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Variety and beauty for play and relaxation

Article - April 8, 2014
Enchanting and largely unknown to the American tourist, Colombia offers an exciting destination for adventure, culture and health tourism
COLOMBIA’S TOURISM FIGURES HAVE MORE THAN QUADRUPLED SINCE 1999, WHEN JUST 546,000 PEOPLE VISITED. TODAY, TOURIST ARRIVALS HOVER AROUND THE 2 MILLION MARK
If all you ask for when going on vacation is to entrench yourself in an all inclusive resort with a pile of gossip magazines and enough piña coladas for a week, this article is not for you. But if you want to experience another way of life in a place where nature and culture are powerful and exciting, then aim for Colombia. 
 
Forget the old clichés: Colombia rocks. This majestic country with three ranges of the Andes, dense jungles, miles upon miles of beaches, and the mighty Magdalena and Amazon rivers is vibrant and sexy. More interestingly, it is still largely undiscovered. 
 
But not for long: in the past few years, Colombia has opened its wealth of landscapes and cultural gems to a growing number of foreign tourists. According to Proexport Colombia, the government entity in charge of promoting international tourism, foreign direct investment and exports, the number of tourists reached a record 2 million in 2013, out of which about 25% were Americans. 
‘Colombia, Magical Realism’ is the new slogan promoting Colombia tourism around the world. Launched in 2013, it evokes the literary movement that inspired the work of literature Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel García Márquez. It is interesting to note that authorities have now decided to focus on the “magic” of Colombia when the previous campaign (‘The Only Risk Is Wanting to Stay’) was intended to reassure tourists about their safety. 
 
“Nowadays, Bogotá is safer than New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro,” says Luis Fernando Rosas Londoño, General Director of the District Institute of Tourism. 
 
Indeed, the capital is increasingly well-known for its trendy restaurants and clubs, apart from its world-famous Gold Museum, which features more than 3,500 pre-Colombian gold artifacts. 

Colombia is promoting its beaches, mountains, jungles, and cities, with all their wonderful and vibrant festivals and traditions, under the motto ‘Colombia, Magical Realism’
The “magical” campaign aims at showcasing the different types of tourism Colombia has on offer: beaches of course, with close to 2,000 miles of coastline, but also mountains, deserts, jungles, and seven major cities. With more than 800 direct flights from 20 countries and 27 cruise lines stopping in three major ports of call, there are many ways for visitors to experience the country. 
 
Now if you want to do more than sunbathing but are not particularly versed in jungle-trekking or bird-watching, there is another option: health tourism. Fancy coming back from vacation with a tan and a new hourglass figure? About 500,000 cosmetic operations are performed in the country annually – the second-highest number in South America. Colombia offers affordable prices, highly qualified medical staff and some top-notch facilities not only for plastic surgery but also all kinds of medical treatment, from heart surgery to dentistry. 
 
“This sector could grow five or tenfold in the next few years,” says Minister of Health and Social Services, Alejandro Gaviria. “We can compete with American hospitals because we offer the same quality of service at a lower price. And many health professionals here have been trained in the U.S.” 
 
According to the World Health Organization, Colombia ranks 22nd in the world for the performance of its health system. And according to Proexport, it is one of the most competitive markets in Latin America for health services. A survey of 190 clinics and hospitals in the region based on factors such as safety, care, human resources, and knowledge management classified 16 Colombian clinics in the top 40. 
 
One such innovative establishment is the San Ignacio University Hospital in Bogotá. “We are one of the hospitals with the greatest number of innovations and the most important number of sub-specialties,” says San Ignacio’s Director, Julio César Castellanos. “We have made significant investments in the past few years to modernize our facilities and acquire cutting-edge equipment.”
 
One indicator of the excellent state of health of the tourism sector is the fact that domestic air transport is taking off. The executive airline DBJet, created in 2012, is a case in point. “The fact that people are now moving around the country shows that the economy is growing. Our prices are competitive with those of urban transport. People can take the plane for only 2,000 or 3,000 pesos (roughly a couple of dollars) more than the bus,” says Alejandro Jaramillo, DBJet President. 

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