Colombia is magical realism

The Colombians are rightly proud of their country, and you’ll feel a tremendous sense of refreshment and delight when you visit. Colombia enjoys everything from flat lowlands to high snow-capped Andes mountain ranges.

Mountainous Medellin is a city of eternal spring, with a pleasant climate of around 24°C (75°F). It’s hard to imagine that this city was once one of the most dangerous cities in the world, considering it is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Colombia.

While you are in Colombia, make time to explore the beautiful city of Bogota. The heart of the Andes is known for its whirlwind festival, a celebration of traditional Colombian dance. In Bogotá, travelers, find it an ideal place to do business, or explore history, food, culture and many other local customs.

The Caribbean city of Cartagena has excellent beaches and a historic old town with colonial architecture. The city’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s one of the safest places in the country. This city is an open-air museum, yet has more than just culture and history to offer.

Colombia boasts outdoor playgrounds like Lake Murray, Congaree National Park, tropical sandy beaches, thundering waterfalls, and amazing rainforests.

In Colombia, salsa isn’t just a taco topping. Dance in “the land of a thousand rhythms” in the southern city of Cali, Colombia’s salsa capital. The clubs start warming up in the early hours of the morning. Don’t forget to come packed with your dancing shoes to move those hips till sunrise.

Colombian food is typical of Latin American cuisine as a whole, and most dishes are served with rice, beans, or potatoes. That said, no matter where you go in the country, you’ll also find arepas at every meal. Made of ground corn dough or flour, arepas con queso (with cheese) are best sampled from street vendors (for $1).

Two other popular foods are Ajiaco, a heavy, potato-based soup that includes shredded chicken, and Mondongo, a broth-based soup which contains chopped tripe. They come served with accompaniments for mixing, including rice, avocado, bananas, and fresh cilantro.

Thirsty? Colombia’s selection of tropical fruits is unmatched, and you can get a glass of fresh fruit juice for no more than a dollar or two.

And of course, Colombia is well-known for its coffee. Join the locals and order a tinto, a very small cup of coffee that is often sold out of thermoses, on the streets. If you prefer to savor a cup while sitting, the chain of Juan Valdez Cafes is the Colombian take on Starbucks, and offers free Wi-Fi to customers.

Want something that packs more punch? Aguardiente is a clear, anise-flavored (black licorice) alcohol that is inexpensive and available nationwide. Drink it straight, with a water chaser.

For souvenirs, Colombia is known for its high-quality emeralds, though even jewelry lovers with a smaller pocketbook can find gold items made with pre-Columbian designs. The indigenous groups make and sell items like Wayuu bags, hammocks and bracelets.

And of course, a bag of freshly-roasted Colombian coffee is an inexpensive and much-appreciated memento for your friends at home.

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Tourism website: Colombia Travel

Time zone: UTC/GMT -05:00

Currency: COP – Colombian peso

Official language: Spanish

UNESCO World Heritage sites: 9

See more of the country in our Colombia photo galleries.

As We Saw It