WELCOME TO COLOMBIA
Ready to be blown away by a country that brims with diversity in all its facets. Let’s go ahead and discover Colombia. Whether we are talking about its history, culture, climate, landscape, languages or people, diversity is what describes it best.
Colombia is El Dorado. Colombia is Gabriel García Márquez. Colombia is salsa. Colombia is paradise.
Going back in time, it was the El Dorado legend that brought Spanish conquerors to the country. They were pursuing the goal to find the so called Land of Gold. The arrival of the Europeans marks the beginning of a fairly dark era for native people. Since then, the continent has never been the same.
Today, when looking at it from another perspective, we can state that Colombia has turned into a beautiful melting pot formed by indigenous people and people from Africa and Europe; all of them contributing to the country’s rich culture.
Colombia is where people not only dance to salsa music, but live it. Colombia is home to Literature Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel García Márquez. Colombia is the world’s most renowned coffee, the tropical Caribbean beaches, the dense jungle, the snowcapped Andes, and vibrant metropolises; but above all Colombia is home to the happiest people in Latin America.
The days when drug trafficking and the internal armed conflict turned the country into an unpredictable source of violence are over. Today, people traveling to Colombia are received with open arms and a warm smile.
Despite that, Colombia is still not widely recognized as a travel destination. Therefore, the numbers of visitors are still limited. Many regions are slowly opening up to tourism. Hence, there are still really exciting and new destinations to be discovered and myriads of breathtaking places to visit in Colombia.
Discover Colombia with Palenque Tours and enjoy it to the fullest! ¡Bienvenidos a Colombia!
COLOMBIA’S GEOGRAPHY AND BIODIVERSITY
Colombia’s geography and biodiversity is unique, not only in South America, but across the whole globe. Get an idea about how diverse its flora and fauna is by traveling to the six main regions of Colombia:
Can you travel the world staying inside the borders of a single country? Traveling Colombia can actually make you feel like you could. You can’t imagine? Read on and allow yourself to be convinced.
You can gaze and discover Colombia’s six main regions:
- Andean region
- The Caribbean Coast/ the Atlantic Coast
- The Pacific Coast
- The Amazon region
- The Eastern Plains (Los Llanos Orientales)/ Orinoquia region
- The insular area
Colombia just has it all.
Fabulous Facts about Colombia
If you ever have to decide between going to the Pacific or the Caribbean Coast, why not choosing to go to Colombia – the only South American country that doesn’t make you choose, because it has both. Amazed already? The list of astonishing facts goes on:
- Colombia is home to the second largest variety of species all over the world.
- 10% of all species of animals and plants grow, thrive and live here.
- 15% of the planet’s orchids bloom here.
- 1.903 bird species, which account for 18% of species worldwide, fill Colombia’s sky.
- 50.000 plant species, 1.500 fish species, 456 mammal species and a countless number of insects and amphibians call Colombia their home.
- About one quarter of the country’s area—which is as big as Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland together—is covered with untouched rainforest.
Colombia and UNESCO
Did you know that UNESCO declared five of its regions biosphere reserves? Or that it is one of the richest countries in water resources?
Several of the biggest rivers of our planet slash their ways through Colombia’s terrains:
- the legendary Magdalena River (río Magdalena) which was explored by Alexander von Humboldt;
- the Amazon River (río Amazonas), THE river of superlatives;
- the Orinoco, home of pink river dolphins;
- the Atrato River, which is, in relation to its catchment area, one of the largest rivers worldwide.
Take it tropical – Colombia’s Caribbean Coast
Picture this: desert landscapes that reach as far as the horizon, the rampant, vibrant jungle restrained by a belt of white sand beaches, which—at some point—merge with the crystal clear, majestic sea. Welcome to Colombia’s Caribbean Coast!
Chop your way through the undergrowth to the other side of the rainforest and you’ll eventually get to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta piling up in front of you – the highest coastal range in the world with its 5.770 meter peak. Welcome to the mystical “Lost City” (Ciudad Perdida)!
If you are visiting Cartagena, don’t miss out on experiencing the beauty of Rosario Islands. Make sure you bring along your snorkeling equipment and get ready to plunge into a world of colorful coral reefs, fish and other astonishing sea dwellers.
