Fun things to do in Colombia

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Colombia

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    San Gil

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 13, 2011

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    A noted center of numerous outdoor activities, San Gil promotes itself well to adrenaline junkies bent on taking full advantage of its scenic location at relatively low South American prices for enjoying such things compared to “back home.” It is also a natural transit hub for those wanting to break a journey north or south on Colombia's considerably long bus routes. What seems to get lost in this mix is what a truly authentic and totally serviceable town San Gil is in its own right. So, for those not hooked on the highs of extreme sports nor worried about ten hours bus trips, it's still a worthwhile place for a night or two not only for its charming environs but also to see Colombia up close and personal on a nice small scale.

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    Tunja is NOT just a transit hub

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 13, 2011

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    Seen largely as a transit hub, many travelers bypass Tunja despite it being one of Colombia's more intriguing cities. Blessed with a plethora of fine colonial architecture, a few interesting museums and more than its fair share of authentic eating opportunities, it is more than a city to be reckoned with. Overshadowed by nearby Villa de Leyva, most merely change buses for an admittedly beautiful if somewhat artificial Colombian attraction. What they are missing is a vibrant real Colombian town full of the life its competitor somehow lacks. But that's your advantage, you will have Tunja to yourself. Well, you'll have to share it with Colombians but isn't that what you came to Colombia for in the first place for?

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    a Gringo Haven but still, Taganga

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Taganga is a picturesque fishing village with a perfect horseshoe shaped bay that makes for incredibly scenic sunsets. It was surely a paradise fifty years ago but since its “discovery” by gringos at large it has become shall we say a bit less authentic. It has also taken over from Santa Marta as base camp for the majority of non-Colombian tourists in the area primarily to take in the regions main sights of Tayrona National Park and La Ciudad Perdida. If taken in small doses, it still retains much of its charm but staying there must be akin to Khoa San Road in Bangkok, where you're never quite sure exactly what country you are in. If you are looking for Colombia, this is probably not your best shot at finding it but it is certainly worth a short visit to enjoy what is an obviously very pretty if crowded place.

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    Cali

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    While it is true that Cali´s biggest claim to fame is for sweaty salsa, it is not marketed as a tourist spot even within this realm. In many ways, Cali is a local´s town that puts a bit of distance between itself and the “rest of Colombia,” and though the country's third largest city, it lags considerably behind both Bogota and Medellin when it comes to foreign visitors. This cannot be written off solely to its reputation for danger since both of its big city rivals are not exactly considered safe. Oddly enough, despite this seeming indifference, Cali's residents are amongst the most friendly in already super friendly Colombia and anyone that takes time to explore the town will find a very pleasant place with all the amenities and comforts of a major metropolitan area tinged with the color that only Cali can exude. Cali may never join the ranks of top places to see in Colombia, but that's okay with Caleños. It is probably good for the visitors who do venture there too. For they will find a real slice of unspoiled Colombia, even if its decidedly Cali-style.

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    Salento & the Zona Cafetera

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 12, 2011

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    The Zona Cafetera is the place most travelers to Colombia envision when they think of the country whether the know it or not just as Juan Valdez is the mustachioed image of its inhabitants. Cocaine may have grabbed all the headlines but coffee is a buzz that's not only legal but malleable. While it's the everyday drink of the common man it doubles easily as the posh beverage of the elite who can afford it. But those verdant green hills encircling you are not just good for growing beans, there are trails to be trekked and villages to be explored. One such town is wonderful Salento. Full of colorful paisa architecture, it is pleasant in its own right but serves well also as the jumping off point to nearby nature reserves, coffee plantations, and towering palms. Though still primarily the domain of Colombian tourists, backpackers are a steady part of the mix that will likely grow considerably in the near future.

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    a real Colombian destination: Santa Marta

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Santa Marta is a study in contrast. On one hand, it is very much a major tourist destination and even that is two-pronged. It is one of the most popular beach resorts for Colombians who flock to enjoy its easy access sand and surf, waterfront restaurants, and affordable accommodation. It is also a hub for international backpackers intent on enjoying some of Colombia's most desirable sights like Tayrona National Park and the trek to La Ciudad Perdida. But it is also America's oldest city though in its current state of disrepair one could be forgiven for retaining such romantic notions for its nearby rival Cartagena, which has been much better preserved. All that seems to be changing with renovation of any remaining colonial architecture under way but you can't fix what has been torn down so you cannot expect Santa Marta to regain its glorious past intact. No, it will always be a bit of a mishmash town but that is part of its charm and with so many amazing sights at its doorstep it can afford to be less than perfect. As a friendly gateway town somewhat unattached to its history and lineage it stands quite well on its own two, three or even four feet.

