During a business trip to Colombia I had the beautiful experience of traveling on a taxi from Ibagué to Armenia through the Los Nevados National Park. There is a large variety of landscapes. Coffee plantations up in the mountain, the view of the Andes at a distance, the whole trip (about two hours) was really breathtaking. There are also excellent bus services from Armenia and Ibague to many destinations, but I was not familiar with the area, and also wanted to take photos of the area. That was many years ago, I was taking slides and it is expensive to pass slides to a CD, so please excuse me if I do not post any photos. I also asked the taxi driver to take me to Armero, that was at a distance of some ten miles from the road we were traveling along. As you probably know, Armero was a city of some 45,000 inhabitants that was literally wiped out by a mud avalanche of the Nevado de Ruiz. The Nevado de Ruiz always has a lot of snow on the top, and is a volcano that came into eruption after a snow fall. The snow melting plus the mud avalanche literally wiped out the city that today is just a flat stone plain, except for the church, that survived the avalanche as a witness of what the forces of nature can do. In this tragedy, 25,000 people died and another 20,600 were injured or lost all they had. This occurred on November 13 of 1985.
Armenia is a coffee plantation area, and I had the chance, by invitation of Primitivo Correal, to visit one of his coffee plantations. The coffee I tasted in his farm was really delicious. There are some very nice farms in this area. Further towards the mountainside we have the cities of Pereira (there is a Melia hotel in this city), an important industrial city and one of the main cities in the country after Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla. From there we travel another hour and a half up to the city of Manizales, built on the top of a mountain at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Weather is cool up here and the scene is fantastic. Walking the city, that is pretty safe compared with other cities of Colombia, and with a population of some 500,000 inhabitants, is all up and down the hill. Panoramic views are ideal for taking beautiful photos. Manizales is in my opinion one of the 6 most beautiful cities in South America, together with Merida (Venezuela), Quito (Ecuador), Rio (Brazil), Punta del Este (Uruguay), and Valdivia (Chile). I stayed at two hotels over there, and both were good: La Colina (4 stars) and Carretero (3 stars).
La Colonia is better located. Most Colombian cities are in the Andes: Bogotá, the capital, is at an altitude of some 9,000 feet, Medellin (5,000 feet), Cali (3,500 feet), Popayan (5,900 feet), and Pasto (also 5,900 feet, but with a very cold climate). Bogota is beautiful, but dangerous. It is unwise to walk the streets unless you do it with someone that knows the area very well. However, the city is beautiful, and has many historical treasures and museums. The area where the city is today was populated by the Muisca Indians five thousand years ago. Bogota was founded by the Spaniards in 1538. In 1819 it was named by Simon Bolivar as the capital of the Gran Colombia (Greater Colombia). It is today the capital of Colombia. If you have to go to Bogota, stay in the Northern area, because it is far safer. I stayed at the Cosmos 100 hotel, a very nice 4-star hotel. I also stayed at the Hotel Tequendama, very nice, but located in an area that is not as safe. Medellin is a very modern city, and the most dangerous city in all Colombia. I remember having heard over the TV: "Yesterday was a quiet night; only two people were killed". I asked my friends what a non-quiet night was like: the answer was: between 20 and 25 murders. Statistically speaking this is next to nothing (Caracas in Venezuela has a similar crime rate), but it leaves you sort of scary.
There are not many attractions in the area, so I would avoid Medellin unless I had to go for business. I stayed at the Hotel Veracruz, a non-expensive 3-star hotel, with a nice swimming pool. Cali: another very important city, the third in population and surrounded by mountains. There is an Intercontinental Hotel there. I stayed at a cheaper hotel (Aristi) that has a nice swimming pool. There are different types of rooms, some are very poor, others are really good, not all rooms have air-conditioning, and Cali is a very warm climate. Ask to see the room they are going to give you before you check in. Here again, the best (and safest) hotels are in the Northern part of the city. There is a Sheraton in the Northern part of the city.
Popayan is a beautiful colonial city and the hotel Monasterio is nice and cheap. The city was founded in 1537, nearly 470 years ago, and conserves a lot of its colonial atmosphere. Pasto is nearly on the border with Ecuador, north of Ipiales. It is a beautiful city, just under volcano Galeras, that in recent years erupted, but that never put the city at risk. All the mountainside is green, and it has a very cold climate. It is unsafe to travel by road from Cali or Popayan to Pasto. It is a guerrilla controlled area. Take the plane. I stayed at a budget hotel (Casa Madrigal). The nicest hotel seems to be the Agualongo hotel. There are two beautiful national parks (maybe more, but I am aware of these): Los Nevados, and Sierra Nevada. The Colombia National Parks have Internet pages with information on these beautiful areas: www.parquesnacionales.gov.co. Enjoy your stay in Colombia.