6 Reasons to Visit Colombia

This South American Country Has Changed in Recent Years

When friends heard I was going to visit Colombia several of them asked, "Isn't it dangerous?" "What about the drug trade?" Other people I met who had traveled to Colombia recently said that Bogota was interesting, and Cartagena was a wonderful resort city partly wrapped in an ancient wall.

I had trepidations but kept them to myself - and after a week-long visit to this South America country I have to agree with the travelers who've visited Colombia in recent years.

Sitting in an open-air bar atop the wall surrounding Cartagena's oldest section, now a UNESCO Heritage Site, we watched the sun turn the clouds into flames as it sank into the sea. Turning our heads we caught the rosy afterglow lighting up streets lined with Spanish Colonial buildings. I was glad I got on that plane.

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    Scenic view of Cocora Valley near Salento in Columbia
    ••• Max shen/Getty Images

    Rugged and dramatic terrain for hiking, biking, climbing and other outdoor adventures await active travelers to Colombia. You can bicycle around coffee country and visit organic coffee fincas, go climbing in tumbled rocky terrain near Suesca, or hiking among the towering Quindio wax palms in the Valle de Cocora.

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    Cartagena Offers History and Charm

    Cartagena old colonial style street
    ••• Mariusz Kluzniak/Getty Images
    Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its walled center city and Spanish Colonial buildings, has long been a vacation spot for South Americans.

    You can walk, bike or dine on the wall for spectacular views of the Caribbean. Stay in the heart of the city in hotels, such as the Santa Teresa that was once a convent, and wander along narrow streets where bougainvillaea spills over the second-story balconies above shops and apartments.

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    Reefs and Wrecks Greet Snorkelers and Divers

    Diving in Colombia with Cartagena Divers
    ••• Diving in Colombia with Cartagena Divers. Cartagena Divers

    Colombia has miles of coral reefs and sunken wrecks in the Caribbean's warm water on one side. Off the country's Pacific Ocean coastline, you'll also find reefs, large fish and even humpback whales part of the year.

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    Gold ornaments in Gold Museum in Bogota, Columbia
    ••• Gold ornaments in Gold Museum in Bogota, Columbia. © 2012 Lois Friedland
    You might want to wear sunglasses looking at some of the displays in the Banco de la República Gold Museum, or you'll be blinded by the glitter of so much gold.

    This museum in Bogota has an astounding collection of pre-Hispanic goldwork that reveals much about the lives and beliefs of societies that lived on the land that is today called Colombia.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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    La Macarena
    ••• Pierre Klemas/Getty Images

    The capital city of Colombia - home to some eight million people - sits at 8,646 feet above sea level, on a high plain in the Andes Mountains. The sprawling city is a hodgepodge of communities. The city encompasses chic zones where upscale families reside, areas where modern buildings stand side-by-side with colonial churches, and historic zones housing food markets to trendy restaurants. Driving on some of the steeper roads between the various zones, you catch glimpses of some of the original inhabitants in this region still farming small sections of land and tending to their cows.

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    It's on the Caribbean

    Beach at Punta Faro, off the coast of Colombia
    ••• Punta Faro, off the coast of Colombia, Caribbean Island Resort. © 2012 Lois Friedland

    Waves so gentle they roll onto the sand, without a sound. Snorkel around coral heads right off the shore, scuba dive in deeper water, or just lounge on a beach chair in the sun.

    Take a boat ride from the docks in Cartagena and within two hours it's easy to escape to an island resort for a day or overnight. We stayed at Punta Faro, a low-key, casual environmentally friendly resort on Isla Mucura.

     

    For More Information...

    The official tourism Web site for Colombia is a good place to start. The site is easy to navigate and offers insights into place to visit if, for example, you're interested in a hiking, biking or adventurous vacation; simply sightseeing, or want to spent your time on the water.

    You can book a variety of activities, from city tours on foot or by bike, to horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking on Viator.

    G Adventures runs a Colombia Coffee Trails trip. G Adventures also runs a Colombia Highlights tour.

    I enjoyed the visit to Colombia and - thanks to local police...MORE and national guards in abundance in all of the places we visited, I felt safe. But, keep in mind that the U.S. government does have a current travel warning out for this country. You'll find it here.

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary travel and services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.