The sea of seven colors that surrounds San Andres Island will leave an impression you won’t ever forget. Once there, don’t miss the chance to discover Colombia’s Providencia Island that forms part of the same archipelago. Even though, or rather because, getting there is a little tricky, it is definitely worth the trip, since it’s not overrun by tourists and therefore you are going to be able to enjoy paradise the authentic way.
National Park Tayrona, located near Santa Marta, combines an adventurous jungle experience with relaxing moments soaking up some sun, while admiring the unforgettable scenery at one of its golden sand beaches.
Into the Wild – Colombia’s Pacific Coast
The Pacific Coast’s lowlands form one of the jungle regions with the highest amount of rainfall worldwide. The area is also one of the most fertile ones and is home to even more species than the Amazon. If you enjoy non-touristic, authentic places, abandoned beaches, dense forests, rough waves and humpback whales, the Pacific Coast is the place to be.
Getting to know the breezy Afro-Colombian culture, representative for this part of the country, is going to make a lasting impression on you, no doubt.
On Top of the World – The Andean Region
Colombia is divided by three massive mountain ranges reaching to the sky – the Andes. The central one is formed by the highest peaks, as for instance the Nevado del Huila—a volcano that is 5.364 meters high and looks as if it were wearing a white hat all year long.
If you are trying to get the most amazing view of the Llanos Orientales—a wet savanna inhabited by a great variety of species, which reaches all the way into Venezuela—cresting the eastern mountain range is a personal tip for you. Further down to the south the plains blend into the Amazon rainforest that accounts for 400.000 km² of the national territory and is mostly unpopulated apart from some indigenous communities.
Most of Colombia’s bigger cities are also located in the Andean Region.
CITIES IN COLOMBIA
Fernando Botero—the most famous contemporary painter of Latin America – calls the city of Medellín his hometown. This is something the city’s dwellers are quite proud of and they don’t hesitate to show it. That’s the reason why you’ll find his voluminous sculptures scattered all across town. Plaza Botero, a plaza in the heart of the center, is dedicated to the Colombian artist.
Apart from Botero’s art, you are going to fall in love with the city because of its beautiful surroundings, its friendly people, its vivid atmosphere, its numerous fun and interesting cultural events and its vibrant nightlife.
Want to get to know Medellín at first hand? Why not go on a Medellín city tour and get to know the city’s story. Are you into coffee? A Medellín coffee tour might just be the perfect plan for you. Got hungry for more information about Medellín? Go and get it!
Colombia’s capital Bogotá fulfills every characteristic that people think of when talking about megacities. Art and culture lovers will definitely get their money’s worth with the metropolis’ cultural activities and events bursting at the seams. Almost every corner has something interesting to offer, a fascinating story to tell or a fun activity to see or try. Bogotá’s museums, theaters, street art, architecture and spectacular viewpoints from the top of the Andes will keep you entertained and make sure you’ll enjoy your city trip to the fullest. With so many things to do in Bogotá, you might just want to stay.
Nightlife in Cali, the world’s capital of salsa, enchants all of its visitors with its tropical rhythms. Even if you’re not a dancing queen, you won’t be able to deny yourself the temptation of moving to the animated sounds filling the city streets. Cali is located very close to the Pacific Ocean, which results in a very strong influence of urban, pacific and Afro-Colombian cultures and traditions.
In the south-east of the country, right at the Brazilian and Peruvian border, you’ll find Leticia—a city with a very special and unique atmosphere. Discover Colombia’s enormous, mystical and impressive Amazon – wild nature that spans as far as the eyes can reach and right in the middle there is an isolated, tropical town called Leticia. The city is also referred to as the gate to the Amazon, as for most travelers it is the starting point of their Amazon jungle tour.
Cartagena de Indias
Discover one of Latin America’s most wonderful colonial centers, walk along the historic city wall, take a day trip to Rosario Island or another paradise-like beach nearby, bath in the crater of a mud volcano or visit the beautiful San Felipe Castle. Whatever you decide to do in Cartagena, the city’s charm enchants all of its visitors.
