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Did You Know … ?

  • Colombia is the world’s top coffee producer, and two-thirds of all gem-quality emeralds are Colombian.
  • Bogota tailor Miguel Caballero designs and sells high fashion bulletproof clothes.
  • Colombia counts 87 Indian ethnic groups speaking 64 languages from 22 linguistic families.
  • The world’s largest emerald (five pounds/up to 15,000 carats) was found near Boyaca.
  • Colombia has the most bird species of any country (last count: 1,876), for 20% of the world total.

A brew of coffee and colonial appeal

Colombia, located on the northwest corner of South America, is perhaps best known for its coffee and its Caribbean cruise ports, Cartagena and Santa Marta. It’s also known — too well known — for its recent history of political and drug-related violence, but more on that below.

The country, which is nearly twice as large as Texas, boasts a landscape that varies from Andean and other mountain ranges to beaches on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The rugged terrain is marked by large rivers and includes a segment of the Amazon River basin. To the extent geography determines tourist choices, Colombia’s is suitable for everything from vigorous hiking and scuba diving to beach time and golfing.

The roughly 300 years of Spanish control left its imprint on the country in several ways, most appealingly in the colonial architecture that draws tourists to certain cities and towns. But Indians occupied the land much earlier, leaving archaeological sites to be sought out. The aboriginal cultures survive in rural areas; tourists most often encounter them via traditional handmade souvenirs and folk music events.

Coffee country is the focus of special-interest tours. Colombia also is the top producer of the world’s emeralds; that fact lends itself to a bustling business selling the gems to visitors. The country produces tons of gold each year, as well.

Despite these advantages, Colombia is not for everyone, at least not yet. For one thing, although there are fine hotels in the most-visited cities, the infrastructure is not as well developed as in places like Peru.

And then, there is the history of political and drug-related violence, as well as garden-variety crime. In recent years, the situation has been much improved, especially in the cities, but as one tour operator said, “we are not there yet.”

It is best to undertake most local travel, sightseeing and even the most adventurous activities with other people and to fly between destinations when possible. There are tourist police and private security guards at popular destinations. Finally, It’s also wise to see the latest security report from the U.S. State Department or the equivalent report from another government.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Hang from a paraglider over the Chicamocha Canyon in Santander province, or do your paragliding in any of several other Colombian locations.
  • Visit in February in time for the Barranquilla Carnival.
  • Do your sportfishing on the Pacific side if you want barracuda and other big catches. Fishing for grouper and red snapper are options in the Caribbean.
  • Try one or more exotic foods: cuy (guinea pig, found in southern Colombia), hormigas culonas (roasted ants, in Santander), iguana eggs on the coast and cooked boa snake in the Amazonas region.
  • Ride the white waters on the Suarez, Chicamocha or Fonce River; these are the most-sought-after rafting sites for lovers of extreme sports. Or, dive into the Pacific at Malpelo Natural Park or Gorgona Natural Park. Look for whales at Gorgona.
  • Join an organized trekking expedition in the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy, the Parque de los Nevados or the difficult-to-access Nevado de Huila, all of which reach heights of more than 17,000 feet.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Attend the Colombian Folkloric Festival in Ibague in June. Or, choose the Wayuu Culture Festival, held in Uribia in May or June and focused on only one Indian group’s heritage.
  • Head to the Rosario Islands off the Caribbean coast for good beaches, activities such as kayaking and, in general, some very relaxing downtime.
  • Fruit juices are popular in Colombia, and there are many varieties. Sample a few, such as corozo (similar to cranberry), lulo (a type of orange) and zapote (similar to but sweeter than the apple).
  • Visit one or more of Colombia’s archaeological sites, such as the San Agustin Archaeological Park, site of 500 pre-Hispanic stone statues, or Ciudad Perdida, i.e., the lost city, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
  • Learn to do the salsa while in Cali, sometimes called the capital of salsa.
  • Look for bird-watching options throughout the country. Choices range from city sites to areas in national parks and along the coasts.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Book a cruise that includes a stop in Colombia, at Cartagena or Santa Marta.
  • Shop for local handicrafts such as traditional Andean pottery from Raquira (the town name means city of pots), a Colombian hammock or the iconic Colombian sombrero vueltiao. The sombrero’s name means, roughly, turned hat and refers to the owner’s ability to bend or fold the hat as needed.
  • Tour the Gold Museum in Bogota, then go shopping for emeralds.
  • Take a guided walking tour of the city centers in any colonial city you visit. Consider putting one or more of these colonial cities on your itinerary: Popayan. Santa Fe de Antioquia and Villa de Leyva.
  • Book a multiday sightseeing tour that features Colombia’s coffee industry and the lifestyle of coffee growers. Buy coffee to take home.
  • Play golf. Colombia offers more than 50 courses, described as among the best in Latin America.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult ProExport Colombia at or choose a different language if necessary.