Colombia could be South America's best-kept travel secret, were it not for its unenviable record in drug trafficking and kidnappings that the country has been working hard to overcome.

Yes, it is true: Colombia hasn't entirely shaken its reputation as a volatile and dangerous country, trapped in a circle of violence. There's been no final act in the bloody drama that is being played out by drug lords, terrorists, guerrillas, vigilantes and corrupt politicians.

Recent years, however, have witnessed remarkable progress. The leftist guerrillas have been pushed into ever-more remote regions and many of their top military leaders have been killed by the Colombian armed forces. Most right-wing paramilitary groups have been disbanded. And the once much-feared Medellin and Cali drug cartels have been squashed, and replaced by smaller, more fractious groups whose internecine feuding accounts for the majority of the country's murders.

Travelers are visiting in increasing numbers, and return from Colombia raving about the country's beauty and its hospitable, friendly people. And no wonder: Colombia's mist-shrouded, snow-capped Andean mountains; charming colonial cities; golden-sand beaches; and vast green stretches of Amazonian rain forest speak for themselves. Add to that its wealth of wildlife and indigenous people, superb hotels and world-class dining, plus a well-developed domestic air network and first-class highways now guarded by the army and police.

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