Colombia – Better Together
Due to Colombia’s topographic and climatic conditions, many parts of the country were practically separated from each other in the past. Therefore, individual regions developed in quite different ways according to climate and natural circumstances. Its habitants formed diverse cultures and ways of life. As a result of this, there are enormous regional differences regarding music, food, economy, dances and clothes.
Over time, Colombia has grown together, because of modernization and better infrastructure. The unequal level regarding development and wealth of the different regions, however, is still noticeable today. All of these circumstances lead to the fact that you can actually travel the world staying inside the borders of one single country. Delivered my promise?
The Two Faces of the Eternal Summer
Eternal sunshine of the spotless… Colombia. Due to its geographic location right on the equator, the country and its habitants enjoy a rather constant tropical climate all year long. There are, however, various climate zones that mainly result from differences in altitude.
Touring Colombia, you’ll experience hot, tropical climate characterizes the areas of the Amazon, the Eastern Plains (Llanos Orientales), the Pacific and Caribbean lowlands as well as the Magdalena and Cauca Valley.
In the parts of the Andean region a quite pleasant spring-like climate prevails. The best example is Medellín,The City of Eternal Spring. Other areas of the Andes, the highlands for instance, present pretty harsh and cold weather conditions.
It is supposed that there is a wet and a dry season in Colombia. Ask some locals when the season start and end though, and you’ll quickly realize that there is more dissent than consensus about these dates. That’s the reason why the information provided in most travel guides is to be seen as a ballpark estimate.
Most of them state that the dry season lasts from the middle of December to the middle of March and from the middle of June to the middle of September.
The rainy season is said to start in the middle of March and to last until May and from September to the middle of December. A longer wet season is to be expected in northern lowlands (from May to October). But, as said before, these are only vague estimations, since the weather tends to change in unpredictable ways.
Love your Colombian holidays in any wind and weather.
Colorful Colombian Culture
Colombia’s colorful and diverse culture goes hand in hand with its colorful population. This precious cultural heritage is the result of people of all “shapes and sizes” living and striving together. Just take a look at Colombia’s art, music, religion, dance, traditions or gastronomy. Every part is different, every part is beautiful in its own way, and all the parts work perfectly together. As a whole, they create an astonishing mosaic.
An aspect that has strongly influenced its demographic pattern is its colonial history. Nowadays, the melting pot is formed by 58% of mestizos, 20% whites, 11% black people, 8% mulattoes and only 3.5% indigenous people, whereas the largest indigenous group is represented by the Wayuu community.
In terms of the black population, a great part lives in the department of Chocó, the city of Cali and the Caribbean coast. In these areas, you’ll notice that the culture is still strongly influenced by its African roots. If you are lucky, you’ll learn about and even experience African traditions and rituals that have been mixed with elements of Colombia’s culture. Get fascinated listening to the locals telling one of the many myths and legends that have emerged from the syncretism of catholic ideals and African traditions.
Discover Colombia’s Music
An entertaining proof of this culture mix is the music genre cumbia that merges indigenous melodies with African rhythms and results in a vivid music style you are definitely going to enjoy dancing to. Don’t hesitate and give it a try.
Still in its early stages, salsa was mainly developed and danced by afroColombians and mulattoes. Today, it is the most popular folk dance loved and lived by literally (apart from very view exceptions) everyone. You could even say: Salsa unifies generations, tastes and social classes. Besides, most people from Colombia will be more than happy to show you how to dance salsa, if you haven’t got the chance to learn it yet. Cali might be the perfect place to spark your salsa spirit.
It is not only the African culture that influenced Colombia’s music genres. Also Germany played its part in the evolution of the country’s music scene. Take a long distance bus ride and you’ll immediately know what we are talking about. The bus is filled with a sound called Vallenato —an interesting mixture of the German accordion, African drums and the indigenous Cuacharaca percussion instrument. Above all in the Caribbean, people seem to not get enough of it.
Thanks to Carlos Gardel, the Argentine Tango Star, who died in an airplane crash in Medellín, this music genre enchants the visitors of the city’s bars and dance clubs with its passion.
