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  • Photo: Christopher Kirk

    Holiday Traditions in South America

    As a traveler or expat, experiencing the holidays outside the U.S. can be an eye opening and life changing experience. As we usher in a new holiday season and begin to reflect upon the past year, on the surface, traditions around the globe may appear very different, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that we’re all just searching for a cause to celebration. With each country having their own interpretation of food, family and fun, you may be surprised to learn at the core just how similar we actually are, despite personal beliefs and rituals.

    Here are a few of our favorite ways to celebrate the Christmas season in South America.

  • Photo: Marisol Ferreira

    Dance The Holiday Hangover Off at Feria De Cali in Colombia

    While the rest of the world is nursing hangovers and food babies from Christmas dinner the night before, the Colombians in Cali are taking to the streets to burn off those calories in a way only they know how. A lesser-known festival in Colombia, Feria De Cali has largely been eclipsed by Carnival in Brazil in the media, but let me assure you, it’s well worth checking out. Salsa parties, food exhibitions, beauty pageants, and parades are just a few of the events you can expect during the six days of festivities. Come explore this year-end cultural celebration with us.

  • Photo: Near Miami? Don't Miss Pinta Miami 2015

    Near Miami? Don’t Miss Pinta Miami 2015

    There’s a palpable buzz here in Miami. Art Basel is upon us, which means our city is swarming with art lovers from around the world to attend Basel and the satellite art fairs that surround it . They’ll be taking in the efforts of some of today’s internationally recognized masters, as well as some rising stars.

  • We Made the Dean’s List

    LATAM Airlines Group, comprised of LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines, was just named “The Best Airline for Students, Latin Market.” That’s according to StudentUniverse, the world’s leading travel booking site for students and youth.

  • FODOR’S Is Fond of Our Premium Business Class

    The folks at Fodor’s know a bit about travel, so when they recently cited LAN as having one of the “6 Outstanding International Business-Class Experiences,” well, we felt pretty honored.

    But then, our Premium Business Class has been getting rave reviews from our passengers for years. And given the myriad amenities we offer, including our flights to South America, it’s easy to understand why.

    • Full-flat 180 degree reclining seats
    • Menu of regional cuisine created by Head Chef Hugo Pantano
    • Wine list curated by Hector Vergara, South America’s only Master Sommelier
    • Individual, 15.4-inch, high-resolution screens for onboard entertainment
    • Over 110 films, 40 TV programs, 1,300 CD’s and 20 games to choose from
    • Data posts compatible with tablets, cell phones, digital cameras and USB devices
    • Amenity kit with products from Salvatore Ferragamo
  • Meet the newest member of our family – The Boeing 787-9

    So when we heard Boeing was making a new 787, you know we had to get some. And now they’re here. The new 787-9 aircraft became a part of the LAN Airlines fleet back in April, and we’ll gradually roll them out across the fleet.

    For you, this means some welcome advances in in-flight comfort:
    • New air humidification techniques reduce feelings of dryness and fatigue by providing cleaner air
    • Windows with up to 40% greater surface area
    • Overhead luggage compartments 30% larger (!)
    • LED illumination and aerodynamics that provide for a smoother flight

  • Holy Week in Colombia

    The week before Easter Sunday, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the biggest travel week in South America, with flight prices that rival Thanksgiving levels in the US or Christmas elsewhere. In Colombia, only Thursday and Friday are official national holidays, but schools, universities and many offices and businesses give students and employees the other three days off, allowing families to take the whole week of vacation.

    But if everyone goes on vacation, where do they go?

  • Paragliding through the Andes

    If you’re looking for somewhere to sprout wings, Colombia has the answer for you. Though not renowned as a center for extreme sports, the strong winds that spill over the country’s three Andean ranges make it an ideal location for paragliding pilots and enthusiasts alike. From Valle del Cauca in the southwest to Santander near the border with Venezuela, there are a number of quality takeoff points throughout the country – there’s even a great place to fly just outside of Bogotá!

  • Ice Cream Cravings in Colombia

    It may be frigid across most of the northern hemisphere, but it’s always ice cream weather in Colombia – which could explain why the locals are always hungry for ice cream. It’s possible to find delicious dairy treats on just about any street corner, though if you’re looking for something extra-special, you may want to check out one of Colombia’s several excellent chains. Rest assured, though, it’s almost impossible to go wrong with ice cream here.

