Two words usually come to mind when we picture Colombia: unfortunately, they are “Pablo” and “Escobar.” The notorious drug lord, however, has been dead since 1993, and key parts of his homeland have now emerged from tourism rehab making the affordable, off-beat country South America’s rising star. These destinations in particular are ripe for discovery.

Bogota
Located in the center of Colombia at an altitude of about 8,600 feet, the national capital has 8.25 million residents and an invigorating urban buzz.

The latter could be chalked up to the copious amount of local coffee, or perhaps to the trendy arts scene and pulsating nightlife.

Visitors, of course, still honor the past by gravitating to Bogata’s oldest (and most evocative) quarter, La Candelaria. Established in 1538, this restored neighborhood is home to three Fodor’s Choice sites—including Iglesia Museo Santa Clara, a divine fresco-filled church-cum-museum, and Museo de Oro which lives up to its name by showcasing an eye-popping collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts crafted from precious metal. Rounding out the trio is Museo Botero, which displays over 100 works by Colombia’s own Fernando Botero (his signature was his “fat figures”) plus 85 pieces from the artist’s A-list collection, among them works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso, and more.

Insider’s Tips: Before leaving town, toast your trip with a shot of Colombian aguardiente (literally “burning water”): locals’ favorite drink since the days of Spanish rule. Like Ouzo or Sambuca, it’s flavored with anise and best enjoyed with friends.

Branch Out: Villa de Leyva, a meticulously-preserved colonial town north of Bogota in the Boyacá region, offers a respite from city bustle plus easy access to ancient standing stones and natural attractions like the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, a preserve centered around a sacred lake.

Getting Here
American Airlines, which has been serving Colombia since 1990, travels direct from Miami to Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. Colombian-bound flights are also available through Delta, United, and JetBlue. Within the country, flying is the most efficient way to get from city to city. Avianca, Copa, and LAN all cover domestic routes as well as international ones.

When to Go

Positioned at the very top of the continent, Colombia is a mountainous country that’s bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, so it has many climatic zones. But, overall, December through March is the optimal time to go weather-wise.

A Word on Safety

Despite huge leaps forward, the national tourism board slogan—”the only risk is wanting to stay”—still isn’t completely accurate. Isolated towns and rural areas are best avoided. In urban centres, commonsense dictates that you take the same precautions you would elsewhere in South America.

From Fodor’s