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Colombia Cruises

Santa Marta, Colombia

About Colombia

Known as one of the world’s “mega-diverse” countries, Colombia boasts remarkably varied ecosystems from its picturesque Caribbean coast to its Andean highlands. Throughout, grassland savannah, Amazon rainforest and deep canyons grace this nation of intense natural beauty whose coffee plantations grow nearly 10 percent of the world’s beans. Bogotá, its cosmopolitan capital, is the world’s highest-altitude city of its size. And the nation’s cultural centers of Colombia and Santa Marta glitter on Caribbean shores.

Before the arrival of Europeans, Colombia was dominated by a complex network of cooperative tribes who freely traded with one another, particularly in the Caribbean and Andean regions. Scholars believe they thrived on a social and political foundation more advanced than that of the Incas. Much of that changed when Spaniards set foot on these shores in search of the mythical El Dorado … and gold. By the time colonists set up their regional capital of Granada, named for their beloved Andalusian city, they ruled an area that included Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama.

Ecuador and Venezuela broke free around 1823, after Simón Bolívar led Colombians on a long struggle for independence against Spain. Later that century, a civil war threatened the proposed US construction of the Panama Canal, which was then part of Colombia. President Theodore Roosevelt brokered a treaty that gave Panama independence in return for a lease on the lands surrounding the canal. Colombia recognized Panama as its own nation in 1903.

Today, Colombia is one of South America’s most progressive and forward-thinking nations. Visitors are welcomed with colorful colonial architecture, gentle hills blanketed with thick green coffea plants and a warm Colombian embrace.

Colombia Lifestyle and Culture

Situated at the crossroads of the Americas, where the isthmus of Central America converges with South America, Colombia has been shaped by many cultures, from Native American to Spanish, African to Caribbean. Much of its great art has been shaped by the nation’s stunning setting between the Caribbean Sea and the Andes, by the nation’s fervent Roman Catholicism and by a history that has seen its share of conflict and political strife.

Spanish influence is everywhere in Colombia’s architecture, from its baroque and neoclassical public buildings to its historic fortresses to the large plazas and colorful houses of its cities’ historic Old Towns. The nation’s traditional music is a fascinating mix of Spanish and Andean rhythms; the Andean folkloric danza, the guitar-infused bambuco and the joyful strains of the sanjuanero all evolved in Colombia.

Nobel Prize–winning author Gabriel García Márquez is credited by many with introducing Colombia to the world with his novels 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Magic and mysticism amid a strained political environment played a significant role in his work and contributed to a new wave of nationalism that lives on to this day. Visual artist Fernando Botero, too, made bold statements about the excesses of the elite with his sculptures and paintings of oversized human figures.

Colombian cuisine varies by region, but rice, maize, potatoes and beans play a central role alongside beef, chicken, pork and seafood. The area’s ample tropical fruit is also part of the local diet, including guava, mangosteen, papaya and passion fruit.

Colombia Sights and Landmarks

The Caribbean shores of Colombia are a rich blend of South American culture and Caribbean vibe. In Colombia’s authentic Old City, enclosed within almost seven miles of walls that are up to 25 feet thick and 83 feet tall, vibrantly colored buildings stand side by side in rainbow formation, their wooden balconies overflowing with flowers. These murallas, along with a series of outer forts, helped protect the city from pirates and marauders. Remarkably preserved, they are the only fortifications of their kind in South America. The Old City’s narrow streets lead to the Plaza Santo Domingo, where a Botero sculpture almost upstages the colonial atmosphere, and the Plaza de los Coches, surrounded by handsome balconies and serenaded by strains of Afro-Caribbean rhythms spilling from bars and restaurants.

The coastal city of Santa Marta is one of South America’s oldest cities. Colombia took away its status as key maritime port in the 19th century, which allowed the city to embrace its sandy beaches and glittering waters to the fullest. Its rich colonial architecture and pleasant waterfront are beautifully set against the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.

Colombia’s so-called Coffee Triangle, or Triángulo del Café, lies farther inland. Producer of almost 10 percent of the world’s coffee, Colombia is second only to Brazil in keeping the world caffeinated. Nearly 700 fincas, or coffee plantations, grace this landscape of gentle hills, soaring peaks, shimmering lakes and scenic rivers.