Skip to navigation Skip to content
Search
  • *

From the golden sands of the Caribbean coastline to the silvery peaks of the Andes Mountains, Colombia’s riches are many and varied.

This is the land which inspired Marquez’ magic realism, and travelling here you can understand why. Dotted around the Andean foothills you’ll find sleepy towns steeped in history (and coffee!), while waves crash on the wild Atlantic coastline and steamy Caribbean jungle cloaks the coastal hills of Santa Marta.

There’s a mysterious past to be discovered too, with archaeological splendours hidden deep in the jungle and in underground tombs. Colonial towns abound, from the beautifully preserved Cartagena to the cobbled streets of Villa de Leyva. Vibrant Bogotá will satisfy the culture hungry with its wonderful Gold Museum and art galleries and restaurants all dotted around La Candelaria, the cobbled colonial centre.

Over the Andes the land drops down into the Los Llanos grasslands stretching all the way to Venezuela, while a vast tract of Amazon Rainforest sweeps south to meet Brazil and Peru.

The Andean region

The mighty Andes begin in Venezuela and continue down through South America to Patagonia. Colombia’s Andean region is home to Bogotá, which at 2640 metres is the third highest capital in the world. Snowy peaks rise up over 5000m, while sleepy towns such as Villa de Leyva and Barichara will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Coffee haciendas thrive in the cool climes of Armenia, while to the north the modern city of Medellin feels like a different world altogether.

The Caribbean coast

From the jungles of the Darién Gap on the border with Panama, all the way to the Gulf of Venezuela, Colombia has an enviable stretch of Caribbean coastline. This region has a tropical vibe with plenty of salsa beats, balmy nights and a distinctive culture. The pristine beaches of Tayrona National Park are found here, as well as the Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) hidden deep in the jungle-clad mountains of Santa Marta. The city of Cartagena is the star of the show, with its colonial centre and easy striking distance to many excellent beaches.

 

Things to do

From sipping a freshly brewed coffee within sight of the beans, to shaking up a Caribbean rum cocktail in balmy Cartagena, a holiday to Colombia has many flavours. Get a bird’s eye view of the capital from Monserrate Mountain, and then travel through the Andes from Bogotá visiting beautifully preserved colonial villages along the way.

Take a tour of the coffee plantations of Salento and gaze at the beauty of the Cocora Valley cloud forests or the epic Chicamocha Canyon. Over on the coast you can soak up the sunshine on the beaches of the Rosario Islands and wander the colourful streets of the UNESCO-protected old town of Cartagena. This jewel in the crown is also a stop on several of our cruises around Central America and the Caribbean.

 

Culture

Colombian culture has been influenced by Native America, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East, so you could describe it as ‘diverse’. Art, theatre and music all have a rich history in Colombia.

The country’s national sport is ‘tejo’, in which a metal puck is thrown across an alley on to a board covered with clay and set at a forty-five degree angle. The board contains gunpowder-filled targets and extra points are scored if you hit one. It’s a bit like exploding boules!

Famous Colombians include author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, former Formula One racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya and the singer Shakira.

 

History

Colombia forms the only land link between Central America and South America, indicating that the founders of South America’s greatest civilisations passed through here on route south. However, although they are likely to have travelled via Colombia they didn’t settle there. Instead the country was home to several smaller civilisations of which much less is known. These include the Tayrona, who built the Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) near Santa Marta, the Tumaco and the Calima. The Spanish first arrived in Colombia at the end of the 15th century and were immediately enthralled by the promise of gold.

The locals had it in plentiful supply, and there were tales of an inland Eldorado with mountains of gold and precious gems. They couldn’t resist the notion, and over the next century several pioneers led missions into the interior in search of these fabled riches. They never found Eldorado, but their rapid exploration of the country led to them founding several towns in quick succession, including Bogotá.

The Spanish, who proceeded to ship in slaves from Africa, quickly settled this sparsely populated land. Arriving via the Caribbean port of Cartagena, the slaves were put to work across the country and eventually their numbers surpassed those of the indigenous people.

Independence from the Spanish crown came in 1819, but the next century was blighted by civil war after civil war and there was enormous loss of life. In the mid 20th century and during the Cold War several guerrilla groups emerged, the most well known being the FARC.

These groups had varying views, but were mainly based around a Marxist revolutionary framework. However, with the waning of the Soviet Union the groups received less support from afar and turned to the drugs trade for funding – and so began the saga of Colombia’s cocaine cartels. The situation peaked during the 80s and 90s with the notorious exploits of Pablo Escobar. Today Colombia is at its most calm, with tourism becoming increasingly more prevalent right across the country.

 

Top holidays in Colombia