When Nobel-prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez passed away on April 17, it felt like Colombia as a whole went into mourning. Though Gabo, as he was affectionately known, had lived in Mexico City for years prior to his death, Colombians still felt a strong connection to the grandfather of magical realism. He was a beloved figure among Colombians of all ages – upon his death, Colombian President Santos described him as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived.”
Photo: Hugo Pardo Kuklinski
Brazil has its cachaça, Argentina has laid claim to Malbec, Peru and Chile are perpetually fighting over who has the “real” pisco, and we all know that Nicaragua and Cuba are the places to go for top-shelf rum. When it comes to cocktail hour, Colombia is often the forgotten stepchild, without a readily identifiable liquor to help define it on the world stage.
But just because Colombia hasn’t pioneered something with the popularity of the caipirinha or the pisco sour, that doesn’t mean this dance-crazy country doesn’t love its liquor. Does it ever.
Photo: Natalie Southwick
Nestled on the western side of the Guajira peninsula, a remote spit of desert split between Colombia and Venezuela that juts out into the Caribbean, the pocket-sized town of Cabo de la Vela has quietly become a major eco-tourism destination – for those daring enough to brave the trip to try to find it. A two-hour drive from the nearest highway, Cabo de la Vela is the definition of “off the beaten path,” a tiny fishing village with a few houses and restaurants, a nearby lighthouse and some of the most beautiful water on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
It’s nearly impossible to spend more than a day in Bogotá without being peer-pressured by locals to make the trek out to the nearby town of Zipaquirá. The main attraction in town is the Salt Cathedral, a somewhat peculiar, religiously-inclined sort of museum inside a massive salt mine – however, the city is also a lovely example of a typical central Andean village, and there’s plenty to see in addition to walking through the Stations of the Cross in an underground salt mine.
Photo: Hugo Martins Oliveira
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — or technically, every four years! Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again for the world’s great football powers (and a few underdog challengers) to clash for the honor of reigning soccer superiority. Like the rest of Latin America, Colombians will be glued to their televisions for the next few weeks — but if you haven’t got your own TV, where to glue yourself to make sure you don’t miss a single goal?
Cartagena’s swanky restaurants may get most of the attention, but there’s a gastronomic haven springing up in the middle of the sun-kissed beaches about four hours up the coast. Once a small town catering mostly to surfers and backpackers, the last few years have seen a boom in international cuisine in Santa Marta, bringing chefs and flavors from everywhere from the United States to Lebanon. Folks may arrive in Santa Marta just expecting to enjoy a few days at the beach, but nobody leaves hungry. Here are a few of the best places to dine in town before heading off to the nearby Tayrona National Park:
Photo: Jonathan Hood
First-time visitors to the famous Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena may be disappointed to discover that the beaches in the city are frankly nothing to write home about – they’re crowded, filled with vendors shouting over one another and not especially picturesque. For the real Caribbean beach experience, most folks head out of town to the famous Playa Blanca.
The medium-sized triplet cities of the coffee region don’t get much love. Though they’re not as visually appealing as the tiny towns dotting the surrounding hillsides nor as famous as glitzy Medellín to the north, Pereira, Armenia and Manizales have a cozy appeal all their own. Most visitors don’t spend much time in any of these cities, primarily using them as a stopping point to change transport on the way to one of the larger cities or to smaller towns like Salento or coffee fincas tucked away in the hills. Still, all three are more than just airports or bus terminals – each has its own distinct personality within the regional coffee culture, and a few attractions that merit more than just a passing glance.
Photo: Mario Carvajal
Bogotá’s La Candelaria is the best-known “historic city district” in the country, but southwestern Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, has a hilly, history-filled neighborhood all its own. Like Candelaria, San Antonio is chock-full of hostels, cafes and restaurants, and even has a hilltop park where couples and families gather on weekend nights to watch the sunset and drink a beer or two. Cali’s main attraction may be salsa dancing, but San Antonio is well worth a visit during those non-salsa daylight hours.
Photo: Heather Sperling
Peruvian food is one of the most popular kinds of international cuisine, thanks to its variety, diverse flavors and opportunities for creative interpretation, and Colombia’s capital is all in on the foodie craze. Whether it’s because of the geographic proximity or the fact that some folks prefer their ceviche without salsa rosada (it’s a Caribbean coast thing, I don’t understand it either), Bogotanos seem to have developed an insatiable appetite for all culinary things Peruvian over the last decade or so.
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