  • Quirky Colombian Transportation

    Planes, trains and automobiles are old news, but what about Willys?

    Due to its historic isolation, varied terrain and natural barriers, Colombia has been forced to get creative over the decades when it comes to moving people and things around the country. Of course, there are plenty (some might even say too many) of trucks, cars, taxis and buses circulating throughout Colombia’s major cities, but what about the farmland that makes up the rest of the country? From the rivers of the Amazon to the rolling hills of the coffee region, there are still plenty of places in the country where people still get around in ways that make cars look boring.

  • A Hike (or Not) Up Monserrate

    Ask any Bogotá native what you should do in the city, and one of the first words out of his or her mouth will doubtless be “Monserrate.” Along with the famed Gold Museum, this mountain is one of the absolute musts on a Bogotá visitor’s to-do list, and you’ll never be forgiven if you leave the capital without making the mandatory pilgrimage to the famous peak.

    So what’s the big deal about some mountain, anyway?

  • Colombia’s Hidden Coffee Gems

    Colombia’s famous Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis) has earned UNESCO recognition and is generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful regions in the country. However, it isn’t necessary to go all the way out to the provinces of Risaralda, Caldas and Quindío to find quality Colombian coffee. Though they don’t get the same amount of attention (or visitors), there are plenty of other excellent fincas (coffee plantations) and production centers from the Caribbean coast all the way down to the Ecuadorean border. If you don’t have time to make the trek out to the Eje Cafetero, here are some of the other places in the country to get your coffee fix:

  • Colombia’s Guajira Peninsula

    The wild northern Guajira peninsula is one of the most underdeveloped – and stunningly pristine – parts of Colombia. Tourism is still relatively new in most parts of La Guajira, and visiting requires a certain amount of patience and willingness to try unusual forms of transportation. If you can make it work, though, you’ll be rewarded with a totally unique experience in the northernmost part of South America, where the desert meets the Caribbean and indigenous culture is the law of the land.

  • Photo: n.karim

    A Neighborhood Guide to Cartagena

    Photogenic Cartagena is practically a mandatory stop for first-time visitors to Colombia, yet many people never venture beyond the walls that once marked the limits of the old city, except perhaps to explore the beaches on Isla Barú or the Rosario Islands. Though there’s enough to do in the walled section to fill a weekend, the city itself doesn’t end there, and it’s worth exploring other areas as well, or at least knowing what they’re called. Here’s a handy neighborhood guide to get oriented in Colombia’s biggest coastal tourist destination.

  • Salsa, Salsa, Salsa at the Feria de Cali

    December is a big deal in Colombia, and not only because of the Christmas season or because everyone is on vacation. The end of the year also brings the Feria de Cali, a multi-day salsa extravaganza (salsastravaganza?) that packs the streets of this southwestern city with parades and dancers of all levels. People practice for months to show off their best moves, so prepare to be blown away by some of the country’s most talented dancers and a city that really knows how to party.

  • Cartagena Re-writes Itself

    By Carlos Serrano, in Magazine
    Photos by: Alvaro Delgado

    With a cool, new vibe that has earned it the nickname “JetSetManí,” this neighborhood represents the best and most cosmopolitan aspects of the city where Gabriel García Márquez wrote some of his most memorable stories.

  • Valledupar: The Birthplace of Vallenato

    Colombia is famously a nation of distinct regions – and perhaps even more famously a nation of strong musical tradition. Every part of the country has given rise to or adopted its own distinct musical style, from cumbia on the Caribbean coast to the piping Andean melodies in the southwest. But perhaps no place takes its musical birthright as seriously as the northern city of Valledupar, the proclaimed cradle of the folk style known as vallenato.

    If you go to Valledupar looking for something other than vallenato, you may run out of activities fairly quickly, but there’s a certain charm to taking a long lunch – and then maybe a nap to avoid the brutal midday heat – and relaxing in the central plaza with a cup of icy pineapple juice. 

