The Andean Highlands is a region in central-western Colombia.
- 1 Armenia
- 2 Bucaramanga – Capital of Santander province. Located northeast of Bogotá in the scenic valley of the Río de Oro with roots deep in colonial history.
- 3 Cúcuta – the sixth largest city of Colombia. It has many interesting places and is one of the most ecological cities of Latin America.
- 4 Manizales – Capital of the Caldas department. A city full of parks and republican architecture, and one of the getaways to the coffee region. Manizales celebrates each year, at the end of September, the International Festival of Theater of Manizales.
- 5 Medellín
- 6 Pereira
- 7 San Gil – in the Guanenta province of Santander, it's Colombia's adrenalin and adventure sports capital.
- 1 Cocuy National Park – great trekking opportunities between lagunas and snow-capped summits of the Colombian Andes
- Río Claro – Beautiful, unique and unbelievable place. Now it is safe for all. It's a canyon of a very clear river. The floor of this river is marble. Caves, jungle and beautiful landscape. To go take a bus from Medellín 3-4 h. in the direction of Bogotá. Private nature reserve, you can stay in the hotel or camping. Don't miss this place.
- 2 Zona Cafetera – the major coffee-growing area
- 3 Puracé National Natural Park
Since Spanish is the official language of Colombia, it should be relatively easy to get around in the larger cities knowing basic Spanish. In rural areas, however, it is not uncommon to find villages that still speak indigenous languages, although the youth in these locations will more than likely speak Spanish as well.
There is one big, obvious port of entry, and that's Bogotá's El Dorado Airport. It also serves as the hub for flights to all other airports in the region.
By road, travelers arrive from Venezuela via Cúcuta. From Cali the main roads splits to go over a scary mountain pass (la Alta de la Linea) after Armenia on the way to Bogotá or a more tranquil northern route through Pereira to Medellín. Roads across the mountains coming from the Caribbean coast to Medellín and to Bucaramanga are fairly treacherous, with crazy mountain passes, occasional road wash-outs, and very nauseating bus rides.
The mountains really do make it harder to travel around here. Distances on a map are deceptive, because they don't include all the elevation changes, and certainly don't allow for the endless game of leapfrog around trucks going up endless mountains on two lane highways (four lane highways, or even passing lanes, are almost nonexistent outside Bogotá). Bus timetables are rough estimates. Allow ten hours for, say, the trip from Bogotá to Armenia, or twelve to Medellín. The trip north from Bogotá to Tunja isn't that bad, though, and usually takes under four hours if you don't hit rush hour. It is easy enough to take a bus from Bogotá to see the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá, and get back within a day.
Wealthier Colombians and travelers usually skip the roads experience if any real mountain passes are involved, and opt to fly to Manizales or Armenia to get to coffee country. The flight between Bogotá and Medellín is regular and painless.
Where to start? The Colombian Andes is a really beautiful region, with a lot of interesting sights both natural and cultural, and most of it is very safe for travel. The two big metropolises, Bogotá and Medellín, are both well renowned for their museums and modern art—Botero museums abound in both, the latter being his home. The Gold Museum in Bogotá is probably Colombia's most famous and popular museum, and does in fact belong in those top 5-10 lists of things to see in the country.
The Andino also provides some really unique historical attractions. The most famous pre-Columbian sight is in Cundinamarca, where a relatively short drive from Bogotá gets you to mythical El Dorado. That's right, it exists, you've found it! And it's here at Laguna del Cacique Guatavita, and it's the reason why that Gold Museum is so fabulous.
Moving forward in time, fans of Spanish colonial architecture will find Eden at Villa de Leyva, a town so picturesque with its whitewashed buildings, red roofs, cobblestone streets, and Andean backdrops, that it has been the set of numerous telenovelas. You'll find similarly pretty plazas throughout the region, although most get marred by the presence of ugly modern buildings creeping about (looking at you, Tunja). Bogotá's historic center, La Candelaria, which was at one point the capital of most of South America, is another really interesting place to check out colonial architecture, although it is at the same time an interesting place to check out the artsy-political graffiti that de-whitewashes the buildings!
The twentieth century provided fewer interesting historical sights, but the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá is a major exception! Wandering through the neon stations of the cross through eerie salt caverns is truly an experience worth having, and a great place to give your camera a workout.
The whole region is beautiful, so all you need do is to rent a car or hop on a bus in places like Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Santander, or Antioquia to get "sightseeing." The most famous national parks are El Cocuy and Los Nevados, both of which are very high altitude mountain zones, and require planning for the trek. The more accessible park, which is a real treat, is Valle de Cocora by Salento. Valle del Cocora is quite mountainous itself, right at the boundary between tropical and alpine (on the way up the mountains to the snowcapped peaks of Los Nevados), and is home to Colombia's surreal national tree: the towering wax palm.
The Zona Cafetera is perhaps where Colombia puts its best foot forward, and where Colombians come to take a vacation. The International Community jumped on board in 2011 to make it a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are little attractions like butterfly gardens, a sort of coffee amusement park, but most of all you come to relax on a coffee farm, sipping the good stuff, and lying around by the pool.