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Colombia

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Soaring Andean summits, unspoiled Caribbean coast, enigmatic Amazon jungle, cryptic archaeological ruins and cobbled colonial communities. Colombia boasts all of South America's allure, and more.

Outdoor Adventures
Colombia's varied terrain is fertile ground for outdoor adventurers to dive, climb, raft, trek and soar. San Gil is the undisputed adventure capital, but Colombia boasts alfresco pleasures in all corners. Some of the continent's most iconic trekking is here, and is dramatically varied: Ciudad Perdida is a multiday jungle walk to the ancient ruins of the Tayrona civilization, while numerous ascents inside Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy places intrepid hikers on the highest reaches of the Andes. Providencia's world-class reef spells aquatic heaven for scuba divers, and whale-watchers on the Pacific coast can see majestic humpbacks in the wild.

Where To Go
All the areas covered by us are generally safe from guerillas and paramilitary groups, and providing you do not wander far from what’s included in our coverage, you aren’t likely to run into any problems. If you’re curious about an area that has been omitted, it’s likely due to security issues. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and/or paramilitaries maintain a presence in the Chocó, Cauca, parts of Nariño, rural parts of Huila, Putumayo, Meta, the jungle area east of the Andes (except for the area around Leticia) and parts of the northeast, (especially Arauca) so avoid these areas where not covered by us.

Diverse Landscapes
Colombia's equatorial position affords it a diversity of landscapes matched by few countries. A slight tinkering in altitude takes you from sun-toasted Caribbean sands to coffee-strewn, emerald-green hilltops in the Zona Cafetera. Continue to climb and there's Bogotá, the bustling cradle of Colombia and third-highest capital city in the world. Throw in another few thousand meters and you find snowcapped peaks, high-altitude lakes and the eerie, unique vegetation of the páramo. The bottom drops out as the Andes give way to Los Llanos, a 550,000-sq-km swath of tropical grasslands shared with Venezuela, often called the Serengeti of South America.

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Extraordinary Culture, A wealth of ancient civilizations left behind a fascinating spread of archaeological and cultural sites throughout Colombia. The one-time Tayrona capital, Ciudad Perdida, built between the 11th and 14th centuries, is one of the continent's most mysterious ancient cities, arguably second only to Machu Picchu. Even more shrouded in mystery is San Agustín, where more than 500 life-sized ancient sculpted statues of enigmatic origin dot the surrounding countryside. And then there's Tierradentro, where elaborate underground tombs scooped out by an unknown people add even more mystique to Colombia's past.

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Colonial Charm, Led by Cartagena's extraordinarily preserved old city, Colombia offers an off-the-radar treasure trove of cinematic cobblestoned towns and villages that often feel bogged down in a different century, content to carry on as they have since the departure of the Spanish without a care in the world. Unweathered Barichara and happily sleepy Mompox feel like movie sets, impossibly unspoiled by modern progress; while whitewashed Villa de Leyva appears stuck in 16th-century quicksand – and these are just the villages that people do visit.

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Bogota, Bogota is Colombia's beating heart, an engaging and vibrant capital cradled by chilly Andean peaks and steeped in sophisticated urban cool. The city's cultural epicenter is La Candelaria, the cobbled historic downtown to which most travelers gravitate. Here, a potpourri of preciously preserved colonial buildings house museums, restaurants, hotels and bars peppered amid 300-year-old homes, churches and convents. Nearly all of Bogotá's traditional attractions are here – radiating out from Plaza de Bolívar – and gorgeous Cerro de Monserrate is just east.

The city's grittier sides sit south and southwest, where working-class barrios continue to battle well-earned reputations for drugs and crime. In the ritzier north, you'll find boutique hotels and well-heeled locals piling into chic entertainment districts such as the Zona Rosa and Zona G. Here, rust-tinted sunsets dramatically bounce off the bricks of upper-class Bogotá's Andes-hugging residential buildings – a cinematic ceremony that begins the city's uproarious evenings.

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Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stone walls. Cartagena's old town is a Unesco World Heritage site – a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches that cast their shadows across plazas.

But then there is the outer town, full of traffic, the working class, and a chaotic nature that can leave you dazed and confused in minutes. It is here that Cartagena becomes a typical workhorse South American city. To the south, the peninsula of Bocagrande – Cartagena's Miami Beach – is where fashionable cartagenos sip coffee in trendy cafes, dine in glossy restaurants and live in the upscale luxury condos that line the area like guardians to a New World.

Cartagena is a place to drop all sightseeing routines. Instead, just stroll through the old town day and night. Soak up the sensual atmosphere, pausing to ward off the brutal heat and humidity in one of the city's many open-air cafes.

Holding its own against Brazil's Ouro Preto and Peru's Cuzco for the continent's most enthralling and righteously preserved colonial destination, Cartagena is hard to walk away from – it seizes you in its aged clutches and refuses to let go.

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