Bogotá, Colombia's sprawling capital of more than 8 million people, stands at the end of a vast plateau in the eastern Andes. It's a city renewed, the proud heart of a colorful and storied nation, creative and chaotic and more fun than ever. And, it's a city that's reclaiming its place as one of the great South American capitals, with elegant shopping streets, lovely colonial neighborhoods, a flourishing restaurant scene, and chic nightclubs where stylish young Bogotanos (as inhabitants of Bogotá are called) party into the night.
Cartagena, widely revered as the most striking colonial city in South America, is an excellent destination if you want to be on the Caribbean coast. If you equate vacationing with lounging in the sun, the beaches of San Andrés and Providencia islands are Colombia's most compelling. Undeterred by the 640-km (400-mile) trip from the mainland, Colombians escape to the resort islands for weekends of swimming, sunbathing, shopping, and sipping rum at thatch-roof waterfront bars.
Most of the country's 42 million people live in Colombia's western half, where the Andes split into three cordilleras, or ridges: Oriental, Central, and Occidental. As you ascend the mighty mountains, subtropical valleys give way to rigid, fern-carpeted peaks where the ever-present mists are brightened only by votive candles placed by truck drivers at roadside shrines. West of Bogotá, quiet villages hug the hillsides en route to Medellín, former base of the eponymous drug cartel of Pablo Escobar. Despite its notorious reputation, Medellín is a pleasant, relatively safe, modern city surrounded by velvety green hills and miles of lush farmland. Further south, the high-altitude valleys with volcanic soil and ample rainfall create perfect conditions for growing coffee. Proud cafecultores have carpeted them with man-sized, red-berry-bearing bushes, the waves of green only interrupted by the occasional red-and-white hacienda or rough wooden home improbably perched on a ridge and taking in seemingly eternal vistas of cloud-topped blue hills.
Best of Colombia: Bogotá Travel Guide