Cosmopolitan Bogotá is, like most capitals, a busy commercial centre, with a vibrant cultural scene and festive nightlife. The two other major cities, Medellín and Cali, are also lively but less overwhelming. Better still are the small towns scattered throughout the country that could turn out to be the highlight of your visit. Popayán and Mompox, for example, are famed for raucous Semana Santa (Easter week) celebrations, and Mompox has a timeless beauty to it. Colombia’s coffee-growing region, the Zona Cafetera, offers breathtaking walks in the foothills where the bean is grown, accommodation in authentic fincas (coffee farms) and excellent trekking.
Most visitors make time – and rightfully so – to head north to the Caribbean for the sun. Just a stone’s throw from the beach, the walled city of Cartagena is the biggest Spanish colonial port in South America. A few hours east, the less scenic Santa Marta and fishing village of Taganga are near Parque Nacional Tayrona, whose picturesque sandy beaches are unrivalled. The two are also great bases for a five-day trek to the archeological ruins of La Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City.
Almost un-Colombian in their feel, the remote Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Providencia both offer great diving, crystal-clear waters and – particularly in Providencia’s case – a unique Raizal culture.
As you head north from Bogotá through the Andes to Bucaramanga, picturesque colonial villages like Villa de Leyva give way to more tropical, river-fed bastions of adventure tourism such as San Gil.
In the southeast, Colombia’s stake of the Amazon, centred on Leticia, may not be as well known as Peru’s or Brazil’s but it offers a slice of jungle adventure and a gateway into the neighbouring countries. The southwest, near Popayán, boasts some wonderful scenery as well as the monumental stone statues and burial chambers of the forgotten cultures of San Agustín and Tierradentro.