South America’s fourth biggest country, Colombia, offers real diversity; from modern cities, stunning Caribbean beaches and Amazon safaris. Colombia is firmly back on the tourist map!
Recovering from a long period of civil conflict, travellers are steadily discovering Colombia as a holiday destination. And with an abundance of activities such as jungle walks, watersports on the Pacific Ocean coast, hiking in the 53 National Parks and whale watching there’s plenty to keep you busy. Throw in well-preserved colonial cities, traditional rural culture, ancient historical ruins and sumptuous coffee plantations and you’ve got a destination to suit all tastes.
The capital of this unique South American country boasts historic buildings including Colonial-era Spanish style churches and impressive museums. Visitors to Bogota will find a large selection of lush green parks throughout the bustling city such as the Parque El Chico, Parque Simon Bolivar and Parque Santander. Extra efforts by tourism officials and law enforcement have encouraged visitors to begin returning to this picturesque city. Though travelers should still exercise common sense and learn which areas of the countryside are safer than others to visit, these days, they’re more likely to encounter interesting landmarks, historic sites, and unique shopping centers than crime. Attractions include:
• Rock Al Parque; an annual concert which brings in cultural performers from around the world.
• The Iberoamerican Theatre Festival; considered the largest performing arts event of its kind on the entire planet.
• La Candelaria; an interesting and stimulating district of churches, cafes and cafes.
• The Museo del Oro; or Museum of Gold, with a large collection of gold artifacts.
• Parque de la 93; hang out with the cities’ elite in the cafes and nightclubs in the trendiest district of Bogotá.
• Cerro de Monserrate; head up this impressive mountain by cable car to admire the views over Bogota
• Explore the National Capitol Building on the city’s Bolivar Square which was built in 1876.
Cartagena is a beach resort-style city and is ideally located right on the Caribbean Sea, but also has a great blend of continental touches such as skyscrapers, hotels, dozens of exciting open-air cafes, beautiful churches and more. There are interesting turns waiting around every alley, and many places to sit, watch other visitors, and savour the Colombian experience. The entire town is surrounded by Las Murallas, or thick walls that began to be built in the 16th century. Other attractions worth seeing in the Cartagena area are the districts of El Centro and San Diego, where you’ll find everything from historic monasteries to elegant mansions. The city, particularly the Old Town, is now very happy to invite tourists to explore and enjoy as much as they can. Top spots include;
• San Felipe de Barajas Castle; built by the Spanish to defend the city against intruders.
• Cathedral de San Pedro Claver; wander this catholic wonder and see the tomb of San Pedro inside.
• Islas del Rosario; take a day trip and enjoy beautiful beaches, coral reefs and lazy boat trips around the island.
The city of Medellin lies northwest of Bogota and is known for its large thriving textile industry, and fabrics are sent worldwide. Colombia’s second largest city offers plenty to see and do. It’s also possible to get some great bargains on the latest fashions. Attractions include:
• Jardin Botanico; This popular public garden includes more than 600 trees and plants, a beautiful and tranquil lake and a herbarium, where you’ll find some exotic and native herbs.
• Museo de Antioquia; The country’s second largest museum details the history of Colombia, starting with pre-Columbian cultures, then the Colonial period and finally the modern era, ending with a significant collection of artwork by renowned artist and Medellin native Fernando Botero.
Shop til you drop in San Marta
This city of San Marta lies along the Atlantic Coast and is an excellent port of call for shopping enthusiasts. This area also is quite diverse, climate-wise, with the beach in close proximity to the foothills of the Andes. Here, you’ll also find the country’s highest point, the Sierra de Santa Marta. El Rodadero is a nearby fashionable beach resort.
Discover the American Capital of Culture 2013; Barranquilla
Like San Marta, the Atlantic coastal city of Barranquilla can be especially warm and tropical. It’s also home to a major cultural festival, ‘Carnaval’ which is held each Easter, where there is always plenty of lively dancing and singing. In fact, this is the second largest Carnival in South America (Rio in Brazil boasts the more notable extravaganza). The rest of the year, visitors will still find plenty of exciting things to do in Barranquilla and opportunities to dance, celebrate and try a little salsa.
Either boats or planes can transport you to the largest island in a chain of beautiful spots. This particular island is 27 kilometers wide and includes the town of San Andres, locally known as El Centro, plus a few smaller towns. This community is a perfect staging area for those wanting to scuba dive the pristine coral reefs which have been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Travellers can swim and snorkel in the beautiful waters or those who simply want to chill out, will enjoy the serene beaches.
There are many natural wonders to be seen among the country’s 53 national parks. Many of these are on the Atlantic side, so think beautiful beaches and wonderful scenery. But there are also parks in the jungles. Notable parks include Cocuy, with breathtaking glaciers; Tayrona, which includes jungles, deserts and beaches – plus some great spots for snorkelling and Chicamocha, where you’ll find a goat park, an ostrich park, a giant slide and an enjoyable cable car.
By Julie Bowman