Wander into any market or fruit stand in Colombia, and you may be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into an alternate universe or been whisked away to some alien planet. The containers spill over with all manner of brightly hued shapes – some with strange spines, otherworldly colors or scaly skin that looks more dangerous than edible. Rest assured, though, under all those alarming layers, there’s a whole delicious world waiting to be unpeeled.
Photo: Michele Mariani
It’s time to get festive, because Carnival season is upon us! While Rio may get most of the world’s (well-deserved) attention and Mardi Gras is the place to be in the northern hemisphere, there’s a raucous Carnival taking place on Colombia’s Caribbean coast as well. For four days out of the year, the Atlantic port city of Barranquilla, perhaps best-known internationally as the hometown of famous colombianas Shakira and Sofia Vergara, turns into the national party capital as it celebrates its own unique take on Carnival. It’s a must-see cultural experience if you’re in the country at the right time.
Photo: Yassef Briceno Garcia
Though Colombia’s Andes may not be as tall as those of its southern neighbors, there are plenty of places to strap on harnesses and scale a few walls. The last few decades have seen an explosion in the popularity of rock climbing among locals, and foreigners finally seem to be getting wise to the wealth of offerings as well. From the jagged volcanic peaks of national parks to vertical rock walls and climbs across the top of caves, Colombia is a climber’s paradise – as long as you know where to look!
Photo: Jack Zalium
Colombia is famous the world over for its high-quality Arabica coffee, but for years a strange paradox has dictated the reality of coffee culture within the country itself. With most of the best quality beans tagged for export to other latte-loving countries, Colombians themselves have often been left sipping the dregs of the harvest, or relying on a few local chains for their caffeine fix. Fortunately, this has begun to change, as more serious café owners and baristas have worked to create a discerning domestic coffee culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than the capital of Bogotá, where excellent brews are available to all – as long as you know where to look. There are many locations now meeting a high standard of coffee preparation, but these five are some of the ones that truly stand out from the crowd.
Photo: Natalie Southwick
Let’s cut to the chase here – this is not an unbiased post. I have repeatedly and publicly stated, to pretty much anyone within earshot, that Villa de Leyva is one of my favorite places in Colombia. However, I’m hardly alone in this opinion – in fact, I don’t know a single person that has visited Villa and failed to fall in love with it. Cartagena may be Colombia’s most romantic city, but Villa de Leyva seems designed to capture the heart of any visitor, as long as they don’t mind a few cobblestones underfoot!
Step aside, Machu Picchu – Colombia has its own arduous hike to a stunning lost city, with some extra Caribbean coastline thrown in.
Far less famous (and less frequently visited) than the Inca Trail, the five-to-six-day trek to the site of Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) is a challenging but rewarding hike along Colombia’s Caribbean coast and into the beautiful Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The almost 47-kilometer hike leaves from the small village of Macheté and winds through the tropical forest, making almost two dozen river crossings and ascending and descending steep inclines before arriving finally to the Lost City itself. The temperature is significant hotter than in the Peruvian Andes and the terrain can often be challenging – it’s certainly not a trek for beginning hikers and it helps to be in good physical condition, but no matter how you get to the end, the spectacular views are worth it!
Photo: Saúl Ortega
Colombia’s capital is famous as a bicycle-friendly city, with hundreds of miles of bike lanes and the famous Ciclovía (roads closed to cars) on Sundays and holidays. Though statistics vary, many analysts estimate that up to two million people (or almost a quarter of the entire city’s population) uses the Ciclovía, and that residents make as many as 400,000 trips on the city’s 300 km of designated bike lanes each day.
Yet in the midst of this cycling utopia, visitors often feel like they’re the only ones without wheels, as bike rentals have historically been surprisingly few and far between. Fortunately, that scarcity is beginning to change, as smart entrepreneurs have figured out there’s a market for daily bikes. Here are a few places to borrow bikes or even sign up for a two-wheel tour of the city and join in the biking fun:
Photo: Joao Carlos Medau
Thinking about escaping the frigid cold and hours of shoveling with a quick dash to the Caribbean? Aruba, Jamaica and the Bahamas aren’t your only options – in fact, Colombia has its very own set of Caribbean islands, perfect for a weekend escape or a week of relaxation.
Photo: Mario Carvajal
A holiday isn’t really a holiday in Colombia without special food, and the Christmas/New Year’s season is no exception. Bakeries and restaurants seem to pull out all the stops when the end of the year rolls around, offering seasonal specialty plates, brightly-colored pastries and cookies and all manner of festive cocktails. The Christmas season revolves heavily around family life, offering endless opportunities for cooking and feeding large groups of people, and residents have risen to the challenge with some truly delicious creations. Much of the holiday food will be familiar to other celebrating Christmas and the December holidays around the world: turkey, pork, rice and potatoes are staples of many Christmas Eve meals across the country. However, there are also a handful of plates that are unique to Colombia and the Andean region. For most Colombians, a Christmas without these dishes wouldn’t taste like Christmas at all.
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