Colombia

Sitting on the southern side of the Darien Gap that separates one continent from another, Colombia is the veritable doorstep to South America. Like most of its neighbours, the country has an amazing cultural history that stretches back thousands of years and encompasses a number of indigenous traditions, many of which are still alive today. Spanish colonialism, too, has left its mark and a number of monuments and museums are dedicated to what the country gained from its conquerors and what it lost because of them. In any case, Colombians are fiercely proud of their history and culture, and are always happy to share it with visitors, whether it is through their art, architecture, music or festivals. A visit here must include a stop at any one of a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the port of Cartagena, home to Andalusia-style palaces and the most extensive group of forts on the continent. Other major draws include a gold museum in Bogotá, an underground Catholic church built within the confines of a salt mine in Zipaquira, and the Colombian National Coffee Park near the city of Armenia. Ah, but sadly, there is a dark side to Colombia as well. The country is one of the world’s genuine battlefields on which the war against drugs is being fought. While security issues have improved somewhat in recent years, the country does seem to be in a de facto civil war, with a number of groups battling it out for top dog and kidnapping still a major issue. Visitors who decide to head to Colombia should be aware that the governments of a number of countries recommend a high degree of caution in Bogota and other major centres, with advice to avoid all travel in rural parts of the country. ~ Samantha McDonald-Amara


 

Quitoro: Real life travel

If you follow a winding dirt road across a one-lane bridge, through a fertile valley and up a steep mountainside two hours south of San Agustin, Colombia, you'll eventually end up in a remote community lodged in a rocky hillside. No more than a few hundred people live in the immediate area, leaving it well off the tourist map and perhaps a few other maps as well. There are a few small stores stocking provisions that the community can't create for itself, and a small square dotted with local homes and a simple chapel. There's a basketball court that moonlights as a soccer field a few nights a week, a butcher shop with no freezers and a small candy store that'll pull out a plastic table and some chairs if you're in the market for a beer. There are no hotels, gas stations or restaurants. No malls, movie theaters or coffee shops. For all the surrounding pueblos, this is the epicenter of life. It acts as the collective center of commerce, a transportation hub and a medium for social interaction. This is Quitoro.

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 Full name: Republic of Colombia

 Population: 45.24 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Bogota

 Largest city: Bogota

 Area: 1.139 million sq.km. (439,770 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Spanish

 Major religions: Roman Catholic, Other

 Monetary unit: Colombian Peso

 GDP per capita: US $10,100

 Internet domain: .co

 International dialling code: +57

 Source: CIA World Factbook