Religion is a reflection of Colombia’s history and its cultural heritage. It is a topic strongly influenced by the Spanish colonization. About 90% of Colombians are Christians – of which 70.9% belong to the RomanCatholic church. Protestantism is, by number of adherents, the second largest religion in Colombia with 13% of the population identifying themselves as Protestants. Furthermore, there are many indigenous people that still hold on to their traditional religions characterized by its focus on a harmonious life through a strong connection to nature and its elements.
Soccer in Colombia
Now, listen up soccer fans and nonsoccer fans. Even if you are not into soccer at all, you wouldn’t want to miss watching a match in Colombia. The atmosphere that surrounds the players is spectacular. Like everywhere in Latin America, soccer is the number one sport in Colombia. If the national team wins a match, the whole city goes crazy—you can take it to the bank. Should they lose though, the city streets might resemble the roads of an old Western movie.
Pre-Columbian Culture & Colonial Architecture
Are you fascinated by history? Why not follow its footsteps all the way through Colombia? You might just find some incredible pre-Columbian sites and treasures that tell fascinating stories.
Off the Beaten Track – The Lost City
When exploring history’s tail, make sure it takes you on a jungle trip to the Mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. After a 4dayhike you are going to be rewarded with the arrival at the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) that was built by the Taironas, an indigenous community, in about 800 CE and rediscovered in 1975. Due to its location off the beaten track, the Spaniards never found it. All the greater was the amazement, when 40 years ago, a mysterious Lost City was discovered in the midst of the jungle. The city is formed by platforms in the shape of terraces and temples that pile up reaching for the sky in between the dense undergrowth of the rainforest.
Fossil Myths and Legends – San Agustin’s Archaeological Park
In San Agustin’s Archaeological Park in the southwest of Colombia, you’ll find a magnificent excavation site that is home to monumental tombs and sculptures that represent gods, humans and mysterious animals. Its origin dates back to the preColumbian era. In 1995, UNESCO declared the 35 statues of San Agustin World Cultural Heritage.
A Caribbean Gem – Cartagena de Indias
Another UNESCO heritage is found right at the Caribbean coast behind a thick city wall: the marvelous Cartagena de Indias. The historic city tops the list of Colombia’s favorite tourist destinations. Like giant, sleeping colossi protecting the city, the old cannons of the city wall aiming at the sea, represent silent witnesses of former and darker times. Nowadays, Cartagena is considered one of the most splendid colonial towns of Latin America.
Time Travel – Villa de Leyva
Entering the small town of Villa de Leyva, located to the north of Bogotá, you might get the impression of having traveled back in time. White colonial houses scattered over a network of cobblestone streets that are sprinkled with colorful, Mediterranean flowers – this describes the picturesque townscape of Villa de Leyva.
Magical Realism – Santa Cruz de Mompóx
Do you want to feel like living in one of Gabriel Gracía Márquez’s novels? If so, Mompóx is an obligatory interstation during your Colombia holidays. The famous Colombian writer actually refers to this small town in one of his bestsellers. Strolling through the city, you are going to enjoy beautiful, wooden colonial buildings, the traditional atmosphere and a pleasant breeze coming from the close by river Magdalena.
Colombia: Festivals & Folklore
One must make hay when the sun shines. When it comes to parties, most Colombians sing from the same hymnal. Dancing, singing and drinking are irremissible items on the agenda. What do people like to drink here? Guaro obviously – the national aniseed brandy, which is also called Aguardiente. Also rum fuels parties, above all in coastal regions.
Discover Colombia’s numerous festivals. They take place all over the year and all over country.
Always wanted to live a South American carnival? You don’t have to go all the way to Rio de Janeiro. Take a trip to the coastal city Barranquilla and be part of the second biggest carnival in South America and the most important festival in Colombia.
As is right and proper for the City of Eternal Spring, Medellín, its flowers are celebrated a week long every year as part of the Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair).
Another event in Medellín that attracts crowds of people is the city’s International Poetry Festival. It has become the biggest poetry festival on a global scale and has received worldwide reputation.
During the Feria de Cali (Salsa Festival) in January, salsa is the center of attention and the whole city takes the floor. You can attend great tropical concerts like the “Salsódromo” and the “Superconcierto” and listen and dance to local as well as international orchestras.
