A Traveller’s Guide to Colombia

A Traveller’s Guide to Colombia

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Colombia, or the República de Colombia as it is officially known, is one of the most diverse and remarkable countries in the western hemisphere. It has become a popular tourist destination over the past decade, and for good reason. Below, a list has been compiled for a few things to consider before embarking on the long flight over.

Size

Colombia is big. And it is much bigger than it appears. In terms of area, Colombia is the twenty-fifth largest country in the world at 1,141,748 km². For the numerically challenged, this figure may not represent a great deal. But to put it in perspective, the area size of England is 130,279 km², which means that one Colombia equates to eight Englands (and a ninth Cornwall). Alternatively, one Colombia could be filled with two Spains or thirty-seven Belgiums. This point could be laboured all day, but the powers-that-be at KCW Today may not deem it to be the most productive use of time.

Given how vast Colombia is, it is worth considering using airline travel to get around the country. Domestic flights tend to be relatively cheap (a flight from the capital city of Bogotá to Cartagena on the North coast is around £55) and it is the safest mode of transport.

Climate

Colombia has a tropical climate and temperatures are high throughout the year. However, the microclimates in Colombia’s different regions can vary immensely. Temperatures are higher in Colombia’s coastal regions, although the Caribbean coast in the North is much drier than the Pacific coast. Further inland lie Colombia’s two largest cities, Medellín and Bogotá, where it is significantly cooler. Both of these cities certainly offer some respite from the beating sun of the Colombian coastline because of the higher altitude.

Be advised that Colombia has the binary two-season system of dry and rainy; the dry seasons are between December to February and July to August. Peak tourist season is between December and February, which also means domestic prices will be at their highest too.

What do you need?

  • A proficiency in Spanish is not essential but highly recommended. Even in the major cities of Bogotá and Medellin, English is not commonly spoken.
  • Jabs. Certain countries in South and Central America, will not permit entry if you have arrived from Colombia without a yellow fever jab. Either way, it is probably worth seeing a doctor and get the necessary jabs and boosters.
  • Passport, but no visa. British nationals can enter Colombia for up to 90 days without a visa.

Where should you visit?

To airlift possibly the most overused phrase in every family holiday brochure, there truly is ‘something for everybody’ in Colombia. To begin with the culture vultures; there are seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Colombia so there is no shortage of options. One particularly popular site is Cartagena, a city situated on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Sunset in Cartagena

The port of Cartagena was strategically very important to the Spanish as part of a link in the West Indies trade route, which made the city the subject of heavy military confrontation between European powers. The city is encased in a sloped wall that slinks around the Old Town coastline, giving the observer a vivid glimpse into the military operations that occurred here during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

For those who prefer to dwell in more rural surroundings, Colombia’s Coffee Region, or the Coffee Triangle, offers visitors the chance to see the production process of some of the world’s finest coffee first hand. Such is the nature of globalisation that the coffee produced in the Triangle is not distributed to other parts of the country because virtually all of it is exported. That is the nature of globalisation, but it should encourage a visit to this quaint part of the country. Fortunately, the Coffee Region escapes the charge of being ‘too touristy’ and it has preserved much of its local charm.

Colombia also has many vibrant cities such as Medellín. Affectionately known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’, Medellín’s well-documented history has not always been so rosy. Between the 1970s to the early 2000s, Medellín found itself blighted by drug violence, narco-trafficking, and corruption scandals.

A view of Medellín

It is a part of the city’s legacy that locals are eager to forget and it is a topic that they do not wish to discuss with tourists who have watched too many episodes of ‘Narcos’. The ratification of this year’s FARC peace deal, for which the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos received a Nobel Peace Prize, is perhaps the best example of the city’s departure from its drug-stained era.

Besides, with features like the Botanical Garden and the Palacio de la Cultura for the tourist to enjoy, it is easy to see the city for what it has become a thriving metropolis.

Why visit now?

Colombian tourism grew by 11% last year, and it is the second-fastest growing across all of South America. Needless to say, prices and costs of travel are only going to grow each year.

A final point should be made about the Colombian people themselves. Much like the country itself, the population of Colombia is highly diverse: there are around 75 different ethnic groups in Colombia spread across the country. In spite of the newfound xenophobic tendencies of a certain North American cousin, this is not an epidemic that has spread its way southward. In fact, what appears to tie all Colombians together is, quite simply, a universal sense of happiness. Wherever one travels in Colombia, expect to be greeted with open arms and wide grins. It should also be added that Colombians understand the importance of a work-life balance, so a few salsa lessons would not go amiss!

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