For decades most travelers have avoided Colombia because of its reputation for kidnappings and violence. While there are many parts of Colombia that still have these problems, the turnaround in most major cities and along Colombia’s coast have made a drastic change from its dark past. My visit to Colombia was, like all my previous trips, uneventful in terms of any lost property or any violence directed towards me. This country is much larger than most people imagine (about three times the size of Germany!) so while certain areas should certainly be avoided there are plenty of other places that should not be missed. Within its large borders one can find everything from the Amazon rainforest, Caribbean and Pacific Islands, to snow covered mountains that top 17,000 feet (5,000 meters). Culturally Colombia is famous for having the ‘capital of salsa dancing’, home to many indigenous Indians, a diverse ethnic group with some amazing nightlife.
Once considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Bogota has gone to extreme lengths to reduce crime and improve its reputation. The result was a 71% drop in murder rates in only 10 years. Since those darker days, Bogota has completely reinvented itself. Travelers can enjoy going to places such as the modern city center, historic cathedrals, world class museums, or other activities such as taking a cable car to the top of Cerro de Monserrate. The night life in this city of over seven million is also excellent and very inexpensive.
Cartagena is one of South America’s oldest cities, and by far the most popular destination in Colombia. The Caribbean city is full of culture that is seen through its festivals, dancing and local cuisine. Spanish fortresses and museums of their slave trade and Spanish Inquistion are some of the few things that shouldn’t be missed. Swimming at the beach or scuba diving by day can be followed by going out for Latin dancing or one of the many great restaurants.
Similar to Cartagena, Santa Marta is another historic city along Colombia’s coast. Santa Marta is a bit more of a family destination when compared to Cartagena because of its relaxed atmosphere. The city is the site of the original burial place of the famous Simon Bolivar and has one of his largest memorials in the continent.
This small city was has a history dating back thousands of years as Native Americans took advantage of the salt mines. Eventually when the Europeans settled the mining continued and the mining town of Zipaquira was founded. Over the years workers built impressive churches and religious structures within the mines to provide a place to pray. Since then massive resources were put in to developing the ‘Salt Cathedral’, one of the most unique places to visit in Colombia.
One of Colombia’s most beautiful and famous national parks, Tayorna takes up a long stretch of the Caribbean coast and dense tropical mountains. From sea level to Colon peak at nearly 19,000 feet (5,700 meters) within Tayrona is the largest elevation gain in the world from the ocean. Within the park are some of the best places to go scuba diving and camping in the country. There are also a few indigenous people living in the park as well as the stone ruins of several ancient cities built by their ancestors.