  • Street Art is Alive and Well in Bogotá

    Bogotá is quickly becoming a major player on the street art scene, drawing international artists as well as creating plenty of homegrown talent. The central Candelaria neighborhood and the major thoroughfare of Calle 26, as well as many other neighborhoods, are living canvases, constantly evolving and adding new works.

    Visitors and locals alike have long marveled at the innovative works coming out of the Colombian capital, and the international community is finally starting to take notice as well, with Bogotá popping up on lists of the world’s best cities for street art. With a long history, plenty of cause for social commentary and ever more buildings springing up across the city, local artists are unlikely to run out of inspiration – or canvas – anytime soon!

    Here are some of the best places to see Bogotá’s best free art, and a few of the big-name artists to look out for. Who knows – one of them could be the next Banksy!

  • How to Eat Breakfast like a Colombian

    The US gets a lot of (well-deserved) attention for its stellar breakfast food, but Colombia knows how to hold its own when it comes to the most important meal of the day.

    From the bustling central cities to the laid-back Caribbean coast to the rural campesino communities in the south, everyone stocks up on energy food – and, of course, lots of carbs – before heading out to greet the day. Any Colombian will tell you that food here varies immensely by region – and the battles between different areas for culinary supremacy are fierce. Each part of the country has its own spin on the beloved arepa, its own fruit juices, its own cheese, bread, potato dishes, rice – you get the picture. This is just one of the many things that makes traveling throughout Colombia such an adventure: you’re always trying new flavors and dishes, no matter where you go!

    It could take pages to go through all of the options available for morning foodies, but here’s a quick primer on a few of the most typical Colombian breakfast dishes, ranging from the positively mouthwatering to the ones that might make you wish you’d never gotten out of bed. Of course, all of them come with a fresh-brewed cup of Colombian coffee!

  • Sounds of Colombia: Cumbia

    Colombia is a music-loving country. From the northern tip of the Guajira peninsula to the southern reaches of the Colombian Amazon, the nation pulses with the beats of drums, guitars, percussion and, yes, accordions.

    But it’s not a homogenous sound – rather, it’s a symphony of different rhythms, instruments and beats. Each region of the country has its own distinct musical tradition, developed from different cultural influences and the backgrounds of the people living there.

    Sometimes it seems like each and every individual town has its own particular musical styling. One of the most important and uniquely Colombian genres, however, is cumbia, a traditional rhythm that blends the musical influences of many of the diverse cultures and ethnicities on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and continues to provide inspiration for many of the most popular Colombian bands today.

  • Bogotá’s “White Night” of Art

    This weekend, Bogotá’s bohemian La Soledad neighborhood stayed up well past its bedtime to celebrate the city’s artists and creative types with La Noche en Blanco (“White Night”).

    The event, now in its second year in the capital, closed the streets of a popular central neighborhood to cars and opened them to pedestrians, bikers, dogs and art enthusiasts, who strolled freely between performance spaces and projection screens from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, September 27.

  • Tea Time in Bogotá

    Colombia’s most famous caffeinated beverage may come from beans, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing around for the tea-lovers out there (the sheer number of British expats living in the country should reassure anyone with concerns on the matter). Though tea isn’t literally growing out the ground like coffee, there are a number of cafes and shops dedicated to the fine art of producing a great cup of tea – if you want the leaves read, though, you’ll probably have to go elsewhere.

    With its chilly Andean climate and international influence, Bogotá is one of the best places in the country to find a quality cup or two. So if you find yourself without much to do on a rainy Bogotá afternoon, grab a good book (or your iPad) and head to one of these steamy spots.

  • Top 5 Places: Ceviche in Cartagena

    Though ceviche originated (and may have been perfected, depending on who you ask) in Peru, Colombia’s Atlantic coast has put its own distinctive spin on it – camarones en salsa rosada, anyone?

    Cartagena’s diverse and excellent food scene has the challenge of trying to cater to locals and international tourists alike, which has led restaurants to try to outdo each other when it comes to this coastal favorite. Each place – and each resident — has an individual interpretation of what makes a good ceviche, and the possibilities, from Asian fusion to traditional corvina, are almost as colorful as the city’s famous architecture. These are some of the best places in the city to go to get a taste of the full spectrum of flavors.

