IT HAS THE LARGEST BIRD DIVERSITY in the world, it’s considered the second most biologically diverse country on the planet, and visits by Canadians have increased by more than 10 per cent in each of the last three years. In case you’re not already among those flocking to Colombia, here are some highlights that are capturing the attention of the growing number of southbound Canucks.
Founded in 1629. Barranquilla is home to Colombia’s main port. Its historical centre was declared a national monument in 1959. UNESCO declared the Carnival of Barranquilla — a mestizo festival held annually prior to Lent that celebrates the traditions of Colombian’s people through dance, crafts and costumes — a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Several local hotels, restaurants and nightclubs do mini reenactments of the carnival nightly.
Cali is one of Colombia’s major economic, industrial and agrarian cities. As Colombia’s capital of fiestas and salsa, the evenings are for dancing, particularly in the Juanchito district, where locals and tourists party until dawn. On Sundays, locals bathe in the cool streams and rivers.
LA TATACOA DESERT
Hundreds of years of erosion by the Magdalena and Cabrera rivers created an ochre- and ash-coloured environment known as La Tatacoa Desert. The 330 square kilometre tropical dry forest attracts tourists not only for the unique geography, but also for the clear skies that facilitate stargazing, particularly from the local astronomical observatory.
Home of the Bambuco National Folk Festival and Beauty Pageant, Neiva is particularly festive from June 22 to July 2 during the celebration that pays homage to Saint John the Baptist. The water and folk parades are highlights of the event. The nearby medicinal hot springs in the Rivera municipality and the specialty Colombian coffees served up in the nearby towns of Palermo, Tello, Gigante and Garzón are also local highlights.
Year-round spring-like weather, gorgeous flowers and local mountains attract tourists to Medelín. Considered Colombia’s second most important city, it serves as a hub of business, industry and technological development. The local geography — the city stands in the centre of a valley and covers part of the mountains that surround it — is a big draw.
PACIFIC RAINFOREST REGION
The islands of Gorgona and Gorgonilla form a national natural park 56 kilometres off the mainland and are home to fauna and flora sanctuaries. The Pacific coast, meanwhile, also attracts tourists looking to enjoy the region’s nature, particularly the lovely beaches at Bahía Solano and Nuquí. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to see humpback whales and marine turtles.
The country’s capital, Bogotá, is also a vibrant cultural capital and a captivating destination for first-time Canadian visitors. Air Canada offers direct flights from Toronto to Bogotá’s El Dorado International airport — about a six-hour trip. An estimated 44,000 Canadians visited Colombia in 2012, a 20 per cent increase from a year earlier.
The percentage of the world’s bird species that call Colombia home. Birders can look out for more than 1,800 species. Santa Marta, in the Caribbean region, has the highest concentration of native birds.
A colonial and romantic city, Cartagena is on Colombia’s northern coast in the Caribbean region. The walled city and fortress was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
CIUDAD PERDIDA / TEYUNA
Believed to have been built around AD 700, Ciudad Perdida (meaning “lost city”), or Teyuna as it’s also known, is the site of an ancient metropolis built about 650 years before Machu Picchu in Peru. The ruins of the city’s stone architecture are found amid 40- to 50-metre-tall trees in the tropical rainforest.
The Colombian portion of the world’s largest tropical rainforest covers nearly 110,000 square kilometres and almost 10 per cent of the country. The city of Leticia is considered the best departure point for jungle adventures, and its zoo is not to be missed.
Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic. Map data provided by Natural Earth
Text: Aaron Kylie