Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Mon October 31 2016

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  • Nick and Dariece | October 31, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    5 Must-Visit Destinations in Colombia

    5 Must-Visit Destinations in Colombia

    Photos by Goats on the Road

    Colombia has long been considered a dangerous travel destination, thanks to a civil war spanning over five decades and a multi-billion dollar drug industry, embodied by the infamous Pablo Escobar. But opinions are changing and the country is opening up to the burgeoning tourism trade that many hope will become a mainstay of the economy moving forward. Here are five places not to miss when visiting Colombia.

    Bogota

    Colombia’s capital is cool in more ways than one — thanks to being at high altitude, temperatures rarely fluctuate from the 58-degree F mark. But it’s also home to a pulsating art scene, a laid back cafe culture, a fresh restaurant scene and plenty of trendy bars to hang out in full of well-dressed locals drinking craft beers or bottles of Aguardiente, Colombia’s national drink.

    La Candelaria is where most travelers opt to stay, it’s steeped in centuries of political history and there’s a fascinating blend of old and new at play here. Imposing colonial architecture and politically charged graffiti can be spotted at every turn and there is a large, very visual police presence, giving it a safe feeling in contrast with its reputation.

    Medellin

    For many, just the mention of Medellin’s name conjures up terrifying images of the drug cartels that ran riot here for decades. But Colombia’s second city, dubbed “The City of Eternal Spring” has overcome its past. This regeneration has hinged on ambitious plans to connect the poorest communities with the prosperous center. Building modern transport systems, including a state of the art metro system, has played a large part in this.

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    There’s also a cable car that ascends high into the hills of the favela-style townships surrounding the city, providing impressive panoramic views that are not to be missed. It’s amazing to think that less than two decades ago Medellin was the undisputed murder capital of the world. It's well worth a visit to witness the transformation.

    READ MORE: Why Colombia Should Be Your Next Vacation Destination

    San Andres

    A beautiful island off the coast of Nicaragua where the water is crystal clear, the skies are always blue and you’re welcomed with a friendly smile. Hire a moped and you can ride around the island in a single day, but there’s enough going on here to keep you busy for weeks. The island of San Andres has a distinctly Caribbean feel, slow-paced and easy-going, although if you’re looking for water based activities you’ve come to the right place.

    Go scuba diving or snorkeling in waters that possess near perfect visibility and some of the finest coral reefs in the world. You can also go surfing, fishing, hire a jet ski or take a bumpy ride on a banana boat. You should also visit one of the many surrounding islands. Johnny Cay is a 20-minute boat ride away, or spend a few days on the even more remote Providencia.

    Cartagena

    This is probably the most accessible part of Colombia, with dozens of low cost flights touching down every week from the U.S., It takes under three hours to fly from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale. There are plenty of accommodation options here, ranging from budget-friendly package holidays to luxurious five star boutique hotels, as well as numerous low cost guesthouses and hostels. Picturesque colorful buildings, a laid back Caribbean vibe and exquisite beaches make this one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia.

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    Walk around the Old Town on the huge walls that were built to guard it from attack when it functioned as a port while under Spanish rule. Get lost in the quaint narrow streets filled with great restaurants and street vendors, or simply chill out on the beach sipping coconut cocktails. There is something for everyone in Cartagena.

    Santa Marta

    While the city itself may not have the best reputation as a destination in its own right, Santa Marta’s beauty lies in what’s around it. It’s the perfect place to explore the nearby Tayrona National Park from, visit some of the stunning Caribbean coast and also complete the challenging jungle trek to Colombia’s historic rival to Machu Picchu, the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). It’s a great base from which to explore the entire region. There’s an extraordinary diversity to Colombia’s landscape, encompassing large swathes of stunning jungle, beautiful Caribbean coastlines and surprisingly modern, hip cities. If you are yearning for a truly diverse South American getaway, Colombia should definitely be top of your list.

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Nick and Dariece Notes from the Goats

Nick and Dariece Nick and Dariece are the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they've been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth, finding adventure wherever they go. They are also full time contributors at Credit Walk where they share their expertise of making money and travelling forever. Check them out at Goats On The Road.com. and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.