  • Summer in the City

    I know August isn’t a popular month back where I’m from, but it’s my favorite month in Bogotá. For Bogotanos, there are generally only two seasons: if it’s sunny, it’s summer; if it’s raining, it’s winter. This can be intensely confusing for anyone who was taught that it’s impossible to have more than one season in a given day, but that’s generally how it works. Except in August.

  • Photo: Jinx!

    The “Gabo Trail”: García Márquez’s Colombia

    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.”

  • Aguardiente: Colombian Fire Water

    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. 

  • Cabo de la Vela: Cape of Kites

    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.

  • Bogotá Day Trips: Zipaquirá

    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.

  • Bogotá Day Trips: National Parks

    Colombia has 41 official national parks, from the lagoons of the San Andrés archipelago down to the southern border in the midst of the Amazon jungle. The country’s amazing geographic contrasts and biodiversity make every national park a unique visual experience, whether you’re admiring a range of glacier-topped volcanic peaks, towering wax palm trees or gray sand beaches. You could spend a whole year just exploring the parks – but what if you don’t have that time?

  • Where To Watch Football Matches in Colombia

    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?

  • Santa Marta: A Colombian Foodie Paradise

    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:

  • 3 Cities of Colombia’s Coffee Axis

    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.

  • San Antonio: The Bohemian Heart of Cali

    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.

  • Peruvian Food in Bogotá

    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.

  • Making the Most of a Business Trip to Colombia

    Business travel almost seems like an oxymoron at times. Sure, you’re in another country, but if you’re trapped in meetings and conferences all day, it hardly feels like it. Airports and hotels all start to look the same after a while, don’t they? Colombia’s growing economy has led to a boom in business travel, and the business suit types are touching down in the country’s major urban centers with increasing frequency. Unfortunately, hard-working folks here on business don’t have the same schedule flexibility and free time as those on vacation, but a work agenda doesn’t mean you can’t get at least a little taste of the local culture and food before you catch your flight back home.

    Though most business travelers have a packed schedule, there’s always the possibility that you’ll have a free afternoon somewhere in the mix. Here’s how to make the best of your stay in one of Colombia’s four largest cities when you only have a few hours to get away.

  • Family Fun: Bogotá For Kids and Families

    Most of the press around Colombian tourism focuses on attractions with “grown-up” appeal, like coffee, salsa dancing, eco-tourism and, of course, the beautiful people. But this doesn’t mean there’s nothing for pint-size visitors or families to do. Colombians love children, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the country’s biggest cities offer plenty of sites and activities designed especially for family-friendly fun. Here are a few spots in Bogotá that are perfect for kids and won’t require you to cram the whole family into a cable car or explain why we have to use “inside voices” in a museum.

  • San Gil: Adventure Capital of Colombia

    Vancouver, Canada. Queenstown, New Zealand. Cape Town, South Africa. And…. San Gil, Colombia?

    San Gil may not make most publications’ list of Top 10 Cities to Get Your Adrenaline Pumping, but that’s just because the folks writing those lists don’t know about it yet. This formerly sleepy town in the northeastern Colombian department of Santander has recently re-branded itself as the “Adventure Capital of Colombia,” and so far it seems to be living up to that reputation, if the legions of happy visitors are any indication.

  • Photo: Eli Watson

    Dancing Days: Festivals and Concerts in Colombia

    Colombia is known as the land of salsa and cumbia, but the country’s musical offerings aren’t limited to all rumba, all the time. As more foreigners continue to visit and international music becomes ever more popular, Colombia is turning into an important stop on the South America concert circuit for everyone from international DJs to superstars like Beyoncé. There’s a little something for everyone these days, whether your tastes run more toward EDM, reggae or even good old-fashioned ‘80s hair metal. Here’s a quick introduction to some of the biggest events and acts passing through Colombia in 2014:

  • The Wide, Wild World of Colombian Fruit

    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.

  • Party Time: Carnaval de Barranquilla

    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.

  • Rock Climbing Across Colombia

    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!

  • Independent Cafés: Serving Bogotá’s Best Coffee

    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.

  • Colombia’s Colonial Treasures: Villa de Leyva

    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!

  • Photo: poirpom

    Trekking to Cuidad Perdida: Colombia’s Own Lost City

    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!

