Almost 500 years ago, Spanish galleons made their way across the Atlantic and 'discovered' Colombia, where they founded the first European cities in the American continent. Now, after years of guerrilla and paramilitary unrest, and an unfortunate global reputation for drugs, Colombia has cleaned up its act significantly, and once again is a country just waiting to be discovered by you. In fact, it’s one of South America’s best kept secrets!
Here are 5 things you’ll discover when you visit this country:
1. Colombia is incredibly beautiful geographically. From tropical, wet rainforest where no matter how hot it is, your cotton shirt will never completely air dry, to downright chilly plateaus at 10,000 feet, where the only moisture in the air is sucked out of it by cactus-like plants called Fraijelones, Colombia's diverse geography will surprise and impress you. Add in the Caribbean coast, and 3 sets of mountain ranges (the Eastern, Western and Central Cordilleras) and you'll feel like you've just visited 4 countries, not one. All equally stunning.
2. Colombia is not a third-world country. Perhaps city planning is not the best, resulting in uncontrolled growth, as in Bogota, or no sewage treatment plants in rural towns, .but Colombia is a country that is moving upwards. While there's no denying that the distribution of wealth is more than a little lopsided, development is happening, cities are modern, cosmopolitan and growing, and the Colombia of today is not a have-not nation with begging orphans in the streets. Developing yes, third world, no.
3. Colombia's coffee culture is different than ours. Colombia has always exported most of their premium beans (something you learn when touring the Coffee Triangle area), which has resulted in a very different way of enjoying coffee locally: to temper the bitterness of lesser quality beans, coffee is brewed with water in which raw cane sugar called panela is dissolved. Cafes typically do not serve up the North American creative concoctions that double as art-in-a-cup, nor do they use their cafes as virtual offices. Recently, however, this idea of coffee-as-art has become more popular in Colombia, and there are cafes, like this one in Salento, where they will serve you up premium beans in a work of 'latte art' that would turn any Starbucks barista green with envy. Just leave the computer at home.
4. Colombia has some impressive archaeological mysteries of their own. Near St. Augustin you'll find hundreds of large-scale anthropomorphic statues, burial mounds and tombs, at 4 different sites in this Alta Magdalena region - the origin of which is still a mystery. Pre-dating Machu Picchu by centuries, these 'Regional Classic-era' monuments date from around 900 AD, but are evidence of a culture that developed even earlier, around 1000 BC. We still know very little about these people, including the significance of the statues and their symbolism. One of the most interesting parts of the site is the Fuente de Lavapatas, a rocky streambed over which flow shallow waterfalls, and where channels carved into the rock divert the water into ceremonial pools, possibly used for religious ceremonies or even births. The surfaces of the surrounding rocks are decorated with carved symbols of snakes, monkeys, and lizards, some with human faces, which you can see from a bridge built over the stream.
5. ‘Authentic’ still exists here. You may be surprised to find that in most places outside the larger cities (and even there as well), English is not spoken – with the exception of Cartagena which is a cruise ship port. Which means that the Colombia you’ll visit hasn’t become a tourist trap that has evolved to cater to what visitors want to see - which is one of the best reasons to visit now, before outside influence inevitably takes away some of the warmth and charm that are yours to discover.
Start by exploring our Colombia itinerary here.