Since emerging from decades of civil unrest, Colombia has established itself as one of the world’s top destinations. And rightly so: this exquisite South American nation is blessed with natural beauty – think high Andean peaks, Caribbean beaches, pristine Amazon jungle – not to mention mysterious archaeological sites, colonial treasures and thriving cities. It’s a joy to travel around.

At the heart of it all is Bogota, the pulsating capital. Once synonymous with drug cartels and gangs, the city has recast itself as one of South America’s trendiest destinations; a place of hip bars and street art, vibrant markets and colourful architecture. Sprawled across the Andean plateau, Bogota offers a fabulous mix of old and new; the cobbled streets of La Candelaria offer a stark contrast to the urban chic of Zona Rosa. But it works.

Elsewhere, Colombia’s colonial towns have been lovingly preserved, most notably the UNESCO-listed city of Cartagena. But don’t stop there. Other historic settlements also warrant a visit, amongst them the cities of Mompós, Villa de Leiva and Barichara. The mysterious “lost city” of Ciudad Perdida is also worthy of a detour, but you may leave with more questions than you arrived with.

The more you travel around Colombia, the more you marvel at its diversity. While the Caribbean and Pacific shores boast beautiful beaches, islands and coral reefs, the lofty Andes offer high-altitude plains, snow-capped mountains and limpid lakes. Then there are the eastern lowlands with their grassy wetlands and bountiful birdlife, not to mention the virgin forests of the Amazon.

Colombian culture is no less magical. Garcia Marquez’s land of magic realism is alive with festivals and music; the high-energy city of Cali is recognized as the salsa capital of Colombia, while bustling Barranquilla hosts a dazzling carnival to rival Rio’s. To cap it all off, visitors can expect a warm welcome from the country’s friendly inhabitants, who, after years in the wilderness, can finally show their true colours. And what a picture they paint.

Area:

1,141,748 sq km (440,831 sq miles).

Population:

48,829,027 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

40.9 per sq km.

Capital:

Bogotá.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón since 2010.

Head of government:

President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón since 2010.

Electricity:

Mostly 110 volts AC, 60Hz. North American-style plugs with two flat pins (with or without round grounding pin) are standard; some sockets may not accept plugs with a grounding pin however, so you may need an adaptor.