  • Renting Bikes in Bogotá

    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:

  • Colombian Holiday Food

    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.

  • Photo: I.D. R.J.

    Colombia’s Holiday Traditions

    Like any other event with the potential to involve sparkly objects, the holiday season (and Christmas in particular) is serious business in Colombia. People start putting up their decorations in mid-October, even before stores have sold out of Halloween costumes. In fact, some houses and even businesses across the country simply leave the lights up all year, dimming them during the off-season but leaving them ready at a moment’s notice to illuminate for the holidays. Though Santa Claus is less of a familiar face here than in some other countries, there are plenty of other holiday traditions that keep December warm, cozy and full of good cheer:

  • Guatapé Getaway

    Located just a two-hour drive from Medellín, the tiny, picturesque town of Guatapé is a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolis and cool down a little. Guatapé, on the edge of a chain of man-made lakes in the rolling green hills of the coffee region, practically begs visitors to grab a cold drink, take a seat and slow down a little.

    Though the town mostly comes to life on weekends, it also has a certain charm during the week, when just the locals stay around and there are only a few restaurants open – all serving the same half-dozen plates typical to the region. Whatever the day, Guatapé is a great stop for anyone passing through Medellín. Grab an early bus out of the city for a day trip, or plan to spend the night and make a weekend out of it. Whatever you do, don’t forget the sunscreen!

  • Free Museums in Bogotá

    Bogotá isn’t called the “Athens of South America” for nothing. In addition to its apparently endless supply of used books, Colombia’s capital city hosts a non-stop calendar of theater, music and other cultural events. But beyond the visiting events and performers, Bogotá also has a wealth of permanent artistic offerings on display in dozens of museums as well as stellar libraries, which function as small museums in their own right. In an effort to make these spaces accessible to as many people as possible, the government funds several of the city’s best museums, ensuring admission is free for all visitors, regardless of age, educational status or nationality. Many other museums that typically charge admission (which is still relatively inexpensive, almost always less than $5) offer free Sundays, when the public can enter for free. You could easily spend a full week just exploring the museums in the city center, but if you’re tight on time or your budget, here are a few of the best locations offering free glimpses of art.

  • Artesanías: Southwestern Colombia and the Pacific Coast

    Since there was just too much art to fit into one post, it’s time for Part Two of our introduction to Colombian traditional artisan work and handcrafts – just in time for the holiday season! These pieces and traditions come from the western and southern parts of the country, where the strong influence of Afro-Colombian and Andean indigenous communities is clearly visible in the art. As with most other traditional handcrafts, the legitimate versions of these artesanías are created by hand over days or even weeks by local artisans, who often learned the craft from previous generations of their family. They serve as beautiful decorative pieces and accessories, but even more than that, these crafts are a way to preserve and transmit the unique traditions of some of Colombia’s oldest cultures.

  • Artesanías: Caribbean and Central Colombia

    Colombia’s diverse landscape and cultural influences have inspired thousands of different artisans across the country to create stunning handcrafts and pieces of art. These artistic products are seen as vital expressions of the country’s talent and diversity, and represent the different groups of people and regions that make Colombia what it is. From the colorful handmade mochilas of the indigenous Wayuu people in La Guajira to the carved wooden instruments of the Amazon, each region of Colombia produces its own beautiful, unique creations. Because there’s too much ground to cover and too much to see for just one post, we’ll start at the Caribbean coast and work our way south, saving the Pacific for next week.

  • 5 of Colombia’s Most Magical Experiences

    Building on our magical realism theme from last week, we’re going to move beyond the (very pretty) superficial level and take a look at some of the most magical experiences visitors can have in Colombia. Of course, you can find magic just about anywhere in this country, but the destination or activity that catches your fancy will depend on your style. The outdoorsy types might find their happy place hiking through the páramos and national parks of the Andes, while others will be completely context luxuriating on a roof deck soaking up the Cartagena sun. Still, whatever your travel goals, these five experiences are sure to give your time in Colombia just a little more pizzazz:

  • 5 of Colombia’s Most Magical Places

    Sometimes, I suspect that the Colombian government is paying every single citizen of this country to act as an undercover tour guide. It seems like everyone here, from office workers to taxi drivers, is willing and able to offer an opinion on the best spots for weekend getaways, must-see locations in different cities and all of the food visitors absolutely have to try while here (often physically leading said visitor to the closest place selling that particular delicacy).

