Colombia

Essentials

Capital: Santa Fé de Bogotá

Size: 1,141,748 km²

Population: 37.5m

Currency: Peso

Language: Spanish

Visas: Not required by EU nationals.

Food: Tamales are meat pies made by folding a maize dough round chopped pork with potato, rice, peas, onions, and eggs wrapped in banana leaves (which you don’t eat) and steamed. Great for breakfast with hot chocolate.

Drink: Excellent Colombian coffee and fruit juices.

Much of Colombia is now firmly on the travel circuit, and the adventurous will fall in love with this land of sun and emeralds, despite the well-publicised drug trade and guerrilla activity. Opportunities for climbing, trekking and diving are excellent and there are mud volcanoes to bathe in, acres of flowers, remote coffee fincas high in the mountains and a CD library’s worth of music festivals, in addition to several superb historical sites – reminders of cultures long gone.

Bogotá, the capital, stands on a plateau in the eastern cordillera of the Andes. The old centre of La Candelaria boasts dozens of fine colonial buildings, and a magnificent Gold Museum housing one of the most remarkable collections of pre-Hispanic gold in Latin America. Outside the centre, head to Zipaquirá to explore the awesome cathedral carved out of a rock-salt mine – a true wonder of this mysterious land. Inland, high up in the mountains, is Ciudad Perdida – ancient centre of the once-great Tayrona culture. Sadly this area is currently on the Foreign Office’s no-go list (see www.fco.gov.uk/travel for details).

South-west of Bogotá, in the lush, sub-tropical valleys around the little town of San Agustín, lies the country’s most impressive pre-Columbian site: the Valley of the Statues, where hundreds of enigmatic stone figures of men, animals and gods – some over 5,000 years old – adorn an ancient ceremonial site.

The jewel in the country’s colonial crown is the beautiful city of Cartagena, full of wonderful old buildings lining flower-filled streets, and with a fascinating history rich in emeralds and pirates. Today it is the heart of Colombia’s Caribbean: miles of unspoilt coastline stretch west towards Panama. To the east lies Tayrona National Park, where visitors share the beaches with pelicans, an idyllic vista set against a backdrop of the snow-capped mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta rising straight out of the Caribbean Sea.


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