For everyone who doesn’t get enough of Vallenato throughout the year, the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata in Valledupar is a hot tip for you. In the course of the festival the king of Vallenato is crowned every year. Gabriel García Márquez, who was one of the festival’s cofounders, also compares his imaginary place Macondo with this music saying that “One hundred years of solitude” was one big Vallenato.
The Taste of Colombia:
A Cocktail of Fruits, Sugar Cane and Coffee
Colombia’s coffee conquers cups all over the planet. Always wanted to know where the coffee you start your day with comes from? Visit one of the coffee plantations in the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Growing Axis) further south from Medellín. You’ll get the chance to pick, roast and enjoy your self-made organic coffee.
The sugar cane plantations in the south of Colombia are definitely worth paying a visit. You’ll learn about the entire production cycle from the farmers themselves. These sugar canes are the main ingredient of a product that is essential for Colombia’s economy. We are talking about panela. Panela is consumed as a universal sweetener, as a drink which is called aguapanela—either hot or cold with lemon—and it is also used as a sort of miracle drug, above all by Colombian grandmothers, for all the little aches and pains you might suffer.
To the sweet tooth reading this: Don’t miss trying the sweets that are made of panela, as for instance cocadas or panelitas de coco which are made of grinded coconut and – surprise, surprise – panela. Now that you know all that, it probably won’t amaze you that every Colombian consumes an average of 34kg of panela each year.
Another aspect we can’t leave out talking about the country’s natural wealth are it’s fruits. They are actually so popular that there are hundreds of blog posts dedicated to them. Try Google and see for yourself. Visit a food market and start your journey of exploration. Be ready to discover fruits you haven’t ever seen or heard of and be sure to try them. Enter the fray of the market and enjoy its typical vivid atmosphere.
All about Antioquia
“Más paisa que la arepa” – people use this phrase to describe someone who supposedly has all the characteristics a “paisa” (person from the department of Antioquia) has. If you stop by there, a must eat is the arepa, which is a flat bread made out of grinded corn. It is served with different ingredients depending on the region you’re in. In Medellín the most common and popular version is “arepa de chocolo” – which comes with cheese and condensed milk on top. Sounds like a weird combination? Try it and allow yourself to be convinced!
Whether you would like to take mountain hikes in the Andes, visit the coffee cultivation regions, relax on Caribbean beaches in the Golf of Urabá or explore the hot lowlands of the Magdalena River Valley or visit Medellin, the city of Eternal Spring – Antioquia makes your dreams come true.
Medellín – the City of Eternal Spring – the capital of the
department of Antioquia:
“Mi casa es tu casa” seems to be the paisa’s – Medellín‘s dwellers – attitude to life. With their friendliness they are going to make you feel at home in their town right away. Ask somebody for the way and it’s more than probable that they are gonna walk you there personally.
Why are Medellín’s habitants that warmhearted? It might have something to do with the climate. The sun is an (almost) constant companion of the city that is nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring”. What else is better at putting a smile on people’s face than sunshine?
Let’s take a look at the countless things to do in Medellín:
Medellín’s numerous parks serve as resting resorts in the midst of the city turmoil and contribute to its characteristic colorful cityscape. The best way to admire it are the city’s cable cars– one of them leads to Medellín’s biggest park, which is Parque Arvi. Definitely worth paying a visit.
If you are more of a nocturnal person, Medellín has a lot to offer as well. No matter what kind of music you prefer to dance to, you are going to find it in one of the many trendy bars and clubs. You are into tango? Lucky you! Antioquia’s capital is home to one of the world’s best tango scenes.
Hub City – Medellín:
These are not the only reasons why Medellín has become one of the most popular cities in Latin America and why it is included in the itinerary of more and more travelers. Due to its function as a hub city people depart the metropolis to explore the Caribbean coast, the coffee region and the department of Chocó that has coastlines on the Pacific Ocean as well as on the Atlantic Ocean. Also day trips from Medellín to its beautiful surrounding areas are very popular.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Let me invite you to take a trip down memory lane. Did you know that Medellín hasn’t always been the capital of Antioquia? During the colonial era, it was Santa Fe de Antioquia that held this position. Together with Popayán, Santa Fe de Antioquia counted as the most important city of Colombia.
