Since emerging from decades of civil unrest, Colombia has established itself as one of the world's top destinations. And rightly so: this exquisite South American nation is blessed with natural beauty – think high Andean peaks, Caribbean beaches, pristine Amazon jungle – not to mention mysterious archaeological sites, colonial treasures and thriving cities. It's a joy to travel around.
At the heart of it all is Bogota, the pulsating capital. Once synonymous with drug cartels and gangs, the city has recast itself as one of south america's trendiest destinations; a place of hip bars and street art, vibrant markets and colourful architecture. Sprawled across the Andean plateau, Bogota offers a fabulous mix of old and new; the cobbled streets of La Candelaria offer a stark contrast to the urban chic of Zona Rosa. But it works.
Elsewhere, Colombia's colonial towns have been lovingly preserved, most notably the UNESCO-listed city of Cartagena. But don't stop there. Other historic settlements also warrant a visit, amongst them the cities of Mompós, Villa de Leiva and Barichara. The mysterious “lost city” of Ciudad Perdida is also worthy of a detour, but you may leave with more questions than you arrived with.
The more you travel around Colombia, the more you marvel at its diversity. While the Caribbean and Pacific shores boast beautiful beaches, islands and coral reefs, the lofty Andes offer high-altitude plains, snow-capped mountains and limpid lakes. Then there are the eastern lowlands with their grassy wetlands and bountiful birdlife, not to mention the virgin forests of the Amazon.
Colombian culture is no less magical. Garcia Marquez's land of magic realism is alive with festivals and music; the high-energy city of Cali is recognized as the salsa capital of Colombia, while bustling Barranquilla hosts a dazzling carnival to rival Rio's. To cap it all off, visitors can expect a warm welcome from the country's friendly inhabitants, who, after years in the wilderness, can finally show their true colours. And what a picture they paint.
When to Go
The most popular months to visit Colombia are in the summer although the weather is constantly pleasant year-round.
Colombia is relatively close to the equator and has a tropical and isothermal climate. It is also affected by the El Nino and La Nina phenomena. Temperatures decrease with altitude so much of Colombia is quite cool, with snow on the highest peaks. The Tierra helada is the zone of permanent snow and ice which is found above 15,100 feet (4,600m).
Rainfall comes in two wet seasons, roughly in the spring and autumn. The Pacific coastal areas receive more than 200 inches (500cm) per year whilst the Gujarat Peninsula gets less than 30 inches (75cm) per year.
– Travel with a reputable specialist tour operator whose local knowledge will be invaluable.
– Always carry bottled water with you when you travel.
– It is easy to combine your Colombia holidays with other South American countries such as Ecuador. For example, from Tulcan, you can take a taxi to the border and get your exit stamps from the immigration office there.
– Always take a sun hat and sunscreen. Even though temperatures are cool in the mountains, the sun is at its most intense at the Equator.
– Carry a Spotter's Guide to identify the many animals and birds you will see.
– Never hike, climb or trek by yourself. There are countless dangers and you may need help.
– Be extra vigilant for your own safety in Colombia. Do not travel alone, explore city back streets or hitchhike. Keep to tourist areas with plenty of other people around.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
– Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena
– Los Katíos National Park
– Historic Centre of Santa Cruz de Mompox
– National Archeological Park of Tierradentro
– San Agustín Archaeological Park
– Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary
– Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia