Eastern Colombia encompasses those lands northeast of the nationâ€™s capital that are embraced by the broad lowlands of the Lower Magdalena River valley to the West, and the towering heights of the Cordillera Oriental to the East. Within this area are the Departments of BoyacĂˇ, Santander and Norte de Santander. A major highway connects BogotĂˇ and Santa Marta, passing through Tunja and Bucaramanga (13 peajes, or tollbooths). From Bucaramanga, another thoroughfare heads east to Pamplona, CĂşcuta and the Venezuelan border. An older, peaje-free road twists through the mountains from Tunja to Capitanejo, MĂˇlaga and down to Pamplona, connecting with the Bucaramanga-CĂşcuta highway. This is the preferred route for buses and trucks, and the fastest way to get to Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy and its associated pueblos, El Cocuy and GĂĽicĂˇn.
The physical and cultural beauty of this area of Colombia surpasses anything one could imagine. Colonial villages are plentiful as are reminders of former inhabitants, from prehistoric sea creatures to the pre-Conquest Muisca and Guane nations. Modern-day Uâ€™wa indigenous hang on to their way of life in the Cocuy region, struggling to prevent the violation of their Mother Earth by oil companies. The Cordillera Oriental, with three peaks surpassing 5,300 meters (17,000 feet), shelters the largest snow field in South America north of the Equator.
Colombians of this region have the reputation of being ultra-courteous, especially in BoyacĂˇ. In this department, do not be surprised if locals address you with the medieval su merced (his mercy). They often call visitors vecino (neighbor), and will often ask, â€śÂżLe provoca un tintico?â€ť (Would you like a coffee?).