After Panama (see blog) and Costa Rica (see blog) I flew to Cartagena, Colombia and spent the next two months seeing as much of Colombia and Venezuela (see blog) as I could.
The good stuff: Thanks to Hollywood and the perceptions created by the movie industry Colombia is a well kept secret and not usually part of the 'gringo trail' through South America. This is one of the most beautiful and geographically diverse countries in the world rich with culture and beauty. The people here are some the most genuine, helpful, and friendly souls that I can only compare with Costa Rica and parts of Asia at this point. Prices for hotel and food are relatively low. I started to look at condos in the Boca Grande area of Cartagena with prices from $15k to $40k compared to Panama City of $80k to $600k. After living in Central America for a year I was very surprised at the lack of drug usage in Colombia not to mention the lack of people trying to sell it on the streets. Another American myth down the drain. The beaches on the Caribbean side are gorgeous and the central portions of the country are filled with lush Andean mountains ranges.
The NOT so good stuff: I didn't find anything I didn't like in Colombia except the people trying to sell stuff in the Cartagena area can be a little pushy.
Where to go: Bogota is a wonderful city of almost 9 million people that are some of the friendliest in the world. The bus stations and airports are spotless, safe, and with great food and shopping. The city itself is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world packed with the latest styles of clubs, restaurants, hotels, shopping, etc. Cartagena is the most touristy but still worth it. Please check out the (Cartagena blog) for more info. Barranquilla and Santa Marta are OK to visit but you'll want to spend most of your time in the Tayrona Park area. Please see (Lost City blog) for more info. Manizales is a quaint city that's great for visiting the Zona Cafetera and Los Nevados National Park which is home to the huge Volcano of Nevado Ruiz (over 16,000 ft high). Medellin and Cali I think are the best cities in Colombia, each with about 2 million people, including some of the most gorgeous women on the planet.
Where NOT to go: Allegedly there are some areas near the Darien Gap and eastern areas of the country where guerillas protect coca fields but I have no first hand experience with these areas.
After Colombia I went through Ecuador and into Peru to hike the famous Inca Trial to Machu Picchu (see blog).