Colombia

Colombia

From its vibrant cities to its sparkling beaches, its soaring mountains to Amazonian jungles, this South American country will captivate you 

Writer: Dani Redd  |  Project Manager: Krisha Canlas


The South American country of Colombia encompasses an astonishing diversity of landscapes, from Andean peaks to Amazonian rainforests, and the breathtaking Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Its vast grasslands, Los Llanos, are known as the “Serengeti of South America”. Its high-altitude plains, the páramo, intrigue with their fields of strange-shaped succulents, while the island of San Andrés beguiles with its azure coves.

Colombia attracts adventure tourists by the droves, looking to climb, hike and bike their way through the varied terrain. San Gil is the country’s adventure capital – an epicentre for white water rafting, rappelling and paragliding.

As well as packing in some outstanding beaches, the Caribbean coast is home to some colourful colonial towns. Cartagena is a beautiful city of cobbled plazas, brightly-hued houses, churches and palaces – it’s no surprise that its walled historic centre has a UNESCO designation. Santa Marta also has a well-preserved historic centre, and a great wining and dining scene. It’s a good place to base yourself for beach trips and hikes into the gloriously picturesque Tayrona National Park.

Bogotá, the capital, nestles in the country’s mountainous interior – the third highest capital in the world. It’s Colombia’s cultural epicentre with its inspiring museums, interesting architecture and an electric nightlife. Medellín is another lively mountain city, which has witnessed a complete renaissance after being reclaimed from the drug cartels and guerrilla fighters that used to rule the roost. It’s now a city of nature reserves and botanical gardens, of art galleries, open-air museums and plazas where children play and couples promenade. 

All in all, Colombia will dazzle you with its landscapes, fascinate you with its history, and provide you with plenty of opportunities to party in salsa bars and at cumbia music performances – you’ll soon see why it was nicknamed “land of a thousand rhythms”.

In Focus: Bogotá

Bogotá is one of South American’s most eclectic and interesting cities. Encircled by the snowy peaks of the Andes, it radiates urban cool. The city has a packed calendar of music, art and fashion events, as well as some fantastic cultural attractions. It houses the country’s most famous museum, Museo del Oro, which explores the cultural history of gold in Colombia. There are more than 55,000 gold exhibits from all the country’s major pre-Hispanic cultures. Another interesting museum is Museo Histórico Policial, housed in the former police HQ, where you can learn about the country’s law enforcement with an exhibition on Pablo Escobar and guided tours by police officers.

La Candelaria, Bogotá’s historic downtown area, is crammed with carefully preserved buildings. Ornate churches sit alongside colonial mansions. The epicentre of the district is Bolivar Square, one of the most photogenic spots in the city, surrounded by the cathedral and the vast, colonnaded National Capitol Building. But Bogotá isn’t just renowned for its historic buildings – it’s a city where old is juxtaposed with new. As you walk the streets of La Candeleria and beyond, you’ll find upmarket boutiques, edgy art galleries and bars open until the small hours. And the neighbourhood is also renowned for its striking grafitti murals.

Bogotá is also a great stop for foodies. Enjoy a breakfast of hot chocolate and cheese – a popular dish to stave off the Andean chill – and try a bowl of ajiaco, chicken and potato soup often served with rice, corn and avocado. There are also lots of upmarket restaurants serving dishes from around the world.

Colombian Coffee Industry

The coffee industry might be afflicted by climate change and falling prices, but help is at hand from the government, scientists and NGOs 
 
Colombia is one the top coffee producing countries in the world (exceeded only by Brazil and Vietnam) – in 2018, it harvested and processed 810,000 metric tons of coffee. In Colombia’s Risaralda region, the sub-tropical climate and high altitude mountains provide the unique conditions coffee plants need to thrive. Despite the large amount of coffee produced each year, many coffee farms remain small-scale and family-owned; the plantations are located on the steep foothills of the Andes, making mechanised techniques impossible.
 
But the livelihoods of these 300,000 small-scale producers are under threat, thanks to increasingly unpredictable weather variations, crop disease and pests – all of which are associated with climate change. An investigative report by Quartz in 2018 revealed that over 90 percent of farmers reported changes in average temperature, and 61 percent an increase in landslides due to rains; 91 percent also acknowledged changes in the flowering and fruiting cycle of their coffee plants.  
 
Furthermore, in 2019, coffee prices plummeted to a record low, making it difficult for Colombian coffee farmers to pay their workers wages. As a result of these factors, many are choosing to leave the coffee industry for more well-paid, steady jobs in nearby cities.
 
