10 Reasons Why Colombia Should Be On Your Radar
When you think of Colombia, what comes to mind? While the country has had its share of image problems stemming from drug cartels and corrupt government officials, the safety problems of the past have rapidly improved since the turn of the century. Tourism is on the rise and while there may be a new fascination with the travel ban being lifted on Cuba, Colombia and its stellar hospitality has plenty to offer the world traveler. Here are ten reasons to go to Colombia now.
Bogotá is not only the capital city it’s a blend of colonial charm and cosmopolitan sophistication. In the historic downtown, La Candelaria, is the city’s cultural hub where cobblestone streets, preserved colonial buildings and 300 year-old homes blend in with chic restaurants and bars with a cool, urban vibe. Graffiti has evolved from being a crime to being celebrated as a form of cultural and artistic expression. Bogota’s Museo del Oro houses some 55,000 pieces of sculpted gold from pre-Hispanic cultures. The summit of Monserrate provides breathtaking vistas of the city below and the gigantic, local food market, Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao offers an assortment of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and hot foods.
Medellín is a city of high rises, textile manufacturing and commerce. With pleasant year-round temperatures this metropolitan city earns the nickname of The City of Eternal Spring. Infamous for it’s violent past, Medellín is now one of the safer large cities in Latin America with one of the top transport systems in the world. The Museo de Antioquia is Colombia’s second oldest museum with a fine collection of pre-Columbian, colonial and modern art. Pueblito Paisa is a miniature version of a typical Antioquian shanty town atop Cerro Nutibara with unparalleled views of the city.
Cartagena’s old town with its narrow, cobbled streets fringed by palms, centuries old buildings with flower-covered balconies, colonial plazas and churches has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Palacio de la Inquisición, now a museum, was the seat of the Spanish Inquisition in Cartagena from 1610 to 1821. Today it houses pre-Columbian and historical objects, including some of the Inquisitor’s torture instruments. To the south lies the Caribbean and the Colombian version of Miami Beach with trendy cafes, restaurants, bars and luxury condos for the fashionably chic.
Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy
This massive park of 15 peaks of 5000m or higher is a bio-diverse home to a multitude of native plants and animals such as the spectacled bear and the spotted ocelot. It is the largest glacial zone in South America, north of the equator, though the glaciers are rapidly melting as a result of climate change. Sadly, they could disappear completely within 20 – 30 years. The park is popular with trekkers, hikers, campers, mountaineers and climbers.
The Zona Cafetera is the heart and soul of Colombian coffee. Many working coffee farms now welcome visitors who want to learn about the growing process. Harvest time, April-May and October-December, is the busiest and the best time to visit.
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
This park lies along the Caribbean coast at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The topography varies from sandy beach to rainforest and is home to at least 56 endangered species. While not all of the parks gorgeous beaches are suitable for swimming, some are and snorkeling gear is available for rent. Low season from February to November is the least crowded time to visit.
San Andres and Providencia
San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina are the three largest islands in an archipelago off the Colombian Caribbean coast and are designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. San Andrés offers sandy, almost private beaches, isolated cays with crystal clear turquoise waters, nightlife, culture and accommodations with all the amenities. Multi-ethnic cuisine is served and while Spanish is the official language, English is also spoken. Rent a scooter or a moped and explore!
Providencia, once quiet and off the tourist path has become quite fashionable. Coral reefs and clear Caribbean water are a boon for snorkelers and divers. Island cuisine is based on fresh fish, vegetables, coconut and spices. Enjoy horseback riding, boating, fishing, windsurfing and parasailing. Beaches are excellent for swimming with shallow, calm water and the sunsets are spectacular.
Reserva Natural Cañon de Rio Claro
This stunning canyon, carved by the Rio Claro, is a great place for kayaking, swimming, white water rafting, hiking, zip lining and bird watching. The park is home to many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and a multitude of insects and invertebrates, some of which are endemic to this particular area. There is an incredible, 400m long cave to explore with stalactites, nesting endangered birds, and sculpted marble chambers. The canyon makes a great day trip from Medellín, three hours away.
Parque Archeologico de San Agustín
Thought to be a cultural center of varied indigenous groups that pre-date the Incas, the site at San Agustín was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The park covers an area of 500 square kilometers and is thought to be the largest of the pre-Columbian sites in South America. Burial chambers are guarded by statues, some with fierce-looking faces while others look like animals. The large site is well maintained with pathways linking tomb sites and beautiful scenic vistas. The park can be visited as a day trip from Cali.
Popayán is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Colombia, founded in 1537 by Spanish explorer, Sebastián Belalcázar, on his search for El Dorado. An earthquake damaged most of the buildings in 1983 and a massive reconstruction effort took place to restore the colonial architecture of this historical site. There are many churches and museums here and the town is famous for its Holy Week celebrations.
Colombia offers many active and cultural pursuits for the avid traveler and the people exude hospitality everywhere you go. Despite vast improvements in security, there are still areas you would be best advised not to venture to. Check with your local government for up to date information. All in all, Colombia should most definitely be on your radar for work or leisure in South America. Buen viaje!
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