Colombia is quickly shedding its unfortunate reputation as a haven for drugs and violence and emerging as a trendy travel destination. It's easy to see why: this country has everything from European-style cities to Amazonian rainforests. There are the high-reaching Andes, Caribbean beaches and rolling coffee plantations. Then there are the incredibly welcoming people, the colorful culture and, of course, the salsa dancing.
With so much going on in Colombia, it's difficult to know where to start. Here are 5 sparkling can't miss places to see.
Despite being the capital of Colombia, Bogota is often overshadowed by its flashier cousins Cartagena and Medellin. This is unfortunate because not only is it one of the largest cities in South America (with 8.8 million people, it's the size of New York City), it is also one of the most interesting. From the historical 15th century old town to the pumping modern nightclubs of the Zona Rosa, the city is full of life and potential adventures.
San Andres and Providencia
You can't help feeling that these tiny islands are only Colombian by definition. Located deep in the Caribbean, they are just 200 kilometers east of Nicaragua. The islands themselves are a great slice of tropical life, but the real draw here is the water. Known as the Seven-Colored Sea, the area surrounding the islands has crystal clear water and startlingly varied depths, creating beautiful patterns when seen from above.
Colombia's most famous export is coffee, so a visit to the lush Zona Cafetera is an absolute must. Manizales is the largest city but the smaller towns of Salento, Armenia and Chinchina also make charming home bases. In this area you can tour a real coffee plantation and then sample the product yourself. Oddly, this is one of the only places in Colombia where you can get a decent cup of coffee. All the good stuff is usually exported.
It isn't well known outside of Colombia, but Popayan is one of the most picturesque and interesting of the many small colonial cities in the country. Founded in 1537, it's known as the "white city" due to its many whitewashed colonial houses. The half dozen elaborate historical churches are particularly worth seeing during the enormous Easter celebrations (second in size only to Seville, Spain). If you've found Colombian food uninspiring, Popayan is the saving grace: UNESCO named it a City of Gastronomy in 2005.
San Gil is well known as Colombia's adventure sports capital and it's a great springboard for exploring some of the country's famed natural resources. Most of these activities surround the enormous Chicamocha canyon, which is over 2,000 feet deep. White water rafting is quite popular, along with caving, trekking and mountain biking. There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area as well.
Where would you like to start your own Colombian adventure?