In the past decades, Colombia has often made the headlines due to guerrilla conflicts with the FARC, drug trafficking and cartels. Given the news, you might have been left wondering why Colombia deserves your visit - but you shouldn’t let these news give you a negative bias towards one of Latin America’s most culturally and bio diverse countries.
Last October, Colombia’s president since 2010, Juan Manuel Santos, won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace pact with the armed groups. Colombia’s economy is also experiencing a steep recovery, which makes it the fourth largest in the continent and one of the world’s leading emerging markets.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth.
Colombia is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries (countries that harbor many of the planet’s species). Of these, Colombia is the most densely biodiverse per square kilometer. In its relatively short territory, you can find the Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific. It’s also the country with the most bird species and the home to the 10-20% of all the plant species on Earth. Altogether, it’s the second most biodiverse country in the world - the first is Brazil, whose territory is 7 times bigger.
Colombia is an excellent place to study Spanish abroad.
There are 68 recognized dialects in Colombia. However, Spanish is the official language and it’s spoken by an overwhelming 99.2% of the population. Colombians are well-known for their clear pronunciation, somewhat slower rhythm of talking and for the conservative, prestigious variety spoken in Bogotá. Because of this fame, there are dozens of language schools in Colombia that offer a great value for money to foreign students. These rules are only broken on the Caribbean coast of the country, where Spanish might be harder to understand.
But it also has one of the richest cultural heritages in Latin America.
We’ve already said that Colombia has 68 recognized dialects - and each represents one ethnic group. Colombia’s population is a mix of Natives, Spanish and European migrants, Africans and even Middle Eastern immigrants. As much as 49% of the population is estimated to be of mixed heritage. All of these have deeply influenced Colombia’s cultural landscape and its cities. Most recently, Colombia has been on the spotlight for being the birthplace of magical realism and Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez.
And Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, deserves your visit.
Bogotá is built in a plateau in the eastern part of the Andes. It stands an impressive 2,640 m above sea level, and it’s not surprising that you will find perfect places for eco-tourism and hiking in the surrounding areas of Colombia’s biggest metropolis. Within the city itself, it’s in the cobblestone and narrow streets of La Candelaria that you’ll find true Latin American inspiration, small colored houses, museums and most of the political and business organisations. And while you’re at it, have a tamale in one of the city’s many parks!
So do Guatapé and El Peñol.
Guatapé and El Peñol are not very far from Medellín (the second largest city in Colombia), but they aren’t featured in as many tourist guides as they should be. Both cities are connected through a rock formation from where you can see the impressive dam built in the 1970s. Guatapé is also known for its colorful façades and tiles, which make it look like a city taken from a dream - or, at the very least, from a movie.
Finally, let yourself drown in the Caribbean rhythms of Cartagena.
Like Barranquilla, Cartagena is on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. But Cartagena is much less business-like, and the Caribbean rhythms and sensuality just seem to flow through the old city. Its history is also a major attraction for tourists: the walled colonial city and 16 still standing fortresses were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It’s one of the most remarkable examples of Spanish military architecture in the Americas.