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    Popayán

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    In a country filled with colonial gems, Popayán stands out even in Colombia. While it may lack the cobblestone streets of Villa de Leyva, hilly perspective of Barichara, and mixed tropical flair of Cartagena, it has an amazingly large assemblage of perfectly preserved chalk-white colonial buildings interspersed with a fine collection of churches. That it became the most important stop on the trading route between Cartagena and Quito is only more impressive in light of a storied history ravaged only too often by earthquakes. But La Ciudad Blanca or White City is more than its history. It is a thriving and authentic city that takes great pride in its past but embraces the future without losing sight of its present day stature as an up and coming tourist center for the southwest of Colombia. As the country rightfully grows into one of the continents most popular destinations, Popayán will likely join the ranks of its more famous colonial cousins. But for now, it remains marvelously unspoiled. So, enjoy this marvel before you have to fight over its wonders.

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    El Cocuy National Park

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Long off limit due to a high concentration of guerrilla occupation,El Cocuy National Park had a bit of a mystical cult reputation for those wanting to explore its considerable charms but standing on the outskirts of this forbidden land. Though only established as a national park in 1977, the vast and varied park of over 1000 square miles has been the draw of human awe much longer with 15 peaks over 5000 meters, the largest glaciated region in South America above the Equator, and a diverse species of flora and fauna befitting its varying terrain from over 5000 to 600 meters. Ironically, no sooner did it gain national park status and visitation became impossible due to the aforementioned occupation.

    Of course, places of such incredible beauty will gain notoriety no matter how remote and difficult to visit. Perhaps its inaccessibility is what helps create such strong desire in the first place but make no mistake, it is very much deserving of such a pilgrimage. While the lower plains of the eastern side of the park remain largely unvisited, the stunning mountainous area to its west is becoming increasingly popular due to its relative accessibility. This is partly due to a remaining questionable danger of guerrilla activity in the plains but also because of a lack of any infrastructure to make it a reasonably venture. Rangers say this is perhaps the most important part of the park ecologically with much of the flora and fauna the park is protected for so perhaps this isolation is a good thing.

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    Barichara

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Colombia is blessed with a plethora of atmospheric colonial towns but none more stunningly gorgeous than quiet little Barichara . It has the same white-washed simple buildings with requisite wooden balconies and its share of beautiful old churches as you might find elsewhere but what sets it apart is its hilly topography. The vantage points gained by climbing a few hills make for great photographic opportunities. Add to that one of the most pleasant main squares found anywhere in South America and a few choice eateries and you have a recipe for a very satisfying step into the past. Those steps are not so hard of the feet either. Unlike colonial rival Villa de Leyva whose streets are made of large cobblestone, Barichara's empty streets are made of larger flat rocks that looks nearly as scenic but surely make strolling around the town that much more a joy.

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    the trek to La Ciudad Perdida

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    La Ciudad Perdida has not only a rich and lengthy history but a storied recent past as well. Though settlement in the vicinity dates back perhaps a far as the 7th century and the actual structures' construction to between the 11th and 14th, the “Lost City” was just that until the early 1970s when local grave-robbers happened upon the jungle-strewn ruins of the indigenous Tayrona people. The terraced structures that remain incredibly well-preserved even today were mere platforms on which the wooden thatched homes of the Tayrona were built.

    Even after its “discovery,” the area was far from settled and remained in a state of turmoil first with grave-robber gangs fighting over the spoils and then with cocaine cartels using the perfect growing conditions and inaccessibility to their best advantage. This was in great conflict with its tourist development and in the early years of this, a few intrepid travelers were taken hostage, thus propelling La Ciudad Perdida to backpacker mythic proportions. In a world where Machu Pichu was now all too easy to visit, this was a more esoteric jewel in the crown for those drawn to tramping on less trodden if dangerous grounds. As with all things to do with Colombia, information about such danger lagged far behind the steady progress away from it. La Ciudad has been host to many organized trekking groups since the millennium and now appears to be as safe a trek as any in South America. Of course, such organization takes from its illusive allure but it still has a few years before it is overrun like similar treks in Peru so enjoy it while it lasts.

