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Geographically speaking, Colombia is a surprisingly diverse country. Before arriving in 2009, I imagined it was one big jungle. I'm embarssed to admit that my knowledge of the country was limited to what I'd seen on news clips and in Hollywood movies.
Now that I've spent over a year and a half living in Medellin, and traveling Colombia, I can look back at my early ignorance and laugh. But more importantly, I can spread the word to future visitors about how much more there is to the country.
Below is a list of 5 destinations that offer awe-inspiring scenery, from the beaches of the Caribbean, to the snow-capped volcanoes of the Andes.
La Guajira Peninsula is a desert at the northern tip of Colombia, and the South American continent. Yes, Colombia has it's very own desert, and because it runs along the coast, it also makes for a fantastic tourist destination.
La Guajira is probably one of the least visited parts of Colombia, if only because it requires some effort to get there. Packaged two, three, and four day trips leave regularly from Santa Marta.
Eventually, the paved roads give way to sand, and therefore a 4x4 is required. During my 3-day adventure, I found the way back to be a lot bumpier than the ride in.
I spent both nights at a rustic ranch in Cabo de la Vela, a village with miles and miles of empty beaches and beautiful turquoise waters. We slept in colorful, handmade hammocks by the local indiginous community, the Wayuu. And there was no electricity or cell phone coverage, so we were truly "off the grid."
If you want to get off the beaten track in Colombia, book a trip to La Guajira Peninsula.
If La Guajira is one of the least visited parts of the country, Parque Tayrona is one of the most visited.
This is especially true of backpackers, who like to save money by hiking along the beach to get to their preferred campground. There's also a speed boat service that runs from the nearby fishing village of Taganga.
Tayrona is famous for it's undeveloped coastline, where there's just enough infrastructure to support tourism, and give visitors that feel of being in a little slice of tropical paradise.
Standing in the snow, above 4,000 meters on the road to Nevado del Ruiz volcano, was a real trip because it shattered my old stereotype of Colombia as one hot jungle.
In my group, which left Manizales on a day trip up the volcano, were several Colombians who were seeing snow for the very first time. Having grown up with it every winter in the USA, I often forget how amazing it might be for someone whose never seen it before.
Valle de Cocora, which is easily accessible as a day trip from the pueblo of Salento, offers some of the best views I've seen in Colombia, and all of South America. There's something mystical and magical about watching the clouds drift through the fields of wax palms.
Wax palms are the world's tallest palm tree, as well as the national tree of Colombia. Once harvested for wax, along with many other purposes, the trees are now protected, and Valle de Cocora is the best place to see them up close.
San Andres is a small group of islands off the coast of Central America, which actually belong to Colombia. This is the one destination on the list I've yet to visit, though it's at the top of my list.
Crystal clear waters, and plenty of sandy beaches make San Andres a popular destination for those seeking the classic Caribbean island getaway. Add to that the plethora of fresh fish and seafood on offer at the restaurants, and plenty of nightlife, and you have a recipe for fun!