Colombia has a lot to offer for travelers

The beaches of Cartagena are some of Colombia's many highlights.
The beaches of Cartagena are some of Colombia’s many highlights.

(I’ve never been to Colombia but this guest blog by Gabe Campbell makes me want to go there.)

There aren’t too many countries around the world that have been stigmatized as much as Colombia. Closely associated with a violent cocaine trade for decades – an association no doubt made worse by Hollywood – it was avoided and even put on travel advisory lists for years.

Things have changed, though. While there are still some areas of Colombia that are best avoided, and kidnapping can be an issue, there are plenty of safe areas. So long as you use proper precautions and you’re aware of risks in certain areas, you can make a vacation out of this fascinating South American country.

For those who are intrigued by this idea, we’d note that Colombia isn’t just OK. It actually has a lot to offer the modern tourist, including some of the following highlights.

The Colombian Coffee Region, also known as the Coffee Triangle, is a part of the Colombian Paisa Region in the rural area of Colombia.
The Colombian Coffee Region, also known as the Coffee Triangle, is a part of the Colombian Paisa Region in the rural area of Colombia.

Coffee Plantations

As you may be aware, Colombia produces some of the finest coffee in the world, and you don’t have to be a connoisseur to appreciate this as a sort of attraction. While you can certainly spend time learning how coffee is made and sampling some of the best there is, “coffee tourism” will also take you to some of the more beautiful parts of the country. The coffee region of Colombia, which some refer to as the Coffee Axis, happens to include lush hills, some national park land and incredibly charming venues from which the plantations are run (and shown off).

San Andreas Scuba Diving

While not technically in the Caribbean, Colombia is one of the closer mainland countries to the famously beautiful sea, and as such it has some similar diving and snorkeling opportunities. That is to say, there are places on the coast of Colombia where you can enjoy translucent turquoise water, high visibility, warm temperatures and an all around terrific diving experience. Cartagena is a popular starting point for a lot of people looking to go on diving expeditions, though we’d also point out San Andreas because it actually is in the Caribbean. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a beautiful archipelago located a fair distance offshore, in the Caribbean Sea between Colombia and Nicaragua. You can stay on the islands, and the scuba and snorkel opportunities are wonderful.

Casino Activity

Here again, Colombia doesn’t get quite as much attention as some of its Caribbean neighbors to the north. That is to say, you don’t hear about casino destinations in Colombia the way you might hear about the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas or the Hard Rock Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, there is a thriving gambling industry in Colombia. In fact, it’s doing the country quite a bit of good. A U.S.-based site posting the latest stories and updates about casino culture in the Americas pointed out that Colombia gambling revenue has raised $2.5 billion for healthcare. That implies a thriving industry, and if this is your sort of thing to do on vacation, destinations like CASINO Cosmopolitan, Casino Rio, and Casino Rock’n Jazz are just a few of the venues where you might be able to take a break and enjoy yourself.

Mud Baths

The idea of a mud bath might not typically be on your list of things to look for in a fun or relaxing vacation, unless you have your eye on a specific spa. But in Colombia this is one of the more unique and memorable things you can do. Basically, in the country surrounding Cartagena, there is a very small volcano called El Totumo. And the inside of the volcano (which is in fact an active one) is filled with mud, rather than boiling lava. The mud is naturally heated, and while it’s not piping hot, it’s said to make for a relaxing time. According to some Colombian lore, the volcano used to be far more dangerous before it was blessed by a priest and — perhaps more plausibly — the muddy consistency of the heated pool within carries some mineral health benefits.

Múcura Island is a stunning choral island offering beautiful beaches and sights of stunning mangrove trees.
Múcura Island is a stunning choral island offering beautiful beaches and sights of stunning mangrove trees.

Isla Mucura Swimming

Given what we said before about Colombia resembling a Caribbean paradise in some areas, it follows that there are plenty of great swimming spots around the country. Southwest of Cartagena however, and just a short distance offshore, lies Isla Mucura – which was actually singled out by CNN as one of the top highlights of Colombia, and a particularly nice place to swim. ”Otherworldly bioluminescent plankton” are among the highlights mentioned in the CNN piece, which certainly makes it sound like a charming place to swim to us.

(Gabe Campbell is a photographer, blogger, and artist in Raleigh, North Carolina. He travels whenever he gets the opportunity to, and hopes to combine those interests into an original online travel magazine in the near future.)