Once synonymous with drug dealing, guerilla warfare and civil conflict, Colombia is now gaining a reputation as a hotspot for visitors wanting a little adventure with their beach and sunshine vacation.
Spanning the Equator, Colombia has a year-round warm climate along the coastline, which runs along both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Higher elevations in the mountains can be more spring-like in their climate. For example, Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast, and Tumaco on the Pacific coast are both much hotter than Bogota, with average temperatures around 26°C (79°F) compared to 14°C (57°F) in the capital city. The rainy season runs from May to November, although it varies in just how much rain falls, according to different areas and elevations.
Many visitors fly into Bogota and linger a few days in this sprawling city which is surrounded by high mountain peaks. The city itself is at 2640m (8660 feet) above sea level and is crammed with towering high-rise buildings which overshadow 400-year-old churches, modern shopping centres and traffic-free plazas. The historic district is La Candelaria, which has quaint cobbled streets. The main must-sees are the Capitol building, Plaza Bolivar and the Cathedral, and the glittering Gold Museum with its fabulous exhibits. On Sundays, many streets are closed to traffic and locals enjoy walking, cycling and roller blading through the city. In the evenings, look out for salsa dancing, or take lessons and join in this sensual dance, performed so well by the locals.
Another popular destination in Colombia is the old port city of Cartagena. This historic gem has ancient city walls, narrow streets and old stone built architecture with wrought iron balconies, in typical Spanish style. The best way to enjoy the city is on a guided walking tour learning about the many statues, 17th century fortress and civic buildings of this historic city.
Those wanting to stay within reach of both the beautiful beaches and snow-capped mountains should consider Santa Marta, a popular destination for tourism. Visit Tayrona National Park which has palm-shaded sandy beaches and coral reefs for snorkeling and diving. You can go hiking in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta amidst some stunning scenery or take a trip to the nearby Lost City. This area has stone circular terraces built by indigenous Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries. The area was only re-discovered in 1976.
Other highlights in Colombia include the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira. This fantastic underground church is carved out of the old salt mines and there are exquisite sculptures of chapels, crosses and religious statues as well as stalactites.
Adventure trips can include taking a guided hike to the five volcanoes within the Los Nevados National Park, rafting on the Rio Negro or kayaking through the wonderful Chicamocha Canyon at Santander. The Amazon Basin is the place for eco-tourism with boat trips and jungle treks through the rainforest. Divers will be amazed at the underwater world protected within the UNESCO Seaflower Biosphere Reserve around San Andreas and there are many other great things to do wherever you choose to stay.