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Colombia Travel Guide

flights to Colombia

Statistically Colombia may well be the most dangerous place to visit in the world. In truth, although much of the countryside is overrun with narco-terrorists, guerrilla rebels and bandits, in the populated areas it's actually a pretty chilled out and un-intimidating place. Basically anyone with a bit of common sense is in little danger of being robbed or kidnapped, despite what the US driven propaganda would have us believe. Simple rules of thumb are avoid travelling overland through the country, always check on local reports of guerrilla activity before heading anywhere, steer clear of quiet areas of large cities, and never accept a ride, a drink, a cigarette or gum offered by a complete stranger (drugging is a popular way to incapacitate potential mugees). Oh yes, and don't trust the police... the bogus ones will rip you off and there's a good chance the bona fide ones will too, given the opportunity. Bad news aside, Colombia is on the whole a friendly place where ordinary hard working people are simply victims of the drug cartels and crap politicians. Above all it is a breathtakingly beautiful country with sprawling yet spectacular cities, wonderful towns, Caribbean beaches, lovely Andean valleys, ancient ruins and impenetrable Amazonian rainforests.

The capital, Bogotá is a vast mish-mash of futuristic architecture, great colonial edifices, diverse cultures, majestic looking dwellings, shantytowns, sharp suited business types, beggars, blue collar workers, drug dealers, mule trains and fuming traffic jams. It is also the country's cultural, intellectual and artistic centre with some truly great museums, Museo Del Oro and Museo Nacional amongst the highlights. The best views of the city are from the miraculous Cerro De Monserrate, whilst the best nightlife and dining can be found in the Zona Rosa.

The Spanish colonial port of Cartagena is the stuff of legends and an inspiration to writers and artists the world over. The spectacular walled old town is a wonderland of churches and monasteries, palaces and mansions with over-laden balconies and sheltered patios. Of special interest are Palacio de la Inquisition, Casa Marques de Valdehoyos and the old port area. Beyond the walls the imposing 17th century Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is considered the greatest and strongest fortress built by the colonial Spanish. 20miles offshore, the Isla del Rosario offers superb scuba diving opportunities along it's coral reef.

South of Cartagena, the peninsula of Bogagrande and El Laguito has been developed into an upmarket holiday resort. Colombia's other major holiday resort is the duty free island of San Andres, which, despite the rapid development of the tourist industry in recent years has maintained most of it's natural charm and beauty. Nearby Providencia is a coral island paradise and Colombia's number one spot for scuba diving and snorkelling. The Pacific coast of Choco is also slowly succumbing to the lure of tourism, although facilities are pretty basic. However the beaches are truly marvellous; the bonus is that it's a great place from which to explore the jungle by boat. Further along the coast Parque Nacional En Senada de Utria encompasses Isla de Salomon, an excellent place for whale and dolphin spotting.

Colombia's countryside is truly spectacular, you could more or less guarantee that if the troubles ever come to an end this will be the factor that ensures it becomes one of the world's top traveller destinations. Need we mention the world famous Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world's tallest coastal mountain range overlooking the lovely beaches of Parque Nacional Tayrona, or the incredible mud volcanoes of Arboletes where visitors bath in the supposedly therapeutic warm sludge. The tropical rainforests of Los Katios National Park in Choco are home to myriad species that have never even been listed.

Colombia's jungles hold many secrets, not all of them particularly savoury but, in spite of the dangers, intrepid archaeologists have discovered some of the most spectacular ruins in all South America. The Ancient city of La Cuida Perdida is one of the biggest archaeological sites to be found in the Americas during the 20th century, whilst the sites at San Augustin and Tierrodentro are littered with ancient monuments, statuary, tombs and burial mounds. Colombia's favourite historic site is Santuario de Nuestra Senora de las Ljas church, a gothic basilica built on a bridge spanning the Guaitara River. Legend holds that in the mid 18th century the image of the Virgin appeared there on a rock and a church was subsequently built at the site, utilising the rock and image as it's high altar. Today pilgrims from all over Colombia and Ecuador flock to the church, many in the hope of witnessing one of it's famous miracles.

It is a shame that Colombia has to live with such a dire reputation and even more of a shame that so much of it is deserved. Colombian people are both friendly, charming, intellectual and mostly upstanding citizens. As is usual in situations like these, it is the wealthy, greedy and irresponsible few that have created the country's terrible problems. Westerners must also share their part of the blame - governments for getting embroiled in a war that they refuse to try to understand and ordinary people for becoming the user end of the illicit market in cocaine. There are no simple answers, but staying away is definitely not amongst them. To refuse to visit a country as wonderful as Colombia based on US governmental hysteria is a crime in itself. Just follow the few, simple rules and you'll be fine. Surely by building a strong tourist industry the country's dependence on drug money can only be diminished. It would be nice to think that Colombia can look forward to a new wave of prosperity through the efforts of diligent travellers determined to show that the world belongs to us all not just the rich, powerful and threatening.

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