04/29/2013 02:42 pm ET Updated Jun 29, 2013

12 Reasons to Visit Colombia

My husband Paul and I just came back from our second trip to Colombia. We know what you are thinking: danger, danger, drugs, dissolution, despair. Here's what I am thinking: fabulous, friendly, fun, fave country. In 1993, when drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was killed, it was the end of the big drug cartel era. Medellin had to stop, look in the mirror, and see what it had become. Escobar had everyone in his deep pockets, he had bought his way into the highest levels of the power structure, and it was an ugly, unsustainable way of life. So what did Medellin do? They turned it around. They came up with imaginative and effective ways to stop the violence and hate. They brought transportation, education, culture, day care, and safety to the most dangerous areas. They literally built bridges between barrios torn apart by warring residents. They encouraged small, legal business. And today, the city is a magnet for culturophiles, fashionistas, poets, foodies, gays and travelers from around the world. We walked downtown, visited formerly dangerous areas, went into the country, to the top of a mountain, drove to a Colonial city, ate at world-class international restaurants, hung at the Zona Rosa near our hotel where the late night owls hoot, and you can wear out your soles trying to go in and out of all the bars and restaurants. We went salsa dancing in three clubs with our guide Carlos. In one of them, which he calls "the salsa ghetto," I danced with three extremely loose-hipped men, and they led so deftly that it looked as though I knew what I was doing.

In Bogota, we had a cooking lesson with a private chef, discovered dough-less pizza, and then headed, with our charming, laid back guide German, for Villa de Leyva. I'll bet it's the next hot Colonial town for those who have already fallen in love with the arty vibe and pastel-colored houses of cities like San Miguel de Allende and Antigua, Guatemala.

Enough words. No more palabras. You probably want to see Colombia rather than just read about it. So here we go... a visual taste of a very special country.

Visual reasons to visit Colombia
Visual reasons to visit Colombia

All photos are by Paul Ross.

Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist and author of "Life is a Trip; The Transformative Magic of Travel." Her website is