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1 17 Colombia 606918752 Varna K 72

Once defined by 1980s stereotypes of moustachioed drug lords double-fisting Uzis, Colombia has finally reclaimed its identity. Boasting a variety of untouched natural landscapes, from arid deserts and vast savannahs to snow-capped volcanoes and white-sand beaches, Colombia offers inexhaustible opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Adrenalin junkies can brave the raging rivers of San Gil, while nature-lovers can travel south deep into Amazonia, where the Great River yields an abundance of flora and fauna, including pink dolphins, caimans and the world’s smallest primate. Visitors to the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s largest coffee-producing region, can stay at working coffee fincas and do a bit of birding − the country boasts nearly 2000 species − while learning the finer points of ‘black gold’ production. Seekers of urban culture will find satisfaction walking the ancient ramparts of Cartagena or visiting Bogotá’s Gold Museum. And, when the sun goes down, Cali’s famous salsa clubs and Medellín’s upscale discos and downscale tango bars come into their own. Those eager to relax and recharge have their pick of either a Pacific coastline, where humpback whales cruise near the shore, or a Caribbean coast surrounded by crystalline waters and coral islands.

It was on the coasts that Afro-Caribbean rhythms first took hold in Colombia, leading to a musical diversity perhaps unsurpassed by any other country on the continent. Vallenato, cumbia, salsa: these sounds are ubiquitous, heard everywhere from village bars to big-city festivals. The vigorous musical pulse of the country is a testament to the mixed heritage of the population, the result of indigenous, European and African cultures co-mingling for centuries. But the Colombian experience is in the texture and the text as much as it is in the land and the music. Witness the exaggerated human figures sculpted by Fernando Botero, or the dreamlike prose offered up by literary lion Gabriel García Márquez.

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The array of birds in Colombia is astonishing – this is the country with the most species in the world. Ben Box explores the burgeoning birdwatching opportunities in the Coffee Zone

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