Author Archives: martha

Colombia – One of Nat Geo's 2012 "50 Tours of a Lifetime"

National Geographic has just released its annual “50 Tours of a Lifetime” and Colombia is one of the seven Latin American countries that made it on to the list.  Nat Geo explains that Colombia is “back on itineraries again after the U.S State Department acknowledged significant improvements in security last year” – and we couldn’t agree more. Here we suggest two itineraries for week-long trips to Colombia: one beach itinerary, one jungle. Can’t choose between them? Do both!

Caribbean Coast

Days 1-2: Fly from Bogotá to Cartagena. Wander through the Old Town, relax on the beach at Bocagrande, and sample the infamous nightlife. Take a boat out to the island of Playa Blanca and spend the night there in a hammock on the beach. Days 3-4: Head to Santa Marta and take day trips to the beach towns of Taganga and El Rodadero, returning in the evening to party the night away in Santa Marta. Day 5: Spend a day and night in Parque Nacional Tayrona, enjoying the gorgeous, isolated beaches. Day 6: Return to Cartagena and take a night chiva (a party bus) through the city center. Day 7: Fly back to Bogotá.

Taganga, Colombia_by SurfRock (Miguel Navaza)


Day 1: Fly from Bogotá to Leticia. Visit the Museo Etnográfico to learn about the indigenous nations in the Amazon region, and later head to the Serpentario to see jungle snakes at close quarters. Day 2: Take a day tour that includes a visit to the Isla de los Micos (Island of the Monkeys) to learn more about our primate cousins. Day 3: Ride a boat to Puerto Nariño. Stay overnight in an indigenous village such as Mocagua (speak to the village leader). Day 4: Spend the day exploring the network of trails and viewpoints that are close to Puerto Nariño. Later, fish for piranha. Day 5: Hire a guide to take you by canoe to Lago Tarapoto – if you’re lucky, you’ll see pink dolphins. Day 6: Return by boat to Leticia. Day 7: Take a flight back to Bogotá.

Monkeys on Isla de los Micos_Monos/Monkeys by lcrf

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

The miracle of Medellín

That Medellín was once known as the most dangerous city in the world makes its transition (just some 15 to 20 years later) to a safe, culturally-rich and pleasant city particularly remarkable. Once known for drug violence and gang wars, Colombia’s second largest city has become one of its wealthiest, and it is an enchanting place to soak up a lively cultural and nightlife scene. Medellín’s climate – invariably sunny and springlike – is also an attraction. Of course, like any other large city, it’s not without crime, and tourists (as well as taking the usual safety precautions) should avoid the slums that line the city’s hillsides.

Medellin_by jduquetr

Medellín has a way of luring visitors into staying longer than they had intended. It spoils its guests with an abundance of compelling features, ranging from a flourishing nightlife scene (second only to Cali’s), to churches, museums and offbeat activites like riding a cable car over the city’s shanty towns. More awaits the visitor beyond nightlife and museums, however. Medellín emphasizes the arts, and there are regular free concerts in the city’s theaters and improvised performances in the streets. Stroll to the Parque de los Pies Descalzos to marvel at modern architecture, then take a walk in the leafy Botanical Gardens. Try to catch the Flower Festival in late July and early August, a brightly-colorful, week-long festival that takes over the city, and check out the International Poetry Festival in July, when poets from all over the world participate in readings in Medellín’s theaters and parks.

Medellín Plaza_by robertschrader

Find out more about Medellín and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

10 Things You Didn't Know About Colombia

Think Colombia is all about drugs and guerrilla warfare?  Think again! Here’s ten surprising facts about this wonderfully diverse country:

  1. There are 80 different indigenous nations in Colombia, speaking 180 languages
  2. Colombia has the world’s greatest diversity of orchid species (3,500) and birds (1,754 species)
  3. Tourism in Colombia rose 48 percent between 2005 and 2006; in the first six months of 2011, it increased 14.3 percent from 2010
  4. Colombia has 3,208 km (1,993 miles) of Pacific and Caribbean coastline – home to some of the most gorgeous beaches on the continent
  5. Colombia has one of the highest rates of economic growth in Latin America

