Cartagena is a fortified coastal city that exudes its rich history through its centuries-old architecture. Founded in 1533, the city held a vital seaport for the Spanish conquerors, making it a key location to hold treasures acquired from the native population. This strategic value also made the city a prime target for pirates and other attackers, and thus Cartagena was designed to be one of the most sophisticated fortifications of the time. UNESCO listed in 1984, the key sights to see here include the old town within the walls and the many monuments that stand in and around the city.
Los Katíos National Park
Located in Northwest Colombia and stretching over 70,000 hectares, Los Katíos is a UNESCO protected national park that is home to an abundance of rare and endangered animals, as well as a diverse wilderness that stretches from rainforests to mountains. The park also holds the world’s fastest river, the Atrato River, reportedly capable of pouring 4,900 m3 of water into the Caribbean Sea every second. The national park has been listed as endangered since 2009 due to the damaging effects of deforestation as well as illegal fishing and hunting. Due to this, the park is not open for eco-tourism activities.
Historic Centre of Santa Cruz de Mompox
Santa Cruz de Mompox is an enchanting city that takes travelers back in time to the era of the Spanish Conquest. Founded a decade after Cartagena, Mompox became a crucial city in the Spanish colonization effort because of its position on the Magdalena River. The time-defying qualities of the city come from the impressive preservation of architecture (dating back to the 16th century) and the fact that many of these buildings are still in use for their original purpose. Filled with multiple squares and colonial structures, the church of Santa Barbara stands as one of the highlights of this entrancing city.
National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro
Delving back further into Colombia’s rich history, the National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro offers a window into the life and culture of the inhabitants before Spanish colonization. Located in the Cauca department of Colombia, the park hides many preserved hypogea (underground chambers), filled with engravings and objects that reveal social and cultural aspects of life from the 6th – 9th centuries. These excavated finds are unique in their size and architectural sophistication, holding large interiors, curved walls, and even staircases.
San Agustín Archaeological Park
San Augustin Archaeological Park is located in Huila and holds hundreds of carved stone statues that date back thousands of years. These statues are incredible examples of the creativity and artistry of the inhabitants, who left the area in the 8th century. Inscribed as a world heritage site in 1995, the sculptures reveal the religious, artistic and technological aspects of this lost civilization. The three main areas in the park are Las Mesitas, Fuente de Lavapatas, and Bosque de Las Estatuas.
Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary
The largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is a UNESCO listed area that is home to a number of endangered marine species. The sanctuary includes the Malpelo Island and surrounding waters and is renowned as one of the best diving spots in the world. Home to rare and endangered species, Malpelo is recognized as a vital component of the biodiversity of the surrounding waters.
Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia
Protected as a world heritage site, the Coffee Triangle is a vast area around the Cordillera de los Andes in the West of Colombia that is both significant in its maintenance of tradition and its influence on the global coffee industry. Colombian coffee is renowned all around the world for its high quality and flavor and the protection of this plantation-filled landscape is vital for its sustainability. The Coffee Triangle holds sweeping coffee plantations, historic architecture, and beautiful mountainous views, making it awe-inspiring even for non-coffee drinkers.
Tayrona National Park and the Lost City
Close to the city of Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park sits on the coast of Colombia and is a haven of natural beauty. Here visitors will witness the meeting of picturesque beaches with lush rainforests, the combination of which creates a unique biosphere. Many tours of the park will also visit the ancient ruins of Ciudad Perdida. Translated as ‘Lost City’ from Spanish, Ciudad Perdida is thought to have originated around 800AD, over 500 years before Machu Picchu. Surrounded by forests, these age-old ruins hold an aura of mystery and beauty, and tell of a time long lost.
Gorgona Island lies about 50 km off the West coast of Colombia and has a rich history, with its unique location and geography being used for multiple reasons throughout the years. The earliest evidence found of human inhabitants date back to 1300AD. Swapping ownership between the indigenous Kuna people, Spanish rulers, pirates, Colombians and even English, it also served as a prison from 1954-1984. Now a national park, it holds an abundance of wildlife and its surrounding waters are renowned as great scuba diving spots.
The capital of Colombia, Bogota is a vibrant metropolis filled with an abundance of museums, galleries, monuments and more that highlight the country’s past, present, and future. A thriving cultural hub, there are a plethora of festivals and events held throughout the year in the city, making it a great destination no matter what your interest. One of the largest cities in Latin America, Bogota is a must-see to truly experience Colombia.
By Andrew Kingsford-Smith