Colombia For First Timers – Why You Need To Go

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When you hear the words “Colombia” you might conjure up some not so nice images of gun toting cartel members, rampant crime and drug smuggling. Unfortunately while Colombia has been a hotbed for this kind of activity in previous years, it’s been working hard to clean up its act. With new peace deals between the government and the former drug cartels, namely the FARC, peace is on the horizon with focuses shifting from coca to more peace-friendly crops like coffee and cocoa. With the elimination of these issues, tourism is starting to bloom in this formerly avoided South American country. Read ahead for a short Colombia travel guide for first timers.

Getting To Colombia

Depending where you’re coming from, you will probably be flying into one of the country’s numerous big cities such as Cartagena, Medellin or Bogota, amongst others. There is currently no land border crossing between Panama and Colombia, but instead, potential visitors can catch a boat from Panama to Colombia, with stops available in the stunning San Blas islands – a must do for anyone wanting to traverse further south from Central America. The border with Venezuela was formerly open but recent political and economic upheaval has caused the border to be shut until further notice. The borders with other countries remain open though, and so anyone looking to traverse further south could easily do so through the likes of Ecuador and Peru.

Things To Do

Firstly, the cities in Colombia such as Medellin, Cartagena and Bogota can be stunning and beautiful, with swathes of colonial architecture, Spanish churches, cobbled streets and stretching city parks. In the lowlands around the northern shores, visitors have a choice between the Caribbean seas or the Pacific Ocean. The further inland you go, you get gorgeous mountains, ideal for trekking and visiting coffee plantations where you can see the process from start to finish and even try some of the freshest coffee possible straight from the fields. Take a cable car tour in Medellin to get a stunning view from the tops of the hills, and travel around the countryside of other areas of interest such as Cali, or head into the Amazon in Leticia. For a truly stunning piece of paradise, head off the mainland to the Santa Catalina islands – a string of islands in the Caribbean Sea that will leave you breathless.

Safety

Typically these days Colombia enjoys far more safety than it did in the 80s and 90s thanks in part to the government’s desire to clean up the reputation. Expect any punishment for drug possession to be hefty. Use common sense and check which areas are no go zones in advance of your trip. Typically people are best to avoid the Darien Gap area of the country on the border with Panama due to paramilitaries and militia activity, although with the ending of the FARC, this may become something that becomes more relaxed as time goes on. Generally speaking, use all the common sense you would in your own hometown or city with regards to travel after dark, drinks in bars, going with strangers, showing signs of affluence and you should be fine. You will find that Colombians are actually very friendly and welcoming people who want to show you a good time.

So there you have a beginner’s guide to Colombia – perhaps one of the more misunderstood countries of the Americas. So pack your bag – Colombia is growing increasingly more open for business and you’re in on the ground floor!

Hidden Canada – Gems Not On The Tourist Trail

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Most visitors to Canada will tend to stick to the typical tourist trail of Vancouver Island, Toronto area or maybe the Rockies. For most people this is sufficient for them to see what they want to see in the time frame they want to see it, but for those who like getting off the tourist trail a bit, Canada has a lot to offer. If you are considering a trip to the Great White North anytime soon, you need to check out the below stops along your way for a truly unique experience.

Churchill, Manitoba

Most people who come to Canada seem to skip out on some of the central provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There isn’t a huge amount to see, and many people don’t necessarily come to these regions unless they have family or a pertinent reason to. One such reason is to visit Churchill, a small town in northern Manitoba, famed for its proximity and number of polar bear sightings. Churchill is regularly touted as the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’ and it even has its own passport stamp you can get in your passport at the local tourist office for a fee. If nature and wildlife are your thing, Churchill is right up your alley and one to definitely try to fit in.

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador

Many visitors to Canada don’t consider the Maritime provinces as a hot spot to hit up and explore. The provinces are comprised of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. This last one in particular fails to see much in the way of tourism, especially from outside of Canada. With unique, European influenced cities like St John’s and rugged, stunning coastline on all sides, this is one province that is ideal for outdoor lovers. The island of Newfoundland can be driven end to end in about twelve hours, allowing visitors to start in St John’s in the morning and be in Port aux Basques on the other end within the same day. Small cove towns, beaches and some impressive alpine forests, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lanse aux Meadows up near the small town of St Anthony makes this an unique and awe inspiring province to visit, and we haven’t even mentioned the inherent hospitality you’ll experience or the amazingly delicious province specific food like Jig’s Dinner or Toutons!

Yukon Territory

The Yukon Territory in Canada’s north west corner is a rugged, mountainous, alpine area that has few residents and even fewer visitors. In the winter the area is inhospitable and difficult to traverse, making it ideal for summer visitors. Be sure to check out the cities of Whitehorse and Dawson for some truly unique looks at history in the region, with Dawson being relatively unchanged from how it once appeared in Klondike times. To access it though, you will need to drive up a long, desolate highway that is prime for adventurers and truckers and you will be rewarded at the end with the Sour Toe Cocktail… a drink (alcoholic or non alcoholic) that has an old severed, mummified toe in it. If completed, you receive a certificate stating you completed the Sour Toe shot, a perfect reminder of such a strange but wonderful part of Canada.

So there you have a couple of great parts of hidden Canada. Canada is full of amazing things to see and do, and being the second largest country in the world means that it’s prime for exploration and finding something everywhere you go. Never underestimate the power of going off the beaten trail in a place like Canada – you never know what you will find.