    Colombia has the world's largest species of birds (Buff-tailed Coronet 101204 by Langham Birder)

  6. Colombia is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world (after Brazil), providing 12 percent of the world’s coffee.
  7. Ninety-five percent of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia
  8. Colombia’s Pacific coast is home to the golden dart frog; one gram of its poison is enough to kill about 15,000 humans
  9. Football is Colombia’s most popular sport; the national football team has been to the FIFA World Cup playoffs four times.
  10. Ants, worms, cows udder and guinea pig are all part of the Colombian cuisine

    Colombia is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world (Reserve coffee farm in Colombia by Katie Fallon Virgina Tech University)

    Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Colombia: in the footsteps of Simón Bolívar

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, or simply Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), was born into a wealthy Venezuelan family. At age 14, he entered the military academy, and then spent several years in Europe before returning to Venezuela in 1807. In 1810, the Congress of United Provinces of New Granada gave him command of an independence army. Bolívar soon earned himself the nickname “El Libertador” (the Liberator). For the next decade and half, he led battle from Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar) in Venezuela to Ayacucho, Peru. During these years he faced a temporary exile and various assassination attempts.

A statue ot Bolívar in Washington, USA (Simon Bolivar by cliff1066)

The first Congress of Gran Colombia (1821), uniting Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, was held in Villa del Rosario, near Cucutá in Colombia; Bolívar was elected President. Gran Colombia, however, was doomed to failure. Once the common enemy–the Spanish–was vanquished, petty regional rivalries surfaced almost immediately which tore the young nation apart. Disheartened by Gran Colombia’s demise, Bolívar journeyed down the Río Magdalena, making his way to his native Caracas. By the time he reached Santa Marta, he was weak. He was given refuge at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, where he died of tuberculosis. His body was laid out for public viewing in Santa Marta’s Casa de la Aduana, and then buried in the Cathedral. In 1839 his body was transferred to his native Caracas.

Santa Marta Cathedral by J. Stephen Conn

Besides many plazas being named for Bolívar, Colombia has other sites honoring him: Quinta Bolívar in BogotáCasa de Bolívar in Bucaramanga and Museo Bolivariano-Casa de Bolivar in Soledad, near Barranquilla.  Today, Bolívar’s philosophies continue to be influential in the Bolivariano countries (so-called for those he liberated: Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia) and elsewhere in Latin America.

Bolívar's death bed (Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino by kmuller00)

More than just coffee

The smell of tangy oranges, the taste of smooth coffee and the sound of bird song can all be found in the impressive green lands of the Zona Cafetera that lies approximately 160 kilometers (100 mi) north-west of Bogota in central Colombia. Made up of valleys filled with bamboo, mountain peaks that tickle the sky and rolling landscapes, this coffee-growing region is throbbing with natural life, tranquility and adventure.

Zona Cafetera

The Zona Cafetera is a place to indulge the senses—from hot thermal springs to the cold Valle de Cocora; sweet berries to bitterly rich coffee-all the while spoiling yourself in one of the region’s beautiful haciendas. Manizales, Pereira and Armenia are the capitals of the departments that make up the Zona Cafetera, and each provides a different take on the many riches Colombia has to offer.

Parque del Cafe

In Manizales, a treacherous trip to the top of La Basílica is a must. Near Pereira, travelers should set aside a full day in the Parque del Café or spend a few hours basking in the hot thermal springs of Santa Rosa. The Museo del Oro Quimbaya in Armenia remains one of Colombia’s best-preserved and most organized gold collections. Also of note is Salento, a small town tucked neatly beside a mountain, where farm-grown trout is deliciously served on a large patacón (fried plantain).

