No longer a destination only for daredevils, this extraordinary country has battled decades of civil turmoil to emerge as one of South America's hottest destinations. It is jammed with unspoilt mountains, coastline and jungle, not to mention stunning archaeological sites and vibrant culture. Travel in, out of and around Colombia has become prolific, with tour operators rushing to fill a new demand, and there has never been a better time to visit.
Ten years ago, Colombia was famous only for its drug dealers, left-wing guerrilla groups and paramilitaries. But with the militant groups now at their weakest point in decades, this beautiful country is enjoying a travel renaissance with more and more tourists emboldened to visit. And they are finding much to explore.
Natural attractions include rippling mountains, expanses of the Amazon Basin, large lakes, vast plains and a Caribbean coastline that twinkles with azure water. Those who like to hike can find jungle treks galore, such as to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) on the Caribbean coast, or walks through the rolling hills and mountains of the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Zone). Those who prefer beach life will love the stunning tropical islands off colonial Cartagena, or the wild beauty of Tayrona National Park.
Meanwhile man-made wonders include fabulous pre-Columbian sculpture and colourful colonial houses. Chilly Bogotá is a fabulous mix of old and new, where quaint and historic La Candelaria contrasts nicely with swish and shiny Zona Rosa. A visit to the fabulous Gold Museum will dazzle your eyes and make you marvel at the skills of long-lost civilisations. For those who prefer a bit more heat, Cartagena provides historic beauty mixed with a bit of laid-back Caribbean flavour, along with the chance to visit stunning tropical islands off the coast. Energised Cali, on the other hand, is the salsa dance capital of the country and provides a young and vibrant look at modern Colombia.
Throughout Colombia you’ll see endless evidence of colonial Spanish culture, but in among that you’ll also find the fascinating remains of the various pre-Columbian civilisations which ruled the land at one time or another. Visit the eerie statues of a lost civilisation in San Agustín by galloping around on horseback, or spend the day hiking from one tomb site to another in Tierradentro National Park from the base of a tiny village deep in rural Colombia.
Colombia is starting to establish its own tourist trail, a path for travellers to follow which is accepted as being safe, along which is a series of excellent hostels and other forms of accommodation. You can expect to stay anywhere from tiny little farm lodges in the hills to grand, luxury hotels in Bogotá.
Until recently, Colombia has received relatively few travellers in comparison with other South American nations, and visitors can expect an unfeigned welcome and genuine curiosity from its people. Colombians are developing a reputation for being the friendliest nation in South America, and are glad to help and chat to tourists. Don’t be put off by reputation – Colombia has been working hard to overcome its past, and is succeeding. This is one destination thoroughly worth another chance, and no one is disappointed by what Colombia has to offer.