So what can be done to help the Colombian coffee industry survive? This is a question that concerns everyone from government officials to climate scientists and coffee farm workers.

In December 2019, Colombia’s government launched “Plan 2030” – a roadmap to guarantee sustainable coffee production for the next decade. It involves the renovation of coffee plantations to boost production, as well as a $52 million fund to help cover costs for coffee growers when prices fall. Research is also being done to find ways to help coffee growers reduce their production costs.
 
Across the world, research scientists and agriculturists are working on ways to develop a strategic approach to combatting climate change in coffee production – the supra-regional partnership The Initiative for Coffee & Climate is one example – through impact monitoring, new forms of cultivation and irrigation.
 
In Colombia, according to a report by The Grocer, coffee farmers are beginning to change the way in which they work. José Norbey Sanchez, for example, has started to grow a more resilient coffee cherry, the Castillo. Although it may not be the gold standard Arabic variety, it’s less vulnerable to changes in weather and less prone to coffee ‘rust’. Meanwhile, Diofanor Ruiz is experimenting with alternative methods to produce a higher-quality brew, such as using flotation to select the best cherries according to density, and fermentation with tanks and anaerobic processes. This experimentation enables him to produce specialty coffee, which fetches a higher price on the market.
 
“I want to show what profitable coffee farming looks like to the community to present it as an attractive opportunity to young people,” Ruiz explains.
 
Finally, NGOs and non-profits are working to help maintain coffee growers’ livelihoods. One of these is Coffee for Peace, an initiative launched by Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers and the United States Agency for International Development to promote coffee trade in areas afflicted by violence and the drug trade. It helps coffee farmers learn how to process and conserve coffee, as well as linking them to specialty coffee markets. In providing an economic alternative, it aims to help continue Colombia’s transition to peace and prosperity.
 
With so much help at hand, the future of coffee production looks likely to endure, despite the difficulties it faces. 
 

Outlook Recommends

Eat:
For fine-dining with Bogotá’s elite…
 
For non-traditional Colombian food…
Sleep:
For oceanfront elegance on San Andrés Island…
 
For an idyllic Colombian Caribbean vacation…
Quinta del Mar Resorts consists of three boutique, luxury cabins on the Caribbean Coast: Sunset and Tintipan, on Isla Tintipan, and El Paraíso, in Tolú. Expect swimming pools and luxury rooms with ocean views, bespoke butler service and exquisite, home-cooked Colombian dishes. You can travel as a couple, or in a large group.
 
Do:
For a catamaran cruise around the Rosario Islands…
 
For a free biking and street food tour in Cartagena…

Entertainment:
For live champeta music in Cartagena...
 
For an eccentric carnivalesque restaurant and club...
 
For a bar where you can play tejo, a game involving gunpowder...
 
For an atmospheric beach bar in Providencia...

Landmark Attractions 

Ciudad Perdida
Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains is Ciudad Perdida (“Lost City”), one of the largest pre-Columbian towns in the Americas. These atmospheric ancient ruins are 650 years older than Machu Picchu and lay undiscovered for centuries. The only way to reach the city is by a 27-mile hike through dense rainforest, a challenging but rewarding experience that can be done with tour companies..
 
Tayrona National Park
This national park hugs Colombia’s Caribbean coast, offering up some of the country’s best beaches, verdant rainforests and timeworn pre-Hispanic ruins. It’s also home to a wide variety of animal and bird life, including lizards, monkeys and Andean condors.
 
Cartagena’s old town
Cartagena is a must on any Colombian itinerary, thanks to its perfectly preserved, 16th century walled city. Expect flower-filled balconies, pastel-hued houses and ornate churches. The walled city also serves up luxury living with its fine dining restaurants and boutique hotels in former mansions.

Getting There and Around

El Dorado is the country’s busiest airport, located near Bogotá. It flies to over 70 domestic and international destinations, ranging from Madrid to Miami. Passengers from Asia or Africa can connect via European airports such as Amsterdam, Paris or London, as well as go through Istanbul.
 
From El Dorado, passengers can also take domestic flights to popular destinations such as Cartagena and San Andres. Avianca – Colombia’s national carrier – flies to 26 destinations across the country. For travelling across the country, Colombia also has a network of comfortable, air-conditioned buses serving all major destinations. Car hire is not recommended – insurance is expensive, and traffic can be unpredictable in cities.
 
Most major cities have mass transit systems. Medellín has an efficient metro linking to its cable car lines, while Bogotá boasts the TransMilenio, the world’s largest Bus Rapid Transit system. It also has an extensive network of cycle paths. Private taxi hire is available in all major cities as well.