Colombia is one of the most diverse countries in the world. You will find two oceans – the Pacific and the Atlantic, endless jungles and the Amazon, rainforests in one of the rainiest regions in the world, the endless steppes of "los llanos", the vast Andes with tropical glaciers and even a desert! Many cultural sites, colonial towns and villages have also been preserved. The fact that 70 languages other than Spanish are spoken in Colombia is testament to this diversity!
The San Agustín Archaeological Park is home to the largest group of statues, religious monuments and megalithic structures in all of South America. Little is known about the creators of the more than 500 statues, some of which are up to 7 metres high. In addition to the statues, another interesting complex, the Tierradentro, features decorated underground rooms.
Near the archaeological parks, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can also find a typical Colombian rural landscape with many natural sights and very nice locals who appreciate foreign visitors.
TIP: San Agustín is a relatively touristy place. If you want to experience the Colombian countryside still little affected by tourism, head rather to Tierradentro. However, there aren't as many tourist activities and excursions to choose from as in the San Agustín area, but the locals will be happy to rent you a room.
Cartagena's monumental 13-kilometre-long fortifications, San Felipe Fortress and pretty streets and plazas attract travellers from all over the world, and tourists from Caribbean cruises. There are many beautiful beaches around the city. On the other hand, a trip outside the tourist centre of Cartagena can be quite shocking for a tourist – there is a lot of poverty and, from our European perspective, total chaos.
TIP: If you want to spend a few days on the beaches around Cartagena and avoid the tourist crowds, head to some of the islands of the Islas del Rosario archipelago. Backpackers and luxury resort enthusiasts alike will find suitable accommodation here.
The 4- to 6-day trek to the abandoned city, only discovered in the 1970s, is becoming increasingly popular among international visitors to Colombia. The Lost City is approximately 1,300 years old, still 600 years older than Machu Picchu! Along the way, you'll walk through the beautiful scenery of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, unspoiled rainforest and the territory of the Wiwa, Kogui and Arhuaco Indians who have lived in the local mountain environment for thousands of years.
TIP: Travel outside the high season (June – August, or around Christmas). Due to the high tourist interest in Colombia, lodges on the way to the Lost City are bursting at the seams during these months. You'd better not delay your trip too much, the place and the whole region has great potential to become a commercial attraction for much larger masses of tourists.
Colombia's eight-million-year-old metropolis lies at an altitude of around 2,600 metres above sea level. The historic district of La Candelaria, its streets, important buildings and museums are definitely worth a visit. Don't miss a visit to the Museo del Oro or the Botero Museum.
Do you dance salsa? Head to Cali! It has become world famous for its beloved salsa, making it the salsa capital of the world. It's been danced in Cali since the 1930s, and is an incredible blend of rhythms created by the syncretism of Antillean rhythms – Mexican, Cuban and especially those of Puerto Rico.
From the centre, you can take the cable car or walk up Monserrate Hill for a beautiful view of the huge city. Lovers of upmarket hotels, restaurants and clubs, such as those in the Zona Rosa and Zona G districts, will also be in for a treat.
TIP: Be careful! Local thieves take advantage of tourists' inexperience shortly after arriving in South America. There are a number of local rules to follow in major cities throughout South America. If you can, plan your visit to Bogotá for a Sunday, when local roads turn into bike paths, where up to 2,000,000 (!) Bogotanos take to the streets for sport and walking.
One of Colombia's greatest assets is its excellent coffee. It is grown virtually all over the country, but the most famous area is the 'zona cafetera' coffee region around the towns of Armenia, Manizales and Pereira. Be sure to visit at least one coffee farm. A popular tourist resort in the middle of this area is the typical town of Salento, which is close to the beautiful Valle de Cocora with its impressive wax palms, the national tree of Colombia. Those interested in hiking in the high mountains can also head to the nearby Los Nevados National Park from here.
TIP: About an hour's hike from the entrance to the Cocora Valley is the former Acaime Farm. Today, you can relax here in beautiful surroundings, take pictures of the hummingbirds and be treated to cheese and the traditional drink agua de panela (admission is about $2).
TIP: There are several beautiful beaches outside the main entrances to the national park. You can reach them by boat from the tourist village of Taganga, by car or bus from Santa Maria, or even on foot along the old Indian trails.
The northernmost tip of South America is the rugged Guajira Peninsula, inhabited by the Wayuú Indians. Most of the peninsula is desert. It is the stark contrast between the desert and the wild sea that will leave a strong impression. The most popular destination is the settlement of Cabo de la Vela. In the last year, tourist agencies have begun to offer commercial trips even to the formerly quite virgin place, and the northernmost point of the continent, Punta Gallinas.
TIP: During the Colombian holiday season (December – January), Cabo de la Vela is completely flooded with Colombian tourists. Only go during this time if you don't mind loud music and lots of late-night entertainment. Outside of the tourist season, on the other hand, you'll find complete tranquility.