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The world’s third-largest producer of coffee beans, Colombia is a fantastic country for tastings and tours. The vast majority of production takes place in the subtropical Andean hills west of Bogota between the small cities of Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales. This region, known as the Eje Cafetero (or Coffee Axis), is home to a growing number of coffee plantations that have opened up their operations to the public in recent years for tours, tastings, and lavish farm stays.
These small (and often organic) plantations are the kind of places where the farmer-owner might take an hour out of his day to explain the process of how a humble “cherry” turns into a coffee bean that will one day be roasted and ground into a latte back home.
The capital of the vast Amazon Basin is the small frontier town of Leticia, which sits along the banks of the mighty Amazon River, right where Colombia bumps up against Brazil and Peru.
Leticia makes a great base for eco-tourism, wildlife safaris, or hikes into the Amazon to learn about the indigenous tribes that call this area home. The only way to arrive here is by plane from Bogotá, and you can continue onward by boat either downriver to Manaus, Brazil, or upriver to Iquitos, Peru.
You’ll find some of the best beaches in Colombia within the protected Tayrona National Natural Park, which is known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most beaches are set against the dramatic mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose rainforested hills make for a great side trip on any beach vacation.
Tayrona is also a fantastic place for snorkeling at protected areas near La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan. Though remote, these secluded beaches aren’t exactly a secret, so it’s best to visit in low season (February to November) to avoid the massive crowds. Also, unless you’re paying for the lavish Ecohabs Tayrona, be prepared to sleep in a tent (or hammock) at one of the many beachside campgrounds.
Colombia’s most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida, a lost city hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s. Built and occupied by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is said to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas.
Much of the site remains buried beneath a thick jungle quilt—the modern indigenous inhabitants of the area have banned excavations—but you’ll find that the stone terraces and stairways are in outstanding shape. It’s not possible to visit this site alone, so you’ll need to book a tour from Santa Marta in advance.
This quirky Caribbean Island leaves many first-time visitors perplexed. For starters, it’s far closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Then there’s the fact that its residents don’t speak Spanish but rather an English Creole. Of course, none of that really matters when you find yourself sunning on the most stunning beaches under the Colombian flag.
Little more than a dollop of golden sands and perky palms, this isolated island is the jewel of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, with some of the world’s greatest marine biodiversity just waiting to be explored. You’ll need to first stop on the more popular San Andrés Island and catch a short hopper plane or three-hour catamaran ride to reach Providencia. Once there, you’ll find the largest collection of cottages and hotels in the small hamlet of Aguadulce on the stunning west coast of the island.