  • Photo: photo courtesy of Natalie Southwick

    Bogotá’s Growing Art Scene

    With its long tradition of regional art, world-class museums and rising street artists, Colombia is making a name for itself in the international art scene. Artists like Fernando Botero have been well-known for decades, but the country’s artistic soul goes far beyond paintings and sculptures of larger-than-life figures. The major cities have been expanding their artistic offerings in recent years, and none more so than Bogotá, which seems to have decided that the end of the year is all about art. There are artsy events taking place just about every week, but the creative folks get especially busy toward the end of October, and will stay that way into the holiday season. A few past, present and future highlights of the capital city’s artistic months:

  • Colombia in Costume

    With Halloween coming up, people across the country, especially in Halloween-crazy Bogotá, are preparing for a night of disguises. But October 31st isn’t the only time Colombians hide behind masks. In fact, the year is full of festivals and carnivals celebrating the country’s history, traditions, folklore and mythology with elaborate costumes and outfits. Here are a few examples of Colombia’s dressiest days:

  • Colombia and Cinema: The Bogotá Film Festival

    When discussing cinema-friendly cities, Cannes, Venice or Park City might spring to mind. Bogotá is probably not on the radar of many cinephiles, but for at least one week in October, the city aims to change that. The Bogotá Film Festival, now in its 30th year, is the most important annual event for the capital city’s growing film community, bringing in directors, actors and industry representatives from across the country, the continent and the world. With affordable ticket prices and showcases for many up-and-coming Spanish-language directors, it’s one of the season’s cultural highlights in Bogotá and a necessary addition to the to-do list for any film fan.

  • Bogotá’s Organic Revolution

    As more visitors start to flood into Bogotá and residents become more conscious about the benefits of eating local and organic food, the dining scene has followed. Recent popular movements on behalf of the country’s farmers have put locally-sourced food right in the middle of the public consciousness, and many restaurant owners are responding by increasing their emphasis on organic and local products –great news for vegetarian and locavore diners! Bogotá is filled with healthy and environmentally-friendly eateries if you just know where to look. Here are a few standouts in some of the city’s most popular neighborhoods:

  • Photo: Aztlek

    Whale-Watching on Colombia’s Pacific Coast

    Each year, hundreds of humpback whales make the 8,000 km journey from the frigid sea off Chile to the warm waters of Colombia’s Pacific coastline, gathering in bays and coves by the dozens or even hundreds to mate and calve their babies before beginning the long trip back. In recent years, as the security situation in the region has improved, local tour operators have begun to capitalize on this event’s natural appeal, offering guided tours and boat rides to view the gentle visitors. Though it requires a certain level of commitment to reach the remote area, it’s made worthwhile by the payoff upon arrival: hundreds of miles of untouched coastline, jungles filled with some of the world’s most amazing plants and animals, and whales that come so close to shore that, legend has it, you can see them from your hammock on the beach.

  • Colombia’s Colonial Treasures: Barichara

    Often mentioned as a frontrunner for the highly competitive title of Colombia’s most beautiful colonial village, drowsy Barichara, in the Santander department, is a sun-drenched town of historic architecture and one of the country’s highest per-capita concentration of artists and local artisans. It’s slightly removed from the nearby Gringo Trail hotspot of San Gil, and tends to attract more Colombian than foreign tourists, especially on the busy weekends. The Colombian tourists know best, though – Barichara is one of the country’s loveliest towns, and is a haven for artists and art-lovers alike, as well as those who are just enjoying a little warm weather while passing through. You can visit on a day trip from San Gil or stay overnight for a relaxing weekend – either way, there’s plenty to see, even if you never leave the plaza.

