Nobody would deny that the history of the land now known as the Republic of Colombia is a troubled, tumultuous – even bloody one. Gold, conquest, war, insurgency – OK, yes, drugs – it’s sometimes seemed that this country wouldn’t quite make it. There’s something about Colombia and its people, though, that has just kept it together, despite all the violent forces that have threatened to rip it apart at the seams. Although it would be jumping the gun a little too enthusiastically to say that all the troubles are over, there’s something about the way its hips are waggling right now that leads us to believe that Colombia is ready to salsa its happy way into a bright, exciting future. And, as we all know, hips do not lie.
Even before Roger de Bastidas founded Santa Marta in 1525, this land had been the site of many waves of people who had made homes, left their mark, and moved on. This tradition of struggle would reach a devastating new height when three conquistadors raced to the central mountains in search for the mythical El Dorado and golden glory, resulting in the decimation of thousands of indigenous people, and the birth of cities such as Bogota, Cali, and Popayan. As small-pox and Spaniards ravaged the first nations, slaves were brought through the pirate city of Cartagena to help build the triumphs of colonial architecture that still richly adorn Colombia’s cities.
When this inheritance got too heavy for the new breeds now peopling the land, a troubled man with the name of Bolivar arose to assume the mantle of Liberator, and after many defeats and victories, independence from the Old World became a reality, as did a vigorous political bipartisanism. After more name changes than the Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Known; and losing Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama along the way, a new land called Colombia struggled to stand on its own. The colonial method of giving much to a privileged few at the expense of a dispossessed multitude; plus a savage political divide, would prove a deadly combination, eventually leading to ruthless drug cartels, desperate guerrilla groups, dangerous right-wing militias, millions displaced, and countless dead. The new millennium has seen tough and controversial governmental crack-downs which rose international eyebrows, but also significantly lowered the official homicide rate. With such a chequered past, we reckon Colombia deserves a break. And it might just be giving itself one.
We think this because, along with its bloody history, Colombia was blessed with a truly remarkable geography. Diverse? Forget that! Colombia is megadiverse – the most megadiverse country by square kilometre in the world. We bet you didn’t even know that was a word. Where else can you go from snow-capped mountains to sultry tropical jungles in a day? What other country boasts beautiful beaches on the Caribbean and Pacific oceans; along with the Amazon; desert; plains; and mountains of coffee? Sorry: that was a trick question. There is no other country. Along with these natural gifts, there are cities as vibrant and diverse as Cartagena with its sassiness; the heaving metropolis of Bogota; Medellin with its eternal spring and surgical triumphs; and colonial jewels such as Mompox and Popoyan. If you can’t find something to spark your interest in travel to Colombia, we’re sorry; but we think you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.
The combination of such a brutal history and diverse geography has produced culture by the bucket-loads. Colombia is a country with music coursing through its veins that is liable to break out into passionate dancing at any given moment. A population as diverse as its environment dances its merry way to salsa, cumbia, vallenato and reggaeton; and offers a menu ranging from local delicacies to the finest international cuisine. Events – from sporting, artistic, dance, or riotous carnivals – are spread throughout the country and the calendar, along with world-class museums and galleries. Bars and clubs are everywhere in the cities: from the cheapest and most cheerful little dives; to more refined establishments; right up to massive, shiny clubs blasting salsa or electronica. Accommodation is just as bountiful and varied – the choices range from swinging on a hammock near the beach; a fine assortment of warm-hearted hostels; beautifully turned-out Ecohabs; to swanky five-star hotels. Shop to your little heart’s content – again, the key word is diversity: bead necklaces on the side of the road; local artisanal treasures; or the emeralds and gold that have always lured people to this country. If all of this sounds a little tame for you, you could always pitch yourself down white-water rapids on a raft, scale awe-inspiring mountains; or hike your way to an ancient lost city.
We think – think? know – that this dazzling array of variety somehow encapsulated into a single country called Colombia is something you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And now, as this vibrant nation starts pulling itself out of a troubled past into a bright future, is the time to come experience it. Colombia, already a hot tourist destination, only promises to get hotter. Get amongst it, and see for yourself why.