Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Taz Liffman
Beautiful Colombia: beyond the conflicts, cocaine & cartels
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
Unsurprisingly, a 40-year civil conflict characterised by kidnapping and guerrilla warfare will do little to cultivate a nation’s reputation for beauty – no matter how deserving the latter may be. Just ask Colombia. For decades, thanks in no small part to Hollywood’s fondness for attributing villains a foreign nationality, this South American nation has been synonymous with extortion and the ruthlessly violent methods employed by its cocaine cartels for decades.
Yet to give everything its due, Colombia is a place of stupendous, often surreal-like beauty. Perched at the land bridge between the South and Central America, it’s the only South American nation with access to both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, contains sectors of both the Amazon and Andes, and is said to pack in higher levels of biodiversity per square kilometre than any other country.
Add into the mix stately Spanish architecture, a temperate year-round climate and infectious local exuberance for living life, and it can prove very hard indeed to reconcile the destination with the insufferable horrors it had endured during the 90s. ‘You can pull up a flower’ so goes one popular local saying, ‘but it won’t hold back Spring’. And with the FARC on the run and more and more of the country being brought under security, it looks like Colombia’s beauty is finally coming into bloom. Here are some of the things that make the country such a damned pretty place.
No living thing on this earth places as high a premium on beauty as the humble bumblebee – and flowers know it. Should a flower not be bright and colourful, fussy-pot bees will choose to neck their nectar elsewhere – dooming an unattractive flower to a life brief and unpollinated. What any of this has to do with Colombia, is that Colombian bees must be the fussiest about – because Colombian flowers are certainly some of the prettiest. Flower farming is massive business in Colombia, and contributes millions to the national export economy each year.
All deep green and sparkly, there’s no getting around the fact that emeralds are very pretty things indeed. Or that Colombia produces over two-thirds of the world’s supply.
Known as ‘the Jewel of the Caribbean’, Cartagena, on the country’s northwest coast, is almost too beautiful for belief. Quiet cobblestone laneways weave between pastel painted dwellings, bougainvillea drapes across ornate balcony alcoves and the world’s most glamorised sea sparkles just beyond the fortress walls. The whole thing feels rather like wandering through a romantic film-set, so exercise extreme caution on evening strolls with a partner – you could well find yourself proposing.
Head further east from Cartagena and you’ll hit the cute-as-can-be little fishing village of Taganga. Keep going, and you’ll hit Tayrona National Park; an outlandishly gorgeous tract of dense tropical rainforest, hidden coves, golden sands and turquoise waters. Set out north from Cartagena by yacht and you’ll eventually reach the blinding white sands and palm tree lined shores of San Blas Island. Point the compass west from Cartagena and I’m not too sure what beach you’ll end up at. But it’s bound to be beautiful.
La Zona Cafeteria
Coffee production is also big business in Colombia, and the verdant hill country in which the crop is produced is exceptionally scenic. Manizales, Salento and Armenia are the principal hubs. And aside from being picturesque towns in their own rights, the surrounding rolling hills and gullies, coated in lush greenery year-round, make for a very attractive backdrop.
If the legendary gold-gilded town of El Dorado does exist, and really is that much more beautiful than the rest of Colombia, we’re probably not ready for it yet.
Image courtesy of Jaydene Chapman