After years of civil unrest, Colombia is finally safe to travel to again, and people are finding out what they have been missing all these decades. First of all, Columbia's diversity is staggering. Who would have thought its cities would be so modern, full of skyscrapers, international cuisine and nightclubs. Colombia also has dazzling Caribbean beaches, Amazon safaris, rainforest walks, whale watching, old colonial towns, mountain trekking, coffee plantations, surfing, archaeological ruins, and spectacular bird watching.
The sole country in South America with a coast on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Colombia was named for Christopher Columbus. Even though the explorer never set foot on what is now Colombia, he did visit Panama, and Panama until 1903 was part of Colombia.
As Colombia's climate varies by altitude so does its culture. The industrial heartland of Colombia is located up in the alpine cities — Bogotá, Cali, Medellin and Zona Cafetera. Infrastructure in the heartland is solid, with well-built roads and safe drinking water. Life is much slower and more Caribbean-paced on the coast and here you'll find that the infrastructure is somewhat lacking, although some claim to relish the laidback culture.
Even though there is still some violence in the rural areas, Colombia's present government has a much stronger presence throughout the entire country, especially in tourist regions, than it has had in the past. It's still advisable to be cautious, however, especially in the south of the country where kidnappings are known to occur.
If you'd like to visit a part of the world which time has forgotten, make your way to the colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Entirely preserved as it was in colonial times with no modern architecture whatsoever, Villa de Leyva is a World Heritage Site. Founded in 1572, the city has a refreshingly mild climate due to its high elevation. Close to Bogotá, it's also a popular weekend getaway.
Another getaway is a trip to the island of Providencia. Laidback, quiet, and lovely with its white sandy beaches and palm trees, the island is the ultimate lotus eater escape. Only 17 square kilometers, Providencia is a volcanic mountainous island of lush green ruggedness. The authorities have done an excellent job so far of keeping out large-scale development and other ravages of tacky tourism. Make sure you visit the village of Santa Isabel in the north and the tiny island of Santa Catalina directly across from Santa Isabel. You can get there by walking across the pedestrian bridge. Be sure to bring your binoculars to watch the parrots roosting in the trees at dusk.