By Patrick Connelly
Colombia is a country of stark contrasts: Rugged Andes peaks and lush rainforest valleys, modern cities and Spanish colonial villages, hot Caribbean beaches and snowy mountains. Best of all, much of the country is untouched by the tourist and expat industry because of the country’s less than reputable past. With so little literature out there about Colombia (Lonely Planet has the only book, and it is an admitted fraud), knowing where and what to do can be challenging. Throw in the ever present security question, and the planning process is downright frustrating. Here are my top five places to go in Colombia. I could go on, but gotta keep it short. If you have anything to add, please do so below.
1. Cartagena – No-brainer. Every Colombian will tell you the same. This is a jewel not only for Colombia, but for the entire continent. Centuries of history (pirates rock), whitewashed Spanish architecture, cool Caribbean breeze, crazy nightlife, beautiful people….I could go on. A few too many tourists and half of Bogota comes to visit on holidays, but still a place you can’t miss. Plus it is a good base for exploring the coast (or substitute Santa Marta, if you wish)
2. Medellin and Bogota- Lumped these two together since time outdoors is time well spent in Colombia. Bogota is a high-fashion business and education center with ample history, sites to visit, and a nightlife to rival any city in South America. Check out Candelaria in the city center for museums as well as Andres Carne de Res in nearby Chia for a night you will never forget. Alse servers as a jumping off point to visit the historic Boyaca department to the north.
Medellin is the city of eternal spring, full of proud paisas and blooming flowers. Smaller and more asthetically pleasing than Bogota, it can be reached by a short, short plane from the capital or by bus.
3. Parque Tayrona- Nestled against the Caribbean and bordered by small mountains, Tayrona National Park offers deserted beaches fringed by jungle, coral reefs, deep bays, and an established visitors infrastructure. Also within striking distance of of Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City, which every adventure-minded person should experience.
4.Mompos (Mompox)- The town that time forgot, stuck in a giant swamp in the northeastern part of the country. Famous for hospitality and rocking chairs, this is supposedly the town that Gabriel Garcia Marquez based Macondo off of in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Getting there is an adventure of its own…don’t miss this place! You will be happily surprised.
5. The Amazon- Definitely not for everyone, the southern town of Leticia offers endless rainforest adventure. Forget what you saw in Costa Rica; the Amazon is another world. Truly awe-inspiring.
Honorable Mention: San Andres and Providencia- Wayyyyyy up in the Caribbean by Honduras, these two islands are the sort of funky, mixed-bag cultural paradoxes that you expect to find in El Caribe. Beautiful, duty-free, and less developed and cheaper than other Caribbean islands.
Front photo provided by Marathoniano at http://www.flickr.com/photos/24462866@N00/3058453915/
second photo provided by Kingstongal at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kingstongal/2133699876/