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Colombia

No country on earth is more geographically blessed than Colombia, with its high-altitude peaks, lush jungles, pristine beaches, wildlife-rich rainforest, and strong coffee, said an article in Outside Magazine. I already knew this when I read the article which was years after I had lived in and traveled around that wondrous country. The author was wrong about the coffee though. Real Colombian coffee that is roasted in Colombia is rather mild. They roast the beans "the proper way", which is not overly toasted and that gives their coffee the actual coffee flavor instead of the burnt taste that most people associate with "strong" coffee. Much of Colombia's coffee is roasted outside the country, however, and most of it is burnt, doing a grave injustice to the prized beans. So real Colombian coffee is not strong but perfectly mild and flavorful, and this misconception is one of many about the country.

My Colombian education began in 2009 when a Colombian girl told me about her country's turbulent and violent history. We were in Boston at the time and as all Colombians are obliged to do when asked by foreigners about their country, she told me about the rebels, the drugs and the chaos of the nineties. Those are the things that make for exciting stories and what media sensationalism teaches people. CNN doesn't talk about Colombia's fascinating ancient and current culture, its diverse yet collectively friendly people or its astounding natural beauty. My Colombian girlfriend must have told me about these great things about her country, but they didn't stick in my mind at the time. All I remember her saying was that Colombia is a lot safer now.

The first time I went to Colombia in 2010, my ticket from Boston to Bogota cost $144 and it took six hours. That was cheaper and faster than going to many cities in the US and I thought, Ok, this place must be full of gringos. In my first seven months in Colombia, I did not see a single American. Clearly, someone was misinformed. Either my not being kidnapped was a fluke or Americans, due to bad publicity, were missing out on one of the world's greatest travel destinations right in their back yard.

Thanks to the prevailing misconception that Colombia is unsafe, the country is truly largely uncharted for most foreigners and even for many Colombians. It is a big place, almost twice the size of Texas and it has every type of geography on earth: from tropical beaches to glaciated mountains, from mesmerizing deserts to lush rain forests, from the balmy Amazon river to icy high altitude lakes. Colombia had ancient civilizations that rivaled those of the Incas and Mayans, and the legend of El Dorado comes from them. Indigenous people still dress and live traditionally and you can see them while hiking in the mountains. With so many natural and cultural blessings and so few tourists the adventure travel opportunities of Colombia are mind-blowing.

I now consider Colombia as my second home, and I am fortunate to have learned the truth about the country and its awesomeness. To travel is to learn. Let us show you the real Colombia; it may be the greatest learning experience of your life.

Leo Cuesta, Founder of Uncharted Earth and honorary Colombian
Go to Uncharted Colombia website Pack mule at the campsite Walking down the Path of the Angels Sheep farm in the mountains Harvesting coffee Hiking through the Paramo

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