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COLOMBIA TRAVEL - SAFETY, WHAT TO DO, HOW TO GET THERE

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Is Colombia safe for visitors? "Yes!" says Alvaro Concha, trade commissioner for the Colombian Government Trade Commission. He acknowledges that people have not heard good things about Colombia and states, "Over the past decade, travel safety has improved."

Bogota skyline
Bogota skyline
Photo: Proexport Colombia

A graph of international visitor arrivals in Colombia indicates that visitor arrivals increased from 933,244 in 2000 to 1,692,822 in 2012. "Tourism in Colombia is growing three times faster than the average growth of world tourism," he says.

Why is travel to Colombia safer now?

Concha uses 10 years of data to show that the economy grew as Colombian travel security improved. "Colombia is safe now, because people are investing in our country, buying our products and visiting us," he says. "That didn't happen before 2000."

He admits that travelers may question safety assurances from someone working for the government to promote Colombia travel. He directs people to the Colombia Tourism website where they will find blogs from international travelers writing about their great experiences during trips to Colombia.

In addition, the colombia.travel website has videos featuring visitors from around the world who liked Colombia so much that they decided to stay there. In these videos, Americans, Europeans, Australians and other nationalities talk about Colombian cities, attractions, food, festivals and other attractions.

Getting there

The Colombia time zone is the same as Toronto's and New York's. Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is actually closer to Toronto, than Ottawa is to Vancouver, according to Alvaro Concha.

Several airlines fly to Colombia. Copa Airlines has the cheapest fares, the best on-time performance and direct flights to 11 Colombian cities from Panama, according to Laura Marin, the Canadian sales manager. On other airlines, you have to connect through Bogota to other destinations in Colombia.

Whale-watching on Pacific Coast
Whale-watching on Pacific Coast
Photo: Proexport Colombia

Copa connects its airline hub in Panama City to 65 destinations in the USA, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and South and Central America.

Colombia flights

Copa Airlines flights to Colombia land in Bogota (airport code: BOG), Cartagena (airport code: CTG), Medellin (airport code: MDE), Cali (airport code: CLO), Barranquilla (airport code: BAQ), Bucaramanga (airport code: BGA), Cucuta (airport code: CUC), Leticia (airport code: LET), Pereira (airport code: PEI), San Andres Island (airport code: ADZ) and Santa Marta (airport code: SMR).

"Copa has six different slot times for flight departures from Panama airport (PTY), so if you're flying to Bogota, you have six different flight times," says Laura Marin. "If there's a delay in your flight to Panama City and you miss your first connection, there's always another connecting flight to get you to your destination in Colombia on the same day."

Monkey Island, Amacayacu Natural Park
Monkey Island, Amacayacu Natural Park
Photo: Proexport Colombia

Tourist areas

Located in northwest South America, Colombia has five main tourist regions. On the Caribbean coast, you find Cartagena, Santa Marta and San Andrés Island. The Pacific zone is known for nature and ecotourism.

The Amazon region has forests and jungle, while the Orinoquia has prairies, birding and fishing. Mountains characterize the Andes tourism area.

Bogota

Bogota (population: nearly 8 million) is a very diverse city. Located in the center of Colombia, at an altitude of 2,600 meters (8,660 feet), the city has 11,000 rooms in 3, 4 and 5-star hotels.

Bogota attractions include the Gold Museum, the cable car ride up Monserrate Hill, the Botero Museum, walking tours of the historical center of Candelaria, the Emerald Museum and the Cathedral of Salt in nearby Zipaquira.

With 65 convention centers and 195 meeting rooms, the city attracts conferences and incentive groups.

Bogota weather? Average temperatures are 14 degrees C (57 degrees F). The rainy season is usually in June and July.

Botero Sculptures Plaza in Medellin
Botero Sculptures Plaza in Medellin
Photo: Proexport Colombia

Medellin

The first thing people think of when you say Medellin, Colombia, is drug lords. "Medellin used to be the most dangerous city in the world," says Alvaro Concha, who comes from the city. "It has experienced big changes. Today, Medellin is one of the top-ranked cities in the world."

Located in northwest Colombia, Medellin has a population of 3.5 million. Because it is 1,476 meters (4,839 feet) above sea level, Medellin's climate is spring-like, with an average temperature of 24 degrees C (76 degrees F).

"We have flowers year-round," says Concha, noting the popularity of the Flower Fair, held every August.

Another special event is the Medellin Christmas Light Festival, which illuminates the city and the Medellin River, which crosses it. These Christmas decorations were a backdrop for Madonna's performances in November 2012.

Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Cartagena
Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Cartagena
Photo: Proexport Colombia

What to do in Medellin? Plaza Botero has nearly two dozen sculptures by Fernando Botero, who was born there. The city also has a Botero Museum, but it is not as large as the one in Bogota.

Other attractions include the Botanical Gardens, the National Palace, Explora Aquarium, the metro train system and the metro cable car. Shoppers will find handicrafts, textiles and clothing in this "city of fashion."

Cartagena

A modern city with a population of one million, Cartagena de Indias is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can visit the Fort of San Felipe de Barajas and take a walking tour of the historical colonial city, within the walls, during the day or night.

With nearly 6,000 hotel rooms, Cartagena attracts visitors to its music and film festivals, as well as major conferences, such as the World Economic Forum and the World Tourism Organization.

"Colombia is the best-kept secret in the world," says Alvaro Concha. He urges visitors considering a Colombia vacation to make their decision based on reality, rather than perceptions. Colombia tourism promotions also address perceptions about safety with their tag line: "The only risk is wanting to stay."


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Colombia Tourism

Copa Airlines