As you head southeast away from Bogotá, the jagged Andean terrain soon flattens out as if a giant guillotine dropped down across the mountains, revealing an endless sea of green grasslands. This is Los Llanos (the Plains). Teeming with wildlife, Los Llanos harbors more than 100 species of mammals and more than 700 bird species, including some of the planet's most endangered species.

Until a decade ago much of this area was essentially off-limits to foreigners, but today, with the surrender of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the retreat of drug traffickers and paramilitaries, the area is largely safe again and is quickly opening up to tourism. The biggest attraction here by far is Caño Cristales, the extraordinary multicolored rivers inside the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra de La Macarena, but elsewhere in the region you'll find fascinating archaeological sites, natural wonders and the warmth and earthy humor of llaneros in abundance.