I will start with some other destinations that are not so attractive, as Neiva and Barrancabermeja, and Villavicencio, cities with a torrid climate that I had to visit for business reasons (all along the Magdalena river) and will continue with another couple of beautiful spots with a cooler climate. Neiva and Barrancabermeja were at that time areas where oil companies worked, and it is said that they paid "royalties" to the guerrilla to avoid them dynamiting their pipelines. Whether this is true or not, is difficult to know. Even so, many times pipelines have been dynamited in the area, and it is not a place where I would recommend a foreign tourist to go, even if the area were attractive. In any case, the climate is very hot. I just looked up the weather forecast for Neiva at www.weather.com, and the forecast is highs in the nineties for the next ten days, and thunderstorms every day... Villavicencio is nice, but there are far nicer places in Colombia. In Villavicencio the weather forecast for the next ten days is in the high eighties and thunderstorms or rain every single day. Bucaramanga has a milder climate, and is located at an altitude of some 3200 feet This city was founded in 1539, only 6 years later than Cartagena, and nearly five centuries ago. Canooing and parapente are practised in this area.
The Chicamocha canyon is one of the tourist attractions. There are some historical churches, of which the Iglesia del Señor de los Milagros and the Iglesia de las Nieves are the most attractive ones. The first one is 3 centuries old. Bucaramanga also has a nice botanical garden. I stayed at the Melia Chicamocha Hotel and Convention Center, a very nice 4-star hotel with a good swimming pool, sauna, and a fitness center. Bucaramanga is supposed to be one of the five largest cities in Colombia, and is the capital of the Department of Santander.
Valledupar is the capital of the Cesar Department, it is up in the mountainside, has a beautiful river with delicious cold water, crossed by a high bridge from where cliff divers jump into the river, in an area completely surrounded by rocks. The area is surrounded by the Sierras de Perijá, that have an average altitude of 7,000 feet. I really enjoyed the whole scenery and was amazed at the risks that those young people took diving into the river. It is the home of the "vallenato" music. I stayed at the Vajamar Hotel, Km 7 & 16a-24 , phone 55-743939, and it was OK. The Sierra Nevada National Park is near Valledupar. However, it could be unwise to visit this park, since guerrilla activity is reported occasionally in this area. I must say however that the guerrilla in Colombia does not generally interfere with bus traffic nor with tourists, unless if they sense that they could be important persons. Traveling the area, I went through areas literally controlled by the guerrilla like Agua Chica and Fundación, and faced no problems. But you should be aware of this danger.
Ocaña is another city that deserves a visit, but it is located in the same risk-potential area. I stayed at a nice 2-star hotel (I would have given it 3 stars, it had a nice swimming pool also), but I cannot find it in the hotel directory. Ocaña is a small city. The city of Ibague is in central Colombia in the plains, but near the Los Nevados National Park, that is really worthwhile visiting. All the way over the mountain and across the valley to Armenia is really enjoyable. Bus services in all Colombia are excellent.