Growing up in the United States, in part in Florida, South America was interwoven in my earliest school days. With roommates from Venezuela, at that time I learned more about Maracaibo and Caracas than Paris and Rome. I envied their sunny Christmas holidays as I struggled through wintry days. Later on, for my first solo travel abroad, I went to Trinidad and Tobago to work on community projects and serve as a camp counselor. Fast forward to the current day, I see bits of Colombia virtually everywhere I go here in Washington, DC. The Colombian flag greets me daily as I walk my dog past one of their embassy office buildings. At work, a colleague while based in DC now, spent decades traveling to Colombia, Peru and Chile. Now a neighbor has moved to live and work in Bogota and recently published an insightful piece for Conde Nast Traveler on eco-tourism and sustainability as the way ahead in Colombia.
One of the intriguing features of northern Latin America is the way Caribbean culture is blended with its prior Spanish colonial history. In contrast, when I visited Chile and Argentina, I was struck by their feel of Europe. For example, when I arrived in Santiago, my hotel was offering afternoon tea, and the leading national gallery was featuring a major European art exhibit.
The days before the European’s arrival was known as the pre-Columbian period. Starting in the fifth-century BC, Colombia was home to many tribes including artisans working in gold. For many of these artifacts, visit Gold Museum in Bogota.
In 1500 Spanish explorers arrived looking for gold. While Bogota was founded in 1538 by the Spanish, in the early 19th century the country made its first attempt at independence. That fledging democracy failed but was later rescued by the fabled Latin America patriot, Simon Bolivar, who became its first President. The new country of Colombia was expanded to include Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. While that was not to last, the current separate nation of Colombia is now a thriving cosmopolitan home to fifty million people. In addition to the capital of Bogota, Medellin and the walled city of Cartagena are big tourist draws. Colombia boasts the world’s largest rainforest reserve, endless miles of beaches.
To understand Colombia, it is important to start with recent decades. The latter have been dominated by two battles. The first has been the internal struggle with Marxist guerillas, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (“FARC”). FARC was organized in 1964 as a military offshoot of Colombia’s Communist Party. They became well-known for violence, including kidnappings of prominent Colombians and foreign executives. While ransom was the motivating factor, their captives did not always survived. After years of turmoil which weakened Colombia’s economy and tourist industry, on Aug. 15, 2017, the crisis came to an end. The Colombian government declared an end to the end of this guerrilla warfare when FARC turned over its remaining weapons.
The second internal battle for Colombia was fought over the active cocaine trade. It began in earnest in the 1970’s. At its height drug sales reached $60 million in one day. One of the best known drug lords was Pablo Escobar of the Medellin Cartel,
The Medellin Cartel was soon followed by the Cali Cartel. However, by 1996, its leaders were largely behind bars. Colombian cartels continue to be active in the drug trade. However, Mexico led by the well-known figure “El Chapo” has joined as a main conduit along the path of this lucrative trade.
While Colombia is a top solo travel destination on a standalone basis, it is also centrally located to combine a trip to neighboring countries, such as Panama and Ecuador. For a cross-border eco-tour, you can combine an Amazon River expedition by adding Manaus, Brazil.
OAT Travel has thirty years’ experience in the global travel industry. They guarantee that their tour groups will be no more than sixteen travelers and NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT for all land packages*. (*Do book early while there is space available for no single supplement!)
Colombia: Colonial Jewels & the Coffee Triangle: A Prior Sample Itinerary
Bogota: DAY 1-3
Medellin: DAY 4-DAY 5
Cartagena DAYS 9-12