Colombia is a country of startling contrasts, from dense Amazonian jungle, spectacular tropical beaches and snow-capped Andean mountain ranges to Bogotá's fast-growing metropolis and the immaculate colonial architecture of Mompós. The nation's issues have been well documented, but the 21st century has seen vastly improved security and a seriously reduced crime rate. The hospitable Colombians are justifiably optimistic, extremely proud of their country and happy to show visitors a good time.
The urban mishmash that is Colombia's capital, Bogotá spreads out from the Plaza de Bolívar, where the modern Palace of Justice sits adjacent to the city's monumental 19th-century cathedral. The nearby red-tiled roofs in the colonial quarter of La Candelaria cluster at the foot of a verdant mountain backdrop. Head north for Caribbean heat in the palm-shaded plazas of Cartagena's 17th-century walled Old Town or west into the springtime climate of Medellín and the Fernando Botero sculpture park.
The diverse flora and fauna of the Amazon rainforest are best experienced on a jungle trek from Leticia on the banks of the mighty river. Wonder at the enigmatic stone statues that pepper the lush mountainous countryside surrounding San Augustín. The terraced valleys of the Zona Cafetera produce half of Colombia's coffee. Explore green slopes dotted with cera palm trees on horseback. Take a three-day hike through the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the pre-Columbian Ciudad Perdida (Lost City).
Sunbathe on pristine white-sand beaches in gently curving bays shaded by coconut palms at Parque Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast. The snorkelling is good around the coral reefs off some of the beaches. Closer to Santa Marta, Taganga lies in a deep bay surrounded by mountains. After days spent scuba-diving, visitors relax in the beach bars and restaurants. A boat trip south of Cartagena, the Islas del Rosario archipelago is encircled by coral reefs and deep turquoise waters.
Eating and Drinking
In Bogotá tuck into a big bowl of ajiaco, a rich, creamy chicken and potato soup, topped off with corn, avocado, rice or capers. In the Zona Cafetera, the seriously hungry order bandeja paisa, a heaping serving of minced beef, blood sausage, pork crackling, egg, rice and beans on a single plate. A breakfast favorite on the Caribbean coast is a flat cornbread arepa with an egg cooked inside. For lunch, savor sizzling fried red snapper with aromatic coconut rice.