My perception of Colombia hadn’t been great prior to my first trip there back in 2011. I’d heard horror stories about drugs cartels, kidnappings, and civil war. It wasn’t somewhere I had contemplated visiting until I made some great Colombian friends at work in London. When my friend Johanna finished her studies, she insisted that I come visit her in Colombia. So I booked my ticket and a few months later I was off.
On that first trip, I visited Bogotá and the Caribbean coast, and with good friends by my side, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Touching down in Bogotá, I marveled at the contrast between the sprawling concrete metropolis and the majestic dark green mountains surrounding it. The views from the mountains must be awesome, I thought. I wasn’t wrong. Bogotá, a city built “2,600 meters closer to the stars,” according to a promotional campaign, has the most spectacular urban sunsets I’ve ever seen, and there’s no better place to see them than from the top of Mount Monserrate.
Johanna’s family descends from the indigenous Wayuu tribe, so she wanted to take me to their native land in the northeastern department of La Guajira. Cabo de la Vela is undeveloped, isolated and has a dramatic landscape of sea, desert, shrubs and cactuses stretching as far as the eye can see. It is one of the most special places I’ve ever visited. After a knuckle-whitening jeep ride through the desert with jubilant vallenato music blasting from the stereo, we arrived in the sacred land of the Wayuu. Cabo de la Vela, Johanna told me, is the Wayuu people’s “gateway to the afterlife.” I’m not religious, but it felt like Heaven to me.
Eventually, love and friendship drew me back to Colombia again and again until I finally moved there in 2013. Now that I’ve traveled more extensively throughout the country, I realize they weren’t exaggerating when another campaign claimed “Colombia is magical realism.” Here are some of the magical places you absolutely must try to visit on a trip to Colombia.