Cartagena, Colombia is a two hour flight from Miami, and Bogota is a three hour flight. From Los Angeles, it is a seven hour direct flight to Bogota. The areas within the country that are most visited are all within a short flight, from 20 minutes to one and a half hours, from Bogota, and are served by several domestic and international airlines.
Many travel authorities, both gay and mainstream, have recently discovered Colombia, and include its top sights among the emerging destinations and “must-see” in the Americas (and the world):
The New York Times travel section has featured Cartagena as the tropical “belle of the ball” (May 25, 2008, & May 20, 2007 editions), and a gourmet food destination (Oct. 26, 2008 ed.). It has also noted Medellin (Aug. 12, 2007 ed.) as one of the safest cities to visit, with highlights including museums dedicated to Colombia’s most famous (living) painter/sculptor Fernando Botero, and the Coffee-growing region of Colombia (Feb. 12, 2006 ed.) as a relaxation destination coming into its own.
The Australian gay magazine DNA (January 2008, Issue 96) raves about Colombia as the newest “shining star” among gay travel destinations, where one will find a hot time in the clubs and gay life, and wonderful cultural attractions as well.
The American gay travel magazine Passport (February 2008), not to be outdone, notes that Bogota has the first LGBT community center in Latin America, and has many modern and large gay bars and venues, complete with go-go dancers, making it a rising gay travel destination. It also lists the UNESCO designated Barranquilla Carnival celebration among the “hot spots for the jet set” (February, 2009).
Frommer’s has included Cartagena in its list of ten “Top Destinations for 2009″, specifically because of its good tourist infrastructure, its historic colonial architecture, UNESCO protection and designation, and the sublime white sand beaches.
Lonely Planet, the bible of independent travel, has not only long known about Colombia, but now includes its Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia in its world-wide “Best of 2009″ top destinations to visit this year.
Even the upscale mainstream Town and Country Travel Supplement (Summer 2008) was charmed by the “magic” of Cartagena, the “seductive seaside city that Gabriel Garcia Marquez calls home.”
Visitors to Bogota are stunned and overwhelmed to discover the thriving gay life in that city of 8 million people. The gay neighborhood (Chapinero) is well stocked with cafes, restaurants, stores, gyms, saunas, video- and book-stores, and other meeting places in addition to the bars of course. More than 40 gay bars can be easily visited in the gay (and other chic) neighborhoods and the place to be on Saturday night is a converted theater which now is a gay club that holds 5000 people (and gets packed because drinks are included in the cover charge). The drinking age is 18. The large number of venues caters to all sorts of styles and tastes, from upscale cafes and nightclubs to lounges to dive bars and dance clubs featuring live music and performances. Colombians like to meet Americans, and many Colombians are also on-line, and technologically savvy, which provides another way to meet locals (although their English proficiency levels will vary).
Gay rights is an ever-changing issue in Colombia, as in so many places in the world today. Same sex couples can register their partnership and have been recognized for certain legal benefits, and gay and lesbian people are continuing to get more and more publicity in the press and on television (including the ever-popular soap operas).
Beyond Bogota, the other major cities also have several gay bars, saunas and other gay community meeting points, most notably Cartagena and Medellin. Incidentally, while prostitution (over the age of 18) is not technically illegal, acting as “pimp” is barred by law, as is any sex with a minor.
In Colombia you will find a combination of the best aspects of countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, all in one compact and diverse country. Colombia has a high diversity of flora and fauna comparable to Costa Rica, and surpassed only by (the many times larger) Brazil. The colonial cities and towns (including Cartagena as well as Villa de Leyva, Barichara and several others) are restored gems among the largest and best on the continent. The white sand beaches rival any Caribbean island. The city nightlife compares favorably to Buenos Aires. The landscape of the coffee growing region resembles the rolling hills of Tuscany and at the higher Andean elevations, the Alpine slopes.
The true uniqueness of the country, however, is found in its people. Recently ranked the third happiest country in the world, Colombia is famous throughout the Latin (and greater) world for its friendliness, and its people’s joy and love of parties and a good time, and their willingness to include all guests in the fun. This is further reflected in Colombians’ innate politeness and attentiveness to the needs of travelers.
Colombian food is little known in the United States, but is full of exotic fruits not found outside the tropics. Unlike Mexican cuisine, it is not spicy, and in addition to the ubiquitous fresh fruit, tends to emphasize delicious meats, potatoes and other starches, and on the coasts and rivers, fresh fish and distinctive Caribbean flavors.
Cruise ships are another recent tourism addition to return to Colombia. Disney Magic cruises have started arriving in August of 2008, and along with many other lines, makes stops in Cartagena, and Santa Marta (near the famous Tayrona national park). In 2007, over 100,000 cruise passengers came to Colombia, and in 2008 such notable lines as Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises just to name a few, were expected to double that number.
Colombia is justly famous for its exports such being the worlds top supplier of emeralds (which can be purchased at significant savings in certain spots in the country). It also is a world leader in the exportation of flowers and orchids, and Medellin’s flower festival each summer is a national highlight. Of course, coffee — specifically high quality, organic and fair trade Arabica — is such a well known Colombian specialty that “Juan Valdez” has again become the symbol of premium Colombian coffee, available both inside and outside the country.
All who visit Colombia inevitably leave wanting and planning a return visit because there is always something more to see, experience and discover. Come find out for yourself!
For more on how to visit Colombia, check Vamos Colombia Tours as
www.vamoscolombiatour.com or call (415) 637-2660.