Soaring Andean summits, unspoiled Caribbean coast, enigmatic Amazon jungle, cryptic archaeological ruins, and cobbled colonial communities. Colombia boasts all of South America's allure and more.
Colombia's equatorial position affords it a diversity of landscapes matched by few countries. A slight tinkering in altitude takes you from sun-toasted Caribbean sands to coffee-strewn, emerald-green hilltops in the Zona Cafetera. Continue to climb and there's Bogotá, the bustling cradle of Colombia and third-highest capital city in the world. Throw in another few thousand meters and you'll find snow-capped peaks, high-altitude lakes, and the eerie, unique vegetation of the páramo (high-mountain plains). The bottom drops out as the Andes give way to Los Llanos, a 550,000-sq-km swath of tropical grasslands shared with Venezuela often called the Serengeti of South America.
Colombia's varied terrain is fertile ground for outdoor adventurers to dive, climb, raft, trek, and soar. San Gil is the undisputed adventure capital, but Colombia boasts alfresco pleasures in all corners. Some of the continent's most iconic trekking is here, and is dramatically varied: Ciudad Perdida is a multi-day jungle walk to the ancient ruins of the Tayrona civilization, while numerous ascents inside Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy place intrepid hikers among the highest reaches of the Andes. Providencia's world-class reef spells aquatic heaven for scuba divers, and whale-watchers on the Pacific coast can see majestic humpbacks in the wild.
A wealth of ancient civilizations left behind a fascinating spread of archaeological and cultural sites throughout Colombia. The one-time Tayrona capital, Ciudad Perdida, built between the 11th and 14th centuries, is one of the continent's most mysterious ancient cities, arguably second only to Machu Picchu. Even more, shrouded in mystery is San Agustín, where more than 500 life-sized ancient sculpted statues – some 5000 years old and of enigmatic origin – dot the surrounding countryside. And then there's Tierradentro, where elaborate underground tombs scooped out by unknown people add even more mystique to Colombia's past.
Led by Cartagena's extraordinarily preserved old city, Colombia offers an off-the-radar treasure trove of wonderfully photogenic cobblestoned towns and villages that often feel like they hail from a different century. Unweathered Barichara and sleepy Mompós feel like movie sets, while whitewashed Villa de Leyva appears stuck in 16th-century quicksand. Colombia's panorama of postcard-perfect pueblos are among the best preserved on the continent; just don't explore them in high heels!
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