Forget what you think you know about Colombia. It has changed dramatically since the 1980s and it has been growing as a tourist hotspot in recent years. There’s a lot of worry over safety because of an old reputation that the country has outlived. Today, many of the busiest cities are as safe as can be! With the government focusing its efforts on growing the tourism industry, you can look forward to plenty of enjoyable resorts and activities ahead. Here are some of the tourist favorites.
The historic walled city of Cartagena offers a look into Spanish colonial history with its rustic buildings and old-world charm. In the Ciudad Amurallada, the walled part of the city, you can sit atop the wall and dine while taking in gorgeous views of the Caribbean.
Visit fortresses built to keep pirates out, massive cathedrals, convents, and so much more in Cartagena, and that’s just in the old part of the city. The new part of the city boasts upscale restaurants and hotels, dancing, and beaches.
The Coffee Farms of Quindio
If you love coffee, you’ll enjoy a day trip over to the coffee farms to see where the beans you enjoy are coming from. During your visit you will learn about the entire coffee process, from planting the bush to harvesting the berries, to drying and roasting the beans. Colombia is the third largest coffee bean producer in the world, after Brazil and Vietnam – but unlike those countries, Colombia saves some for its own cafes at home as well!
This country mainly specializes in Arabica beans, which are grown from medium to high elevations. Some tours, such as the WakeCup Experience tour, actually take you along for the ride, getting immersed in the cultural side of things – learning about the pivotal impact coffee has had on the Colombian economy. You can spend time with the coffee pickers, Jeep riders, and farmers in the Pijao town square, which is where the tour starts. Pijao is not a tourist town, so you won’t see any tourists there, it’s just a Colombian town full of people following along their everyday routines.
Tayrona Forest and El Totumo Mud Volcano
Colombia is also a country for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s a large country with changing landscapes. You can visit El Totumo Mud Volcano, about an hour outside of Cartagena, to swim in a crater full of warm mud. This is a relaxing experience where you can enjoy mud massages and absorb some nutrients into your skin. Try it out after a long hike or a full day of exploring the old city.
Tayrona National Park also offers a great outdoor experience in Colombia. This park sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world. It features mangroves, swamps, white beaches, bushes, and forests. You can hike, snorkel, and dive in this area. You can also visit the archaeological ruins of an ancient city of the Tayrona people.
Bogota is Colombia’s capital city and it’s full of history and museums just like Cartagena. It has a cobblestoned city center, colonial-era buildings, and classical and progressive architecture.
This city is also home to Colombia’s famous Gold Museum, Museo de Oro y Arqueología. The collection of gold and pottery here offers an inside look at life before the Spanish settlers arrived, and they say there’s so much gold you might need sunglasses for all the shine!
In the middle of Bogota there’s a mountain that oversees the city. It’s part of the Andes Mountain range and you can get to the top via a cable car ride. There is a church and a shrine up there, along with restaurants, local delicacies and souvenir shops. This mountain is called the Cerro de Monserrate, if you’re looking for tours there.
Finally, about an hour outside of Bogota, be sure to stop and visit the world-famous salt cathedral in the town of Zipaquira. It was carved within a salt mine about 600ft underground. The architectural and artistic design was done by Bogotan architect Roswell Garavito Pearl, and it’s an awe-inspiring place.
When planning your visit abroad to Colombia, remember that different events and celebrations could be taking place depending on which month you choose to visit. Go during the summer to check out the Carnaval de Bogota to celebrate the city’s founding. Visit Simon Bolivar Metropolitan Park on a nice, sunny day. The park is larger than New York’s Central Park and it’s a great place to catch a concert or sporting event. It’s also important to note when you go that Colombia was crowned the happiest country in the world in 2012. It would be a shame to miss out on a place like that.