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    Villa de Leyva

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Though no longer the hidden gem Colonial town of yore, Villa de Leyva remains not only one of Colombia's can't miss attractions but also one of its most charming if not totally unspoiled destinations. For the well-healed it has perhaps the greatest variety of eating/nightlife options outside of the big cities and one would be hard-pressed to not be impressed with its plethora of white-washed Colonial buildings set on seemingly endless cobblestone streets. With its proximity to Bogota it is no wonder it can be overrun on weekends with the capital's inhabitants looking for a piece of a rapidly disappearing simpler time but if you time your visit for mid-week, you should find the town every bit as charming if a bit more expensive than in its less glorified if more glorious past. However you slice it, Villa de Leyva awaits.

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    Tayrona National Park's Magnificent Beaches

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Rightfully one of Colombia's most popular destinations, Tayrona National Park is most closely associated with breathtaking coastal scenery but the park encompasses 12 hectares of land with some of it rain forest close to 1000 meters and lowlands of brown desert-like hills. Most who visit only see the park's hallmark beaches shaded by towering coconut palms and perhaps a brief climb to indigenous Tayrona ruins in the most accessible highlands so the misconception of the park is easy to understand. To be fair, these areas are more than enough to warrant a visit to this stunning piece of paradise and it is easy enough to get lost doing just that for a number of days.

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    Bogotá

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Bogotá. The most dangerous city in South America. The kidnapping capital of the world. Say what you like about the capital of Colombia but quiet and unassuming it is not. Reputations are funny things though and rarely are entities able to live up to them. This bodes well for what is otherwise one of the nicest of South American capitals and while perhaps not the very safest, certainly not more dangerous than many others. Can you walk around in the middle of the night irrespective of the neighborhood? No, but that could be said of any number of cities, big or small around the world. Is it a good idea to flash your wealth like a royal flush? No, everyone knows a player is always best keeping his cards to himself. Talking to strangers again? Didn't your mother warn you against exactly this very thing?

    Bogotá like all big cities, especially those in South America, requires a bit of caution but with some very basic common sense care, you can explore one of the continent's most fascinating capitals, one with an amazing mix of Old World and modern. Look no further than the big glossy buildings heralding Bogotá's arrival, screeching upwards from a plethora of colonial gems. Churches are particularly stellar in Colombia and Bogota has more than its share. World class museums at third world prices make an extended stay a pleasure. There are restaurants and bars to fit all price ranges as well as styles. Whether looking for something current and trendy or to immerse yourself in the bustle of “typical” South America, this is a city that provides amply. The people are friendly and helpful. A little Spanish goes a long way. Ask freely for directions but heed those more than a casual suggestions to not go further down a road you are walking on. Keep your guard up but don't let it keep you from interacting with the people that make up this great city. As a rule, South Americans are some of the most honest people in the world. Sure, there are some bad apples. You just need to sort them out and move onto the greener pastures that await you. For in Bogotá, there is much to be revealed and it's only in its exploration that it is possible.

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    Cartagena

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Immortalized though admittedly not referred to directly by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in “Love in the time of Cholera,” Cartagena de Indias may not be immediately recognized by those who come expecting the dilapidated colonial architecture, colorful slave quarters, and rat-infested sewers of the author's time. But make no mistake, despite a restoration that would make the destroyed WWII countries of Europe proud, it manages to ooze at least some of the sensuality and still much of the vitality of Marquez's novel. As romantic as a less pristine vision of Cartagena may be, there is little denying just how gorgeous a city it has grown to be. It is heralded as the most beautiful in all of South America and it is easy to see why, with fairy tale balconied colonial gems strewn with bougainvilleas at every turn. It's no wonder it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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    Market day Ramiriqui, Boyaca

    by mrmiata Written Feb 4, 2010

    If you are from Eeuu, you won't see any other Americans there, or any other foreign people for that matter, kind of fun really. Fruits, vegetables for sale, the vendors will let you taste them (the food)

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