Colombia’s Three Jewels

Written by  Rita Cook

LATIN Colombia
As Colombia opens itself up to tourism it is enticing visitors to take a look at all the jewels one can find there. It is actually quite easy to get to the destination and make these discoveries.

Bogota is the capital of Colombia, and has a population of 8 million people. It was declared World Book Capital by UNESCO in 2007, and the same year was named Culture Capital of Ibero-America by the UCCI. Surprisingly, the city also has the world’ largest bicycling network, the Ciclovia. In Bogota and the surrounding area there is much to see and do. After all, the country’s tagline in years past has been “Magical Realism.”
It’s true.
Along with tourists, the folks living in Bogota certainly enjoy all that the city has to offer. An amazing variety of restaurants run the gamut of culinary offerings. If you are a foodie visiting Bogota, the options are limitless, from San Isidro at the top of Monserrate Mountain, to a ranch called Funzipa that offers authentic national dishes, to a unique restaurant called La Jugueteria, where the decor is virtually a toy museum.

Visit Cerro de Monserrate, the white church built on the summit of the mountain, dominating the cityscape below. The mountaintop also offers the best views of the city and there is a handicraft market up top.
Museo de Botero is in Bogota with an art collection donated by the Colombian master, Fernando Botero. Inside the museum there are 123 works of his works.

There is also the Museo del Oro, or the Gold Museum, located in the Candelaria neighborhood. This museum is well known for its contents, but is also popular for its architecture which combines Spanish colonial and Baroque styles. The museum has been located here since 1962, but the collection is from 1939. There are displays with the most amazing selection of pre-Hispanic gold in the world, and the largest gold collection known, with 50,000 items.

Other must-visits in Bogota include the National Museum of Colombia. It is the oldest in the country, and one of the oldest museums on the continent. Its fortress architecture is built in stone and brick and it houses over 20,000 pieces. These pieces include not only works of art, but also objects representing a variety of national historical periods.

Finally, the city’s Botanical Garden is a magical place to spend a morning or afternoon. The José Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden is Colombia’s largest botanical garden and is also a research center. Research here has an emphasis on Andean and Paramo ecosystems. Notice the sun clock, a palmetum, the amazing orchid collection and a variety of Amazon flowers.
About an hour outside of Bogota is a salt mine in the Halite Mountain near the town of Zipaquira. The salt mines also house the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira. The cathedral is an underground Roman Catholic Church built within the tunnels of the salt mine.

While in Colombia you should take the opportunity to visit Medellin. Take advantage of the urban cable transfer. There is much to consider with regard to the cultural and educational transformation in this city over the past 10 years. For example, Spain Library Park in Santa Domingo Savio opened in 2007.

Botero Square is located in front of the Antioquia Museum with 23 outdoor sculptures by the artist, Botero. In the Botero Museum in Medellin there are 108 paintings in different media by Botero.

Next to Plaza Botero you can take advantage of a visit to the National Palace to view  the romantic and unique architectural style of work by the Belgian Agustin Goovaerts. The Pueblito Palace, which is a replica of a typical Antioquia town is a must see while there. Its structures have become an icon of Medellin since being erected at the top of Nutibara Hill. Even better, when you reach the top there are great views of the city below.

Medellin was named the World’s Most Innovative City in 2013, and has great weather year round. For flower junkies the city has the world-famous flower mart held in the summer, along with parades and exhibitions
to celebrate.

The walled city of Cartagena creates a part of Colombia that should be a must-experience for visitors. A World Heritage Site, the city was founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533. So endearing is this city’s soul to many in the country, it inspired Gabriel GarcÌa Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
There are centuries-old cobblestone streets, 400-year-old houses, and landmarks to explore. The Castle of San Felipe and the city’s abundance of churches are tourist must-sees.

Since the city is on the sea, breezes are commonplace blowing through the colonial architecture of the city’s buildings. The city is protected by the most complete set of fortifications in South America. The romance of Cartagena is palpable. Consider adding a few days to explore this very Colombian gem.
After traveling through all three cities you will see exactly why this country offers so many reasons to visit.

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