Bogotá is Colombia's beating heart, an engaging and vibrant capital cradled by chilly Andean peaks and steeped in sophisticated urban cool. The city's cultural epicenter is La Candelaria, the cobbled historic downtown to which most travelers gravitate. Here, a potpourri of carefully preserved colonial buildings is home to museums, restaurants, hotels and bars, peppered amid 300-year-old houses, churches and convents. Nearly all of Bogotá's traditional attractions are here, radiating from Plaza de Bolívar, and gorgeous Cerro de Monserrate is just east.
Cartagena de Indias is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a historic city of superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stone walls. Cartagena's Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site – a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches that cast their shadows across leafy plazas.
Caño Cristales, a series of remote rivers, waterfalls and streams inside the wilderness of Parque Nacional Natural Sierra de La Macarena, has been called everything from 'The River of Five Colors' to 'The Liquid Rainbow.' This is due to a unique biological phenomenon that takes place for a couple of months between July and November when an eruption of algae forms an underwater blanket of bright red. This transforms the crystal-clear water into a river of cabernet that contrasts magically with the lunarscape of ancient, hollowed-out riverbed rock and the surrounding savannah landscape.
Situated in a narrow valley, Medellín packs the punch of a city twice its size. Its skyline reaches for the heavens, setting high-rise apartments and office buildings against a backdrop of jagged peaks in every direction. Its pleasant climate gives it its nickname – the City of Eternal Spring – and the moderate temperatures put a spring in the locals' steps, at work and at play. It's a bustling place of industry and commerce, especially in textile manufacturing and exported cut flowers. On weekends Medellín lets its hair down, its many discos attracting the beautiful people.
Colombia is famous for its coffee, but nowhere is the prized bean more important than in the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío, which together make up the heart of the Zona Cafetera, also called the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis). Here you'll find jeeps packed with mustachioed coffee pickers, poncho-wearing senior citizens gossiping in cafes, and, of course, endless cups of piping-hot arabica. Many working fincas (coffee farms) have embraced tourism and welcome visitors onto their plantations to learn all about the coffee-growing process. It is particularly interesting to visit during the harvests (April to June, October to December) when the farms are a hive of activity.
Parque Nacional Tayrona
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona is a magical slice of Colombia's Caribbean coast, with stunning stretches of golden sandy beach backed by coconut palms and thick rainforest. Behind it all rise the steep hillsides of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world's highest coastal mountain range. The park stretches along the coast from the Bahía de Taganga near Santa Marta to the mouth of the Río Piedras, 35km east, and covers some 12,000 hectares of land and 3000 hectares of coral-rich sea.