Colombia, gateway to Central America, has a rich mixture of cultures, idyllic island possessions and wonderfully diverse landscapes from the icy peaks of the Andes to the dense, humid rainforest of Amazonia. It was up the Magdalena river that the Spaniards set out to explore the interior in search of El Dorado’s elusive treasures - the legend lives on at Guatavita, about an hour’s drive from Bogota.
Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast
It was from Cartagena, one of the most important colonial towns of South America, that Spanish galleons set sail laden with treasure bound for Europe. Today, the ‘old city’ is a tourist attraction 'par excellence' - close by is a sublime stretch of Caribbean coastline with many fine hotels. The Ciudad Perdida in Tayrona National Park was discovered as recently as 1975 and is one of the most important pre-hispanic cities in South America. The beautiful Rosario Islands lie a two hour journey by boat south-west of Cartagena, whilst further north lies the archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia.
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Stretching out over the vast fertile valley north of Bogota, Boyaca Province played an important role during the period leading to independence. Of particular significance and well worth visiting is Tunja, where the decisive Battle of Boyaca was fought, Bolivar’s troops fortified by a British Legion. With its cobbled central plaza, Villa de Leyva is a national monument and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and best preserved towns in Colombia.
Archaeological Sites and the Southern Region
The stone statues at San Agustin and Tierradentro represent the most notable archaeological areas in Colombia, many of the figures dating back to 3,300 BC. Little is known of the Agustine cultures, though it is widely believed they practised complex forms of worship. Set amid gently rolling plains, Popayan played an important role during the colonial era due to its location on a direct route between Cartagena in the north and Quito and Lima in the south. Nowadays, Popayan is best known for its Holy Week procession.
The Coffee Region
The coffee region for many people is the heart and soul of Colombia, its cultural epicentre. Almost around every corner a spectacular panorama changes your perspective, from the rolling hillsides of fertile coffee plantations to plunging valleys and bold elevations. Rural life continues as it has done for centuries harvesting coffee, and many other fruits in this lush and fertile land. Staying in one of the many haciendas provides an opportunity to get a feel for the ambience of the area. The departments of the Triangulo Del Café are Caldas, the most northerly, then heading south to Risaralda and in turn Quindío. All three are flanked by the snow capped peaks of the Parque Los Nevados.