Applying for a Colombian visa used to be an ordeal. It was difﬁcult to ﬁnd correct visa information online—particularly on government websites—and even harder to ﬁnd the needed forms. Today it’s easy, thanks to Colombia’s revamping of its visa and immigration system, complete with modern facilities and up-to-date online information—even in English.
Sophistication may not be the first word that springs to mind when you think of Colombia. But Pereira, at the heart of the country’s coffee triangle, is one of Latin America’s most stylish cities. Pereira is prosperous and you’ll find gleaming glass apartment towers, high-rise office buildings, chic, modern architecture, and venerable colonial buildings. The abundance of students attending the many universities gives the city a youthful vibe. Because of this, Pereira has some of the best nightlife in the region, and thanks to the multitude of clubs and theaters featuring operas and concerts of all kinds, there’s always plenty to do. With the Andes at your doorstep, there are also plentiful opportunities to immerse yourself in the great outdoors.
"Wow...wow, wow, wow!” I said, as I walked into Popayán’s main square, Parque Caldas, for the first time. Glistening white colonial buildings surrounded me on three sides and a majestic cathedral stood in front of me. “Okay,” I thought, “now I see why Popayán is known as the ‘White City.’” Though beautifully preserved, this city is not just another pretty face. Popayán exudes a sophisticated, intellectual atmosphere, kept lively by the nearly 13,000 university students among its 300,000 inhabitants. And did I mention the climate? Mild, with highs around 75 F and lows in the mid-50s F, thanks to the city’s altitude (nearly 6,000 feet).
Now this is why I live in Colombia: sunrise over the mountains and a view of puffy white clouds hovering over the valley. To get from my home in Líbano to Manizales— located in the Central Andes region—I can take the easy route, which passes through the Magdalena Valley, or go over the mountain and around a few volcanos… For my latest trip, I choose the mountain passage and a 5-a.m. departure. The road twists and turns through isolated farmlands, until it enters the Los Nevados National Natural Park, well worth dawdling through.
It’s impossible to keep Jo Thomson, 62, and her husband Marc Brand, 63, in one place for long. For them, living the “good life” means bouncing around the globe to hidden corners of the world that some of us only dream of visiting. For many years, they’ve had a particular interest in the delights and mysteries of Southeast Asia, and they’ve found a remarkable home base from which to explore the region: Nha Trang, Vietnam.
South of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, the Pan-American Highway wends through the foothills of the Central Andean mountain range and into the Cauca Valley. Haciendas, orchards, and colorful fruit stands line the road and the air becomes warm and moist. Just past Tuluá, the sky seems to expand and the horizon fills with sugar-cane fields as far as the eye can see.
Bucaramanga is one of Colombia’s most beautiful cities. Colombians refer to it as the “City of Parks” because of its many green spaces. But when tourists come to the Santander department—of which Bucamaranga is the capital—they typically have one thing in mind: adventure. The landscape of Santander is a treasure trove of mountains, rivers, lakes, caves, and forests.
It’s 10 a.m. in Buga, Colombia, and downtown is buzzing.I’m sitting in an open-air café with British expat Richie Holding, taking in the sights and sounds that make this a one-of-a-kind town.
In many ways the Coffee Triangle is the heart and soul of Colombia. Even in the region’s modern cities, where you’ll find international cuisine, state-of-the-art museums, and innovative public transport, the country’s agrarian traditions linger. Farmers sporting traditional straw hats sit amongst college students in cafés, and hardware stores in trendy shopping malls display agricultural tools in front windows.
I have a confession to make. I’m a romantic. Whenever I travel, I look for a hotel or hostel in an old colonial home. When I wake up in the morning, I throw open the shutters or step out onto the balcony imagining I’ve been transported back in time. But there are folks who get to do that every day. And you can, too.