Colombia - Hiking through the Valley de Cocora, near Salento_by Eliduke


Find out more about the Zona Cafetera and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Bogotá – a city of contrasts

In many ways Colombia‘s capital, Bogotá, epitomizes the Latin American city, with its mix of crumbling colonial architecture and modern office blocks, vast divide between the rich and poor, and soaring population. The third highest capital city in the world (it stands at 2,600 meters – 8,530 ft – above sea level), it is both highly cosmopolitan and, in some regards, stuck in the past. With much to attract the artist, the historian and the pleasure-seeker, Bogotá has become a big destination for world travelers.

Bogotá by night

Though it may not immediately appeal (the daily rain and cloudy skies may have something to do with this), give it time and Bogotá will surely win you over with its abundance of museums, beautiful churches and plazas, sprawling parks, first-class cuisine, and, of course, its famous nightlife. In addition, you will find a thriving art and music scene. Any trip to Bogota should incorporate the historic and cultural center of La Candelaria; the world-renowned Museo del Oro; northern Bogota (in particular Parque de la 93, the Zona T and the Zona Rosa) with its diverse mix of flashy restaurants, bars, clubs and malls; the famous Sunday flea market in Usaquén; and finally, if you’re lucky, a performance at the beautifully ornate Teatro Colon.

Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota by Szeke

Travelers will find that Bogotá has recently undergone a serious makeover, though crime is still prevalent and visitors should be alert around tourist areas and government buildings. However, with massive investments in reviving public spaces, expanding infrastructure and improving social services, the Colombian capital now thrives as a case study of urban transformation in South America.

Old street in La Candelaria by NapaneeGal

Find out more about Bogotá and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Obama in Colombia

Last week, US President Barack Obama was in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia for the three-day Summit of the Americas, the sixth such summit since 1994. The last day of the summit, April 15th, saw Obama attend a ceremony in Cartagena’s Plaza San Pedro, in which land ownership titles were restored to representatives of Afro-Colombian families who had been displaced from their homes by armed rebel groups. Cartagena (and Colombia as a whole) has a large Afro-Colombian population, and an estimated 21 percent of the country’s population are of African descent.

Plaza San Pedro_by Urzula Araya

Many of the families involved in the land-ownership ceremony come from the town of San Basilio de Palenque, two hours east of Cartagena. The town was founded by run-away slaves in the late 16th century, and was an important center of resistance against Spanish rule and slavery. It has preserved its cultural traditions well (the town’s language is a unique blend of Congo River languages fused with Spanish), resulting in UNESCO declaring it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Go in October, where you can savor the annual musical and cultural festival, Festival de Tambores de Palenque. 

Festival de Tambores, San Basilico by Simón Sánchez S

Plaza en San Basilico de Palenque_by Paula

You can find out more about San Basilio de Palenque, Cartagena and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide, available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Also, be sure to take a look at award-winning travel journalist Tracy Barnett’s review of VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide on

Colombia's Lost City

Deep in the recesses of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, buried in a mass of undisturbed jungle, lies one of the ancient Tayrona nation’s most impressive cities, Teyuna, or Ciudad Perdida (Lost City).  Founded in around 650 AD, the archaeological site earned its name well, lying undiscovered until as recently as 1972, when local tomb robbers stumbled across it.


Trek To Ciudad Perdida The Lost City Colombia_by migpascual

The Ciudad Perdida, which sits at an altitude of 900-1,200 meters (2,953-3,937 ft) and  covers 30 hectares (74 ac), consists of the ruins of over 200 structures, including living quarters, stone roads and staircases, terraces, canals, plazas and ceremonial buildings. The North sector has the oldest buildings, dating to the Neguanje Period (650 AD). Twenty-six other sites have been discovered nearby, in the upper Río Buritaca valley. Because of its size and monumental character, it is believed Teyuna was the political seat for the region. Some archaeologists estimate Teyuna itself had a population of 1,500-2,000 and with the surrounding settlements, the region’s inhabitants numbered over 10,000.

Ciudad Perdida_by Threat to Democracy

It is possible to reach the Ciudad Perdida by a five-day, moderately difficult hike that takes you into incredible rain-forest, across streams and rivers, through Kogi Indian communities, and finally up a set of 1,200 or so steps to the immense ancient site. Treks can be arranged with a local tour operator in Santa Marta or Taganga, and cost from $300.

VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide is available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Walk to Ciudad Perdida_by tyo

Colombia – safer than you think

Say “Colombia” and most people will immediately think of something negative: drugs, guerrilla warfare, corruption, kidnappings or crime. This is hardly surprising, since these topics have featured heavily in past international press about Colombia. However, conditions in Colombia have improved dramatically in the past decade, and most parts of the country are just as safe to visit as other Latin American countries. But many tourists are unaware of this, meaning—unfortunately—they choose to avoid this gorgeous country.

Zona Cafetera, Colombia

In truth, Colombia is one of the most beautiful countries on the continent, and, if you don’t stray too far from the tourist areas and heed current safety advice, there is no reason why you shouldn’t include Colombia in your itinerary. Tourist numbers have increased greatly in the past few years, from 0.5 million in 2003 to 1.4 million in 2010, and the U.S. State Department declared in 2010 that security conditions had improved significantly. As long as you take precautions, you be well rewarded if you visit Colombia: you’ll find beautiful Caribbean beachesAndean highlands, the Zona Cafetera (Coffee zone), impressive archaeological ruins and fertile rainforest (the latter claims the highest diversity of flora and fauna on the continent after Brazil, making it a perfect spot for nature lovers). Even those places deemed safe and developed for tourism have hardly been touched by outside visitors.

Cartagena, Colombia

It’s not, however, just natural wonders that draw travelers to come here; there’s both vibrant  modern and colonial cities, good food, great bars and fantastic coffee, while the locals are reputed to be some of the friendliest and most welcoming in the world, and certainly haven’t lost their party spirit. It’s no wonder the national tourism board has adopted as its saying, “The only risk is wanting to stay.”

“Santa Marta, Colombia,” by Ben Bowes

VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide is available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Colombia: the top five Caribbean beaches

The beaches that line the stretch of Colombia’s Caribbean coast epitomize the stereotype of a paradise beach: white sand, warm transparent water, and coconut-filled palm trees. With some difficulty, VIVA picked its top five Caribbean beaches from the new Colombia Adventure Guide. Here they are, in no particular order:

Cabo de la Vela sits on the Guajira Penisula, on the most northwestern point of the Carribean coast. Here you will find a small fishing hamlet and a deserted stretch of beach-and very little else; tourists are rare here. If you get bored of swinging in a hammock, explore the natural pools, blow holes, and nearby lagoons frequented by flamingos.

“Tayrona,” by Steve Monty

The ocean at Coveñas is the warmest you will find in all of South America. Combined with the hot tropical sun, it feels more like a Jacuzzi. Several pleasant days can be spent without noticing here, as time somehow slips its way through your fingers. Colombians mob the beach on the weekends, while the weekdays often see empty sand and sea.

Palomino is a little Colombian secret, one that few foreigners have heard about. Here you can comb these amber sands for shells or observe birds in the rivers’ mangroves. On clear mornings, the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta backdrop the palm trees, and sea turtles nest in season.

Accessible only by a 30-minute boat ride from Cartagena, Playa Blanca is a popular half-day destination half-day trip for Colombian tourists, but rarely do people take advantage of the few basic cabins-or handy spots to sling a hammock or set up a tent-to stay longer than just an afternoon. If you do, you won’t be disappointed: the day-trippers tend to keep to one area, meaning you’ll have much of the unspoilt (there’s no electricity here) palm-shaded, white-sand beach to yourself.

“Playa Blanca-Cartagena-Colombia,” by mallox

The pristine, jungle-fringed beaches of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona are said to be the most beautiful in Colombia. Most visitors head to the beaches closest to Santa Marta-Cañaveral and Arrecifes-but head west and you will be rewarded with the quiet, remote beaches of Bahía Conchaand Playa Brava, where you can scuba dive in the coral reefs.

“Parque Tayrona, Colombia,” by szeke

The Colombia Adventure Guide is available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.