It’s turned over a new leaf! Rich history, stunning scenery and some of the continent’s most welcoming and sophisticated people, Colombia is a natural draw for travellers to South America. Despite its four-decade-long civil war and reputation for violence, improved security conditions have led to a sharp increase in tourism. Foreigners and Colombians alike are now far more able to explore this thrilling paradise of cloudforested mountains, palm-fringed beaches and gorgeous colonial cities.
Bogota is booming
The capital remains rough around the edges – the old town is not a place to be wandering around at night – but these are exciting times for this resurgent city. New restaurants, boutique hotels and craft breweries are springing up across Bogota, as local entrepreneurs capitalise on the country’s newfound peace. Meanwhile, the city’s tour guides offer edgy sightseeing excursions on bike and foot, which cover everything from architecture to politics.
It’s home to Cartagena
The jewel in Colombia’s crown, Cartagena is one of the most exquisite colonial cities in Latin America. Nestled on the Caribbean coast, its beauty belies an ugly truth: that it was built on gold and slavery. Still, it remains an exceptional destination; a place where colourful blooms spill from ornate balconies; where lovers watch sunsets from the city walls; where horses and carts clatter through the streets; and flash mobs dance in pretty plazas.
There’s a lost city
Constructed some 650 years before Peru’s Machu Picchu, Ciudad Perdida was only rediscovered in 1976. Little wonder it remained lost for so long: this ancient city is hidden in dense jungle atop the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a six-day hike from the nearest town. Trekking to the ruins of this mysterious city is one of Colombia’s most rewarding adventures, but not for the faint-hearted.
There's a subterranean salt cathedral
The quiet, colonial city of Zipaquirá, a short drive (or train trip) from Bogota, is home to one of Colombia’s most popular attractions: an underground salt cathedral. Opened in 1954, this church was hewn from the town’s subterranean salt deposits and was traditionally used by miners. Today it is a pilgrimage site for many Catholics.
Guatape is gorgeous
It might look like a marvel of Mother Nature, but Guatape Lake is actually the result of a controversial dam, which irked many people who lived in this region. Ethics aside the result is rather beautiful and best observed from the top of La Piedra (The Rock), a nearby hill whose summit is accessed via a 650ft ornate staircase. Mercifully, there’s a bar at the summit where you can reward your labours with a Colombian-style michelada (a cocktail comprising cold beer, fresh lime and salt).
It had one of South America's prettiest national parks
A protected area in Colombia’s northern wilderness, Tayrona National Park has all the attributes you want from the Caribbean – swaying palms, sandy beaches, limpid lagoons and the like – but there’s a dangerous and rugged beauty about this coastal reserve, which is refreshingly free of development.
The diving is stunning
The Colombian islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina provide access to the third largest coral reef system on earth, where divers can admire colourful coral gardens, bountiful marine life and even sunken pirate ships. The Rosario Islands also offer excellent diving, just a short boat ride from Cartagena.
The Amazon is never far away
The Amazon basin covers almost one-third of Colombia's territory, and few experiences can beat an excursion into this vast jungle. Boat trips depart from Leticia, in the Amazonas region, to the nearby Amacayu National Park, which abounds with stunning bird life and indigenous tribes.
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