Away from Bogotá, the smog and busy streets give way to the bucolic countryside of Colombia’s central Andean departments Boyacá, Cundimarca and Santander, which mark the geographical heart of the country. First inhabited centuries ago by the gold-worshipping Muisca Indians, these mountainous highlands played a pivotal role in forging Colombia’s national identity. Tunja, one of Colombia’s oldest cities, is famous for its architecture, while an hour further northwest is one of Colombia’s best-preserved colonial towns, Villa de Leyva, its surrounding countryside studded with archeological treasures.
Tiny Barichara, just a steep 22km from the burgeoning adventure centre of San Gil, is a compact colonial beauty. Further north again, the modern city of Bucaramanga or the colonial town of Girón are both decent midway points if you’re heading to Venezuela or the coast. Follow a different road from Bogotá, and eight hours later you arrive at the high-altitude splendours of Parque Nacional El Cocuy, with its glacial lakes and snowcapped peaks.