  • Colombia’s Best Brews

    The stereotype is that Colombia has two kinds of beer: light and weak. While there’s some truth to that, recent years have seen some small breweries start to produce more quality beer in styles beyond “easy to drink.” As more Colombians travel outside the country and importers bring increasing numbers of foreign beers into local shops, demand for more variety in beverages has grown, especially in the country’s largest cities. Though more discerning beer drinkers can always seek refuge in a bar that offers imported brews, local breweries have plenty to offer as well. Here are a few of Colombia’s best options for tasting a local pint:

  • Welcome to the Neighborhood: Zona Rosa

    It’s entirely possible to spend a whole weekend going out in Bogotá without ever leaving the Zona Rosa. While I wouldn’t recommend this (there’s so much to see in the city!), the neighborhood certainly has enough to offer to keep any visitor entertained for at least 48 hours. As in other Latin American cities, the Zona Rosa is the main “going-out” part of town – but here, it’s so much more than that. Colloquially known as the “Zona T,” for the T-shaped pedestrian zone at its heart, these few square blocks are jam-packed with some of the city’s finest boutiques, tastiest restaurants and trendiest bars and clubs. Sit in La T on a weekend night and you’ll see many of Bogotá’s beautiful people strolling by. If you have more than one day in the city, the Zona Rosa is certainly worth a visit – if you’re looking for the party, look no farther!

  • Eco-lombia

    One of Colombia’s main draws for tourists is its wide range of natural beauty – but, as we all know, beauty doesn’t last forever. Whether it’s deforestation or rising water levels from climate change, landscapes don’t stay the same forever, especially when humans get involved. Luckily, many of the folks involved in the country’s tourism industry are already wise to this, and are focusing plenty of energy toward supporting ecologically friendly, sustainable development and tours. A short Google search will lead you to several excellent companies that operate with a sustainable focus, but if your main concern is the destination, here are a few of the country’s “greenest” spots.

  • Photo: Inexmoda

    Colombia Fashion Week: Colombiamoda 2013

    Last month was a busy one for Colombian fashion, as the country’s fashion cycle culminated in the fourth annual Colombiamoda, the industry’s biggest event of the year. The three-day extravaganza, which takes place each year in trendy Medellín and is Latin America’s second-largest fashion event (after Sao Paulo), highlights local designs, offers a space for vendors and buyers to mingle, and provides a launching pad for Colombia’s best new designers. But even before Colombiamoda began, the country offered inspiration for innovative designers. If you didn’t make it to the runways this year, here are a few local names, both well-established and on-the-rise, to look out for on your next shopping trip:

  • Retreats: Getting Away From It All

    As we ease into the lazy, late dog days of summer, the call of the wilderness – or at least the world outside your office – is stronger than ever. But if you’re not the camping and backpacking type, how can you get away from the sounds of all those clicking keyboards and incoming texts?

    Luckily for you, in addition to its natural beauty, Colombia boasts plenty of places to retreat from the loud, buzzing “real world” and take a few deep breaths. Whether you like warm sandy beaches or lush green mountainsides, there’s a place for you to spend a few days far away from emails, traffic jams and anything else that might interrupt your reading time.

  • Flower Festival in Medellín

    Medellín is known by locals and visitors alike as the “City of Eternal Spring,” and that title is never more deserved than during the first two weeks of August, when the city bursts into a blaze of color for its annual Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival). The festival, which has taken place every year since 1957, is a celebration of Medellín’s traditional products and economy – the region is the center of flower production for Colombia, which is one of the largest exporters of flowers in the world. But it has also become an opportunity for the city, which was recently named the world’s most innovative, to show off just what earned it that honor. With almost two weeks of bright colors, friendly (and attractive) locals and world-class spots to spend your downtime, the Feria makes falling in love near-inevitable.

  • Partying with the Cool Kids in Chapinero

    Chapinero is the place to be for Bogotá’s young and hip crowd. This is where you find the punk rock kids, the sunglasses-wearing clubbers, the teenagers drinking beer away from the watchful eyes of their parents. Chapinero isn’t the clean-scrubbed young people waving their parents’ credit cards around the dark dance floors of the Zona Rosa and Zona T – in fact, the neighborhood is filled with so much facial hair and tattoos that you might be forgiven for thinking you had accidentally wandered into Williamsburg. But that – and the much lower price tag compared to the ritzier neighborhoods to the north – is what makes this area so appealing for so many. If you’re looking for a fun night out in the city without breaking the bank, here are a few suggestions to make the best of your night:

