There's a reason Colombia is fast moving up must-go destinations lists. With next-level nature, delicious food, oodles of culture and enough opportunities for adventure to ensure even the most active travellers don't get bored, we can't think of much more we'd ask from a country. (It doesn't hurt that the weather's great, too.)
Tempted? Check out our top five reasons to visit Colombia – we bet it won't be long before you're booking your flight...
1. It's the second-most ecologically diverse country on the planet
Home to over 10 per cent of the world’s animal species, as well as claiming the highest number of endemic species in the world, it’s no wonder Colombia was named the second-most ecologically diverse country on the planet. With over 1,800 species of bird and over 456 mammal species, along with a plethora of insects, reptiles and marine creatures, it’s the dream destination for wildlife fanatics.
Another one of the most fascinating things about the country is the diversity of its landscapes – from the tropical Amazon to the misty Andes, the scorching shores of the Caribbean to the wilder Pacific coast, the rolling hills of the Coffee Triangle to the vast, flat expanse of the Eastern Plains.
They’re proud of it, too, with national parks – such as Cocora Valley, Gorgona Island, Serrania de la Macarena and Amacayacu – and sanctuaries covering as much as 14 per cent of the country.
2. The food is to-die-for
Colombia might not yet be known globally for its food (aside from its famous coffee), but we predict it won’t stay that way for much longer. Thanks to its aforementioned ecological diversity, the country is heaving with delicious ingredients – from its rainbow of tropical fruits, to the fresh fish and homegrown meat that sizzles on grills everywhere you go.
Over the centuries the country has become a melting pot of immigrant and indigenous populations melting pot of different immigrant and indigenous populations, which makes for an exciting journey of the tastebuds. Take Bogotá and Cartagena’s trendy fine dining scenes, where Spanish, African and indigenous influences combine to delicious effect.
Meat-lovers will feel your mouths watering at the mention of Bandeja Paisa, Colombia’s national dish, which consists of grilled steak, fried pork rind and chorizo sausage on a bed of white rice and beans, all topped with a fried egg, sliced avocado and fried plantain.
And, of course, we can’t talk about Colombian food without mention arepas – possibly the most dynamic little snack that ever did exist. Made with corn, cassava, or wheat, they can be sweet or savoury and come grilled, toasted, baked or fried, topped with any number of tasty ingredients. So complete is Colombians’ dedication to arepas that most homes are kitted out with a special device for reheating them on the stove. Surely that deems them worth a try?
3. It's a country that loves to celebrate
In a country where regional indigenous cultures cross over with European-, North American- and African-imported traditions, there’s a lot to celebrate. With around 20 national public holidays a year, Colombia has among the most in the world – almost every month another carnival, festival, religious day or historic milestone brings the streets to life, usually with plenty of eating, drinking and dancing to mark the occasion.
As a Catholic country, some of the most important celebrations happen around Christmas and Easter. In Medellín the start of December is marked with fireworks and all-night parties, while Semana Santa (Holy Week) sees impressive, if somewhat sombre processions throughout the country.
The famous Barranquilla Carnival deserves a mention, too – it is the second-largest carnival celebration in the world, after all. Taking place over four days in March, it showcases the country’s cultural diversity and folklore through dance and music in all its rhythms – it’s even been declared a UNESCO World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
4. It has a thriving art scene
Colombia’s art scene is finally getting the global recognition it deserves, thanks to Colombian artists exhibiting across the globe and international artists visiting, working and exhibiting in the country’s major cities.
Bogotá is home to renowned galleries including Nueveochenta, founded in 2007 by former president César Gaviria and curator Carlos Hurtado, and Galerias Casas Riegner, which was founded in Miami. But you don’t have to visit a gallery to get your creative fix. Since graffiti was decriminalised in 2011, the streets have become one enormous canvas for colourful murals, many demonstrating a powerful cultural or political message.
Medellín, too, is seeing more and more independent galleries popping up – like Casa Tres Patios, Campos de Gutié rrez, and Platohedro – alongside places like Galería de la Oficina, which have long been exhibiting art in the city. Not forgetting Cartagena, which though smaller has plenty of characterful galleries and artists’ studios to discover.
5. There's endless adventure to be had
Whatever level of adventure-seeker you are, Colombia has something to offer.
At the devil-may-care end of the spectrum, San Gil and Chicamoche are popular stop-offs for paragliding and spelunking (or caving). There’s also surfing along the coast (with the Pacific side recommended exclusively for experienced wave-riders), along with incredible diving, kayaking, rafting and mountain-climbing.
For the more leisurely among you, why not take in the scenery sitting on the back of a horse? There’s also great fishing and plenty of awe-inspiring hiking opportunities – go in search of the Lost City of Teyuna, wander through the magical cloud forest, or explore one the country’s epic national parks.
If your idea of ‘adventure’ is more akin to a spa experience, perhaps floating atop a 2,300m-deep mud volcano while your skins absorbs over 55 different minerals is more your style – and that’s absolutely fine.