All too often when we look at South American destinations, Colombia is left off the list. There’s no telling why, but I suspect it’s because of the country’s history with violent drug trade, which has been documented again and again in films, documentaries, and television series. This history is real, but it’s been fictionalized to an extent, and things have gotten better.
To be clear, the U.S. State Department does still issue a travel warning, noting a lingering threat of violence in the country (though specifying that Americans are not targeted). It is important to do the relevant research and exercise caution if you decide to go. As noted by Globetrotter Girls, however, citing a previous iteration of the State Department notice, tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism. So, while there are still risks, it is a vacation destination for those looking for a less traditional South American getaway.
But why would you specifically want to go? Generally speaking, the country offers a fascinating blend of adventure, beauty, history, and culture that can be captivating for travelers. But here are five specific reasons to consider putting it on your list.
1. Cartagena Is A Magnificent City
The Caribbean is known for its very cool collection of old colonial towns: Old San Juan, Santo Domingo, Havana, etc. Colombia is sometimes left out of the equation however because it’s part of mainland South America. Nevertheless, the northern coast of the country is on the Caribbean Sea, and Cartagena fits right in with the ideal image of these types of towns. There are quaint old shops and eateries, old stone walls, horse-drawn carriages, and flowers and palm trees all over town. It’s simply an easy city to fall in love with. There are other cities worth visiting, to be sure, with Bogota probably being the most famous of the bunch, but Cartagena should be a priority for travelers.
2. The People Are Wonderful
This is something you hear about a lot of places. To an extent, I suspect this is because people who live in countries that double as tourist destinations are proud, and want to share their cultures. This is certainly the case in Colombia, where locals can be very friendly and welcoming. Some have even suggested they’re determined to help reshape the country’s reputation following the cartel era. I’m not sure it’s that much of a conscious effort, but the locals can still make a very positive impression.
3. You Can Find El Dorado
The idea of El Dorado has been turned into a ridiculous fiction. An animated film once imagined an entire towering city of gold. An online slot game following a character named “Jungle Jim” “guides you into the darkest depths of South America” in a search for Aztec riches. Actually, it’s rather a clever idea for a real money casino game, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is we can forget that to generations of explorers, El Dorado was a real place to seek. It’s believed that the legend stemmed from the Muisca people of Colombia, who once used gold extravagantly to honor new kings. One of the most fascinating things you can do in Colombia is to visit their descendants and learn of their traditions.
4. Tayrona National Park Is Breathtaking
I could point to numerous specific beaches or areas in Colombia for natural beauty. It really is a picturesque nation. But Tayrona National Park, in the northern part of the country, really has it all. Heavily protected and largely devoid of commercial takeover, Tayrona feels a little bit wild, without being inaccessible. Gorgeous lagoons and relaxing beaches abound, and though parts of the coast are a little bit rocky, you’ll love exploring the area (and maybe taking a dip).
5. The Treats Will Stay With You
A lot of people will single out the coffee in Colombia – and I’m one of them. There are a few countries in the world that can lay legitimate claim to having the best coffee, but I can’t imagine anyone definitively bests Colombia. Sampling the local coffee at, say, a café in Colombia, can be just wonderful. But you can also treat coffee almost like you would wine in a famous wine-producing region, visiting the places where the beans are grown and experiencing it from the ground up, so to speak. But there are other treats from Colombia that will stick with you as well. Fresh fruits are commonly available, black beans and plantains, as simple as they are, can be amazing, and the arepas (basically corn-based pastries filled with meats and other ingredients) are uniquely lovely. In summary, it’s just a great country in which to eat and drink!