Spotlight on Colombia

The Colombia you don't hear about in the newspapers is surprisingly relaxed and is inhabited by extremely personable and spirited people pursuing orderly lives. Its cities may be daunting, but it has some wonderful towns, Caribbean beaches, cordilleras, Andean valleys and Amazonian rainforest. Steeped in myth and mysticism, Colombia, when safe, is arguably the most underrated travel destination on the continent. Six-day return treks to the ruins of La Ciudad Perdida are very popular. There is great snorkeling and diving off the Islas del Rosario, 20mi offshore from Cartagena, and off the Isla Barú, the peninsula south of Cartagena. The waters around San Andrés and Providencia are ooh-aah pretty-fishy spots of choice delight. Adventurous jungle tours of the Amazonian interior can be arranged in Leticia.

Cartagena is full of history and charm. At La Popa Monastery, you will have a panoramic view of the city and harbor. Enjoy the artisan center of Las Bovedas (The Dungeons), Plaza Bolivar, the Palace of Inquisition and the Church of San Pedro Claver, and shop for Colombian emeralds - the finest in the world.

Santa Marta is the cultural and historic center of Columbia's Sierra Nevada region. Be sure to visit the unspoiled beaches of the Parque Nacional Tayrona.

Barranquilla - Founded in 1629, Barranquilla was a sleepy tropical town until the mid-19th century, when steamboats began navigating the river and railroads connecting it with other cities in the region were built. The port was enlarged in the 1920s, and the city gradually surpassed its old rival, Cartagena. Barranquilla’s carnivals attract many tourists. It has an international airport and many universities.

Gorgona Island - Complete with swinging monkeys and a range of other animal and plant life, Gorgona Island makes for a fascinating visit. The island also has a few unspoilt sandy beaches and the area is great for nature tours, bird watching and snorkeling. Gorgona Island is also an excellent spot for whale watching - the best months are from July to September, when killer whales, amongst others, are often seen. The island is also popular for scuba diving.

Isla Malpelo - Malpelo Island is located off the coast of Colombia and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At first glance, the island seems to be barren rock, but it is in fact a plant and wildlife sanctuary. Malpelo is home of a unique shark population; swarms of 500 hammerhead sharks, hundreds of silky sharks, and recently discovered species of sand sharks are frequently seen by diving expeditions, making it a very popular shark diving location.

Providencia is one of a group of islands in the Caribbean, to the north of the coast of Panama but belonging to Colombia. It is the second largest island of the group and is volcanic island and much older than San Andrés, the largest island. The highest peak is El Pico, which is well worth a walk. Providencia is rapidly becoming a fashionable spot for Colombian tourists. Aguadulce on the western coast has already been converted into a tourist centre with hotels, restaurants, boat and snorkeling gear rental. However, the rest of the island has remained virtually unspoiled. The coral reefs around Providencia are extensive and provide for good snorkeling and diving. There is much fine Caribbean English-style architecture and the locals are very friendly.

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