If there’s a country poised to be the next big ecotourism destination, it’s Colombia. Now with a lasting peace seemingly in place, pieces of the country long closed off to the wider world are opening up. With an area equal to that of Spain, France, and Portugal combined, Colombia has coastlines on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, lush Amazon jungle, immense flatlands evoking the American plains, scorching deserts, and snowcapped mountains. Perfectly preserved colonial cities, Caribbean islands, and meandering rivers straight out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel are all here, not to mention 45 million residents that make Colombia second only to Brazil in human and ecological diversity among South American nations.
The capital of Bogotá is home to fine museums and pulsating neighborhoods, mixing the colonial past with the country’s modern present. In Medellín, ride cable cars to architectural projects and rainforests high in the mountains. Take salsa lessons in Cali then to dance the beat of Afro-Colombian rhythms in Cartagena. Lie on the beach in national parks like Tayrona, then visit indigenous communities in La Guajira and Puerto Nariño.
Home to 10% of the world’s plant and animal species, Colombia is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Whales frolic just off the beaches of the Pacific coast, while monkeys and jaguars hide within the dense jungles of the Amazon. With more species than anywhere else, birding here is phenomenal. Plus you can hike in the high Andes, windsurf on mountain lakes, and help sea turtle hatchlings get out to sea.
Mysterious stone statues and burial chambers in Colombia’s rugged southwest at San Agustín and Tierradentro date back more than 1,000 years, while the remote ruins of Ciudad Pérdida near the Caribbean coast are often compared to Machu Picchu. Colonial cities and fortresses dot the country, from Cartagena on the coast to Mompós in the north to Popayán in the south.