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Introducing North of Bogotá

This is Colombia's heartland. The region of deep gorges, fast-flowing rivers and soaring peaks was the first to be settled by the conquistadors, and a number of their colonial towns stand today. It's also the revolutionary heart of the country: it was here that Simón Bolívar took on Spain in the decisive fight for Colombia's independence.

The departments of Boyacá, Santander and Norte de Santander are well set up for the domestic tourist market: they're within easy reach of Bogotá, fixed with a good network of roads and bus services, and there's much to see, including 450-year-old colonial towns, craft markets and spectacular national parks.

Choose between a rafting trip in San Gil or a hike to the sacred Laguna de Iguaque. Dine alfresco at a trendy restaurant in Girón, shop for pottery in Ráquira or hit the fashionable clubs in Bucaramanga. The perfectly preserved town of Villa de Leyva, with its cobbled streets, stone churches and excellent accommodations options, might be the highlight of your trip to Colombia.

The region makes a fine bridge between Bogotá and the Caribbean coast or as a destination in itself. It can also be used as a slow route to Venezuela, jumping off from the hot border town of Cúcuta.