The image of a dangerous country, with Farc, drug trafficking and prostitution, has long plagued Colombia and drastically limited the number of travellers. Get there before the mood changes.
The city of eternal spring
One has to visit Medellin. Yes, it is less beautiful than Cartagena, the port city the gold of the Americas left from. It's not as magical as Mompox, the sandy harbour celebrated Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But Medellin feels so alive . It is a city of art, celebrations and tango, because the dance so associated with Argentinian is not exclusive to it, and the regulars in the 'milongas' (dance halls) of Medellin dance until dawn.
A Green Amazon
Colombia's forests are already being damaged by the introduction of coca fields. How many more acres of trees were downed to make way for drugs ? On top of this is the random, mostly illegal, abuse of the valuable subsoil. Consider this: the minimum monthly wage is only around 700,000 pesos (around £175) ? 2.2lbs of cocaine costs four million pesos (around £1,000). And 2.2lbs of gold, 90 million (£22,500)! So, even if you don't find gold, it makes you dream... And to extract gold (or uranium, or coltan for our mobile phones) we cause enormous pollution with mercury and cyanide. 40% of Colombia and 70% of the Colombian Andes are affected by this, one of the highest rates in Latin America. For us visitors it means that the landscapes are devastated. For the inhabitants, it is a huge public health problem with pollution affecting the animals they eat and causing irreversible diseases.
Animals using the water
As a direct result of the previous two chapters, the list of animals threatened – or already extinct in some cases - includes hundreds of species. In fact, wildlife in Colombia is incredibly diverse : according to a UNESCO report at the turn of the century, Colombia is the country with the largest number of different species per square mile on the planet. This is easily explained : it's a country of mountains and seas, combining arid areas in the north and lush Amazon forest, with both Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, where the two Americas meet, giving an immense variety of ecosystems. Today, new species are still being discovered, such as this tiny translucent frog that almost perfectly symbolises the fragility of the world.
West Coast resorts
Until recently they were small fishing villages. But Colombians, from the city or countryside alike, enjoy the beach. Now there aren't too many fishermen. They turn up from time to time replenishing the market and the village restaurants. But the places retain their magic and are on a human scale, with small guesthouses, little second homes, small bars, local tourism and family tourism; all good-natured, admittedly little outdated but infinitely charming.
Head due north, past the pretty town of Santa Marta, and if you've got the legs for it, visit the Ciudad Perdida (lost city) embedded in the mountains; then on again to the Guajira Peninsula to the village of the Guajiros. Perhaps a hundred years from now they will still live a life dictated by fishing. But maybe not. Maybe developers will spot these beautiful beaches in arid areas and Amazon forests, maybe women will swap their colourful dresses for jeans, so get here fast and make the most of these must-sees in Colombia before it is too late.