  • Traditional Hat: Sombrero Vueltiao

    First-time visitors to Colombia may be forgiven for wondering why everyone in the country seems to be walking around in hats made of a bunch of woven sticks. Indeed, these hats seem to be omnipresent in airports, especially on the coast, where practically every other person is decked out in one of these spirals designs. But this sombrero, known as the vueltiao hat, is much more than something to protect the top of travelers’ heads from the blasting air vents. In fact, the hat is one of the country’s most famous symbols, and close to the heart of nearly all Colombians. Even the name is a unique Colombianism – technically, it is called a sombrero volteado (rotated hat), but the accent from the Caribbean region makes it sound more like vueltiao, and that’s the name that stuck.

  • Rocking in the Parks: Bogotá’s Yearlong Free Concert Series

    As far as I’m concerned, the only thing better than music is free music. While this attitude can get people in trouble with the RIAA, it’s a welcome idea in Bogotá, city of music in the park. I’m not just talking about street performers, although they do a solid business throughout the city’s many parks and plazas. Each year, Bogotá’s ministry of culture, along with various arts organizations, hosts a series of concerts and music festivals throughout the city. The concerts cater to all different tastes and styles of music, but the one thing they have in common is that they’re all free. Spaced out across the year, these shows are all part of the “al Parque” (In the Park) series that makes all kinds of music more accessible to Bogotá residents.

  • 72 Hours in Cartagena

    Colombia’s historic walled city is known for its stunning architecture, romantic atmosphere and excellent seafood. But with only 72 hours to spend in the city, how best to maximize your time there? There’s a month’s worth of activities and sightseeing to do, but here are a few suggestions to make the best of a long Caribbean weekend.

  • Photo: Natalie Southwick

    Most Popular Arepas

    Like most Latin American countries, breakfast in Colombia revolves around carbs. There’s a bakery on practically every block in every city or town, packed with all manner of rolls, panes and other droolworthy pastries. The most ubiquitous of all is the humble arepa, a breakfast staple across the country and in neighboring Venezuela as well. Though arepas can be found in every corner of Colombia, not all arepas are born equal. In fact, depending on who you ask, there are between 70-100 varieties in Colombia alone.

  • Juan Valdez: More Than Cup of Coffee

    To many people, Juan Valdez is just an image of a mustachioed guy in a hat – kind of like a caffeine cowboy. But in Colombia, he – and, more importantly, his namesake coffee shop – is much more than that. The cafe, run by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, is a way for the nation’s coffee-growers to showcase their product beyond an image and bring it into people’s daily lives.

  • Andrés Carne de Res: Where the Party Never Stops

    If you read enough guidebooks, you can be forgiven for thinking that half of a country falls into the “can’t-miss” category. While this phrase is heavily abused by the travel writers of the world, some things truly cannot be missed. This is the case for landmark restaurant Andrés Carne de Res near Bogotá.

    The restaurant, which has been an institution in the central Andes since it opened its first location in 1982, is nothing short of a delicious, colorful, musical all-night party. Plus, the fact that the flagship location takes up the space equivalent to a city block makes it literally impossible to miss it if you’re within a mile of it.

  • Salsa for Beginners

    Most Latin American countries pulse with the rhythm of dance music, from reggaeton in the islands to sultry tango in Argentina. But when it comes to salsa, it’s all about Colombia. Sure, Cuba has a pretty strong claim on it, too but for a less logistically complicated dance break, Colombia is the best place to bring your dancing shoes.

  • Photo: I.D. R.J.

    We Don’t Need Snow to Go Skiing

    When you think of the world’s top skiing destinations, Colombia probably doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

    That’s fine, though, because it shouldn’t. There’s only one region of Colombia where it snows – fittingly named Los Nevados (The Snowcapped Mountains) – and there’s hardly enough there to bother hauling snowshoes up the mountain, much less a full pair of skis.

  • Races Around the Country

    Marathons in Colombia have become an important leisure and fitness activity. For globetrotters looking for good places to run and practice for marathons throughout the year, check out a complete calendar of sport activities you won’t want to miss. In Colombia, May, August and September are great months to find road races and other competitions. You can sign up as an individual or as a group for a chance to win prizes of up to 30.000.000 Colombian pesos (USD$17.000).

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