On your trip to Santa Fe you’ll be able to tell its colonial origin immediately. The structure is still completely reserved, which is why visiting the town is going to feel like a journey back in time. You’ll find typical white buildings with detailedly elaborated wooden doors and window frames. The inner courtyards represent the heart of the house and are decorated with beautiful paintings and flowers. Walking through the town’s cobblestone streets, you are going to pass by colorful plazas, charming churches and bohemian cafés and restaurants.
Jardín, Jericó and Támesis
Going further south you’ll come across the idyllic villages of Jardín, Jericó and Támesis. Coffee growing, fish farming and the cultivation of tropical fruits pose the main sources of income for these traditional towns. Getting together with friends and neighbors at the main plaza of the villages is the favorite pastime of most of the habitants. So, you will see people of all ages gathering around the small tables of cafés, bars and restaurants,while having a cup of coffee, some beers or the popular shots of Guaro. These towns are also great places to do some hiking or horseback riding.
On the way to Jardín, Jericó and Támesis, you will have the pleasure to crest the highest natural pyramid in the world, the Cerro Tusa. It pokes out in between green rolling hills that make you feel like living in a fairy tale.
National Park – Las Orquideas
Like the name of this beautiful national park indicates, you will find a lot of orchids blooming there – over 300 species to be precise. This high number of species is due to the park’s different climate and vegetation zones. Ever seen an frailejón? Be ready to do so while hiking through the highlands and the rainforest in the lowlands.
Guatapé (Eastern Antioquia)
The small and colorful town Guatapé knows how to make people fall in love with her. Its tradition of painting “zócalos” on every house turns the whole city into an art gallery. What are “zócalos”? “Zócalos” are paintings in different styles that decorate the lower part of the houses’ walls.
Apart from the town, there’s another good reason for you to visit Guatapé: el Peñol, a giant monolithic formation. Walking up the 700 stairs will make you feel like on a stairway to heaven and once you’ve reached the top, you’ll feel like you were in heaven. You’ll be amazed by the view of the lake and the small islands peaking out of the water.
The name of one of the first national parks in the country is self-explaining – the vein of the park is formed by a “crystal clear” river that runs through a breath-taking canyon. There is lots of fun stuff to do like caving, rafting and zip-lining or simply relaxing in the water and enjoying the scenery.
Discover Colombia – Safe and Sound?
“Is Colombia safe?” – a very frequent question when talking about this country. This might be due to its fairly bad reputation and people associating Colombia with violence, drug trafficking and the guerilla. While it is true that safety in Colombia was quite unstable in the 80s, things have changed over time.
Although violence is still an issue, it only affects some remote rural areas or humble districts of some cities. In most parts of the country, you won’t notice any of it. Compared to other Latin American and Asian countries, Colombia has modest violence and crime rates.
The Colombian Government is currently holding peace talks with the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and a peace agreement is expected to be signed soon.
All of the Palenque Tours team members have been living in Colombia for many years now. We have studied the country and participated in human rights work. We know the structures of power and violence in Colombia and consider them when planning the journeys we offer. Security is king. Always. We do not—never have and never will—offer trips to dangerous or critical areas. Besides, we keep ourselves updated on new developments and security issues on a daily basis.
As in many other countries, if you keep in mind the typical measures of security, there won’t be any problems at all. Here is a short list you should spare a thought for while traveling in Colombia:
- Certain neighborhoods in the big cities should be avoided.
- Do not leave personal belongings of value unattended.
- Take a cab at night and check its license plate or call a cab from a trusted company to pick you up.
- Do not leave your drinks unattended and don’t accept any beverages from strangers.
- Withdraw money only in busy and safe areas.
- 6. Leave most of your money, credit cards and passports in your hotel safe. Only bring along a copy of your passport including a copy of the stamp of your entry to Colombia.
All of these recommendations also apply to other touristic countries like Ecuador, Brazil, Thailand or the Philippines.
So, getting back to the question “Is Colombia safe?”, we can assure you: “Yes, it is!” If you take some precautions and use your common sense, risks in Colombia are minor and easily avoidable.
If you have any other questions, we are more than happy to answer them.