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Colombia - A view from our expert author
Colombia’s two coastlines have very distinct characteristics: from the boggy horseshoe bays, inlets and jutting marshland peninsulas that epitomise the Pacific shoreline to the Caribbean’s sandy beaches, palm-fringed islands and saline pools.
As the only South American nation with coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Colombia offers amazing diving on coral reefs, outlying islands and beaches in a variety of amber, silver, white and salt-and-pepper sands. Colombia’s two coastlines have very distinct characteristics: from the boggy horseshoe bays, inlets and jutting marshland peninsulas that epitomise the Pacific shoreline to the Caribbean’s sandy beaches, palm-fringed islands and saline pools. Huge rolling rivers, gushing streams and flamingo-topped lagoons dot a dramatically contrasting terrain that sees curvaceous grasslands run to reed-trimmed wetlands and snow-capped mountain peaks; lunar-like craterous deserts; lush, vine-tangled rainforests; flower-filled meadows and tufted fields of coffee.
Shaped like an oversized fraying bedsheet, Colombia is South America’s fourth-largest country (after Brazil, Argentina and Peru) at 1,141,748km2 and is characterised by a location near the Equator that creates an extraordinary diversity of climates, vegetation, soils and crops. In the countryside that edges the foothills of the Andes, pretty red-and-white fincas nestle in green forests. On the country's northernmost tip, simple thatched-topped huts line many of palm-scattered idyllic white-sand beaches. Along the Caribbean coast, fine colonial settlements painted in bright bubblegum hues line charming paved courtyards and cobblestone streets. While in the Amazon basin, dozen of indigenous cultures speak more than 60 languages in a region that is home to the greatest number of bird species on earth. Journey along the inky-green might of the Amazon River amongst 1,500 butterfly species, 1,800 bird species, 800 insect species, 2,000 species of reptile and amphibian, 3,200 species of fish, 51,220 plant species – in a region that is home to a staggering 10% of all species found on the planet.
On the jungle-thick Pacific Coast, turquoise waters are rich in marine life; resplendent swathes of dense palms and ferns teem with insects, birds and colourful blooms. In the interior region, vast canyons, magnificent waterfalls and bubbling thermal springs stud rugged terrains that contain creeper-clad ruins from ancient civilisations in a land where the pre-Colombian gold and sacred sites that spawned the myth of El Dorado remain to this day. The isolated, mystical mountains of Santa Marta boast the highest point in the country along its fault-bounded granite massif at 5,775m atop the twin peaks of Cristóbal Colón and Simón Bolívar. Hikers and wildlife watchers can delve into forests that are home to armadillo, jaguar, tapir, ocelot, monkey and puma. A mix of ethnicities and dialects reflect Colombia's many border influences from Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil and Peru. Colombia is also the setting of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez’s massively popular novel One Hundred Years of Solitude – a story as entrancing as the country itself.