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| 12/10/2010 12:00:00 AM

Places to go before dying

A new book highlights 333 places which mustn’t be missed in Colombia. This guide includes museums, hotels, landscapes and restaurants.

Maria Cristina Lamus says she was born to travel. Since her days as a student she wanted to go abroad and travel throughout the world. Well, that’s what she has done so far. Lamus has visited more than 80 countries. She toured throughout Europe and knows Colombia almost entirely. Plus, her jobs have always implied going from one place to another: she worked as press officer at the National Tourism Corporation, and also edited Avianca’s magazine for several years. She’s also the author of several tourism books about Colombia and Latin America. “My fate has always been to find a trip everywhere I go”, she says.

More than six months ago, publishers at Planeta contacted Maria Cristina and asked her to develop a tourist guide about the country. The result is 333 places in Colombia to See Before You Die. The book was launched a few days ago along with the cities, landscapes, museums, restaurants, hotels and Colombian towns which, according to the author, are essential for anyone who wants to know this country.

There are 333 short stories in the book where Lamus describes each location and provides practical information about them, like access routes or contact numbers of hotels and restaurants. “The places are personal choices, so I was afraid that there were other places that people really like”, admits Lamus. Therefore, the guide covers both traditional attractions like the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, or the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá, and other less known places like a marketplace in Buenaventura or a tango bar in downtown Medellín.

During her six month trip, Maria Cristina slept in hotels, at her friend’s places and in hostels. She didn’t have to visit every place she describes in the publication, either because she had known them recently or because she knew them thoroughly. Although the book isn’t a place ranking, the author doesn’t hesitate when saying that her favorite one is Caño Cristales, in La Macarena, in Meta department. "This river has the rarest beauty. Its color is so that when you look at it you don’t believe your eyes", she says, excitedly.

Among her favorites is also the Cocora Valley, in Quindío Department, which she describes as a bucolic, almost surreal landscape, given the fog that most of the time covers the palm wax lands. There’s also Villa del Rosario, a village in Norte de Santander Department where Colombia’s first Constitution was signed.

The book has a gastronomic component as well. In it, Lamus reviews the exclusive restaurants in the “Zona G”, in northern Bogotá; the traditional sausage of Sutamarchán in Boyacá Department; the “luladas” (a sweet beverage made of a delicious local fruit called Lulo) that people drink in the streets of Cali, or the sweet pineapple of Floridablanca, in Santander Department, where there’s also the “Peñaflor” restaurant, located on the road between San Gil and Bucaramanga. Lamus admits that many places weren’t included, partly because the guide wasn’t intended for places with difficult access, nor those whose security is threatened by illegal armed groups. Even though she says that “one can die knowing nothing”, referring to the title of the book, she believes that there are some places worth visiting, such as Bocas de Ceniza, in Barranquilla, the spot where the huge Magdalena River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Nowadays, Lamus confesses that the long trips don’t excite her, but she also admits that if she gets another offer to develop a similar book, she would accept the job without much hesitation. “Traveling is a useful exercise. It teaches you about other cultures and it shows you that beauty can be found in simple things”. Several years ago, while on a trip through the former Soviet Union, in a market place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, a sorcerer told her a premonitory warning. “He read my hand and told me that I was going to see the whole world”, she says. That's what Maria Cristina has done most of her life.
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