Once a haven for backpackers offering basic infrastructure and a level of security favouring the more adventurous traveller, Colombia is now Latin America’s fastest growing destination for luxury tourism. The country’s desirable position at the northern tip of the Andes offers visitors a wide variety of climates, cultures and activities for all generations. Here, our Latin America specialist Grant explains why it is a must-visit destination.
The Andean metropolises of Bogota and Medellin have seen huge social and financial transformation in the last decade. Enjoying a spring-like climate year round, they are great bases to get under the skin of Colombia – learn about the legend of El Dorado; visit the museums housing Fernando Botero’s famous sculptures and paintings; explore the colonial highland town of Villa de Leyva; or climb the 740 steps to the top of El Peñón de Guatapé in the Lake District.
The Coffee Triangle is a paradise for those seeking outdoor pursuits and relaxation on a beautiful traditional hacienda. The local coffee fincas offer a great way to learn about Colombia’s famous export, and if you time your holiday right, you can see the process in full swing when they harvest the coffee beans. Aside from coffee, this region offers some of Colombia’s most breath-taking landscapes and local culture. The Cocora Valley is home to the tallest palm trees in the world, and is one of the best places to go hiking or horse riding in the country. I also recommend spending some time walking the colourful streets of Salento and Filandia, two small towns whose original architecture has survived the many earthquakes in the region.
Of all Colombia’s destinations, Cartagena always has been and remains the most popular. Once a 16th century Spanish outpost used to expand and defend their vast empire, the city has expanded in all directions with high-rise condominium apartment blocks and thriving modern businesses. Fortunately Cartagena’s old city, and in particular the inner walled town, has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. This historical walled oasis is the only place to stay, and the longer you spend here the more you will fall under the city’s spell. The climate is hot and humid year-round so getting a hotel with a pool is recommended. Despite the heat, days spent exploring the maze of colourful streets lined with Spanish colonial style balconies draped in bougainvillea are very enjoyable. Come night-time there is a buzz and level of social activity that you just don’t find elsewhere. Many locals consider themselves Caribbean rather than Colombian, and it is not hard to see why; you could easily be in Havana or Puerto Rico.
Whether you are looking for a holiday of cities and culture, a multi-day hiking trip to the Lost City or getting more off the beaten track travelling to towns such as San Agustin and Popayan, this country really can deliver. Boutique hotels are cropping up in all places now and a steady stream of Latin American and European immigrants are transforming the country’s culinary offerings to a world-class level. With direct flights from London and domestic airports serving all the major tourist locations, it is easy, quick and inexpensive to travel around Colombia. It is also a great country to pair with the likes of Peru, Ecuador and the wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands for those wanting even more variety.