There was recently an article in El Tiempo discussing what Bogota needs in order to become a ‘global city’. I already see Bogota as an ostensibly cosmopolitan, international city, but I understand what the article is saying. Indeed, it’s a topic we at the Colombia Travel Blog have thought about before. For all it’s virtues, in terms of tourism Bogota lacks a clearly defined and well-promoted landmark; a photo opportunity those who spend most their day on their Mac before nipping out for a quick photo to upload onto Facebook showing people where they are in the world. And it’s not just limited to Bogota.
Does Colombia have an iconic landmark, and if so what is it?
This isn’t to say Colombia doesn’t have essential places or sights to visit because it does, and in abundance. There’s so much to see here that the mind boggles when trying to come up with shorter itineraries, but therein lies the problem. If you can only go to one place, it’s difficult to decide where that place is. Any ideas?
Landmarks aren’t essential to travel, and arguably it’s a much richer experience to immerse yourself in a culture rather than visit a few items on a Lonely Planet checklist, but still, it’s landmarks that plant themselves in the mind and capture the imagination as you imagine yourself wandering around a foreign country.
But with all that said, part of Colombia’s charm is its unassuming attitude towards tourism. Locals love to interact with foreigners, and their warmth is a huge part of the country’s charm. That might not be marketable in any obvious way, but it does make the whole experience something to remember. Equally, hunting down your own icons and landmarks and being able to create your own vision of a country is something that is missing from a great deal of travel in today’s climate of sharing everything, but Colombia allows you to do just that.
With that said, here are our choice of 5 landmarks from all around the country you cannot miss when you travel to Colombia. Will one of these come to serve as a symbolic representation of tourism in the country? I’m not convinced, but for those of us still eager, curious and in love with travel, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
1. Monserrate, Bogota
Monserrate is a beautiful church that overlooks the city of Bogota. High up in the mountains, it not only offers spectacular views if you go up to visit it, it also looms large over much of the city, offering as it does a focal point for meandering walks.
2. Plaza de Las Esculturas (Plaza Botero), Medellin
Fernando Botero is Colombia’s major gift to the art world, and one of Medellin’s most famous sons. In homage to his work, Medellin houses ‘Plaza Botero’: a selection of 23 Botero sculptures in his idiosyncratic style. Great for a stroll, it’s also the place to find Medellin’s impressive Botero collection, so it’s a must-visit for art and culture buffs.
3. Fort of San Felipe, Cartagena
While Cartagena’s Old City is undoubtedly the prime attraction of the city, it’s difficult to pick just one of the colonial buildings as a focal point. Instead, just outside the walls of Cartagena is the Fort of San Felipe, a historic and fascinating structure that gives a great insight into the history of Cartagena and, therefore, South America in general.
4. El Cabo, Tayrona National Park
Tayrona is a stunning haven of windswept beaches that is essential to explore if you’re visiting Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Of all the beautiful rock formations and wild coastlines you can find, however, El Cabo remains the most iconic thanks to the hut perched on a hill looking over the beach. It fits perfectly into the Tayrona myth: a paradise untouched by modernity.
5. Cocora Valley, Salento
While the thought of going to visit some trees may seem unappealing to some, those who have visited Cocora Valley often report back saying it’s their favorite part of the country. It’s the sheer uniqueness of the area that really captures people; this is a landscape you won’t find anything close to anywhere else in the world and it’s something you simply can’t miss on a vacation in Colombia.