This megadiverse country has some of the most enthralling landscapes on the planet as well as some of the most welcoming people.
1. It's rather cheap you know
While it's not the cheapest South American destination (I'm looking at you Bolivia), Colombia lures foreigners for its relatively cheap travel opportunities. Medellin is one of the most affordable places despite its growing demand. Eating out ranges from less that $10US in a medium-end international restaurant down to $4US for a hearty local three-course local lunch. Domestic travel is cheap using the buses and flying.
2. Colombia is like 10 countries in one
Colombia is classed as one of the world’s megadiverse countries in terms of its ecology, and its landscape never gets old. Venture into the Coffee Zone in the Central Andes for a hypnotic kaleidoscope of greens, with pine-shaded plantations sewn onto the shimmering emerald-and-sage mountains. On the Pacific Coast, Jurassic Park–like jungle shoots up from murky teal waters, home to calving humpback whales and sea turtles who come ashore at night to lay their eggs.
On the northern coast, ocean meets desert in Guajira’s barely believable landscape, where the waves sizzle as they hit the rolling tangerine sand dunes while hikers head to the white-tipped mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to encounter jutting mountains, varied bird species, and a view of the Caribbean Sea.
3. It's hiking heaven
One of the tallest palm tree species in the world. Otherworldly ecosystems found only in the Andes. Animal species ranging from soaring Andean condors to clouds of fluttering hummingbirds. It's no wonder hikers are flocking to the Colombian Andes. As well as the snow-capped volcanic peaks of Los Nevados and the bewitching landscapes in la Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, Colombia boasts stunning high-altitude lagoons like Iguaque and Chingaza.
While various hiking spots are surrounded by beautiful colonial Spanish towns, many other mountainous regions are shrouded in myst and mystique dating back even further. Lake Guatavita, the former home of the Muisca people and the inspiration for the Legend of el Dorado, is easily reachable from Bogota and not to be missed.
4. There's peace at last
On September 23, 2015, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of FARC, the country’s largest left-wing rebel group, shook hands in Havana. The significance of this was rather huge. For more than 50 years, Colombia's government and the Marxist fighters had been entangled in an armed conflict—the longest in the country’s history. Despite initially voting against this peace deal, a rectified agreement was agreed in congress, meaning as of November 29, 2016 Colombia was officially no longer at war with FARC.
This has been followed up with a relaxation of the travel warnings from the US government, meaning new trips are emerging all across the country from cycling the car-free mountain roads in the Coffee Zone to trekking Santa Marta’s Lost City, and from sampling experimental food culture in Medellín to exploring the Pacific Coast through fishing, eating, and dancing with indigenous communities.
5. Colombia’s colonial towns are exquisite
While Colombia’s cities are undergoing something of a construction boom, its smaller, colonial towns are keeping a lower profile. A few years ago, the government created the Red Turistica de Pueblos Patrimonio (National Network of Patrimonial Towns) to help preserve the culture of the country’s most valuable towns.
Included in the list of 17 is Santa Cruz de Mompox, which appears in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel The General in His Labyrinth and whose center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This northern colonial town is a good base for bird-watchers seeking out rare species, and enchants religious tourists with its elaborate Easter processions. In Barichara, Santander, whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofs line the pristine streets (I mean just look at this!).
6. You can explore landscapes many locals don’t know about
Ask a local about Chiribiquete and they are likely to shrug and ask: what the heck you are talking about. Indeed, very few people have even heard of Colombia's largest national park, never mind visited her. Earlier in 2018, the government announced this virtually unexplored region would be extended to 4.3 million hectares, the size of Denmark. The only way to even see this the park of tropical forests and savannas, mountains, vertical granitic domes, rivers that boast towering waterfalls and gushing rapids, is to take a helicopter ride with one of these companies.
At first glance, Malpelo Island, lying 310 miles off Colombia’s west coast, seems like a barren rock. However, dive into the surrounding Pacific Ocean to find shimmering coral, hundreds of silky and hammerhead sharks, and even the rare smalltooth sand tiger shark. Over in the eastern grassland of Los Llanos, horses’ hooves pound the land as cowboys chase herds of cattle. The few people that visit can encounter pink dolphins in the Meta River, 19-foot-long anacondas, and, with a dash of fortune, pumas roaming the night.
7. Colombians are beyond friendly
Do an Internet search for the world’s kindest people, and Colombia will be among the first results. However such things are measured—DNA sampling? psychological profiling? measuring high fives per capita?—it’s true that Colombians deserve their friendly reputation. When you arrive, you’ll be welcomed like a long-lost cousin, invited out dancing, and plied with enough shots of aguardiente (a sugarcane liquor) to get your hips snaking in no time. Salud!