The South American nation of Colombia has a turbulent past, but is gradually opening up to travellers and has a great deal to offer tourists, from the glacial summits, and Andean cloud forests, to its Amazonian jungle and white sand beaches.
Colombian’s indigenous population developed highly sophisticated social structures and culture, but the nation fell under the control of Spanish conquistadors during the 1500s. It gained independence in 1819 as the Republic of Gran Colombia following a rebellion led by Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander.
The nation borders the Caribbean Sea between Panama and Venezuela and the North Pacific Ocean beside Ecuador. It is a rich blend of cultures and the influence of both European and African settlers and its indigenous peoples is apparent.
Despite its reputation for violence and drug trafficking, some areas of Colombia are becoming safer and the government has started to crack down on crime in the state. The country fourth largest nation in Latin America, the country encompasses many of the best aspects of its geography, including tropical forests, beautiful beaches and the mountains of the Andes and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Colombia’s natural beauties are truly spectacular and it is referred to by seasoned travellers as South America’s undiscovered treasure. The country has 55,000 plant species and the second most diverse ecology in the world, with fascinating mammals, birds and fish.
The capital Bogota is a sprawling mass of buildings, but the city still has its old colonial centre, La Candelaria, with a number of charming hotels, delightful restaurants and beautiful churches. The Fundacion Botero, named after Colombia’s most famous artist, houses an impressive collection, including works by Picasso and Dali.
Ciudad Perdida, or the Lost City, is buried deep in the tropical jungle and takes six-day hike or helicopter ride to reach. Once the home of the Kogi Indians, it consists of around 80 circular raised stone platforms carved out of the mountains in around 500 BC. The site was “rediscovered” in 1976 and has since been compared to Peru’s Machu Picchu.
The delightful city of Cartagena de Indias, founded in 1533, has a rich history, some incredible buildings and a buzzing nightlife. The stunning port has been designated a World Heritage Site and is a joy to wander around, with its walled fort, colonial architecture and stylish shops.
With 3,208 km of coastline and a tropical climate, Colombia has some idyllic beaches and the wonderful Tayrona national park, with its palm-fringed bays and coral reefs, is particularly popular.
Some rural and mountain areas of Colombia are still under guerrilla control and it is essential that anyone visiting it consults the Foreign Office and other travel advice before travelling, as the country remains the kidnapping capital of the world. It is wise to travel with a reputable holiday company, but Colombians are, on the whole, warm, friendly and energetic and its spectacular scenery and history make it well worth the trip.