Country of the Happiest People in the World
When I look at the travel brochures and sites offering exotic trips to South America, I see Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Almost none of them mentions Colombia. As a person who has lived in Colombia for two years, I can only say one thing - people don’t know what they are missing.
When asked about Colombia, people usually refer to stereotypes that have been spread by media years ago. Not many people know, however, that this image has been gradually changing over the past decade creating the new Colombia, the country of the happiest people in the world, who are opened for tourists and wanting to share their rich cultural heritage.
Nestled in the North Western tip of South America, Colombia is the only country of this continent that has access to both, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is also blessed with extremely diverse topography and has everything a traveler can imagine. From the magnificent sugary white beaches of both, the Pacific and Caribbean coasts to enchanting colonial villages and breathtaking greenery of its mountains, in Colombia we will find it all.
One of the things that fascinated me about Colombia is that how sophisticated is its offer for adventurous travelers. Those who like adrenaline, can choose among paragliding, rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking, to name just a few. Companies like Somos Aventureros organize expeditions for fearless adventurers who enjoy extreme sports.
People of Colombia
Those of you, who have met a Colombian person before, must know that Colombians are extremely easy to make friends with. Not only are they friendly and easy-going, but they also love to educate people about their country. Whenever they are abroad, they always have "Colombian goods" with them such as original handmade jewelry, little bracelets with Colombian flag and typical sweets which they give you as a souvenir. As a result my room is already filled with little ceramic "chivas" (typical Colombian colorful bus) and handmade bags (mochillas).
Even though I’ve lived in Colombia for two years, it wasn’t enough to explore all this beautiful country has to offer. These are the places that should be on everyone’s must-see list when traveling to Colombia:
Some of the finest beach vacation rentals and resorts of Colombia are located on the Caribbean coast. Such cities as Santa Marta, Cartagena and Barranquilla lure tourists with their tropical settings, live events and colonial architecture. Perhaps one of the places that captivated my heart the most was Cartagena. This ancient walled fortress city offers a fascinating Old Town, exquisite Caribbean restaurants and unique atmosphere. Visit to nearby Islas del Rosario is a must. It is an archipelago of 25 small coral islands that recently have been declared a national park, where tourists can enjoy snorkeling, diving and traditional Colombian dishes.
For most of Europeans, Mallorca or Egypt are the closest "exotic" destinations to travel too. That’s why I think Colombians are lucky, as about 300 miles north of their Caribbean coast they have the islands of San Andres and Providence. No need to go to Hawaii. Long white beaches and excellent mouthwatering seafood can be found right on those Colombian islands.
The Coffee Zone
Stretched among three Colombian regions of Quindio, Risaralda and Caldas is the famous Coffee region (Eje Cafetero) which is a true dreamland for every photographer (at least me). Located about 100 miles west of Bogota, the coffee region is recognized as a source of the best coffee in the world. It lures tourists with beautiful, green rolling hills, venerable coffee farms and shimmering coffee bushes. It’s here you can taste the best aromatic coffee in the world, visit charming towns such as Montenegro and Salento and stay at one of the amazing colonial, privately owned "fincas" (farms).
The Tayrona National Park
Located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, The Tayrona National Park is considered one of the wildest and most beautiful corners of South America. Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the majestic Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, Tayrona Park is roughly 58 square miles and has one of the most diverse biological coastal zones of the Americas. While walking through the park you can see titi monkeys, red squirrels, collared peccaries, jaguars and about 200 species of birds including toucans and red woodpeckers. The white mountain tops of Sierra Nevada combined with palm beaches and footpaths through the jungle make this place truly unique and worth visiting.
Bogota, Colombia’s capital, will always remain one of my favorite cities in the world. Located at 2,640 meters (8,661 feet), Bogota is a modern city surrounded by green rolling hills and filled with countless attractions. Colonial architecture, some of the best salsa parties in the world, fascinating museums and beautiful verdant parks make Bogota what it is. The city focused on people, the city that offers a huge variety of activities and events to attend. It’s just impossible to be bored in Bogota!
Personally, Bogota reminds me just a little of my favorite New York. Maybe it’s because of its yellow cabs and city map divided on Avenues and Streets. Maybe it’s also about its amazing variety and contrast. Or maybe it’s simply the sentiment I have for both of them.