Colombia. You hear the word and automatically think of kidnappings, murder, drug gangs, or, on a slightly more positive note, Mrs ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ Shakira. One of the Latin America’s most maligned countries; Colombia’s tourism has suffered greatly suffered due to all of its unscrupulous press. But take a risk: it really is worth it. On arrival in Bogota, you are automatically overwhelmed by just how normal the city seems to be: tales of kidnapping and ruthless murder couldn’t be farther from the trip. The beautiful and rustic area of ‘La Candeleria’ is where most travellers stay: a trip along narrow cobbled streets whilst sipping on a chilled pilsner beer is the norm, and it’s surprising just how beautiful and innocuous the city is. However, to get the best view of the city, it requires a perilously steep cable car ride up (or you could walk, but, trust me, it could take a while!) to the sanctuary of Monserratte. Once at the summit, you are offered a panorama of this vast yet attractive city Beyond Bogota, Colombia has much to offer. To the north lie the stunning beaches of the Caribbean: this is a place to bring out the sunnies, and is the perfect place to chill-out amongst the palm trees or snorkel amongst the azure waters and coral reefs. For the more adventurous amongst you, the famous ‘Lost City Trek’ from ‘El Parc Nacional de Tayrona’ is ideal. Set amongst sprawling hills clad in dense jungle, the trek takes six days. It can be uncomfortable due to the humidity and mosquitos, but the reward of seeing the ‘Ciudad Perdida’ emerge out of the jungle mist is the ultimate satisfaction.
To the south, well off the tourist radar is the small town of Popayan: a charming colonial town that acts as the gateway to the famous San Agustin, a key archaeological area and UNESCO heritage site. Popayan is the perfect place to stop before either heading to San Agustin or Pasto, and onwards to Ecuador. A quick cycle ride away lies a hot spring amongst the spine of the Andes Mountains, THE place to sample a Colombian staple: Hot Chocolate and Cheese. Believe me; this is far nicer than it sounds! And for the party animals amongst you, Colombia will certainly not disappoint. Widely regarded as having two of South America’s most vibrant party towns, Cali and Medellin, you can revel all hours of the night in Medellin’s student clubs or Cali’s steamy salsa clubs. And if that’s not enough, there is still the matter of the Amazon rainforest. An essential to any visit to South America, the river port of Leticia, on the Peruvian and Brazilian borders, is easily accessible via flight. It’s a mystical place, and it offers the chance to fish for piranha (seriously!), wrestle with an anaconda, or try and spot the ever elusive jungle king; the jaguar.
Sure, Colombia has received bad press, and for good reason. However, the country is changing, and war is a thing of the past. It still has its risks, but so does every country on the globe: give it a chance, and you’ll probably find that it ends up being your favourite South American adventure. Get there before everyone else finds it!