Colombia is a South American giant awakening to its vast potential. In this diamond-shaped tropical nation, you will find a cornucopia of natural wonders side by side with sleepy villages and vibrant cities. A place where tourism is now blooming, and turmoil and guerrilla conflict are yesterday’s news. The country is physically stunning, ecologically astounding, and culturally vibrant.
The cobblestone plazas of Villa de Leyva, Popayán, and Bogotá, the capital city, still echo with the boot steps of Spanish conquistadores. And tiny time-warp colonial villages color Colombia’s rural highways. Geographically, Colombia is a triptych of the coastal plain, soaring mountains, and velvety jungle. Rivers teem from the Andes into the Amazon Basin and the seamless sponge of Choco’s Pacific coast – vast rainforest homes to jaguars, monkeys, poison dart frogs, and other wildlife species of every stripe, spot, and hue.
European in character, Latin American in soul, Bogotá is Colombia’s capital of over 10 million people. In two decades, Bogotá has transformed itself into a surprising tourist destination and welcoming city that is Colombia’s epicenter of business, politics, and entertainment. Much of the city is a hodgepodge of redbrick and concrete buildings. Different architecture – from art deco and modernist to Gothic and Renaissance- lines the city’s streets. Bogotá today is being hailed as the “Athens of South America” – a sophisticated tableau of architecture, action, and art.
The high-rise condominiums of Los Rosales, stylish malls of Santa Barbara, trendy restaurants and boutiques of Zona Rosa makes the city a cosmopolitan center of sophistication. Full of cathedrals and museums, the 400-year-old centro historico is also the government headquarters.
Hot, sultry, filled with bright color, tradition and the sound of music, Cartagena de Indias has been an important port on the Caribbean ever since it was founded in 1533. The cruise ships have returned to Cartagena, where ancient fortresses still echo with the clash of cutlasses and the roar of cannon. The old walled city is the heart of Cartagena. Protected from storms and pirate attacks by the fortress, the old city full of cathedrals, convents, and ancient mansions painted in soft tropical colors – guava green, papaya yellow, tangerine – reflects Colombia’s positive future while showcasing the best of a picturesque past. This area is today known as El Centro and features restaurants as well as a section known as Getsemani which is worth a daytime stroll.
Rosario Islands which comprise a small archipelago on the southern part of the Bay of Cartagena offers crystal clear waters and multicolor reefs ideal for recreational diving. Beach lovers will also find refuge on Playa Blanca with its white sands and crystal clear waters.
The second largest city in Colombia, Medellin is a principal industrial and manufacturing area, as well as a commercial flower growing region which is famous for its orchids. A beautiful city that is modern and vibrant yet true to its regional characteristics, Medellin was founded in 1616 within the scenic Aburra valley. Plan your visit around early August to attend Feria de las Flores, the famous Medellin flower festival.
Visit the Basilica de la Candelaria, which is one of the few colonial buildings left in Medellin. Also, tour the Basilica Metropolitana which is situated in Parque de Bolivar. The Basilica was completed in the early 20th century and is believed to be the largest brick church in South America. At Pueblito Paisa, you will find a replica of a typical Antioquia village, complete with handicraft shops. Plaza Botero features displays of several works by Fernando Botero, the internationally renowned Medellin sculptor who specializes in oversized human figures.
Founded in 1537 at the foot of Volcan Purace, Popayan is situated in the Andean cordillera. The churches of Popayan rank high on the list of things to do in this Colombian town. Visit Iglesia de San Francisco which is noted for its beautiful side altars. Iglesia La Ermita is Popayan’s oldest church which dates from 1546 and boasts frescoes and an impressive altar. Capilla de Belen offers panoramic views of the city.
Stroll through the streets of Popayan for a closer look at the two-storeyed colonial houses which feature small balconies on the second floor. Just outside of Popayan to the northeast is the town of Silvia, home to an indigenous community of Gambinos. The town holds a weekly market on Tuesdays where the Indian natives dress in traditional clothing and sell handicrafts as well as fresh produce. Set off into the wilderness to Parque Nacional Purace, which is situated to the east of Popayan. Its landscape features the snow-covered Purace volcano which rises 4780m, waterfalls, hot springs and lakes.