá for the final few days of my Colombian trip before returning back home. I will not write much about my return Lufthansa flights. Both of them were on time, my luggage was not lost, and I safely returned back home. BOG-FRA was an uneventful night flight, with the A340-600 (D-AIHX) being used for this leg followed by a A320neo jet (D-AIZP) that took me to my final destination, Venice Marco Polo airport on time.
This 3-week trip was one of my best trips so far, and I can highly recommend you visit Colombia. All the airlines also delivered what they had promised and what I had paid for though I did not see any surpluses.
And for goodbye some pictures from Colombia:
Monserrate hill above Bogota

Colourful street in La Candelaria neighbuorhood, Bogota

Amazon river

Fiesta del Mar festival, Santa Marta

The Lost City

Cartagena de Indias

Comuna 13, Medellin

Bandeja Paisa, traditional dish from Medellin

Botero Park, Medellin


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Article source: http://www.exyuaviation.com/2023/08/trip-report-colombian-adventure-from.html

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