I found the Taj Mahal in the middle of Colombia.
No, the Caribbean sun did not get to me—this place really does exist despite being totally off the radar of foreign tourists. Just a half hour drive from the capital of Bogota (as long as there are no traffic jams/crashes—you’ve been warned!) there is a place that rivals Disneyland called Jaime Duque Park. Founded in 1983 by a former pilot turned philanthropist, the sprawling site was created as a way to bring the treasures of the world to Colombians, and help educate visitors about history and geography.
By far the most awe-inspiring part of the entire park is the life-sized replica of India’s famous Taj Mahal. OK, so it’s not blindingly white like the real one, but it is a total thrill to find the next best thing just off a highway in the middle of South America! We had a hoot taking corny photos in front of it—and based on the stares of visiting Colombians our antics turned us into the real tourist attraction. You can also walk inside the towering building, where a massive chandelier greets visitors, and the walls are decorated with knock-offs of world-famous artworks like the statue of David.
The park also boasts a number of other ‘world wonders’ like Russia’s famous Red Square, the Temple of Zeus and the Colossus of Rhodes. While they’re not 1:1 replicas like the Taj Mahal, they’re still fun to check out—especially if you don’t plan on hitting Greece anytime soon.
If architecture isn’t your thing, there are still a crazy amount of attractions to occupy your time. For example, there is an aviary with tropical birds, which just so happens to also hold a gigantic map of Colombia. Or, hop on the battleship or pirate ship, and check out the life-size cannons while learning more about the country’s fight-filled past.
Animal lovers will be entertained by a walk through the zoo, which is home to lions, tigers and bears—oh my! Actually there aren’t any bears, but I couldn’t resist. Anyway, along with the aforementioned big cats you’ll find monkeys, water buffalo, ostriches and a forlorn-looking hippo—his mood probably wasn’t helped by the fact that his home consisted of a lush green lawn instead of marsh and water. There were also a couple of ‘cheetahs’ that I think were actually just painted cats, but that’s a story for another day. If you’re more of a Jurassic Park type, you may enjoy the Dinosaur Garden which has some huge dino models as well as information about their time roaming the earth.
History buffs will enjoy exhibits like Outfits of the World which details the last 3,000 years-worth of fashion, or the Museum of Man in the Universe which features hundreds of life-size sculptures explaining important moments throughout history.
While Jaime Duque Park may be geared towards families with lots of activities for the kids, it’s well worth a trip for adults, too. Be sure to budget at least half a day—the site is huge!
How to get there: Jaime Duque Park is located off the Autopista Norte in Tocancipa, Cundinamarca, a short distance from Bogota. In the likely chance you don’t have a car to drive there on your own, book the trip as part of a tour or jump on any bus headed to Tocancipa, Gachancipa, Sesquile, Guatavita or Tunja, and get off at the Briceno bus stop.
Cost: 23,000 pesos per person (about $12) for basic entrance, and 30,000 for a ticket that includes things like drinks and a pony ride. ‘Like’ their Facebook page to get 25% off.
Hours: Open Wednesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Top tip: Go on a weekday to avoid the crush of the weekend crowds. Oh, and it’s pronounced ‘Hi-may Duke-ay’ if you need to ask around about it!
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